I recently took a photo of Nelson Mandela beaming as he shook hands with London school kids under a huge banner proclaiming, "Make Poverty History." Mr. Mandela was in town last a couple of months ago to address G-7 finance ministers on the same theme, at the invitation of the British chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown.
My photo of "Madiba" - as the former South African President is also known - now has pride of place on my computer. It is a constant reminder of a great man and of a great ideal. Who wouldn't want to put an end to poverty, even if there might be different views on how to achieve that aim?
Media crews were out in force that day immediately afterward, asking people on the street the how question. Most agreed with the Britain's proposed "new Marshall plan" for Africa, mixing debt relief, aid, and fair trade. Some also offered more personal ideas, such as committing themselves to giving more generously of their own time and money.
I, too, was moved to respond to what I had heard - moved to recognize that I needed to make a mental shift. I realized I wasn't expecting poverty to become history any time soon. More to the point, I was resigned to it continuing. I had to ask myself if I was really willing to give consent to the premise inspiring that huge banner. Could poverty become a thing of the past?
This wasn't just a question of whether I felt convinced that politicians, aid workers, and poorer nations themselves had the wherewithal to eradicate poverty. To me, the deeper question was, What was I willing to concede that God could do?
A vital ingredient of the effort to eradicate poverty is a spiritual one: consecrated prayer, the prayer that is certain that poverty, like any other evil, is no part of God's plan for any of His children. If all men and women are equally endowed as spiritual beings - and I believe that with all my heart - then poverty actually has no history. In the kingdom of heaven, the harmony of spiritual reality that God creates and maintains, poverty was not, is not, and never will be real. What lies ahead of us is proving that spiritual fact.
What veils this underlying reality of equal provision is the world's material view of existence. Mary Baker Eddy identified the provision's source as divine: "... to all mankind and in every hour, divine Love supplies all good" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 494). And many Bible stories illustrate the capacity of spiritually insightful thinking to bring rescue from dire lack, as well as from the dangers of material self- satisfaction.
As one living in a wealthier nation, I find I must guard against accepting it as inevitable that some individuals and nations will be better off than others. I couple that watchfulness with sincere gratitude for the sufficiency I've experienced, which I take as evidence that the God who is Principle provides for His children. However, unless it is a steppingstone to a more inclusive vision of expectancy for all, such gratitude is not enough.
In fact, being grateful for just one's own good or for the prosperity of just a single nation, could be classed as spiritual poverty - as failure to see through the misconception that God could be partial, to the Christ-view, the clear vision of a universal Love providing goodness equally to one and all.
Inspired by Mr. Mandela's visit, I've become more convinced that holding this spiritual view of Creator and creation can help make a dent in poverty around the world. It can support wiser decisionmaking, can aid nonprofit groups in finding ways to make a more permanent difference, and can bring to light previously unanticipated resources. Such prayer needs to be persistent and consistent. Poverty is an awful drag on human well-being that will not vanish overnight, but its elimination is a goal that is abetted by moments of unselfish spiritual caregiving.
"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation," Madiba told us in Trafalgar Square. "Let your greatness blossom."
Encouraging words in support of a great hope. One might add, "Let God's greatness blossom in your hearts and around the world!" To the degree it does, poverty will become history.