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The Three Faces Of Poverty

We all know the face of poverty. The small child sitting in dirt with a distended belly and flies in their eyes. This type of poverty is real and for most of us in the US nearly impossible to imagine. The truth is we rarely see this type of poverty in our nation but we still suffer from other types of equally deadly poverty — spiritual and communal.

And according to the book, "When Helping Hurts", a biblical worldview leads us to understand that poverty is often caused by broken relationships with God, Self, community, and nature (the rest of creation).

Relationship with God: This is our primary relationship, from which the other three flow.

Relationship with Self: We believe we have value, dignity, and purpose because we are God’s children and created in His image.

Relationship with Others: We are designed to give and receive love, be vulnerable and interdependent.

Relationship with the Rest of Creation: We are stewards of all creation and able to sustain ourselves through work.

When one or more of these relationships are broken individuals will find themselves impoverished either spiritually, communally or physically or maybe all three.

Spiritual Poverty

Spiritual poverty has little to do with religion and everything to do with filling our created need to be in deep, intentional relationship with the one true God. This means that our churches are sometimes full of individuals suffering from Spiritual Poverty.

What does this type of impoverishment look like? What symptoms should we look for when assessing ourselves and the world around us for this type of deprivation? It usually looks just like physical poverty but instead of a starved child hoarding or voraciously consuming any food like substance they encounter the individual is living in a state of joy, hope and peace scarcity and ravenously trying to fill the hole with money, power or addiction/numbing…….. Maybe you've seen this type of poverty in your neighborhood or even your own home.

I recently attended a talk on Brene’ Brown’s work on the “wholehearted person”. Though she does not overtly state this, it is my belief that the only way to become a wholehearted person is through a deep relationship with God. According to her book “Daring Greatly,” Ms. Brown, says the wholehearted (or as I believe a God-filled) person is cultivating the following traits.

Authenticity – Letting Go of What People Think

Self Compassion – Letting Go of Perfectionism

Resilient Spirit – Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness

Gratitude and Joy – Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark

Intuition and Trusting Faith – Letting Go of the Need for Certainty

Creativity – Letting Go of Comparison

Play and Rest – Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self Worth

Calm and Stillness - Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle

Meaningful Work - Letting Go of Self Doubt and “Supposed To”

Laughter, Song, and Dance - Letting Go of Being Cool and Always in Control

Physical Poverty

Physical or economic poverty is what we usually think of when we ponder the human suffering. It is the deprivation of basic human needs — food, water, and shelter. The causes of this type of poverty vary around the world due to geography, history, culture and political climates. According to World Bank, 767 million people live in extreme poverty, $1.90 a day or less. Most of these countries are found on the African continent.

What you may not know is that you can have more than $1.90 a day to spend on the basic necessities and still live in extreme poverty, millions of the world's poor live in middle-income countries like, India, Nigeria, and China. In fact, richer countries tend to have higher poverty lines, while poorer countries have lower poverty lines."

As a result in 2017, the World Bank came up with two new "poverty line" figures for the world's middle-income countries: $3.20 a day for lower middle income nations (like Egypt, India and the Philippines) and $5.50 a day for upper middle income nations (like Brazil, Jamaica and South Africa).

Communal Poverty

A friend of mine spent time working with prisoners in a Ugandan prison. She talks about how one prisoner deeply impacted the way she viewed poverty in the US. She was telling him about how we, even in the great, friendly state of Texas, rarely know our neighbor. He stared at her for a long time in disbelief. Wondering how a culture that “has it all” could neglect one of the most important aspects of being human, let alone Christian — Relational Living. She left with the questions “how can I love my neighbor if I don’t know him?”

We are all created to love and be loved so the community is vital for healthy human existence. It is only in community that we can be challenged to grow emotionally and spiritually, learn to care for others and receive care, understand and utilize our giftedness, and live our healthy vulnerability.

We usually talk about Communal Poverty as loneliness or isolation. This can happen to people of all ages, with large friend groups or small and all over the world. It is a sense of not being fully known. This can happen to the elderly woman whose family visits them less and less, teens who invest the majority of their time in an online world, and even in married, parents whose lifestyle leaves no time for rest or play.

This type of poverty can lead to death in much the same way as Physical Poverty. I recently read a New York Times Article called “The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health.” This article talked about researchers finding a correlation between loneliness and increased risk for diseases like heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression and even suicide attempts.

Are you experiencing one of these types of poverty? Could the new face of poverty be found in the mirror rather than on the other side of the globe?

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