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?”