Friday, November 21, 2008

The Natural and Effective Response to Poverty

1. What is poverty from a theological point of view?

If one hopes or presumes to address this wellspring of human indignity, the first and most important task is to establish one's theological assumptions regarding the nature of poverty. Is poverty the will of God? Is it a "natural evil" (like predation in nature for example)? Is it a curse or a punishment?

Is it curable? Or are the demands of our conscience to respond more like a hobby or a self improvement program?

What does God have to do with poverty? Why is it here? Can it be solved? Or are we compelled to respond even though it is a permanent aspect of the human condition?

All actions in relation to poverty must take these questions into account. It is the position of this writer that there is an expression of poverty that is natural, eternal and constructive, but that widespread poverty affecting billions of healthy, well-meaning adults is an evil, an evidence of human failure. Two matters must be solved in order to address these ills: 1. What dimensions of poverty are evil, 2. Where in the process is intervention best applied.

2. Constructive poverty?

What on earth could possibly be described as poverty that is natural, eternal, and constructive? Quite simply it is the pattern of economics that occurs naturally in the family. If we were to analyze matters purely in terms of economic and material welfare, one must confess that comparatively speaking, parents are rich and children are poor. Parents have everything and children have nothing. Why is there nothing wrong with this naturally (and infinitely) arising form of poverty? It is because of the natural impulses, reactions, and response of parents (except when these God-given wisdoms are broken or damaged and replaced by some aberrant malfunction).

Sans brokenness parents naturally respond beautifully to this "imposition of poverty" into their lives. The first thing we do is take care of those matters that are urgent. Parents make sure that "the poor" have food, clothing, shelter, and are protected from danger. No questions asked, no demands made, nothing required in advance or in response. Needs must be addressed. Next (in fact simultaneously) is the natural impulse of parents to respond to the "poverty" that springs up in their household by investing in education for “the poor." Parents naturally provide education for their children, raising them up so that the latter will realize their talents, and become able and equipped to generate their own wealth, acquire independence, and even develop the ability to help others in need . How splendid this is? Also, along the way, others chip in. Parents are not the only ones who involve themselves in lifting up "the poor." Very often older brothers and sisters help too. This constantly and naturally arising "poverty" is the occasion of so much that is sweet, lovely, good, happy and memorable.

For those who claim to be troubled by the evils of poverty and are driven from within to respond, HERE lie our guidelines. This most natural reality and response provides everything we need to know about poverty, and what our proper response should be. In these circumstances (i.e., family) we gain the direct personal experience that instructs us first hand what the ideal, essential response to "poverty" should be. We experience directly that the proper response to "poverty" is natural, good, feels good, and IS good. Poverty is only a problem whenever we fail to respond in this perfectly natural and innate manner. The gift of family life provides all people with the clear ability to respond to “poverty” in good, healthy, loving, constructive, and creative ways.

3. Where to intervene

Interestingly, this "immediacy" or "intimacy of poverty" as it occurs in its natural form (with the birth of our little ones) also shows us the ideal "intervention point" for reversing the forms of poverty that clearly are evil, and violate innate human impulses and the realization of our responsibilities.

Providing there are is no “brokenness” or malfunction in the parents who live at the center of a young family, who are the ones best equipped to address the “needs of the poor,” that attend the joys of child-birth? Is it the state? The “village?” The rich guy down the street? Quite obviously, the persons best equipped to respond are the parents. When everything is in good working order, the best mediator for everything that will lift the newborn from “abject poverty” to wealth, independence, and even to being charitable, are the parents. Many can and do help. Parents alone should not presume to, nor be left to address this transformation on their own. Nevertheless, parents (without dysfunction) are best situated of all to mediate this transformation.

The point to note from this observation is that poverty is best addressed from the “immediate outwards.” Programs or structures that “skip a step” do not work. An overpaid head of an international body for poverty reduction, living indulgently is NOT a good figure to address the evils of poverty. He or she suffers from the lack of intimacy. They are too remote from the distressing impact poverty evokes, regardless of such a person's education or expertise in the academic dimensions of poverty. The efforts of such persons and organizations “skip too many steps.” The projects are unnatural. They violate what is plainly taught and revealed in the natural structures of family.

A person driven to respond to the evils of poverty, should first raise up his or her family to inherit his or her passion and concern. Families should help families. As these bond together and experience first hand the joys and wonder of “ending poverty,” they then can go on to form larger groups and organizations that take up the responsibility to help, support and uplift groups of the next size and next level of social organization.

The point simply is that divinely infused nature reveals and carries with it everything we need to know about the alleviation of poverty. Immediate needs first. No questions, no demands, no expectations. Then (in fact simultaneously) an effective education toward self-sufficiency and independence. Secondly, intimacy first, then expansion. No “skipping steps.” Thank you for reading, now can we treat you to lunch? The kids put in some of their own allowance money too!