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This is the second post in this series. Links to the prelude and week one are at the end of today’s post. Because of the immensity of the subject, no one single post is going to cover the entire subject, so I will continue posting links to the previous posts for those who join us later.

As always, please share this blog if you think it is a dialogue worth having. The more people who give their opinion – or even just think about these things – the more likely we are to make a difference.

“For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.”
Matthew 25:36

I’d like to continue our dialogue on what it means to be poor and how we are meant to respond to the poor. But, before I write this week’s post I wanted to share some of my week. I have been talking to a number of people about this series, and I thought I would give you a cliff notes version of where my heart is and why this subject of poverty has struck such a chord in me.

I am writing about the poor and about what our responsibility is in regard to the poor in spite of my fear of putting these opinions out there for the world to see and judge. I am doing this because I believe that we have, as a society, given the government too much responsibility when it comes to caring for the poor.

I think by making this subject a policy discussion, we have made it much too easy to have an opinion but no action. It is too easy for us to lambast the welfare system, post Facebook pushes supporting drug testing, and feel like caring for the poor isn’t our responsibility.

I also believe taking a handout from the government is humiliating, and I think humiliation breeds contempt and cynicism. I believe that if we took back this responsibility from the government, both sides – the helpers and the helped – would benefit immensely.

For those reasons, I believe that one person helping another person and meeting that person exactly where his or her individual and unique needs are is far better than a faceless entity handing out the same assistance to a hurting population.

For this week, we are going to stick with the financial aspect of poverty. Based on the comments from last week’s post and some exchanges I’ve had via private message and conversation, there is much more to uncover. Today we are going to talk about personal responsibility, but not the kind most people think of when they think of poverty. We will get to that, but not yet.

Poor as defined by Merriam Webster’s Dictionary:

Poor:

1
a : lacking material possessions
b : of, relating to, or characterized by poverty
2
a : less than adequate : meager
b : small in worth

Poverty:
a : the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions
b : renunciation as a member of a religious order of the right as an individual to own property
2
: Scarcity, Dearth
3
a : debility due to malnutrition
b : lack of fertility

When I first called on Facebook friends for definitions of the poor, I was amazed by the depth and breadth of definitions. You told me the poor were the homeless, the addicted, the imprisoned, the mentally or physically ill, the widowed, the abandoned. Those who are unemployed, underemployed, begging, searching, hurting, cheating, lonely, scared, mean, abused, abusive, and weary. Those who are lost. The poor are kids forced into a system outside their families because they lack unconditional love. The poor include people who are spiritually bereft, those who lack insurance, and those who lack documentation.

To be poor, at its core, is to lack. Doesn’t this mean that we are all poor at certain points in our life, or even throughout individual days? From one moment to the next we may cycle in and out of a state of lacking.

However, it was very eloquently pointed out last week that just because someone does not make a lot of money, it does not mean they are poor. I agree fully. It is entirely possible to be near financial poverty, but not to lack for anything. If one has chosen to work with the poor, in many cases he or she will not be financially well off. Our society tends to reward those who generate wealth with more wealth. But what about those positions that do not generate financial wealth? They often do not pay well. Our social workers, our firefighters, our police men and women, our teachers – the very people who are tasked with helping other people – are the ones most likely to be poorly compensated. They are also, it should be noted, financed by our government. Private institutions tend to pay higher salaries for these same skills.

So very quickly in the series I want to be clear that not having money does not automatically mean lack. But equally, if not more importantly, finding a way to be content in poverty, does not eliminate the responsibility to help. Contentment does not cover lack.

There are people in this world who have nothing and, although they realize their position, they want for nothing. They have learned to be content in their situation. They trust that they will be okay, one way or another. They know hunger and cold. They know fear, but within them is the ability to remain happy and content.

They are a joy to help, thankful, even grateful. They take what is given with a pure spirit of appreciation. It is a balm for both the giver and the receiver. The exchange seems kissed by God.

There are other people in this world who have nothing and want for everything. They are angry and mean. They have learned to trust no one and to take anything offered for there probably will be no more for a long while.

They are hard to help. They feel entitled. They take what is given and curse you for not giving more. It is a spirit crushing exchange for both the giver and the receiver. At the end you understand what it feels like to be God forsaken. You are depleted.

I am poor. Must I be righteous as well?

It is far more likely that a life of poverty and lack will result in someone who is not giving and not happy. The weariness of lack is far more likely to wear someone’s softer sides away and leave them with a protective shield of distrust. They may take without thanking. They may think, “It’s about time I got what I deserved.”

Someone who has gone hungry, who has watched their children go hungry in this bright and shiny land of opportunity, is probably pretty mad. It would be hard to watch people (well, such as me) with our gadgets, and Facebook pictures of vacations and trips, and our lack of lack, walk around and share space with their lack. It would be especially hard when the only help you have ever received has been from the government, and you know many people resent you even getting that.

Many do struggle with addiction. Many struggle with mental problems that make this world difficult, if not unbearable. No one ever sets a goal to be on welfare…wait – some do. Some abuse the system, play the system, work the system – for all it’s worth. Some think we are all chumps as they take and take and take.

I am poor. Must I be righteous as well?

Whether we admit it or not, we choose not to help because people are hard to help. Many are hard to be around and hard to help. The problem is too big. The issues are too complex. Throwing money at it won’t help, but engaging takes too much time.

Without realizing it, many of us have altered Christ’s urge to help those around us so that we remove ourselves from the direct responsibility. We may hear:

For I was hungry and you paid your taxes so the government could give Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you paid your government taxes to give Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you crossed the street to avoid me and hoped the police would take Me in; I was naked and you paid your taxes so the government would clothe Me; I was sick and you paid your taxes so Medicaid could took care of Me; I was in prison and you begrudged Me the cost and left me there….

Bu that’s not what He said. In His call to us to be compassionate, he cut out the middleman and placed the responsibility of caring for others squarely on our shoulders.

“For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.”
Matthew 25:36

There are no qualifiers in this directive. We are not to feed those who are thankful, we are to feed those who are hungry. We are not to visit those in prison who are wrongly accused, we are to visit those in prison. We are not to take in people ‘like’ us, we are to take in strangers.

We have removed the personal relationship and our personal responsibility from the equation and now the equation no longer works. There is a problem to be solved here. We cannot give people sleeping pills and begrudge them their sleep. Systems are easier to abuse than people. If we take back control, if we put the relationship back into the exchange, if we start from a place of love and not a place of policy, only then can we awaken the hope that God places inside each of us – hope of a healthy and thriving life that adds value to society.

A reader recommended an incredible book: “When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor… and yourself” by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.

Their book is an in-depth and studied exam of this subject. If you, like me, find this issue of poverty and what to do about it tugging at your conscience, please go pick up a copy of this book.

Please join me in turning our hearts toward this complex problem. What’s your reaction to today’s discussion of the poor among us? What—if anything—do you think our individual responsibility is toward others? How do you respond to Christ’s words in Matthew 25:36? I welcome your comments as we delve deeper in our conversation.

(Please post your comments directly to the blog so all of the readers get a chance to hear the conversation – Thank you!)

Links to the previous posts in this series:
Week One: Prelude to the series on the poor…
Week Two: Why do most poor people tend to remain poor?

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