The Poverty of the Poor

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What’s your definition of poor? Who are the poor? Most of us immediately think of those without economic means. This is only partially true. Today I will redefine poverty.

I had a practice that whenever a beggar asked for money I would empty my wallet regardless of amount. This grew out of my view that money is a renewable resource and I believe I can’t out-give the Source that gives it to me. Then I went to Austin. There, I saw more poor people under thirty. This revealed that poverty is not about money and the world would not be better if I gave it all away.

Economic poverty is symptomatic, real poverty goes much deeper. The cause of poverty is not solely education, politics, or the need for jobs. It’s not mental illness, addiction, housing, or food programs. All of these are by-products of poverty.

Poverty is deeper. Poverty is disengagementSometimes disengagement is beyond our control, sometimes it’s not.

Think of it like catching an accelerating train. Some people, for no fault of their own, simply can’t move fast enough. Others, simply won’t move fast enough. Others still are barely able to hang on to the back. Wether they grab on or let go they are disconnected to the engine that powers it. A rapidly advancing world means that some won’t be able or willing to keep up.

Poverty is disengagement from that which powers us. Disengagement results in economic ruin. “The poverty of the poor is their ruin.” (Proverbs 10:15). It’s even worse if disengagement is intentional. “The simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them.” (Proverbs 1:32).

Poverty is that aspect of our soul that can discern good from better, right from wrong, but settles for the lesser.

Growing up, my step-father was an educated lawyer, but when the oil business fell on hard times, he refused to take a lesser job and we suffered as he stayed unemployed for several years. His poverty (pride) became our economic ruin.

We see this so vividly in the lives of addicts. Their poverty is not their lack of money. Economic ruin is the byproduct of their poverty which is their inability to put down their vice.

Poverty is disengagement from the truth. Poverty is a truth problem (either apprehension of truth or application of truth) and our economic realities are the by-product of that disengagement.  T. Harv Eker says if we don’t have the wealth we want it is because of something we don’t know or something we won’t do. I would add “can’t” do.

Those working in social justice often reject and despise this reality. For them the poor are victims of a zero-sum society that leaves them behind as the few gather the scarce spoil. The result is to blame affluence or diminish the wealthy as stingy. On a soul level, there is something wrong with personal advancement at the exclusion of others. “Whoever oppresses the poor insults his Maker.” (Proverbs 14:31) Nonetheless, scarcity is not the cause of poverty. We live in a generative, abundant world. Poverty causes scarcity we perceive.

We must not oppress those who enter the market and learn how to advance and progress their life. While corruption is rampant in corporations and government, we must not diminish those who would rise to the top in order to bring about change. Not all in a corrupt system are corrupt. It is poverty that causes corruption. Corruption then brings economic ruin.

Poverty is the unwillingness to change. Certainty is poverty. Across the world, those cities, towns and communities that will not keep pace with change and advancement become insular and unwelcoming of anything different or new. Thus they are left behind in economic opportunity and their people suffer.

What are we to do?

First, discern the poor from a fool. The poor can’t engage. The fool won’t engage.

Second, learn to see all who are poor, not just the economic poor. The poor are in every strata of our society. Being a light in the world means to help each person in our path to re-engage at a deeper level. Coaching a “C” player to become an “A” player is serving the poor.

Third, don’t turn your face on the poor. Avoiding them exposes our poverty and our disengagement from the Power Source. Care enough to be intentional about what you will give them.

Fourth, let compassion win. Define your life by the promotion of others and you will be promoted (Luke 14:10). The net effect is exchanging competition for inclusion or scarcity for abundance. We all depend on the engagement of others, thus the end of poverty comes through the inclusion of all. No single person can win if we don’t all win. There is a place for us all to engage.

So don’t sell your possessions. They aren’t given solely for our benefit, but as a means to empower others. We must use what we have to promote those in our path.

No more. No less.