loren Eric Swanson: Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development

Monday, March 05, 2007

Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development

Myers, Bryant L. Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999.

I use the term transformational development to reflect my concern for seeking positive change in the whole of human life materially, socially, and spiritually. The adjective transformational is used to remind us that human progress is not inevitable; it takes hard work, and there is an adversary who works against our desire to enhance life. True human development involves choices, setting aside that which is not for life in us and our community while actively seeking and supporting all that is for life. This requires that we say no to some things in order to say yes to what really matters. Transformation implies changing our choices. P. 3

I understand Christian witness to include the declaration of the gospel by life, word, and deed. By life I refer to the fact that Christians are the message. We are the sixty-seventh book of the Bible. People read our live, our action and our words and believe they know what being a Christian means. By word I refer to the need to say what the gospel story is and invite others to make it their story. By deed I refer to the fact that the Christian faith, at its best, is an active faith, engaged with the world and seeking to make it more for life and for the enjoyment of life. P. 4

In the spiritual realm, the critical question is, Whose God is the true God?, and the answer is an idea. This frame allows us to reduce the gospel message to truth in the form of propositions, even a set of “spiritual laws.” Christian witness is reduced to works and speaking.
At the level of the physical world, the question is, What works? The answer comes in the form of effective methods and good technology. Deeds and doing are the real thing. We then reduce the gospel message and evangelism to working for justice or saving God’s creation. P. 9

Therefore, in dealing with the gospel message, we cannot separate word, deed, and sign without truncating our message. Words clarify the meaning of deeds. Deeds verify the meaning of words. Most critically, signs announce the presence and power of One who is radically other and who is both the true source of all good deeds and the author of the only worlds that have life it is fullest. P 10

The poor are poor largely because they live in networks of relationships that do not work for their well-being. Their relationships with others are often oppressive and disempowering as a result of the non-poor playing god in the lives of the poor. Their relationships within themselves is diminished and debilitated as a result of the grind of poverty and the feeling of permanent powerlessness… Poverty is the whole family of our relationships that are not all they can be. P. 13

The best of human futures lies in the direction of the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ as the person who offers the way to become part of God’s kingdom. Because poverty is fundamentally relational, I then articulate the twin goals of transformational development as changed people and just and peaceful relationships. By “changed people” I mean people who have discovered their true identity as children of God and who have recovered their true identity as children of God and who have recovered their true vocation as faithful and productive stewards of gifts from God for the well-being of all. P.14
I begin by the reiteration the basic affirmation that the ownership of the development process lies with the people themselves. P. 15

Once again the dwelling place of God is men and women (Rv21:3). There are no more tears, or death, or crying, or pain, nor is there famine or drought (Rv 7:16, 21:4). Everything is made new—the people and their city. There is no church in this new Jerusalem because it is no longer needed; God and the Lamb live among the people (Rv 21:22). The mission of the church as a “history-making force” (Newbigin 1989, 129) is completed. The kingdom of God stands alone at the end of time. It is the final reality; all other kingdoms have passed away.
The nations now walk by the light of the glory of God sone forth by the son…the measures of value are turned upside down. God, the most valuable commodity in the world, the commodity of greed and violence, is so common that it is used to pave the streets. The foundations of the city are made with precious stones (Rv 21:20-21), because we have a new understanding of what is valuable. These gemstones re simply beautiful, no longer objects of greed in the eyes of humankind. P.42

Abundant life means no limits to love, no limits to justice, no limits to peach (Hall 1985, 99). Anything that is for life, that enhances life, or that celebrates life is pointing toward the kingdom. Africans pray “life as well as the means to make life worth living” (Okorocha 1994, 79).

Transformation begins with a changed person. All other transformational frontiers are now more easily breached in a more comprehensive way with a greater hope of being sustainable. P 117


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