Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gospel Poverty is NOT... (#1)

Father Dubay says that establishing negatives is categorically different from establishing positives. For example, proving that something is not white doesn't mean it is black. However, establishing what something is NOT can help clear some thinking obstacles and clarify definitions.


Gospel Poverty is NOT........Carelessness, disorder, laziness, or dirt.

Father Dubay says that:

Often the factually impoverished may have no choice but to live in disorder and dirt, and sometimes poverty in life is attended by carelessness and laziness, whether because of demoralization from suffering, or because of addiction, or sin, etc.

The media will often portray poverty as associated with these things.

However, these characteristics have nothing intrinsically to do with Gospel Poverty.

My thoughts:

It occurs to me that one aspect of Gospel Poverty is that it is voluntary. Consider the example of the Holy Family -- Jesus could have chosen to be born into a family with great wealth and power, yet instead He was born into humble, ordinary circumstances. He chose this.

Another example might be the widow's mite. The widow, though poor, gave what she had. She had "factual poverty" but she added to it "voluntary poverty." So sharing/sparing isn't simply an indulgence for the factually wealthy. Often you see people with very limited means being the most ready to share what they have, while people with way too much money begrudge giving it away except for public philanthropy and such things that don't at all cut into their high level of living.

I also notice that the reverse of those negative traits are: care (loving effort), order, industry, and cleanliness. These traits can be fostered even if one's circumstances are disordered and dirty. God never asks for a particular given exterior RESULT (as Mother Teresa used to say) -- He asks for a faithful effort (faithfulness, not success).

Steven Covey says something roughly similar, in secular terms, in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He says we are to focus on what we can control or influence, not what we can't. Mother Teresa was not a failure because she didn't aid every poor person in India, any more than Jesus was a failure because He didn't heal everyone.

The laborers in the vineyard had to stand around almost all day in order to get the opportunity to labor. They wanted to labor, but they could find no work. Some people would love to even reach the standard of normal "poverty" but they are scraping simply to get enough to eat (more on that in the topic on destitution).

Anyway, our gospel efforts towards simplicity should be informed with care, diligence, proper order, and normal cleanliness.

I am thinking that a simpler household can contribute to order and cleanliness since there is not so much to shuffle around and organize! And keeping stuff in its proper place calls for care and intentionality, which are opposite to carelessness and laziness.

A final note -- the media often portrays poverty as associated with dirt and laziness because its mindset is basically materialistic. A friend told me that a reporter tried to prove that $3 worth of food stamps per person per day wasn't enough to survive on. This was in New York, I think, where groceries may be more expensive than they are here in California. But my family spends nowhere near $3 per person per day on food. Probably more like half that, and we could cut back even more.

The point is not that I think food stamps are a scam. My point is that reporters can lack a realistic idea of life because they often have a Zero Sum mentality.

There is an ongoing tendency to portray poverty as being shiftless and squalid, because lacking things seems like an evil on both sides of the political spectrum, but as Father Dubay says, there is no intrinsic relation.

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