Definition of Poverty

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. -Lk. 6:20

Yesterday I attended something of a strange event. The United Neighborhood Centers of NEPA, a local non-profit social service organization, is celebrating their 90th anniversary this year and as part of its celebrations, gathered three knowledgeable individuals to speak on the topic of “Poverty and Poor Health: Changing the Equation”. There were probably about 60 folks at the new Medical College (I went in large part because I was curious to see what the new building was like. It was of course very “rich”.) The audience members were all dressed in suits and obviously pretty healthy. It was a fairly engaging conversation, although of course the problem was that any one hour discussion was only going to scratch the surface of this huge topic.

Or IS it a huge topic? Interestingly one of the points made was that, politically speaking, the topic of “poverty” is simply not a priority on the government’s agenda. We talk around the subject obviously, but, for example, the actual word “poverty” has only appeared in three of President Obama’s speeches since he became president.

I learned a couple other things along the way, but the thing that made me somewhat thankful I attended was a definition of poverty which I think has some merit. I have always struggled with the whole idea of “poverty” and what it means to be poor in our excessively rich nation, but in this discussion it was suggested that an individual (or group, I suppose) can be defined as poor when they simply do not have the power to change the bad situation they find themselves in.

If we understand poverty as a lacking of “power” we can broaden the scope of the problem to not only the lack of money, but the lack of skills and mental/emotional/spiritual resources that can be applied to effectively make the life changes needed to improve one’s negative living situation.

Applying this to the life of the church and the ministry of Jesus, I think church members often think that we can’t help the poor very much because the church doesn’t have a lot of money. I think this definition helps us to see that poverty is much more than just money… and we as the people of God have a chance to make a real difference in the lives of those who are stricken by poverty by “enriching” their lives with the mental/emotional/and spiritual resources that are so often even much MORE important than money.

I did skip the wine and cheese and grand buffet that greeted us out the auditorium… I walked right out!!! Just crazy!!!!!! Such a disjointed and obtuse world we live in! “Boy, we feel so sorry for those poor people who are in such bad health! Let’s go and talk this over with some wine and cheese, shall we?”

As an aside, I recently listened to a series of lectures on St. Francis of Assissi who tried to embrace poverty as a way of following Christ – and struggled with what that meant and looked like in “real life.” What we learn from St. Francis is that truly, we can be rich even without money. Check out how his female counterpart, St. Clare of Assisi, coined the term “The Privilege of Poverty”.

The key question for me is: “What does this mean for me and my life?”

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4 thoughts on “Definition of Poverty

  1. I deal with kids in poverty every day, and I agree with the idea that power (or the perception of power) is a huge factor in a very complex equation. I also struggle to get these kids to realize that they might not have much power as individuals, they do have power as a group if they learn to use it. There reaction is almost universal. They have been beaten down so often that they simply do not believe it.

    So, where does one start in changing their perception of being powerless? I too have heard those with money (and power) who act much as those you described spewing out platitudes about “helping” those less fortunate, and I do not want to be perceived as being a member of that group. To say that I am frustrated by the institutionalized poverty I see would be a huge understatement, and I am even more frustrated at my inability to make any real difference. How does one change attitudes that are so embedded in a culture?

  2. To Mr. Brooten, “frustrated at my inability to make any real difference”: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

    It’s the same with almost anything that seems overwhelming. The church, many of its members poor, themselves, can make a difference through small acts of kindess and small amounts of money. Time is money, “they” say. Take time to help those who need physical help: cleanup for flood/hurricane victims; shop for shut-ins; rides to church or doctor’s appointments, etc. for the “car-less”. There are MANY ways to help the poor among us without spending a dime, but by spending time!

  3. Well, I am sure you will go Oh geesh, when you see I am writing…lol I think it is interesting that we talk of poverty in The Church and we have no real desire to minister to the poor. When I mentioned Obama spending millions on a vacation you said because he had a salary he deserved it just as you deserve yours……and called me jealous. First I have traveled extensively and I have no real need of a vacation except for some down time. I also think when we put into perspective the cost of vacations and complain about the issue of the poor in our society we are just huge hypocrites. I can now tell you I am one of the poor. I have no ability to work at any meaningful job and am paying huge medical bills with every spare bit of change I have. Please do not get me wrong I have no desire to receive charity. I do however see and understand the “Church failing every day in nearly every way to fulfill its God given direction of taking care of the poor, homeless, widows….etc. I have gone to inner city missions work with the poor and the homeless and those that had nothing…. this is not to my glory but to the Glory of God. Let’s look at how the first church lived…or isn’t that for today? What a joke if it is inconvenient we just say well that was the way society was then. I say bull crap that is the way society is supposed to be in any “time”. This topic is worthy of a book and has had many authors to address it, we don’t need symposiums, workshops, get-togethers etc. We need action by the church leaders to stand up for the Bible quit pussyfooting around as well as showing by example (which I have seen you show by example by the way) This is how we are to deal with poverty. Nowhere in the Bible, to my knowledge, does it say wait on the almighty Govt. to take care of the poor. If anyone wants to convince me they care about the poor then use your ability and finances to do something otherwise please stop living in this world of this world and complain that nothing is being done. If I am called to be wealthy in the future I promise you my wealth will be greatly depreciated by the amount I share with the poor…..I don’t mean giving them money but start fixing peoples houses start paying for medicines that are needed, start cleaning for people there is a list that goes on and on of ideas to help the poor. Let’s begin! Let me know where and when and I will do what I can to help. Stop talking and let’s have action. I also don’t see any doctrine of the great bureaucracy in Jesus’ teaching. He just commands to do not to contemplate. This reminds me why we should live in a country governed by Christians too. Well, that is a topic for another time….Chris I know you don’t like my theology and beliefs but I think you will find it difficult to find fault with the theology mentioned here. If you would like scripture references and details I will gladly take the time to search them out….Chris I know you want to serve God with all your heart and you are a man that I like to call friend ( I know you may find that a stretch….lol) I hope you have found no offense in my rant.

    • Your theology and my theology on this is exactly the same. Excellent post, Mr. Klees! You are answering the question “What does this mean for my life?”
      Whether the government helps folks or not, WHERE are God’s people helping the poor? The reality is that God has given His people PLENTY of resources (including money) to help the poor. Charity is God’s will… and the care for the poor and the widowed and those in need are his command! We aren’t supposed to be so concerned with “do they deserve it”… Who does? What did YOU or I do to deserve the riches YOU have? Nothing! Everything that “belongs” to us really is not ours, so why are we keeping it too ourselves?
      Anyway, we here at Peace HAVE tried to do smaller and larger things to serve the community… you might remember our CHAIN ministry that lasted for several years. And I made The Peaceable House proposal (https://fysherofmen.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/the-peaceable-house-proposal/) a couple months ago. We have to be imaginative and brave and trusting in the Lord. No two ways about it.

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