Poverty awareness

In some of the earlier Talking Money posts, we examined the emotions surrounding our encounters with money. By now you know how, for many people, the primary money emotion is fear, especially the fear of losing it all and winding up in poverty. Subsequent exercises have, I hope, suggested ways of replacing fear with feelings of joy, empowerment, participation, and satisfaction.

Learning to see the poor fearlessly is one more way of “rendering unto Caesar . . . and unto God.”

Consider how Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin confronts us with sharp insights: “We seem to think that poor people are social nuisances and not the Ambassadors of God,” or “What we give to the poor for Christ’s sake is what we carry with us when we die.” His influence on Dorothy Day created one of the extraordinary religious witnesses of the 20th century. As Father Haughey explains, she “does not romanticize poverty and is careful to distinguish between inflicted poverty, which she calls destitution, and voluntary poverty, the mastery of which was not simple to her. … The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poorer by giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.”

Voluntary poverty, if even for a limited time in our lives, is one way to grow in that mystery. But as Richard J. Foster reminds us, “Never forget that poverty is not simplicity. … It is quite possible to get rid of things and still desire them in your heart.”

A young Mennonite woman related some of her mission field experiences in a Goshen College chapel talk that focused on “how to get to the bottom and stay there”:

“One day as I was washing clothes in the bathtub, I thought, ‘Here in Lesotho I scrub our clothes by hand, and we drive a car that barely hangs together, and we’re conspicuously rich.”

She quoted John Perkins, a black man who made it to the top and then decided to move back to his hometown in Mississippi, where he founded a mission called “Voice of Calvary Ministries”: “Why on earth do you suppose these people have a welfare mentality? It’s because outside ‘experts’ have come up with programs that have retarded and dehumanized them. Yes, our best efforts to reach people from the outside will patronize them. Our best attempts will psychologically and socially damage them. Their needs must become our needs.”

Judy Van Wyck Maurer expressed her experiences in entering into shared needs in an article, “Giving & Receiving,” in Quaker Life magazine, May 1997: “You have not lived until you have sat among people, gaunt from anemia, who have provided a table for you with more tropical fruit, eggs, oranges, chicken, beans and rice than you can possibly eat. In the strong heat of the day, I could not eat very much at lunch. This always disappointed my hosts. Sometimes I had to turn down the sweet, strong espresso, too, because if I drank it, I would wake up early, listening for hours to the sounds of the Caribbean dawn.

“Once more, the water had been cut off at the meetinghouse. There had been no bread in the city for four days, but my host family was happy because the sister had just brought their rations of bread, loaves about the size of an outstretched hand. My host reached for the first loaf, cut it crosswise, and gave it to me with a piece of cheese inside, although she had no responsibility for my meals. Later I told her how touched I had been. She looked puzzled. ‘Don’t you have bread in the U.S.,’ she asked. I said, ‘Yes, but you gave me the first loaf. In the U.S., we give of what we have left over. You Cubans give of what you do not have.’”

Do you see your wealth as a blessing? As a means to fulfill your deepest values? Or do you feel conflicted? Do you feel cursed by a lack of wealth or opportunity?

Have you ever seen conflicts arising from social differences?

Are you deeply scared of losing it all? Why?

Dorothy Day’s own published work, such as Loaves and Fishes (Harper & Row, 1963), takes this awareness much further.


1 thought on “Poverty awareness”

  1. that comes at a time when I hear about the Compassion Experience. http://www.compassion.com/change/default.htm?referer=134089 sorry for the link but only way I know how to send. I was crying earlier about all the money I am spending on my renovation, then I sat down to do my taxes and realized how blessed I am to be able to renovate my house. Some have broken houses and have to deal (suffer) with it. Being grateful for what we have is a lost feeling sometimes. I am ashamed to say that out loud but it is true.

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