Today was the fourth and final day of the Acton Institute it has been an amazing experience. If you follow my Twitter feed or Facebook then you have been an eye witness to what I have been hearing. I know of at least one follower who muted me for the duration of the conference. He told me that what I was Tweeting was neo-con and he did not like it. (I think it’s a bonus when the libs get mad at me.) My response was that it was pure Orthodox Theology and I believe that.
It is late on the last night as I write this and I have a long drive a head of me tomorrow to return home so I am going to keep this short. Besides the aforementioned reasons there is much to process and make sense of. I did not agree with everything and some of it I did not understand (all the stuff on economics) but it was a good conference. I think a good conference is one that challenges you to open your mind, and your heart, and really think about things a different way. Acton has done that for me.
With that said I just want to mention a few things from the last session I had today. The title of the session was “Hope for the Inner City.” Now Southbridge is not exactly the inner city but it is pretty close and so I thought I might be able to learn a few things.
The presenter was Ismael Hernandez who I wrote about yesterday. He is from Puerto Rico and grew up poor and a Communist so his “Street Cred” as they say, is spot on.
He spoke about our philosophy of working with the poor and how at the heart of it we just need to love people. We need to accept them where they are, we need to walk with them and help them, not do the work for them, but them to help themselves. Although he is not a big fan of large social programs and believes that the government needs to get out of the way, he sees a need for now, for what we have. It’s not a matter of a new program or even a reform of the older one but really a reform of how we think about what we do. Some of these ideas are cross over from his talk yesterday.
Everyone is a unique and unrepeatable person created in the image and likeness of God. We need to work one person at a time. We are not going to solve world poverty or end hunger around the world, but we can make a difference in one person at a time right outside our door, our neighbor. Now where have I heard that before, oh yea the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
We need to help the poor resist the lure of victimhood and help them to break the cycle of poverty. Not everything is a crisis and until we learn this we will just keep enabling people to make the wrong decisions.
A few times during the talk he said, “do not treat the poor as pets.” Too often we set up a program, we invite the poor to come in, we take pictures, we pat them on the head (symbolically I hope) and we send them on their way. They exists and the program exists, to make us feel better about ourselves. It is not about us it is about them and their situation. If you do not really love the poor, you can have all the great ideas in your head, but you will never move a finger to make a difference.
Another saying, “The poor should not be the scenery in someone’s drama they should be the protagonist.” It’s not about us. It’s great that Bono and these other stars raise all this money and bring food and impoverished countries but are they really making a difference or are they just there for the photo op? That is the question we need to ask, what are we doing this? To make us feel better or to really make a change.
The whole idea here is to make real systemic change and not just window dressing. One person at a time, the person created in the image and likeness of God. We need to see Jesus in everyone we work with if we don’t we need to find another job!