Friday, April 10, 2009

Good news to the poor

Been visiting lots of affluent churches recently, and it got me thinking.. The new testament is often referred to as the "good news." Yet, in many affluent church communities, religion seems to be more of a tool for maintaining power and control than a radical new Way of service and humility. Is it really good news if it's only good news to those who already have everything they need, and not to the poor?
I like what Gustavo Gutirrez, Peruvian theologan and priest, active during the liberation theology movement has to say:

But the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Before hitting us, try talking to us!

That was the message the group of adolescents we work with wanted to communicate to their parents and to their community in general during an art exhibition they put on a few weeks ago. Using only recycled materials, they constructed an interactive exhibition based on the three main themes of the group: environmental protection, sexual and reproductive health, and violence prevention.

The teenager's messages to their parents included: "Before hitting us, try talking to us!" "When you say to your kids: 'You are an idiot and no good', that is violence!" "When you leave your children without giving them anything to eat, that is violence!"

I was especially struck by the work they did related to violence, which is a social problem deeply entrenched in the culture. Here, most everyone see violence as a completely natural response to anger, “bad” behavior, sadness, and a host of other feelings and behaviors. Moreover, the Latin-America machismo culture prescribes a strict gender-role, purporting that “real men” are physically strong, don’t cry, exercise their power over others through domination and control, and don’t show emotions. This gender-role (combined with the submissive gender role of women) creates a climate in which violence (and especially violence towards women) is accepted as a natural.

Sometimes I scare myself when I realize how desensitized even I have become to the violence during my time here. The kids I work with have shown me bruises where their parents have beaten them, teenagers have told me stories about their alcoholic dads that abuse them and their mothers, and even those I somehow thought lived in families free of violence turn out to have bruises (either emotional or physical). I wish I could say that I was equally outraged each time I heard one of these stories. But the truth is that, though each story stings, there are too many to fully let the impact of each story sink in over you. And, honestly, what disturbs me most of all is the thought of all the stories that are not being told… The silently suffering, day in and day out, year in and year out.

Let’s not forget that these stories exist close to home too. In America, 1 in 4 women will experience violence in their lifetimes. In Norway too, supposedly one of the countries in the world with the greatest gender equality, women still bear the larger burden of violence in the home. And again, there are undoubtedly countless stories that are not being told here either…

If you are interested in learning more, click on the following links:
Amnesty International's campaign Stop Violence Against Women
UNIFEM - Violence Against Women