“I’m not just sitting back waiting for somebody to hand me something.”

I was thrilled that we had a full room watching The Line last week. Plenty of discussion going on in small groups afterwards, too.

After the small group discussion time, I asked for people willing to share some of what they discussed regarding three questions:

  1. What in the film surprised you? What did you learn from the film?
  2. What connections among the four stories did you notice?
  3. What creative ideas do you have about how to respond to poverty?

A sampling of responses (paraphrased to the best of my memory):

  • “I didn’t know there was a connection between violence and poverty.”
  • “I noticed how much all [four] people hated being poor. Hated that they needed help.”
  • “I tried to imagine working 365 days a year and still not making enough to support myself. It gave me renewed compassion for a relative struggling with prolonged unemployment.”
  • “It made me realize how close to the edge just about all of us are. An accident, an illness, loss of a job…those stories could be about us.”
  • “Watching this reminded me that we serve the poor because that is how we live the Kingdom of God ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Serving the poor is what it means to follow Jesus.”
  • “I want our Confirmation Class to find a local project to support so we can help poor people here in Woodridge.”
  • I can’t watch that and think that any of them feel entitled to federal assistance. I can’t call any of them ‘irresponsible.’ None of them wants to be in a position of needing help.”
  • “I noticed it wasn’t their fault they were poor. Their situation wasn’t about choices they made. Rather, it was due to circumstances outside their control.”
  • “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel in order to help people. For instance, right here in Woodridge the West Suburban Community Pantry doesn’t just give food. They also have many programs that help: ESL classes, free child car seats, access to affordable health care, and they help clients register for SNAP.”
  • “James’ story, especially when he said he called his brother and sister to tell them, ‘I’m ok. You’re brother is ok.’…made me cry.”

Were you there? What else was said that we should share?

If you weren’t there last week, have you watched the movie? The whole thing is below. It is such a compelling film. The title of this post is a quote from Sheila, one of the four people the film features. You really need to experience these stories.
Once you’ve seen it, how would you respond to the three questions above?

Watch the entire film here:

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Watch “The Line” and #TalkPoverty

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, tonight you can watch the world premiere of (what promises to be) a terrific, important and compelling movie: The Line.  I threw in that parenthetical qualifier because, of course, I haven’t actually seen the film. Hence the “world premiere” part. 🙂

But I absolutely expect The Line to be compelling. While we USAmericans almost always talk about poverty by way of statistics*, it is stories that move us. Stories, especially (though not always) well-told ones, grab us. Stories shake us up. Stories move us. Sometimes stories even change us. And that is why I have such high expectations of The Line – it tells stories.

The Line documents the stories of people across the country living at or below the poverty line. They have goals. They have children. They work hard. They are people like you and me. From Chicago’s suburbs and west side to the Gulf Coast to North Carolina, millions of Americans are struggling every day to make it above The Line. []

Once again, here’s the trailer:

In just a few hours, at 7:00pm CDT, you can watch the world premiere of the film at it’s site. Click over. Watch the film. Stay there for a panel discussion following the movie.

Then, if you want to be really, extra, super cool…come back here and tell me what you thought of the film by leaving a comment!

But most importantly, let’s stop demonizing poor and hungry people. Instead, let’s make reducing poverty and caring for poor and hungry people a focus of our national politics and, if applicable, of our faith.

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…”

*Unless of course we want to disparage poor and hungry people. Then we almost always use an anecdote about this one person in this one place who really totally abused the system. So obviously no body anywhere should ever be helped at all.

Toeing “The Line”

I’ve written rather extensively about my involvement with and support for Bread for the World. I’ve been less vocal about my involvement with and support for Sojourners. But both organizations help me reflect upon a Christian commitment to social justice. Both organizations help me act on that commitment.

So you can imagine my interest when I discovered that both Bread and Sojo were involved in a new project together! Bonus: there are really two projects.

Now, I don’t know what was up with the “Middle Class First” signs at the DNC (though I suspect it was an appeal for people to think “we’re just folks.” Or more specifically, “we’re just folks like you!”)

But what I heard almost none of was what each party is doing and will do to fight poverty, to protect programs like SNAP, WIC, earned income tax credits. Which are all programs that literally get people from being hungry and lift people out of poverty. Isn’t that something both Republicans and Democrats say they want? To lift people out of poverty? Then we need a President willing to join the circle of protection around those programs.

From Bread: “We believe that this presidential campaign should include a clear focus on what each candidate proposes to do to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world.” Bread & Sojo asked, and President Obama and Governor Romney offered these responses:

But it seems to me, both responses more or less just parrot their already-determined platforms. Though I do appreciate the President grounding his response in his faith. How about really dealing with actual poverty? That’s the second awesome project: The Line.

A movie of stories. Real stories. Here’s the trailer. Woodridge UMC plans to screen the whole film in October. I hope you will join us.

Well said! – Abolitionist edition

8-year-old me: “Dad, why is there a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, but no Kid’s day?”

My Dad: “Because every day is Kid’s day.”

It’s an old joke, and it’s just true enough to be a little funny. It can never be more than a little funny though, because, for the estimated 13-15 million kids trapped in slavery (at this very moment!), no day is Kid’s day.

Forgive me the somewhat mawkish intro there. I was thinking about that long-ago exchange with my dad because today is February 1. Meaning National Human Trafficking Prevention Month is over. But, of course, (say it with me now) every day needs to be Human Trafficking Prevention Day. To that end…

The CNN Freedom Project has excellent coverage of child labor slavery in the chocolate industry. There’s even some good news: The Hersey company is finally addressing the issue:

The Hershey company, one of the United States’ leading chocolate producers, says it’s pledged $10 million over the next five years to educate West African cocoa farmers on improving their trade and combating child labor.

The company said in a press release that chocolate consumers will later this year be able to purchase a new version of Hershey’s Bliss brand, which will be 100% made from Rain Forest Alliance-certified farms mostly in Ivory Coast and Ghana.

“It’s a start,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum. “We see this as a welcome first step toward accountability.”

End Demand IL reports another victory: a conviction!

Sex trafficking is a local problem, and today Alex Campbell was convicted in a federal trial for selling women and girls out of a massage parlor in the Chicago suburb of Mt. Prospect. The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation applauds this victory and urges the community to hold purchasers (johns) accountable for buying sex and fueling the sex trade. Campbell recruited and prostituted women using force, fraud and coercion and had his name tattooed on their bodies to claim his ownership.

Sojourner’s offers a rundown of their anti-trafficking work in 2011:

When, as is true today, the richest 10 percent own 85 percent of the world’s wealth and the poorest 50 percent live off the crumbs of 1 percent of the total global wealth, you’ve created a market where slavery will thrive.

What will it take to shut down “Satan’s marketplace,” the global slave trade? Every weapon in the arsenal of nonviolence.

Texas churches rescuing sex slaves, according to Associated Baptist Press:

Faith-based and other organizations are using a variety of methods to discover and “rescue” trafficking victims. By using a private investigator, Traffick911 recently rescued two girls from traffickers, including one who was sold as “Thanksgiving dessert.” Groups like Traffick911 and TraffickStop are training individuals to recognize signs that indicate a person is being trafficked.

Next, groups like Refuge of Light and Traffick911 are attempting to build safe houses where rescued individuals can recover, a costly process that requires a safe environment. Safe houses are rare across the country. For a group like Traffick911 that discovers trafficking victims each month, that must change.

And, of course, my church (Woodridge UMC) will host a screening of Call + Response on Feb. 15 with discussion and action opportunities to follow.

Along with the film’s creators, we believe “the end of modern-day slavery will come from individuals who gather together to push on businesses, media, and governments to support their existing values for human rights. We believe that this is a bottom-up movement that needs dynamic information, sustained inspiration, and most importantly, tactile activation.”

Share your abolitionist activities so we can learn from each other.

My ad in Politico

Ok, so this isn’t exactly my ad in Politico…but I am one of the 4000+ pastors who signed on to this:

Sojouners writes more about this on their God’s Politics blog today. They also list the ad signers by state.

Sojo invited me to write “2-3 sentences” about my support for this movement which they will distribute to local media. I admit I hope I will get contacted about this. I find this very important, a time and place we who follow God in the Way of Jesus must raise our voice on behalf of people who, largely, are voiceless in this federal budget process. Here’s what I wrote:

As a parent, I know how important it is to be able to feed our two children. As an American, I want all people to be able to feed themselves and their children. As a Christian, I am called to help make that hope a reality. So I stand with those resisting budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people.

I join Sojo, Bread for the World and many others from across the denominational spectrum (and the non-denominational one) forming a Circle of Protection with and around the poor.

How will you add your voice?