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A poem by Djamillah Samad, National Executive of Church Women United:

imagesee me in no shoes, my feet bare upon the ground,
see me in no shoes barely free from a war of states, they say we are free now
but, see me in no shoes, what does freedom mean?

see me in these shoes, shoes big and broken, not really made for me
see me in these shoes walking roads dark and troubled, in a marriage not meant to be,
see me in a union of race mixing and identities stolen.

see me standing in these shoes, wife of a mill owner, I’m  often denied by him in public,
see me compelled by color, class, and gender, pushed to say so little,

see me in these shoes, brand new for this occasion, never worn before,
listen as my youngest girl is crying by my grave, watch her put her own shoes on,
now, watch the slowness of her walk, her life is rapidly changing,
see her sadness in a few years as her daddy’s mills go sold to others  because I am gone on home.

see me in these shoes, shoes not very new
see me in these shoes owned by another little girl whose story, life and access so different than my own,
see the shoes they passed along to a girl who has no mother.

see me in these shoes, I’m not even 14, standing frightened at the porch door,
telling that ole sheriff that my daddy is not here,
see me now in just one shoe, the other lost in the struggle for my life,
make this man leave me alone, I fight in fear, I cry, I fail.
see me hold my other shoe, rocking and crying all alone,
I know my daddy could not have defended me, he’s almost as powerless as me.

see me in these shoes,  I feel I must leave home,
see me riding this train looking for work up north,
see me in my work shoes, maid to a woman who’s not much better off than me, I hear her sobs at night grieving a life gone south.

see me in these shoes, holding out my hand for my pay, we both knowing she pays me less than is my worth,
now see me in the shadows watching her as she steals it back,
she knows I can’t say a word, I know that she can’t either.

see me in these shoes now new and shiny but leaving once again,
see me in these shoes, years later walking on other streets,

see me say I do for a second time, I don’t really love him, it’s safe.
see me in these slippers staring at this child, too tired to read or hold her, I’ll just buy her a toy, tell her to sleep,
see me in these shoes, no one knows which ones I have on.
see my daughter stare at me in my repose, few words were exchanged these last few years, now in my death it is far too late.

see me in these shoes, running for the bus
this is not the first time my eye has been blackened and screams gone unheard,
I just know the next time will be different.

see me mother these children, they’ve aged before my eyes, look, as the years just whiz right by,
But, see them stop talking, is it them, or is it me, not opening up, never admitting they are hurting too,
see them wearing their own shoes, I wonder how much they hide.

see me in your shoes mommy, they’re  so pretty, heels so high.
see me in your shoes, so big upon my six year old feet.
see me in your shoes mommy, walking down our street,
see me walking in your footsteps, will I be just like you?

Harriet Tubman. Eleanor Roosevelt. Maggie Kuhn. Naomi Rose. Merdine T. Morris.

On this day – who are the women who have served as advocates for whom you give thanks?

Advocacy took central stage at the Ecumenical Women‘s Orientation. The afternoon workshops focused on advocacy and with good reason.

The “agreed conclusions” will be the primary outcome of the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. The 45 Member States of the Commission will create a set of concrete, action-oriented  recommendations for action by governments, intergovernmental bodies,  and other relevant stakeholders. These recommendations will call for implementation at the international, national, regional and local level. They will address the primary theme for the 56th Session of the Commission: “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.”

We come to the Commission – representatives of the Ecumenical Women member organizations and other NGOs – to advocate for concepts, themes, and language to shape those agreed conclusions. In the case of Ecumenical Women, we do so guided by faith in Jesus Christ and the policies of our respective organizations.

As we advocate, we follow in the footsteps of our sisters who have gone before – we stand beside our sisters who live the struggle.

For whom do we give thanks this day and everyday?

Devotional prepared by Onleilove Alston for the Poverty Initiative

Luke 19:29-41 (New International Version)
Jesus’ Triumphant Entry

29 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. 30 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”32 So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. 33 And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”34 And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Martin Luther King Jr. Trumpet of Conscience (1967)
“Nonviolence and Social Change”

“The dispossessed of this nation—the poor, both white and Negro-live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against the injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty…

“…There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life…”

Reflection

In Luke 19:28-41 we read the familiar but unusual passage about the “Triumphant Entry” from which we derive our Palm Sunday celebrations. Jesus does not enter Jerusalem in the same way as the religious and political leaders of his day; instead he enters on a donkey. To spite this extremely humble entry the people crown him their King and praise God for him. Though Jesus was not declared King by the Roman Empire peasants bestowed this title on him, and every Palm Sunday thousands of years later in churches across the world we echo their words.

This short but powerful passage gives us important insight into the agency of poor people to name themselves and to claim for themselves dignity outside the confines of the principalities and powers of their day. Throughout history we have examples of poor people who arise and claim dignity for themselves.

Could the Triumphant Entry be but one example of the many instances in which poor people organized themselves-peasants in Jerusalem organized around Jesus their declared King, slaves gathered in hush harbors and in 1968 poor people of all races from across America organized around the Poor People’s Campaign-beginning with a Mule Train from Marks, Mississippi (sound familiar).

The Poor People’s Campaign was the last project of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and much like the poor of Jesus day who risked persecution by proclaiming Jesus as their King because they had nothing to loose but bondage to the Roman Empire, the poor of Dr. King’s day risked it all to converge on the nation’s capital to challenge the American empire because they had nothing to loose but bondage to an economic system that robbed them of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

God places the desire for freedom within all of his children and just as he provided the donkey for Jesus’ triumphant entry, if we step out in faith with the freedom and power that Dr. King prophesied about in 1967, we too will have everything we need to obtain the liberation provided by our creator.  As the gospel songs of old declared-“God is no respecter of persons what he did for others he can do for you too.”

Questions for Reflection

  • What do these stories of triumphant entries tell us about the nature of God and his desire for justice and liberation?
  • Do you see a connection between the donkey in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the mule train in MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign?
  • In what ways do we allow our fears of not being enough or having enough (money, talents, etc) stop us from doing God‘s work of justice?
  • This Lent what is one small way can you step out on faith and trust that God will provide you with what you need to be an advocate for justice?

Prayer: God, give me the faith and courage to step out and stand for justice trusting that you will provide me with all I need to do your work. In the name of Jesus our liberator – yesterday, today and forever, Amen.

By Simon Khayala, BD student St. Paul’s University, Kenya and youth pastor in the African Church of the Holy Spirit

Introduction

I would not have written about this topic, if I did not believe that the Bible has important things to tell us, not only about spiritual matters but also about material concerns. Anyone who begins to study those parts of the Bible which deal with poverty and riches will come up against what at the first sight seems to be a confusing amount of contradictory material. At first riches are a blessing, but latter they become a curse; at times poverty seems to be praised, but elsewhere it is regarded as a disgrace.

Remember some of these examples from the Bible: “Blessed are you poor” (Luke 6:20); “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer” (John 16:33); “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world?” (Mark 8:36);  while other text put all emphasis on poverty as a spiritual problem.

Poverty and riches are not independent phenomena. One person is poor because another is rich. Poverty is not a state of deprivation which has come about by chance; it is determined by the structures of society. In trying to understand these issues of poverty and richness we need to understand the social developments of the poor and rich in the Bible.

Vocabulary for poor and rich in the Bible

The Bible has a large vocabulary for describing the poor man and his situation. In the Old Testament, the commonest word for the poor is ani: It is used 77 times, above all in the Psalms (29 times). Literally, ani is used to denote a person who is bowed down, and who occupies a lowly position. The ani has to look up to others who are higher than he. He is humiliated; he can not stand up right because of economic and social pressure. The ani however is not contrasted with the rich, but with the man of violence, the oppressor, who put the ani in his lowly position and keeps him there.

The word anaw is very closely associated with ani. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, anaw tend to be less materialistic. The anaw is someone who is aware of being of little account before God; the anaw is humble and/or gentle. Here the emphasis can be more on poverty as a spiritual attitude.

The word dal is used above all for physical weakness and material poverty with no other connotations.

For the prophet Amos (2:6ff), being poor is comparable with being righteous (tsaddiq).

The New Testament also has different words for describing the poor man and his condition. Prochos is the commonest of them. The prochos is someone who has to try to live completely without means and is dependent on the help of others.

The Old Testament has a variety of expression about riches; riches influences power, possessions, abundance, nobility among other. The same is true of the New Testament. To be rich is to have an existence of good thing, where there are no shortages. In biblical thought riches are initially success guaranteed by God to those who observes the laws of the covenant. Abraham is the living example of this un-problematic view of riches. His possessions are sheer blessing. These kind of blessings and possessions are however not a privilege obtained at the expense of others. If one man is rich, all members of the tribe are rich. The words used to describe the poor in nomadic times seem to be of non Israelite origin.

Poor and rich: Social developments in the Bible

There came an end to this nomadic life and Israelite became farmers and began to settle. But before settlement in Canaan there seem to have been no clear distinctions between the poor and the rich. At this time there were no extreme social problems, economic conflicts and social class, the family was a financial unit (Leviticus 27). When the tribes of Israel settled in the land of Canaan around 1200 BC, they turned from being semi-nomads to small independent farmers; this made them to become rivals.

Anyone who was given an unfertile piece of land soon become poor and was compelled to sell himself and his family to slavery. The system of values changed even more quickly through intermarriage with Canaanite families which were more skilled at agriculture. The possession of property became the centre of interest. People began to increase their possessions and become rich.

At the time a distinction arose between the poor and those who owned land. The development of an economy involving dealing in trade and land disrupted equality of the families. Some families became rich and others slowly became poor.

Conclusion

We can conclude that, even in the bible poverty is directly connected with the structures within which people live. Poverty does not develop of its own accord; people do not become poor because they are idol – they become idol because they are poor. This means that solving the problem is never a matter of the poor – it’s the task of the rich. The rich is reminded into his responsibility and to an increasing degree of his guilt. He must transform his social success into a blessing for his fellow country men; he must be the one to encourage opposition to the widening gap between the rich and the poor. However, he fails to do this.

In reality, for all the public criticism made by the prophets and in spite of legislation, the social development continued and the gulf widened further. This is similar to our present world: the rich continue to become richer at the expense of the poor. In most parts of the world a few rich individuals continue to accumulate more wealth at the expense of many poor people.

Recommended reading with helpful ideas for the discussion: Conrad Boerma, “The rich man, poor man and the bible”  (1976).

by Onleilove Alston

Note: Though DWU works on issues affecting domestic workers in the U.S. the issues faced by its membership are shared by women worldwide. The exploitation of women workers is an international human rights issue. According to Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the U.N. :

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor  and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. THEY will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD   for the display of his splendor. THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; THEY will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. -Isaiah 61:1-4

“I want to be in tune with my maker.”

“I pray for the organization to get the (the Domestic Worker) Bill of Rights passed”.

“Without God we can’t do anything”.

“I put fliers in the churches, I speak to the pastors”.

–Marilyn Marshall and Joyce Gill-Campbell Leaders in Domestic Workers United (DWU)

“We have a dream that one day, all work
will be valued equally”.-Mission of Domestic Workers United

During the spring of 2006 I started to closely read Isaiah 61 and began to gain spiritual encouragement from meditating on God’s care for the poor and oppressed. I began to study this scripture whenever I had the chance. In 2007 I started to work with New York Faith & Justice after meeting founders: Lisa Sharon Harper, Anna Lee and Peter Heltzel at Pentecost 2007. In the Fall of 2007 New York Faith & Justice did an in-depth Bible Study on Isaiah 61 and from this study I learned that this passage declares the poor “the oaks of righteousness”, and “that THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated”. This new insight revolutionized my approach to the ministry of ending poverty. Instead of just preaching the gospel to the poor, the poor are called to rebuild and restore their communities! If you are a person of privilege instead of working for the poor you are called to work alongside the poor. And if like me you come from the ranks of the poor you are called to rebuild and restore your community. This re-reading of Isaiah 61 is further supported by my work with the Poverty Initiative’s Poverty Scholars Program. The Poverty Scholars program brings poor activist from across America to Union Theological Seminary to take part in an educational program of conferences, theological reflection and action planning centered on re-igniting Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign.

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The Poverty Initiative, based at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, has a mission “to raise up generations of religious and community leaders dedicated to building a social movement to end poverty, led by the poor.” Recently, at Camp Virgil Tate outside Charleston, West Virginia, they presented a week-long Leadership School with leaders from more than 20 organizations, including NY Faith & Justice, Domestic Workers United, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Jesus People Against Pollution, as well as international participants such as the Shackdwellers Movement from South Africa, the Church of Scotland, and Justicia Global from the Dominican Republic.

090904-leadership-schoolHere, Union alumna and Poverty Initiative member Kym McNair interviews Donna Barrowcliffe, the development manager from the Community Church of Ruchazie in Glasglow, where she works with the Church of Scotland Priority Areas Project (a project focusing on the poorest areas of Scotland). Donna was born and raised in a priority area.

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by Sarah Armitage. Cross-posted from inspiremagazine.org

The Burmese military is using rape and sexual violence against ethnic women and girls as part of a deliberate strategy to attain and strengthen control.  Charity worker Sarah Armitage reports
 
Rape. It may be a small word, but it has a meaning that carries the power to destroy individuals, families and entire communities. All around the world, rape is used against women as a show of power and control. In Burma, it is also used as a weapon of war.
 
A couple of weeks ago the Burma Army, the military force of the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council), began a new offensive along the border in Karen State. Almost 4,000 civilians fled for their lives across the Moei River into Thailand creating an extensive emergency crisis. In the days leading up to the attacks, the Burma Army entered villages in the area forcibly recruiting soldiers and porters.
 
On 12 June, Naw Pay and Naw Wah Lah chose to stay in their homes rather than try to outrun the Burma Army soldiers heading towards their village, a few hours’ walk from the border.

Naw Pay, aged 18, was eight months pregnant and Naw Wah Lah, aged 17, had a six-month old baby to care for.  It was a decision with dire consequences. When found by the soldiers they were taken out of their homes and gang raped. Afterwards, both young women and the unborn child were brutally murdered. Karen-Women
 
Tragically, this is not an isolated case. Over the past few years, a number of women’s groups based in Burma have produced reports documenting the systematic use of rape and sexual violence by the Burma Army against ethnic women and girls.

The number of known rape victims, some going back as far as 1995, is just under 1,900.  However, this is only a fraction of the true number as so many women are afraid or unable to speak out about what has happened to them.

Sometimes rape is carried out with such extreme brutality that for the victim, death can be the only possible outcome.
  Read the rest of this entry »

Idealist.org, a website where people and non-profits can connect and share ideas, recently released a podcast highlighting a faith-based organization called the Poverty Initiative.

What’s interesting about the podcast, while the Poverty Initiative does admirable work, is the second half — the part where the organizers explain their methods of exegeting the Bible.  In particular, they deconstruct the Bible verses that state “the poor with be with you always” and show how – rather than being a barrier to working against poverty – Christians can reinterpret this passage to act as an impetus for anti-poverty justice work.

Curious?  Give it a listen.

“Prayer” by Julia Esquivel

You illuminate our darkness
And fill our sadness
With hope.

Because you are stronger than I,
I have let myself be a captive,
And your love burns in my heart.

The thirst for your truth
Has made me a pilgrim
From city to city
Until the day your Word
Is fulfilled,
And we are reborn
In your image and likeness

Captivate me, Lord
Till the last of my days,
Wring out my heart
With your hands,
Of a wise old Indian,
So that I will not forget
Your Justice
Nor cease proclaiming
The urgent need
For humankind
To live in harmony.

Read more of our Ecumenical Women Worship resources.

About a month ago, I was writing the litany for Ecumenical Women’s opening worship for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). In the first draft of the refrain, I wrote, “Shower the earth with your justice, O God, and invest life into the bodies of your people.” Bringing it to Kathleen Stone, the chaplain at the Church Center for the United Nations, I, a white, privileged, upper-middle class (by American standards), North American woman, expressed my timidity about using the word “justice” so liberally in the refrain. “What is justice, anyway?” I thought to myself, “and how do I feel about a God who openly distributes justice upon God’s enemies? What does it mean for God to have enemies?” 

 As I expressed these perusings to Kath, she paused before commenting. When she spoke, it was reminiscent of what my Exegesis professor at Union Theological Seminary would later say about Ezekiel 37:1-14. For those people who have witnessed the ravaging of their homes, who have experienced the debilitating scourge of poverty upon their bodies and communities, and whose flesh has been torn and wounded—indeed, for those who have seen the “dry bones” of Ezekiel—the word “justice” is never too strong a word to use. In these situations, when humanity is hampered by our inability to distribute justice, it is God who must distribute justice. The women who would be reciting my litany have seen these dry bones, and they have come to the CSW to right the injustices of this valley. With these women in mind, Kath and I changed the refrain to “Thunder the earth with your justice, O God, and invest life into the bodies of your people.”

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A Study of The Kingdom of God within the “Monterrey Consensus” framework
….for the sake of all persons male, female, black, white, young, old, rich, poor,

There is a heart within those of us who yet believe in the coming of the Kingdom of God which will not rest. ”

(adapted from Augustine, 300 AD)

This study is born from that unrest. It analyzes the six themes of the Monterrey consensus. It can be used as a discussion guide for groups to analyze the concept of the Kingdom of God or the Monterrey consensus.

An excerpt:
One look at the world as we see it today with its vast inequities of privilege, power, ease of life, and economics, and we know something is vastly wrong. When we understand that women bear the disproportional burden of our erroring ways, the problem is thicker. And when we realize that women of color and indigenous women are excessively loaded with troubling powerful inequity, we must cry out. “This is just wrong.”

As the bearers of children, women have always needed the protection of community. Except for perhaps small pockets of the world, we can not escape this fact. And yet, more and more, around the world, with the direction our economy is taking us, women’s only hope of survival is to be used as a cog in a “liberalized, non-regulated economy”. And the problem? The value system of that economy has little consideration for the unique needs and the multiple responsibilities placed upon women. To see so many suffering at such extraordinary levels is unacceptable in God’s Kingdom and should be unacceptable in any ethical system of governance.

Download to read more….
A Study of The Kingdom of God within the “Monterrey Consensus” framework

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