Have you ever spent time pulling weeds in your garden?
I have this flowerbed in the front of my house that is filled with mulch. Every few weeks I notice a few brave weeds that ambush my serene flowerbed and try to take over. Yesterday I spent time putting the smack down on those weeds. When weeding, there is nothing more gratifying than when you pull the weed and feel the root dislodging and coming free, and then plop the whole weed comes out, root and all. You know you took care of that little rebel once and for all. Why, because you got it by the root!
If, however, you pull and feel a snap and all you have in your hand are green leaves then you know you will have a problem…. not now but in a few weeks… when that little insurgent returns.
Addressing the root is the only way to resolve the problem.
Chapter two in “When Helping Hurts” completely shifted my paradigm of poverty. I knew poverty was more than just money but it wasn’t until this chapter several years ago that I put the pieces together to form a coherent understanding. Alleviating poverty starts with recognizing that it is all about the root!
What’s at the root?
In chapter 2 of “When Helping Hurts” the authors advocate an understanding of poverty that begins with the recognition of four relationships. God, self, others and creation. As stated, these relationships form the roots. Simply put, the fracture of these relationships produce poverty; physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. Humans are relational beings and when these fundamental relationships aren’t functioning correctly there are consequences. It’s really that simple. Our broken relationships produce weedy thistles that hurt and create pain for ourselves and others. However, dealing with the thistles isn’t as easy as snipping the leaves, it takes working at the root of the issue. The reality is poverty is actually a root issue. Or as Bryant Myers states:
“Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.” (page 62)
Here’s the deal: I’m torn on whether I like this. Let me explain a little more.
What I like about this understanding of poverty
- It makes sense. As I read, study and talk to others it becomes more and more clear. Under every form of poverty are these broken, twisted and painful relationships; deceit from a co-worker, abuse from a parent, suffering from a heart wrenching experience, bitterness from a loss… the list goes on and on. Sin has created a shattered and painful world and as humans brokenness is unpreventable. As I think about my own sin and the sin of others in light of this new understanding, it simply makes sense.
- I see people different. I find myself having more compassion on people. If poverty is just about money it is easy for me to cast off their troubles as laziness or ignorance which in turn only fuels my own god-complex. If they had just made better decisions they wouldn’t be in this situation. This type of feeling takes the humanity out of the situation. However, understanding that what they are facing could be the result of deep relational wounds, draws me more quickly to a place of compassion and empathy (as well as fear and anxiety as I realize this will be tough to walk through them with!!) The fact that I now see the humanness behind the painfulness of poverty is something I value and appreciate.
- It gives purpose. I have always felt like just giving physical things to the poor can be so shallow. Although it makes me feel good, how does it make them feel? (I will address this issue in the next blog on June 15th) As a follower of Christ I have always known that life is about relationships. (My relationship with God, with my spouse, children, co-workers, friends etc.) Almost everything the Bible talks about deals in some way shape or form with relationships. So viewing poverty in connection to relationships makes our love of the poor even more purposeful. It makes me wonder how the church has so easily left out relationship in the way we “serve” the poor… it’s actually quite perplexing.
What I dislike about this understanding of Poverty
- It requires a lot of me. I find it easy to give $50 to a charity or an hour of service at the homeless shelter sorting clothes. Not that those are bad, but with this understanding I realize that simply responding to poverty through physical means isn’t always enough. If poverty is about relationships than helping to facilitate healthy relationships will be the only thing that will ultimately help to alleviate another’s poverty. Being that I am extremely selfish, requiring me to create a real legitimate friendship with someone in poverty is asking a lot of me. To be honest, sometimes I feel like the sacrifice it takes is beyond me and I don’t tend to like it.
- It forces me to disagree with some approaches. This is a tough one for me. Once you know this stuff there is no going back. Sometimes I see churches and organizations out there doing the very things that this book is challenging us to rethink (and sometimes they have done it for years and are very entrenched in their approaches). What is my role in that? Challenging them to rethink their methods is tough. Ignoring it and moving on is tough. Getting involved while trying to change a paradigm is tough. It’s just simply tough!! And when there is pushback or stereotyping that comes upon me in the process it makes it even tougher! Sometimes this new understanding of poverty forces me to not just stand idle in conversations but ask the difficult questions… and sometimes that is a little messy and uncomfortable.
- Leading others in this is hard. Let me say first of all I don’t pretend to have this all figured out. I am learning just as much as the next guy. However, I have found that most people, like me, would rather give money than time (especially in the American culture where time is precious). Asking people to consider rethinking their serving of the poor and giving up precious time in doing so is not always pretty. People are often resistant of the idea and it can be discouraging. Thus, trying to lead this paradigm out in a group or church setting can be a challenge.
A foundation is laid
People are complex so it goes to reason that their poverty would be as well. There is really nothing to dislike about the understanding of poverty as presented in this book. It’s grounded in scripture and I believe takes a necessary wholistic approach to loving the poor. I think Brian and Steve have done a tremendous job in setting up a foundation for understanding. I hope you will continue to read along with us and engage in the discussions that are upcoming.
In April of 2014 Reconciled World did a more in-depth study of the four relationships in conjunction with the need for reconciliation. I invite you to read the following blog entries if you are interested in further study.
Reconciliation to self: https://reconciledworld.org/restoring-our-attitude-to-self/
Reconciliation to others: https://reconciledworld.org/reconciliation-with-one-another/
Reconciliation to creation: https://reconciledworld.org/reconciliation-with-creation/
Reconciliation to God: https://reconciledworld.org/reconciliation-with-god-a-glorious-truth/
Restoration of all things: https://reconciledworld.org/the-restoration-of-all-things/Image courtesy of United Soybean Board/ flickr.com