Equal worth, unequal living

It’s Blog Action Day!

The topic this year is inequality.

I have a lot of passion about this. My experiences and awareness have formed a little fire about inequality to burn within me.

Really, when I pray and think about this issue, much comes to mind. Limiting myself to just a few hundred words is going to be tough. So, my strategy is to share five things with you: a quote, a video, an image, a story and a call to action.

1.) A quote from one of my current heroes, Pope Francis:

Photo Credit: Franciscan Action Network
Photo Credit: Franciscan Action Network

If you’re not one to naturally think about things with a Catholic vocabulary, basically Pope Francis is saying that every social problem that exists–poverty, warfare, hunger and food insecurity, lack of clean water, lack of adequate housing, discrimination, human trafficking–all injustice is connected back to problems of inequality. Turning away from our sinful, greedy, prideful, violent and selfish tendencies will cause us to protect the dignity of all people, no matter what stage of life they are in. Sounds like good Gospel living to me!

2.) A video, one by an anonymous filmmaker named “Z” or Politizane that went viral over a year ago:

Although the video focuses on wealth inequality nationally, not globally, it still helps paint the true picture of how horribly unequal things are–even in a rich and powerful country. For a video full of statistics, it’s definitely captivating and informative!

 

3.) An image, from Oxfam International’s Pinterest page:

Photo Credit: Tuca Vieira SAO PAULO, BRAZIL, 2008. The Paraisópolis favela borders the affluent district of Morumbi in São Paulo, Brazil via Oxfam International’s Pinterest page

I’ve never been to Brazil, but the stark contrast in this image reminds me of the borders of some poor and rich neighborhoods that I have visited in other parts of the world, including Mexico and South Africa. Those travels help me to recognize that the houses on the left side of this picture are actually pretty sturdy and adequate, as they are mostly made of brick and appear to have water and electricity.

Still, the inequality disturbs me. In fact, when I consider how my convictions regarding social justice (and equality for that matter) developed, I think back to the uncomfortable daily drive through a shantytown to a neighborhood of wealth where I stayed in Mexico City when I was a 16-year-old exchange student. Something very deep stirred within me then, helping me to know that such inequality is wrong.

4.) A story, from my own recent life:

This past Sunday I attended Mass with my parents at their parish in northeast Iowa. A missionary priest with Food for the Poor was visiting from Haiti and spoke about the current conditions that many people are living under there. I’ve never been to Haiti but several of my friends, including one of the guest bloggers for Messy Jesus Business, have.

I am not naive. I know Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The poverty there certainly is much worse than anything I have been exposed to in my lifetime.

Nonetheless, as I listened to the priest speak about his friends in Haiti, I realized how clueless I actually am. My comfortable American life is way too distant from the Haitian experience. I can easily go through my days without thinking about the harsh realities of economic inequality that impact most people.

I thought about all this as I drove back to my community after the home visit and I realized my comfort is combined with bad habits. Despite my concern and intentions, I have been influenced by this culture. I remembered that even during the Mass when I was praying, especially for the thousands of people in Haiti who are living in tents without sanitary water, my mind wandered to material things. My prayer was distracted by admiration for the fashion and clothing of other women in the Church. I started daydreaming about the clothes shopping I might do some day! Even when my heart is sick with the Truth of inequality, petty and materialistic habits creep up and tempt me to further increase inequality!

5.) A call to action to take today, to be in solidarity with those who suffer due to inequality:

Each of these opportunities will allow you to make a difference and help advocate for more equality and justice.

Inequality is real and it’s oppressive. As Pope Francis says, it’s sinful. Each person on earth has equal worth and we all deserve to live more equal lives. Let us pray and work together for God’s reign of justice and peace to come. Thank you and God bless you!

This land is whose land?

It’s the 4th of July. Throughout the land folks will parade around with flags and explode fireworks, all because the USA gained some independence back in 1776.  I suspect that they’ll be some good old-fashioned patriotic pride and we wouldn’t have to listen to carefully to hear someone proclaim that the USA is the best country in the world.

But, is the USA really that great?

It is  ancient and modern wisdom that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.  Jesus taught us to put the littlest first, to make the vulnerable our priority. Yet, the USA has the greatest gap between the rich and poor of any industrialized Western nation.  The rich keep getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and more people are becoming poor.  For a nation wanting to boogie down to patriotic party music, it’s not exactly good news.  We’re not really that great, after all.

As I’ve told you before, I am not a fan of patriotism. Even so, I’ll be singing a song about our country today.

This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie is one of my favorite songs.  I used to sing it as a traveling song. But the meaning and power of the song changed for me a few years ago, after I spent a year working with some of the most vulnerable in our nation: homeless and parenting youth.   At the end of my year as a Jesuit Volunteer in California I was introduced to the last verses of the song and the words sent chills down my spine.  I never learned these words when I studied the song in elementary school, probably because I would have asked the music teacher too many tough questions:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Which land? Whose land?  What’s going on? What are we doing?

Questions, questions. I have so many!

As we work for real greatness- as we work to build the Kingdom of God-  what are the questions we need to be asking?

How many people are lined up in invisible bread lines?  What is wrong with how we operate as a society that poverty is getting worse?  Why does this wealth gap grow?

What does our faith have to do with it?  What are our churches doing? Are we praying for the poor and working for justice?   Are the poor getting relief in our churches and from our faith communities?  What will it take for us all to work together so that our country is so great that we can teach other lands how to justly treat the poor?  How are we we to build the Kingdom of God?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Maybe the answers all have to do with Love.