Statistics: Only Part of the Story
April 26, 2017
Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said, ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.’ — Luke 6:20a, 21a
We love statistics. Sports fans scour the daily box scores; financial analysts religiously follow the market trends; students spend an inordinate amount of time calculating their GPA.
We like it when “cold hard facts” tell the full story. Like Thomas sticking his hands in the holes of the nails of the body of the resurrected Jesus, we love verified facts upon which to hang our beliefs.
For many, statistics are also safe — they provide emotional distance from difficult topics by dehumanizing situations and turning them into numbers rather than people. When it comes to issues of global hunger, however, we must both name and confront the statistics.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world suffer from chronic undernourishment. That is nearly one in nine people. The World Bank estimates that 896 million people in developing countries live on less than $1.90 a day. Thus poverty is directly linked to hunger.
And while the vast majority of the hungry live in developing nations, there are still 11 million people living in developed countries who are undernourished. They are our neighbors in both geographical proximity and in the spiritual sense of the defining question posed to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
These statistics are startling in and of themselves but they are even more troubling when we begin to see the human face of hunger. These are the people Jesus says are “blessed” — the hungry, the poor, the marginalized.
To take our noses out of the statistics and turn to face those in our midst who hunger with outstretched arms is what it means to be a Christian. To embody the call of Matthew 25: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger” he is also saying directly and unequivocally to each one of us, “Feed the poor.”
This week’s author is the Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts and creator of the wildly popular Lenten devotion Lent Madness. When not tending to his parish, drinking coffee, or blogging at Clergy Confidential, he’s likely hanging out with his family that includes his wife Bryna, two teenage sons Benedict and Zachary, his dog Delilah, and a ferret named Mimi. Friend him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.
In the years I debated in school and the time I spent lobbying at the national, state and local level, the one thing I learned quickly was that you can use the same statistics to prove both sides of an issue. Also, how one interprets the statistics or views the results will lead that person to action or inaction. The problem is that numbers are rarely useful in leading someone to action. We must try to see God’s creation as unique and each person as an individual created by God. We may not be able to feed the world, but we should be able to help feed those in our own backyard, literally or figuratively. To say that about 9 percent of the world is undernourished, doesn’t mean much to most. But the family down the street being hungry is something we can see and address.