Monday, October 22, 2007

Poverty and Christianity

TUESDAY - Please see the additions to this post added after the original post.

I received this comment this morning from a visitor and I'd like to address it in a post. Normally comments would be addressed in the comment section but this one came in an area of another subject so readers might not have noticed it. Plus it is an important topic. Here is the comment:


Hi Donna-Marie,

I am a Christian from the UK. I came across your blog while surfing Blogland. I wonder if I may ask you a question about a topic that appears frequently on your postings - poverty.
Why is it many Christians praise poverty? Why is it many Christians praise poverty while not living in poverty?
If you, for example, were poor, you would not be able to have a blog, as poor people cannot afford computers, electricity, telephone bills etc, let alone rent for a house.

Blessings

James

***



Dear James,

I'm glad you stopped by and felt comfortable to ask your question which is a very good question indeed. "Why is it many Christians praise poverty?"

There are many reasons why a Christian would want to embrace poverty. But, first of all to answer your comment about "Why is it many Christians praise poverty while not living in poverty? If you, for example, were poor, you would not be able to have a blog, as poor people cannot afford computers, electricity, telephone bills etc, let alone rent for a house."

A poor person can have a blog and use their local library computer to maintain it if they felt inclined to do so. Poverty reaches across all states of life and is not only reserved for the desolate. Christians who believe that it is wise to be poor in spirit are not hypocritical if they own something.

But, back to your original question about "Why is it that many Christians praise poverty? Our Lord Himself was poor. Jesus, who is our King and Savior was paradoxically born into poverty, resting in a wooden manger of hay, hardly what would be expected for a King’s birth. Angels sent simple shepherds to Mary and Joseph to see their holy baby. Mary “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Christians who feel an affinity with poverty may choose to live a little simpler, acquiring less material wealth and certainly sharing their wealth with the poor which can be done in so may ways. Christians can choose to become "detached" from worldly things, wanting to concentrate more on what our Lord is calling them to do and not obsessing over material wealth which will be left at our graves.

Blessed Mother Teresa took care of the poorest of the poor and had seen people every day living in squalor, disease, and dirt in the streets of Calcutta. She never admonished the rich for having riches. She always said that if that is what God called them to, that is fine but asked them to share those riches with the poor. She was upset about the imbalance of wealth in this world - the rich wasting or hoarding their wealth while others died in poverty.

This holy woman also pointed out that poverty is not just the poverty of riches but even more sadly and tragically is the poverty of spirit. People are starving for love and affection right in our affluent countries, right in our neighborhoods; people who may have never known the warmth of an embrace or even acknowledgement from others because of their state in life, such as in the case of a homeless person feeling rejected by society. There are others who may seem to be successful and happy by outward appearances, but are crying inside, hoping for love and acceptance. These are the people we need to smile at, to talk to, to offer a hand to. We are all called to ease the pain of the suffering and the poor.

Mother Teresa's approach was to help one person at a time - all who were within her reach. She has asked us to do the same. We can all in all of our walks of life reach out and help each other - what a world this would be if we would do that!

Regarding Christians and poverty, we should know that we can pray and ask our dear Lord to help us to embrace a simpler and more loving and giving lifestyle. We can and should ask Him to open our eyes to the poor around us. They may be right beside us and there is no need to run off to a poverty stricken country to find them. Mother Teresa had said quite often. There is Calcutta all over the world for those who have eyes to see." Let's find that Calcutta in our midst and help to ease the suffering of the poor.

So, James, I don't know if I have answered your question. Perhaps someone else may have a better answer or another way to explain it and can leave a comment here. I invite others to please chime in.

God bless!


After posting the above, James wrote this back:


Hi Donna Marie,
Thanks for your reply and including my question as a post.
May I comment on what you said?

I suggested poor people would not have a blog because they could not afford a computer, telephone bill etc. You stated poor people could use their local library to maintain a blog. I know many poor people and none have a blog. The reality is material poverty has an effect spiritually, educationally and on our aspirations.
As for Jesus being poor, I see no evidence in Scripture to support this widely held Christian belief. The Gospel tells us Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room at the inn - not because Joseph was too poor to pay. Joseph ran his own construction business, not a lowly carpenter shop as people romantically imagine, so he would have been wealthy. In fact, one of his biggest clients would have been the Roman army. Also, if Jesus was poor, wore poor clothes etc, why did the Roman soldiers gamble for his clothes at the crucifiction? If he dressed like a poor man, they would have been thrown aside.
I'm glad you said Mother Teresa did not admonish the rich. Her calling and that of her order, is very specific and not common amongst Christians. I knew some of her nuns where I used to live, and that was their view.
The problem is when any of us speak of the 'rich' we always think of someone else. So, I think a movie star is rich and the movie star thinks the studio owner is rich and the studio owner thinks the oil billionaire is rich and so on.
I think it is very hard to define "a simpler lifestyle.' To me, a moivie star lives in excess with every luxury. But to someone in the Third World earning $1 a day, my lifestyle (I have a nice house, water, electricity, overseas holidays etc) seems like the lifestyle of a millionaire, but that I certainly am not!
I think Christians of all denominations, have tended to take a mistaken view of poverty and richess and misunderstood Jesus' message here. He convicted one rich young man but not Zacchaeus the tax collector, who even after giving away a lot of his money, would still have been rich.
May I suggest reading an excellent article on poverty written by Eddie Russell who founded the Catholic Charismatic group, Flame Ministries. www.flameministries.org
He gets the right balance between rich and poor - and states that if Jesus came to give the Good News, the Good News for the poor is they don't have to be poor any longer.

***


Thank you, James for your response. I will invite others to respond to your comments and I will get back to you a bit later on.

God bless!


Please feel free to leave a comment on this subject that James has brought up about poverty and Christianity.

Barb from "SFO Mom" left this comment:


This question particularly hits home with me because as a Secular Franciscan, I take as my model Saint Francis of Assisi, who identified so much with the materially poor that he had absolutely no possessions of his own.

People who are interested in becoming Secular Franciscans often worry that they will have to give up their homes or cars in order to follow a Franciscan life.

And while I much admire Franciscans like the Friars of the Renewal, who truly do not own a thing in this world (but surely are building up many treasures in Heaven), not all of us are called to that kind of life.

In Matthew 5: 3, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." He does not say, "Blessed are the materially poor." Certainly to be materially poor is a difficult life, and most people would not consider it a blessing to be challenged to live that life. But the poor in spirit are the ones who realize that it is not material possessions that matter. They are the ones who are willing to be generous with the resources with which they have been blessed--so they can bless others. They do not hoard up their treasures for their own future selfish use (like the man in today's Gospel) but instead are ready to share their treasures.

In Luke 12:34 we read, "Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be." I believe that one who is poor in spirit is one who knows from where these treasures have come, and looks for opportunities to use these treasures to make life better for even one other person.

In that respect, my husband is a far better Franciscan than I am. He is generous to a degree that I am not courageous enough to imitate. He has brought a homeless woman and baby into our home (when Big Brother was an infant) so that we could give this woman some formula, diapers, baby clothes, and a chance to bathe her little boy. He has bought dinners for soldiers in uniform when he sees them in restaurants. He is far more gentle and generous than I am with Adventure Boy. It seems like he is energized by these actions--I find them stressful and exhausting.

Yes, I believe that he is a wonderful example of what it is to be poor in spirit.

***


Feel free to visit Barb's blog SFO Mom.

Thank you very much, Barb!

***


Esther of A Catholic Mom in Hawaii had this to say:


Hi Donna and all:

I don't know that as Christians we embrace poverty. Personally, I don't see it that way. I think we are called to be content in our own station in life, be it rich, poor or middle class.

***


Thanks, Esther!


Jean at Catholic Fire said this:


I agree with Esther that each of us is called to live according to our station in life.

Jesus Christ did not condemn the possession of worldly goods, or even of great wealth; for He himself had rich friends.

Christ constantly pointed out the danger of riches, which, He says, are the thorns that choke up the good seed of the word (Matthew 13:22). Because of His poverty as well as of His constant journeying, necessitated by persecution, He could say: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests: but the son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20).

While poverty has no intrinsic goodness, it is good only because it is useful to remove the obstacles which stand in the way of the pursuit of spiritual perfection.

As Christians, we are called to share our material goods with others.
In the acts of corporal mercy, to feed the hungry: "For I was hungry and you gave me to eat." Mt. 25:35, to give drink to the thirsty "...I was thirsty and you gave me to drink..." Mt. 25:35, to clothe the naked: "I was...naked and you clothed me..." Mt. 25:36, and to shelter the homeless: "...I was a stranger and you took me in..." Mt. 25:35.

As an Oblate with the Community of St. John, I made a promise of poverty, which basically focuses on poverty of spirit as Barb has described above.

Jesus tells us in the Eight Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I have witnessed in my lifetime Christians who have been extremely generous to others living in poverty because this is what the Lord has called us to do: Christians who have invited complete strangers into their homes to live for a period of time; Christians who have provided food, the clothing off their backs, and rent or house payments to the unemployed and the poor.

Our own small Community has raised thousands of dollars
for those in third world countries and have assisted those who were affected by the tsunami. Some in our Community have worked with Mother Teresa and have physically and spiritually assisted the poor.

Here in Kansas, the state where I live, Christians have taken time off from their own jobs to assist those who were affected by the tragedy in New Orleans.
Man here are involved in Habitat for humanity and others in the community build homes for them.

Poverty is not a good thing in itself, but when we give of what we have to others and care for their corporal and spiritual needs, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

God can bring good out of these situations of suffering and trial - that is the grace and the miracle that occurs.

Jesus never praised nor promoted wealth, but He did teach us how important it was to love one another.

Having a blog or three TV's per household or a brand new car are not necessities in this life, but food, clothing, and shelter are and should never be denied anyone.

God gives us each a free will. If there are those among us who waste our resources and do not give God his due by assisting others in this area, then they will have to answer to Him on judgement day.

I, for one, have difficulty understanding how some Hollywood celebrities can spend so much money on their animals(purchasing diamond collars, sending them to pet spas, feeding them gourmet food, etc,) when there are so many people starving in the world. I love animals, but people are much more important.

I hope you understand what I am trying to say. Christ commanded us to love others as we love ourselves. If everyone would follow this teaching, poverty in this world would be eradicated.

God bless you!

***


Thanks, Jean!

Feel free to visit Jean's blog at Catholic Fire.

***


Jane said:


Based on James' response, it seems like maybe he already knows the answer to his question.

As a mother of six, with two adopted from the developing world (where the average annual family income is about $120USD); I can tell you that we knew that my husband and I felt confident that we would be able to financially provide for our Ethiopian children at a level far more secure than their first family was able.

What is more important, however, is our ability to provide security for their eternal souls. And our "developed" nation, that is a much less certain thing. We don't worry nearly as much about the poverty of their bodies as we do their souls now that they are here.

Poverty is everywhere. Sometimes we just need to look a little harder to see it.

Jane

***


Thanks, Jane!

***


James came back to say:


Hi All,
If I may, I'd like to post the comments I sent to Barb for her awesome answer on the poverty and riches debate. All you folks have supplied amazing answers and are obviously Spirit-filled people who know their Scripture. Other Christians I ask about poverty, have a muddled understanding. Its been a great debate, and I'll leave it now. Maybe I can drop by later and pose another simple question - like 'why pray to saints?"
Blessing to everyone from an Evangelical Scotsman in the UK,

James

Hi Barb,
James Hastings here, the UK Christian who posed the poverty question on Donna Marie's page. It is a question I have posted on many Christian blogs and yours is the only answer which is correct.
It is not money or wealth that are wrong, but the love of these or how we go about getting them or wanting them too much. It is about being good stewards and tithing, not hoarding. It is about understanding from where our wealth comes, (the Father), not believing we are the primary source.
Understand that, and you'll see it is perfectly possible to get into heaven wearing a Rolex watch.
Your husband is an awesome example of poor in Spirit. Of course, he could not buy soldier's dinners or help a homeless woman and her baby if he was materially poor. What a guy.
I'd refer you to a great article on being poor in Spirit at www.flameministries.org which is the home of the Catholic charismatic group, Flame Ministries in Australia. I am a big supporter of theirs, and I'm not even a Catholic.

Blessings

James

***

Margaret Mary said:


Jesus told us to trust in God, through the story of the lilies of the field. I think this is the kind of "poverty" that many of us need to embrace today, as misfortunes come our way. It isn't easy to learn that we are not "in control" (due to job loss, business failure, natural disaster). It isn't easy to have to give up a lifestyle we were accustomed to; but to offer that to God and trust in Him for what we need is - in my opinion - one of the ways that we live in a "spirit of poverty", not seeking poverty, but seeking to turn lovingly, patiently, and trustingly to God in all things. (check out her blog here.)

***


Thanks, Margaret Mary!

***


Well, that was fun! Thank you everyone for taking the time to enter into this conversation. Thank you, James for stopping by to meet up with all of us who chimed in and who are all scattered around the globe.

Let's hope and pray that we all truly give of ourselves in so many ways to "feed" the poor, whether it be in offering a hand, a piece of bread or a listening ear. God calls us all to holiness in all of our states of life and asks us to give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. He wants us to visit the sick and lonely. We should be utterly comforted knowing that when we offer ourselves to the poor we are offering ourselves to Him who gives us life.

When we draw our dying breath, we hope to hear those magnificent words, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, "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..." (Matthew 25:34-41)

God bless!

8 comments:

Barb, sfo said...

This deserved more attention than the space of a comment box would permit. My response is here:
a href=<"http://sfomom.blogspot.com/2007/10/poverty-and-christianity.html">/a

Barb, sfo said...

Let's try that again!

Esther said...

Hi Donna and all:

I don't know that as Christians we embrace poverty. Personally, I don't see it that way. I think we are called to be content in our own station in life, be it rich, poor or middle class.

Jean M. Heimann said...

I agree with Esther that each of us is called to live according to our station in life.

Jesus Christ did not condemn the possession of worldly goods, or even of great wealth; for He himself had rich friends.

Christ constantly pointed out the danger of riches, which, He says, are the thorns that choke up the good seed of the word (Matthew 13:22). Because of His poverty as well as of His constant journeying, necessitated by persecution, He could say: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests: but the son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20).

While poverty has no intrinsic goodness, it is good only because it is useful to remove the obstacles which stand in the way of the pursuit of spiritual perfection.

As Christians, we are called to share our material goods with others.
In the acts of corporal mercy, to feed the hungry: "For I was hungry and you gave me to eat." Mt. 25:35, to give drink to the thirsty "...I was thirsty and you gave me to drink..." Mt. 25:35, to clothe the naked: "I was...naked and you clothed me..." Mt. 25:36, and to shelter the homeless: "...I was a stranger and you took me in..." Mt. 25:35.

As an Oblate with the Community of St. John, I made a promise of poverty, which basically focuses on poverty of spirit as Barb has described above.

Jesus tells us in the Eight Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I have witnessed in my lifetime Christians who have been extremely generous to others living in poverty because this is what the Lord has called us to do: Christians who have invited complete strangers into their homes to live for a period of time; Christians who have provided food, the clothing off their backs, and rent or house payments to the unemployed and the poor.

Our own small Community has raised thousands of dollars
for those in third world countries and have assisted those who were affected by the tsunami. Some in our Community have worked with Mother Teresa and have physically and spiritually assisted the poor.

Here in Kansas, the state where I live, Christians have taken time off from their own jobs to assist those who were affected by the tragedy in New Orleans.
Man here are involved in Habitat for humanity and others in the community build homes for them.

Poverty is not a good thing in itself, but when we give of what we have to others and care for their corporal and spiritual needs, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

God can bring good out of these situations of suffering and trial - that is the grace and the miracle that occurs.

Jesus never praised nor promoted wealth, but He did teach us how important it was to love one another.

Having a blog or three TV's per household or a brand new car are not necessities in this life, but food, clothing, and shelter are and should never be denied anyone.

God gives us each a free will. If there are those among us who waste our resources and do not give God his due by assisting others in this area, then they will have to answer to Him on judgement day.

I, for one, have difficulty understanding how some Hollywood celebrities can spend so much money on their animals(purchasing diamond collars, sending them to pet spas, feeding them gourmet food, etc,) when there are so many people starving in the world. I love animals, but people are much more important.

I hope you understand what I am trying to say. Christ commanded us to love others as we love ourselves. If everyone would follow this teaching, poverty in this world would be eradicated.

God bless you!

patjrsmom said...

Based on James' response, it seems like maybe he already knows the answer to his question.

As a mother of six, with two adopted from the developing world (where the average annual family income is about $120USD); I can tell you that we knew that my husband and I felt confident that we would be able to financially provide for our Ethiopian children at a level far more secure than their first family was able.

What is more important, however, is our ability to provide security for their eternal souls. And our "developed" nation, that is a much less certain thing. We don't worry nearly as much about the poverty of their bodies as we do their souls now that they are here.

Poverty is everywhere. Sometimes we just need to look a little harder to see it.

Jane

james hastings said...

Hi All,
If I may, I'd like to post the comments I sent to Barb for her awesome answer on the poverty and riches debate. All you folks have supplied amazing answers and are obviously Spirit-filled people who know their Scripture. Other Christians I ask about poverty, have a muddled understanding. Its been a great debate, and I'll leave it now. Maybe I can drop by later and pose another simple question - like 'why pray to saints?"
Blessing to everyone from an Evangelical Scotsman in the UK,

James

Hi Barb,
James Hastings here, the UK Christian who posed the poverty question on Donna Marie's page. It is a question I have posted on many Christian blogs and yours is the only answer which is correct.
It is not money or wealth that are wrong, but the love of these or how we go about getting them or wanting them too much. It is about being good stewards and tithing, not hoarding. It is about understanding from where our wealth comes, (the Father), not believing we are the primary source.
Understand that, and you'll see it is perfectly possible to get into heaven wearing a Rolex watch.
Your husband is an awesome example of poor in Spirit. Of course, he could not buy soldier's dinners or help a homeless woman and her baby if he was materially poor. What a guy.
I'd refer you to a great article on being poor in Spirit at www.flameministries.org which is the home of the Catholic charismatic group, Flame Ministries in Australia. I am a big supporter of theirs, and I'm not even a Catholic.

Blessings

James

Margaret Mary Myers said...

Jesus told us to trust in God, through the story of the lilies of the field. I think this is the kind of "poverty" that many of us need to embrace today, as misfortunes come our way. It isn't easy to learn that we are not "in control" (due to job loss, business failure, natural disaster). It isn't easy to have to give up a lifestyle we were accustomed to; but to offer that to God and trust in Him for what we need is - in my opinion - one of the ways that we live in a "spirit of poverty", not seeking poverty, but seeking to turn lovingly, patiently, and trustingly to God in all things.

Sarah said...

Donna, kudos to you for hosting this great discussion. I didn't see it yesterday when it was happening, but I surely enjoyed reading it today! :)