Sunday, May 05, 2013

Redistribution and The Spiritual Life, part one: The Final and Scariest of the 3Rs of Community Development

Background Lecture Notes on John Perkins' book With Justice For All, from my community ministry class at Phillips Theological Seminary this semester. 
Redistribution might be the scariest one of the three R's---relocation, reconciliation, redistribution. In these two chapters, Perkins begins to confront that reluctance head-on, drawing from examples local, national and global.
Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian archbishop, said (in a quote often attributed to Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement and houses of hospitality here in the U.S.) "When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are hungry, they call me a communist." Perkins moves in the same direction, but note he is also critical of the way the government has been involved in efforts to ostensibly help the poor.
In the movie, Entertaining Angels, about Dorothy Day, where they do attribute the above quote to her, she is also quoted after it, when people talk about what a saint she is for her efforts at housing and feeding the poor (not so much her opposition to war, interestingly) "Don't call me a saint. Don't dismiss me so easily." Not only was Day an unmarried mother, a big stigma in her day, and had radical left leanings and activities which brought her much controversy. The film shows some of the struggles that her life caused for her daughter. When people can identify or make idols of people like Day and Perkins (or any minister too by the way), it can be a way of distancing themselves from the responsiibility needed to be shared by all. It works against the Body of Christ (as 1 Corinthians 12 for example displays the needed mutuality of leadership and responsibility). It can be a way to actually hinder the work that called forth the efforts of people like Day and Perkins, and us, in the first place.
The hard work of acting on redistribution, as Perkins describes it, of the whole self, including financial resources but not limited to that, will often cause us to look for any detour from it that we can, including creating saints. Another form of this selected sainthood is to turn any one model or avenue of redistribution, such as church charity or non profit philanthropy or government assistance, into that one above all system. Sojourners editor and author Jim Wallis says, in a nod of sorts to the model of the Wesleyan quadrilateral, that the most effective actions or projects designed to break poverty include not just one main source of redistribution, but will draw from government, from business, and from nonprofits including faith communities; all are needed for the legs of a stool to make it effective, he says; without any one of them, the stool to support the anti-poverty effort will be lopsided and not work.

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