The Challenge of Poverty Part 2: The Way Forward

Any consideration of poverty brings to mind Jesus’ overriding concern for the poor and the marginalized.

He who called Himself the starting and ending point of time overcame the greatest poverty, death, and promises escape from death in this life and beyond for anyone who comes to Him.

The world around Him was splintered politically and socially, and many of its people oppressed. Jesus entered to announce the arrival of the kingdom of God in Himself. The poor, the sick, the searching were drawn to His healing touch and His message of God’s mercy and love. He fed the hungry, made the blind see, restored the maniac to sanity and forgave the adulterer. He challenged the norms of society by proclaiming that attitudes and actions should reflect true justice, true love.

Science informs us that existence is the manifestation of complex mathematical formulas and relationships. Life itself is contingent on elements as basic as air and water. Our relational reality hinges on the ultimate contingency, the God who is in all things, above all things and through all things.

The poor, exposed to grinding need, are in their vulnerability open to transformation. A literal translation of the Hebrew word for salvation translates as “God is a saving–cry.” The English language further defines salvation as “wholeness, health, and physical and emotional well–being.”

The specter of poverty is such a burning issue because it exposes what is true for everyone. All are in need of transformation. All are cut off or dimly perceive the ultimate contingency, that of a God who calls His creation to emulate Himself in all His righteousness.

God demonstrated His supreme love by coming to earth to address human need completely. Author Obery Hendricks, Jr., in The Politics of Jesus, refers to Jesus’ meeting with a man branded a leper: “For Jesus… they were mothers’ sons and daughters, children of God. It was this systematic exclusion and crushing of the spirits of some of God’s children by others of God’s children, this violation of the fundamental freedom that permeates the Gospels, that fired the anger of Jesus and moved Him to counsel this particular victim, and by extension, all who are victimized by unjust power, to publicly repudiate the agents of injustice and the systems they administer.” Reverend Hendricks goes on to say that to be true to Jesus’ vision means to “treat people’s needs as holy.”

It is one thing to refer to the vision of the gospels, another to interpret it for today. Even defining poverty is difficult, since psychological and social impacts are hard to measure. Mollie Orshansky, who developed poverty measurements for the U.S. government, said, “to be poor is to be deprived of those goods and services and pleasures which others around us take for granted.” The World Bank defines poverty as “an income level below some minimum level necessary to meet basic needs.” The United Nations defines it as “a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity.” Poverty is lack of food, clean water, shelter, sanitation, health, education, basic services, representation and power. Army Founder William Booth thought the poor of industrial London deserved at least the same treatment as the city’s cab horses. Today The Salvation Army is developing a human needs index to better serve those in need. Mother Theresa said, “The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

The Army’s international leader General André Cox has expressed concern about the disparity of wealth and the self–absorption of materialism. “We cannot remain unmoved… We may by the only means that God has of touching people around us with His love.”

The causes of poverty are both social and personal. Those without access to basic necessities, to a safety net, to pathways to self–sufficiency and to gainful employment, live on the margins, without benefit of instruction and guidance. And while it is easy to stereotype those in poverty as responsible for their negative outcomes, a person’s behavior does influence destiny to some degree. Psychiatrist Anthony Daniels has worked in countries in Africa and with prison populations in his native England. He notes from his experience that heroin addicts “show considerable determination in becoming addicts… In Britain, at least, heroin addicts do not become criminals because they are addicted… Criminality is a better predictor of addiction than is addiction of criminality.” He also points out that by the time they are 15 or 16, twice as many children in Britain have a television as have a biological father living in the home.

The Way Forward
The poverty level in the United States has remained between 15-20% since the 1960s. Many more people would have been subject to poverty if government assistance programs had not been available. The safety net provided through public assistance has done much to help individuals and families improve their circumstances. But those on the ground, such as social workers, realize that initiatives to alleviate poverty can trap people in a maze of attitudes and services that perpetuate an impoverished lifestyle.

Americans are a generous people, giving on average about 4% of income to charity annually. Yet the untapped resources in the private realm are vast. Charitable giving amounts to only about 1.5% of GNP. The opportunity for a free people to harness the power to contribute to the social capital of the nation is one of America’s greatest prospects.

The nation’s social capital has been depleted over the last decades. Rising inequality is one sign, as are the erosion of values that lead to stability and responsibility. In his book Coming Apart, Charles Murray sites as examples the rise in the number of children born out of wedlock, the decrease in civic involvement by citizens and the sense that traits such as trustworthiness, honesty, service and self–sacrifice are no longer the norm.

The founders of the United States instituted self–government according to shared values. James Madison observed that “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.” For Patrick Henry, “No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue.” As Charles Murray summarizes it, “the founders recognized that if a society is to remain free, self–government refers first of all to individual citizens governing their own behavior.”

Jesus embraced the poor, the lonely, the sick, the marginalized because He saw in them the potential for transformation. The challenge of poverty is to renew social capital and inform it with the values that lead to lasting change, and with the transformative spirit that defines salvation in all its dimensions.

By Jeff McDonald

No One Would Guess that I…

Robin Williams’s suicide has riveted public attention on severe depression and the devastating impact it can have on people of all ages. Even his family and close friends seemed unaware that this much – loved comedian was bearing such intense emotional pain that he felt compelled to end his life. His death reminds us that the stigma of mental illness can still keep people from seeking help when they need it most. Depression is a serious illness, but with medication and/or therapy it can be effectively treated. Here professional counselor Wilma Bradshaw relates how God redeemed her own pain so she could help teenage girls in The Salvation Army cope with their struggle.

As a counselor, I am aware that depression may affect people who attend church, Sunday school or youth groups, and that the church in general needs to acknowledge it and respond with understanding and practical help.

I had given each of the teens a slip of paper that said: No one would guess that I___ and asked them to fill in the blank. I explained that this exercise was anonymous and that I would be more than happy to meet with them about whatever they wrote. The 14 girls ranged from 13 to 18 years old.

As I read each response out loud the mood in the room shifted as these young girls began to realize they weren’t alone and that others were going through the same things. I assured them that many teens often undergo these experiences and that it is not their fault. I told them that there were people in the church that they could trust, including myself, the corps officer and other adults.

These girls needed to know that they were not to blame for this sinful behavior inflicted upon them and that they were loved, that there was hope and that others cared about them. They eagerly agreed to meet with me once every 4 to 6 weeks.

Our corps officers were as amazed as I was to discover that young people in our church were struggling with abuse; as their leaders they didn’t have a clue.

I couldn’t sleep that night. We knew many of the young people at the corps came from broken homes and struggled with poverty, but those slips of paper reminded me that we did not comprehend the depth of suffering around us. One of the slips read, “No one would guess that I cut myself.” That sparked some dark memories of my own.

I thought back to my early 40s, after having been in a bad relationship for many years where I was told that I was stupid, worthless, fat and old. Then I remembered how at five years old I was told that I didn’t deserve my toys and to pack a small suitcase of clothes and to sit on the front steps and see who wanted me. I stood there for hours until the door finally opened and I was told to “Come back inside. See? No one wants you!” I began to believe everything negative that was said to me. During one of my darkest days, as I looked down as I walked, I picked up a jagged piece of glass off the street and carved the word “worthless” into my hand. The pain felt good because I thought I deserved it. I kept on cutting — sometimes just cuts and sometimes words like “hate” and “shame,” all because I believed what others said and felt about me. After attempting suicide by overdosing, ended up in intensive care for several days. When I woke up I cried out: “Why God? Why would you let me live when I have done nothing but walk away from you my whole life. I don’t deserve to live. Is this my punishment?”

Thankfully, God has always walked with me, even when I chose not to walk with Him. With His help I found my way out of the despair and depression. It was a long, hard road, but it led me to become a therapist so I could help others struggling with depression.

I sat there that night with memories running through my head, I felt a deep desire to listen, to know, and to let the corps know that our young girls — and I would venture to say, our young people —need to be told how valuable they are to us, that we love them and respect them and want the best for them.

It can be scary to hear someone express suicidal thoughts. Asking someone if they are having such thoughts will not make that person act on them. Not all of us are professional counselors, and I’m not suggesting that we try to be therapists with those in our congregations. But I am suggesting that we can be aware of what depressive symptoms look like. Here are a few:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease after treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts

By genuinely caring for those who might be depressed, we can help get them the help they need from a mental health professional, so they don’t spend all their lives running, like I did.

I walked away from The Salvation Army and from God 46 years ago. A little over three years ago I walked into Salvation Army corps because I thought God wanted me to, but I thought “I can’t do this —I am too damaged — I can’t change.” The corps officers kept reaching out to me, saying: “Wilma, you can’t change yourself, but God can make the changes necessary if you trust Him.

” Trust Him? That was a problem. I wanted to, but most everybody I had trusted had abused me or hurt me. I just couldn’t trust anyone, not totally.

I cried. Then I told God “I don’t want these young people to feel like I did. I don’t want them to feel lost, alone, unloved and unworthy. Help me help them, my Lord! Help me turn control of my life over to you, to be willing to do your will… What can I do to serve you?”

And in a very quiet voice I heard this: “Wilma, this is how you are serving Me.”

By Wilma Bradshaw

True Colors

Sarah Drew loved portraying Allyson in the movie “Mom’s Night Out” because, like this conflicted mom, we are all “a beautiful mess and a masterpiece.” In this conversation with Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee, Editor-in-Chief, the actress talks about Hollywood as an epicenter for beauty and truth, and how to handle the lure of the spotlight.

War Cry: How did a preacher’s kid get interested in acting?
Sarah Drew:
Since before I can remember, it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. My parents say that when I had my graduation from kindergarten performance they noticed that I had a gift. When I stood up and said, “A is for apple,” very clearly and out to the audience, you just couldn’t get me off the stage. I felt the happiest and safest on stage all through school. In college I majored in drama. While I was there, I did a musical theater program the summer between my second and third year. A casting director came and did a workshop. I did a monologue and they started bringing me in for auditions. I was cast as Juliet in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” at a theater right outside of New York. I was reviewed by Variety and the New York Times. It was amazing and ridiculous. It never happens that way.

WC: Why do you enjoy acting?
It has shifted over the years. When I was younger, it was the place where I felt the strongest, the bravest and freest. Being on stage, I was able to disappear into whatever character I was playing. I was good at it, really, really good at it. When I didn’t have confidence socially, I had confidence performing.

As I’ve grown, acting became the place where I felt called to. It’s the thing that gave me the most joy. I’ve always been interested in all kinds of different people and understanding motivations for why people do the things they do. Acting allows me to jump into the shoes of lots of different people and see the world through their eyes. Sometimes you play villains and sometimes you play heroes. When you play villains you have to find a way to love the villain because if you can’t find a way to love the villain, you’re not authentic. You have to find the humanity in everybody.

WC: What unique challenges do Christians face as actors?
The biggest challenge for me is that we’re called to die to ourselves and yet our currency as actors is our publicity, making people love us. That’s a very strange dichotomy for me. Paying a publicist to promote me, to make me look more important to the world so that I can go tell more stories that I want to tell, yet still live as someone who has humility and is not obsessed with myself. Often I am obsessed with myself, and that’s probably the biggest hurdle for me, the biggest challenge for me. As I navigate the waters of Hollywood, it is remembering the roots of my identity, instead of letting everybody’s comments about me cloud that. Separating the truth from the lies, that’s still hard, so hard.

WC: What do you wish your fellow believers understood about the acting profession?
Often Christians can have this perspective of Hollywood being a deep, dark, evil place. I have a very different experience. There is so much beauty and truth in every piece of art. You can find moments of humanity in places where you connect as a human being. Don’t write off all of Hollywood that doesn’t have an overtly Christian message. We are called to be in the world. There is so much beauty. I’ve grown so much and I’ve had so much truth spoken into my life from people outside of the faith. Often Christians don’t think that is possible, that there is wisdom and truth to learn from someone who doesn’t believe the same thing that we do. I would love Hollywood to not to be so afraid of Christians and for Christians to not be so afraid of Hollywood. I think we can meet.

WC: What attracted you to Mom’s Night Out?
It’s a wonderful slice–of–life picture of a whole culture of underserved people in our country. Our culture doesn’t honor the stay–at–home mom. We don’t celebrate her and I don’t understand why. Women now have the choice—we can choose to work outside the home or stay at home. I chose to work outside the home. However, our culture wants tolerance, as long as it fits into the mold. It’s not tolerance at all. It’s really interesting to hear people say our film is regressive simply because the hero of the movie happens to be a stay–at–home mom. Nobody’s preaching that everybody should stay at home. This idea somehow makes people uncomfortable. I wanted to do the film because I wanted to honor those moms, because a lot of those moms are my friends. I see how hard they work and I see how much they beat themselves up. I beat myself up as a working mom in terms of feeling like a failure, feeling like I’m not enough, and badly for my husband, for God, for my friends, for my son. I love that Ally (the heroine of the movie) got to take this journey of going from a place of feeling like a failure to then releasing it and being able to look at herself in a new way as someone who is a beautiful mess and a masterpiece. I need to preach that message to myself daily.

WC: How do you handle criticism?
This is the first time I’ve hit this incredibly vitriolic negative reaction. It’s hard. My husband is continually helping me to separate truth from lies. Which stands? I had a really hard time earlier in my career. I don’t go on message boards anymore. On my first show, Everwood, I got addicted to going on message boards after every episode aired and reading what everybody had to say about me. No matter how many nice things were said the only stuff I remembered was the horrible and really cruel stuff. It did a number on me. The positive stuff is just as destructive as the negative stuff because it tends to create this total false identity about who you are. That identity in the Webisphere can crumble in five seconds. You’re building your hope on something that isn’t real. They don’t know the real you at all. It’s this image of you that they’re talking about. My product is my body, my voice, and my face. Someone can trash a new product by Apple, but it doesn’t feel as personal. When someone is trashing your product, which is you, the way you speak, look, move, talk, gesture or your beauty or lack thereof, it can be devastating. I thank God I have incredibly strong truth tellers in my life to remind me who I am and love me for who I am.

WC: What advice would you give to a fellow believer who aspires to be a professional actor?
It’s really, really important to enter into it within a solid community of people who truly know you and truly love you. You need to have a strong sense of who you are. You need to know where your identity ultimately lies. You need to surround yourself with true colors. I don’t even know where I would be right now if I walked into this career without my husband. My husband is the greatest truth teller in my life. He is always my reminder of my value and my worth. Box office tickets and whatever else are totally irrelevant to why or how he loves me.

You have to know who you are or this thing can eat you up. Praise plays with the ego and the ego is a very tricky thing. It is a constant battle for me to veer away from becoming proud and obsessed with myself. And, I fall into it a lot. I fall into that and have to be pulled back out of it because ultimately when I go down that path, I am miserable. There is no joy down that path.