"Poverty is the worst
form of violence."
— Mahatma Gandhi
Poverty destroys the bodies, minds, and spirits of people. It savages and ravages their hopes and dreams and puts them in a prison of fear, danger, and despair.
January is "Poverty in America Awareness Month." This is a time to acknowledge that poverty is on the rise in the United States. According to this data, 49.7 million Americans or 16.1 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2011 — one of every six persons — and more recent statistics confirm this trend. Other reports indicate an increase in the number of seniors below the poverty line.
What is happening in America is also happening around the world. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing in all societies, and there is also a gap between rich countries and poor countries. As spiritual people, we need to face what it means that this scourge is omnipresent in our times.
"It is a common condition of
being poor . . .
you are always afraid
that the good things in
your life are temporary,
that someone can take
them away because you
have no power beyond
your own brute strength
to stop them."
— Rick Bragg
Try to imagine what it is like to lose your home, to be denied health care, to be hungry, or to be unable to pay your bills. You may experience this helplessness and powerlessness as a result of not being able to find work or through personal or financial misfortune. Anyway you cut it, poverty is a debilitating condition that robs millions of men, women, and children of their dignity and self-respect.
"The test of our progress
is not whether we
add more to the abundance
of those who have much;
it is whether we provide enough
for those who have so little."
— Franklin D. Roosevelt
It seems as if we are heading to a future where those with money and power will wall themselves off from the indigent and keep them out of sight and out of mind. The idea and the ideal of government taking care of those who are most vulnerable is no longer on the politicians' agenda. Witness the refusal to talk about the epidemic of poverty in any recent U.S. presidential campaign.
"We cannot suffer with
the poor when we are
unwilling to confront
those persons and systems
that cause poverty.
We cannot set the captives
free when we do not want
to confront those who
carry the keys.
We cannot profess our
solidarity with those who
are oppressed when we
are unwilling to confront
quickly to fruitless
— Henri J. M. Nouwen
Now more than ever citizens of the world need poverty awareness. We have prepared a multidimensional package of 31 resources that address the issue from a spiritual perspective. Each day in the month, we will unveil a new link to a review of a pertinent book, a soul-stirring excerpt, a teaching story, prayer, poem, or thought-provoking quotation.
Although the focus will be on poverty in America, there will be references to the global aspects of this epidemic which is intertwined with decaying housing, unemployment, lack of health care, poor education, few job training programs, hunger, homelessness, and widespread depression. Wherever you live, you will find much to reflect upon and spur you on to action in these daily resources.
There is no quick-and-easy solution to poverty. It will take a concerted effort on the part of government and socially engaged institutions (churches, synagogues, mosques, sanghas) to tackle the problem and change the structures and systems which fuel and perpetuate poverty in all its virulent forms. And it will also take the commitment of compassionate individuals willing to learn about this issue and do what they can to help their neighbors.
Resources about Poverty
(We'll be adding a new one each day in January.)
January 1: Christmas Work Begins
January 2: The World of the Poor
January 3: Forgiveness for Stealing Bread
January 4: Poverty Is Blinding
January 5: So Many Hungry Children
January 6: Being Poor Is Complicated
January 7: The End of Poverty?
January 8: The Human Race Fully Alive
January 9: Perspectives on Consumerism
January 10: Failing to Help Is Wrong
January 11: Loans to the Poor
January 12: Healing Power of Generosity
January 13: The Global Equity Crisis
January 14: Jesus Lessens the Rich Poor Gap
January 15: Value of Giving and Receiving
January 16: Prayers for People Living in Poverty
January 17: Helping Those Who Suffer
January 18: Solidarity with the Poor
January 19: Face of Poverty Changing
January 20: Leftover Food
January 21: Poverty Surrounds Us
January 22: World Hunger Can End
January 23: Low-paying Dead-End Jobs
January 24: Psalm for the Poor
January 25: All People are Sacred
January 26: Prayer for Those Living in Poverty
January 27: Why We Fast for the Poor
January 28: Those Who Are Voiceless
January 29: Ways to End World Poverty
January 30 Eradicating Poverty
January 31 End Extreme Poverty by 2025