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Keep Talking

By Ray Waddle

It's nearly impossible to talk about it – too tiring to discuss, too complicated, too overwhelming, too abstract, too-close-to-the-bone, too time-consuming, too guilt inducing, too embarrassing.

Yes, it’s nearly impossible to talk about poverty.


But 20,000 children around the world die every day from preventable disease. One in seven Americans now lives in poverty. And now fiscal debates are aiming to eliminate government programs that help vulnerable people here and abroad.

Yes, it is hard to talk about poverty, but it's also impossible to be silent. Poverty needs to be acknowledged, protested, confronted, subdued.

Jesus talked about it. We know what he said, for instance, in Matthew 25:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me. … Just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

In the U.S., we don’t grapple with poverty very well. It has no place in the American dream. There’s a temptation to blame the poor for their troubles. There’s a great fear of becoming poor ourselves. There’s a prickly resistance to any humanitarian appeal to the emotions with dire images of starving children.

Nevertheless, people are starting to talk. They are talking about steps to take to eradicate the ordeal of poverty – during this season of Lent and beyond – and they are making it easier for the rest of us to join in. The world’s insufferable conditions today – the dangerous inequalities between rich and poor, the world’s 2 billion people who live on less than $2 a day – are stirring action.

For instance, Imagine No Malaria, The United Methodist Church's campaign to end deaths and suffering from malaria in Africa by 2015, and the Society of St. Andrew, a food rescue and distribution ministry, are using the six-week-period of Lent to focus on specific effects of poverty and ways to combat them.

United Methodists' annual One Great Hour of Sharing offering on the fourth Sunday of Lent draws attention to the continuing efforts of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the denomination's humanitarian agency, to combat poverty in 81 countries.

Church World Service is promoting a “Making Poverty History” campaign, which embraces the Millennium Development Goals’ aim to eliminate extreme poverty by 2015. Bread for the World will soon host a national “Gathering 2011: Changing the Politics of Hunger” in Washington, D.C., in June. A Yale Divinity School campaign, called “Mobilizing Faith, Fighting Poverty,” is using Lent to invite all people of good will to keep issues of poverty before them.

Lent is a decisive time to confront the world of poverty, and to vanquish another version of it, the spiritual poverty that averts the eyes and turns away. May the spirit move from silence to conversation to conversion, hope and action.

Ray Waddle is a columnist, author, and the editor of Reflections magazine, published by Yale Divinity School.

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