Hope Grounded in Action
This post is by Bread activist Elaine VanCleave from Birmingham, AL.
“Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.” - St. Augustine
This ancient quote from Christian theologian and philosopher Augustine of Hippo emerged as the overriding theme as I attended global poverty events over the course of two days last week in New York City.
On Sept 22 and 25, the General Assembly of the United Nations conducted two high level meetings to discuss Africa’s Development Needs and, more generally, the Millennium Development Goals. During the week, NGO’s, philanthropists, business, faith and civil society leaders, scientists, campaigners, and activists met in dozens of complementary events to coincide with this annual meeting of world leaders. From the Clinton Global Initiative that drew over 1,000 high profile participants, including both presidential candidates, to the outdoor celebrity launch of Will.i.am’s In My Name YouTube project, the Millennium Development Goals, hunger, extreme poverty, and global disease took center stage.
For the previous 51 weeks of the past year, however, extreme poverty, hunger, and global disease remained silent killers with very little press and public attention. It was UNICEF’s James Grant who, in the 1980’s, first used the image of jumbo jets filled with children crashing repeatedly throughout the day to illustrate how complacently we accept the quiet deaths of, what was then, 40,000 children per day of hunger and related preventable diseases. In the last 20+ years, that astounding figure has dropped but we still live in a world where a child dies every 3 seconds from hunger and poverty-related causes.
Faced with such a grim statistic as 1 child death every 3 seconds, one could easily feel angry, hopeless, and, in turn, helpless.
One of the many events I attended was Bread for the World's Interfaith Consultation on the Global Hunger Crisis, a meeting where US religious leaders came together to discuss the impact of the hunger crisis on the achievement of the MDGs from a faith based perspective. As the lone 'person in the pew' in attendance, I was privileged to observe faith leaders as they struggled with the global hunger crisis and how to bring a message of hope to their congregations. The group did not come away with a public statement but there was a strong consensus, based on the group's hope of ending hunger in God's world, that we are in the midst of a teachable moment: As world leaders were talking about our promises to meet the Millennium Development Goals, Congress continued to debate a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street. The group expressed an appropriate outrage - not unlike the anger expressed by James Grant in the 80’s - if our government can find enough money to take care of the “most of these”, then surely we could keep our promises of the Millennium Development Goals to the “least of these”.
A model for action was much discussed in the framework of St. Augustine’s paraphrased quote “hope has two daughters - anger and courage". The group of faith leaders felt a strong sense of urgency to go home and mobilize their respective religious communities with a message of hope through public policy advocacy. Advocacy provides the person in the pew with the tools needed to convert anger and courage into concrete solutions for ending hunger in God’s world. Advocacy is hope grounded in action.
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