The Thing Itself: Art and Poverty, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

 

picasso1How should we treat the poor?

Among those who work on behalf of them, it has become a truism that our first obligation toward our less fortunate brothers and sisters is to first recognize and celebrate their humanity. What is less often recognized is the vital role that art can play in such a process. Roberta Ahmanson in the interview she gave recently for Image spoke about how she, as a patron of the arts, has worked to serve homeless families through a nonprofit called Village of Hope:

I think people might say that the Village of Hope doesn’t need stained-glass windows; they need food, job training, tutoring, beds for the babies. But Jim [the founder] intuitively understood that the places you bring people to speak to them about their own value. When you…put them in a box like a prison cell, you have just said, “We think you are a prisoner.” [Read more...]

The Thing Itself: Art and Poverty, Part 1

The following is adapted from a presentation given at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley in January 2015 during a convocation on the topic “Blessed Are You Poor: What Does It Mean to Be a Poor Church for the Poor?”

 

pop__frugal_mealI am profoundly grateful that the witness of Pope Francis has spurred so many of us to rethink our relationship to the poor and marginalized. There are a dozen directions to take this topic, depending on how we define poverty. We have spoken of it as an evil—a condition to be ameliorated whenever possible—and we have spoken of it as a virtue—a habit that embraces simplicity, freedom, and sacrifice.

It is, of course, both.

[Read more...]

Thinking About Poverty

homeless-man-sleeping-with-his-bible1What better time than Advent to ponder what poverty means? After all, Christ became poor for our sakes, emptying himself of his divinity as he emptied himself into our humanity.

So what does poverty mean? Here are some dictionary definitions:

Poverty (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary):

1a: the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions; b: renunciation as a member of a religious order of the right as an individual to own property; 2: scarcity, dearth 3a: debility due to malnutrition; b: lack of fertility (of the soil).

[Read more...]

The Rich, the Poor, and Jesus

In November of 2013, Oxfam International released the results of a study that found an ever-growing concentration of the world’s wealth into the hands of a very few. The Irish Times quoted Oxfam chief executive Winnie Byanyima: “It is staggering that in the 21st century, half of the world’s population—that’s three and a half billion people—own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers [eighty-five souls] could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus.”

The concerns of Oxfam over the findings are political inasmuch as this kind of wealth concentration rigs government processes in favor of the rich, which makes the divide between the haves and the have-nots permanent. This effectively destroys the reality of equal opportunity. Their research shows that “opportunity hoarding” is as rife as the hoarding of goods and resources.

The troubling nature of these findings seemed self-evident to me when I shared the Irish Times article about this report on social media. The response I got is a bit of a surprise. It didn’t surprise me that some people objected immediately to the conclusions of Oxfam. What surprised me was the visceral anger and resentment—with a tinge of hurt feelings even—coming from people I know who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ. They reacted as if I’d lobbed a Molotov cocktail into their living rooms.

[Read more...]

Two Tribes: Good Wishes and Good Works

One summer my family got evicted from the house we were renting in Florida. The welding jobs ended and my stepfather refused to do anything that wasn’t union work so we burned through our money while he watched television and waited for the union to call.

My mother worked and did most of the cooking and put up with her husband’s liquor and drugs and abuse until one day she wasn’t there. She’d gone to the hospital for “her nerves,” he told us. Then someone nailed the red poster to our front door.

My stepfather stayed indoors. Each afternoon he gave me a couple of bills and I would bike along a winding blacktop to a convenience store, where I bought lunchmeat, white bread, and soup.

Now that I have four ravenous boys, I realize that he must have gone hungry, given how much my brothers and I ate. I want to remember him as the devil. I recall cigarette lighter burns and punches and humiliations, but I have to remember this as well, that he went hungry so we would not. [Read more...]


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