Sunday, June 23, 2013

AmeriCorps, Poverty, and a Pinch of Inspiration

I am officially an AmeriCorps Vista member! After four days of training in Indianapolis me and my fellow Vistas publicly took our oath of office - the same one verbalized by the president of the United States! So official. Really though, training was such a cool opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded people who have decided to devote the next year to joining the battle against poverty in communities all over the country.

My thoughts were running wild from the start, when our first training session had us answer two simple, but difficult questions: What is poverty, and what causes poverty? As we went around the circle and all described our personal definitions of poverty and its causes, I realized that I am limited by an international mindset when it comes to poverty. I have met more people who are happy and impoverished than those who are happy and extremely wealthy. But that's not the case in America, because if you think about it, those who are in poverty in America are constantly faced with the realization that they are impoverished. Surrounded by media that defines a person's identity and value by their material possessions, disregarded by the wealthy by being labeled "lazy" or "unintelligent," discouraged by those who only see what they lack and expect nothing more of them then the situations they are currently in.

The poor in America have it rough.
So what are we doing about it?
If there is one thing I've noticed, it's our limited mindset on how we define poverty. It is easy to stereotype and judge, and that's something I understand - because I've done it. It is easy to quickly label the homeless as lazy and drunk. It is easy to judge those in poverty as uneducated, unmotivated, undetermined, and all sorts of other "un's." But it's simply not true. The fact is, there are thousands of middle-class families only a paycheck away from being considered impoverished; one of the largest populations of the homeless are our nation's veterans; and a large majority of those in poverty have master's degrees.
Poverty is so much more than just lack-of material resources. The book that best helped broaden my understanding of poverty was When Helping Hurts. It describes poverty by four broken relationships:

"Poverty of Spiritual Intimacy: denying God’s existence and authority, materialist
Poverty of Being:  having god-complexes (thinking too highly of oneself) or low self-esteem (thinking too lowly of oneself)
Poverty of Community:  self-centeredness, exploitation and abuse of others
Poverty of Stewardship:  no sense of purpose, laziness or workaholics, materialism"
Any of those strike a chord with you? We are all impoverished in some sense. Understanding poverty by broken relationships helps teach us how to serve others without that classic savior mentality. When it comes down to it, poverty can be defined as a mindset of hopelessness and shame that comes from lack of opportunity and a low sense of self-worth.
46 million Americans live in poverty
So I ask it again - what are we doing?
And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for
a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 19:23
Jesus says it will be hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom. Let's face it - that means us. Even the impoverished of America are rich by world standards. So when the members of our upper-class churches tend to lean more towards the habit of judging rather than uplifting, condemning rather than loving, critiquing negatives rather than acknowledging positives - just what are we doing?
The Lord commands us to "be angry and do not sin" (Eph 4:26). We are to be angry about the injustices of this world. That includes the orphans of third world countries, just as much as the homeless in our own backyards, welfare communities, and minorities of all kinds; groups of people we are all too often quick to condemn.
We should be encouraging, showing people their positives and building their confidence, instilling love and hope, and sharing the truth of God's grace that places a crown on us who are but dust. It is the Lord who sits on the judgment seat, not us, and for that - I am truly grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Your challenge to rich Americans is similar to Jesus' challenge to the rich man in Mt. 19. Jesus tells him to sell his treasured possessions and give to the poor (19:21).