Anesthetics and Advocates Below the Poverty Line | Sojourners

Anesthetics and Advocates Below the Poverty Line

 Dollar bill and quarters, Shipov Oleg /
Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.50 per day, Dollar bill and quarters, Shipov Oleg /

By definition, an anesthetic is a drug used to relieve pain (analgesia), relax (sedate), induce sleepiness (hypnosis), spark forgetfulness (amnesia), or to make one unconscious for general anesthesia. Anesthetics are generally administered to induce or maintain a state of anesthesia and facilitate a procedure. I believe that anesthetic can be employed as a striking image for particular deficiencies in faith-based responses to extreme poverty. 

As one can cite many examples where faith is proclaimed and practiced solely as an escape from – rather than engagement with – the numerous struggles associated with impoverishment, we recognize that anesthesia is incomplete without corresponding acts of sustainable social surgery.

While the New Testament does indeed illustrate a God who seems to provide anesthetic-like relief from the various aches and pains of life (2 Corinthians 4:17-18), we also affirm God as an Advocate who accompanies humankind throughout struggles and sorrow (John 14:16). So one could argue that God does – at times – function as a divine anesthesiologist, but we also recognize the countless times that God pushes us directly into the path of struggle and confrontation. Since God accompanies humankind as both anesthetic and advocate, our response to God’s love includes – but goes beyond – momentary pain relief alongside those in poverty, for we also seek corrective operation, healing of core injuries, and rehabilitative strengthening for the future. As the popular anti-poverty metaphor reminds us, we should not only “give away a fish,” nor should we merely “teach others to fish,” but together we are called to question who has access to the pond and critically consider whether people want fish at all.

A practical way to serve within the tension of anesthetic and advocate is to experience a small portion of life below the poverty line. The World Bank sets extreme poverty as below $1.50 per day, and I plan to stand in solidarity by attempting to eat on less than $1.50 per day over the course of five days (Monday – Friday). As roughly 1.4 billion people around the world currently attempt survival on such limited resources, those who choose to willingly budget food on such limited means can move past statistics and allow for a more intimate experience alongside those who struggle with extreme poverty. Such a short-term venture can place one more fully into the long-term path of poverty, which in turn leads to a stronger and more sustainable response.

As my wife and I will take part in this $1.50-per-day poverty awareness challenge in the coming days, the following are some basic ground rules which we plan to follow:

  • Over the course of five days (Monday – Friday), we will spend no more than $1.50 a day on food and drink, which means we each have a total of $7.50 with which to buy all ingredients for our meals. She and I combined (we plan to work as a team) have a total budget of $15.00 for five days.
  • The full cost of all the items we consume will be included in our budget. This means budgeting for whole packages of food like rice, pasta, noodles, eggs, etc.
  • For items like salt, pepper, herbs, and spices, we must calculate the cost of each item per ounce and budget the shopping proportionally.
  • We are not allowed to consume anything purchased before this week unless it is included in the overall cost of buying the item new in our budget.
  • While we do not have a garden, if we did, we would have to account for the price of production.
  • We cannot accept “donated” food from family or friends.
  • We are allowed to drink tap water.

While this awareness-building effort is by no means perfect, I believe the (recognizably limited) undertaking will allow us to more fully understand some of the outcomes of global impoverishment. I'm hopeful that a relatively short-term plan can have a long-term impact in our overall commitment to various efforts of relief, development, and advocacy. And so, as my wife and I take part in this (admittedly faux-poverty) process, we look forward to the lessons to be learned, the struggles to be felt, and hopefully, the inspiration that will continue to follow.

By definition, an advocate is one that supports a particular cause, or from a biblical perspective (John 14:16), one that pleads the case of another. (The Greek word used in John’s Gospel for “Advocate” is Paraclete, which can also be translated as “Helper” or “Comforter.”) So just as an advocate accompanies others in solidarity and mutuality for the sake of a common good, as people of faith, we are called to have deep concern for life after death and life after birth in all its fullness. 

Whether it is through awareness campaigns or other opportunities that come to our attention, may we continue to step up, reach out, and jump into the aches and pains of poverty, so that we may not only reduce the hurts of the present, but also seek healing, restoration, and strength – far into the future – for the sake of the world.

Brian E. Konkol is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), serves as Co-Pastor of Lake Edge Lutheran Church (Madison, Wis.), and is a PhD candidate in Theology & Development with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa). 

Image: Dollar bill and quarters, Shipov Oleg /

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