Worship and Poverty Alleviation – Part 2: What is Poverty?

Please read Part 1 – Worship and Poverty Alleviation.

Richard Sterns book, “The Hole In Our Gospel” paints a vivid picture of what poverty is in today’s world: imagine 100 jetliners full of children crashing everyday and you get an idea of the number of children who die every day from poverty related problems.  Lack of access to food and water, disease, famine and armed conflict are what Sterns describes as “the horsemen of the apocalypse”. Sterns’ book is an appeal to the disciples of Jesus (especially in the “developed world”) to stop being so focused on our own comfort and safety and to actually follow Jesus’ summons to join in the vision of the kingdom of God as described in Isaiah 58 and 61.

As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, when I look at the “horsemen”, I think to myself, “put down the guitar, and get your hands dirty feeding the hungry and healing the sick.” How can I reconciled my job as a full-time salaried church musician to the call of Jesus Christ to be like the “Good Samaritan” and not walk past my neighbor in need, proceeding on to my rehearsal or worship set? Is it an offense to the values of the kingdom of God to  spend resources that could be used to provide the basic living necessities to the poor? How many children from those jetliners could I save by resigning my job and letting my salary go to the rescue efforts? Thankfully, I don’t have to resign from my job (which I love!). In fact, my job is an important piece of God’s plan for the rescue and restoration of His good creation but it starts with a good biblical view of poverty.

A biblical view of poverty starts at the beginning. According to God’s word, this universe was created good. Humans were created as image bearers, who were also good. We still possess this distinction as the apex of God’s creativity and an expression of his sovereign love and wisdom. Humans are wonderfully made to be in harmonious relationship with God, with each other, with creation and with ourselves. The bible also teaches that the inherent goodness and glory of humans  has been corrupted by our separation from God through sin. Sin has broken humanity to the degree that those harmonious relationships have been lost. This loss of harmony has created a true poverty that is the root cause of the hunger, disease, conflict, imbalance of resources, etc. that are the characteristics of material poverty.

“When Helping Hurts” presents a definition of the fundamental nature of poverty from Bryan L. Myers

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.

Poverty is caused by a web of circumstances that are all rooted in the fallen, broken nature of all humanity. In a sinless world, poverty would not exist. I know that this doesn’t let me off the hook yet from resigning, but I think that it gets us closer to the real problem. At the root of poverty is sin. We will not succeed in any effort to eradicate poverty without addressing the problem of sin.

Coming up next…Part 3 – Not all poverty is alike

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  1. #1 by Heidi Vincent on March 9, 2010 - 4:23 pm

    This is just a nudge to get part 3 posted. Although, I feel far too busy to deeply engage this topic on your blog, I have been blessed by reading it! I’m specifically interested in thinking of poverty in terms of broken relationship-often I think of poverty as a result of broken institutions. I am well aware of the fact that broken people create and perpetuate broken institutions, but lately, I’m feeling convicted on a very personal level and your post got me wondering about personal responsibility.

    • #2 by kirkwardmusic on March 9, 2010 - 4:56 pm

      I am a little too busy to get to part 3 this week, but I will say that the brokenness of personal relationships can look like the generational cycles of dysfunctional families that cause a sense of hopelessness or lack of self-esteem that can perpetuate poverty. Broken personal relationships could be the addictions, criminal lifestyles, or abuse that can deprive a person of the dignity of a divine image bear. As you can guess, poverty like this can result in material poverty, or it can be manifested in the middle class or wealthy. The poverty of spirit that, despite all the resources you can imagine, creates a impoverished soul. Part 3 is going to take the concept of poverty of the soul into the context of a worship service which is where we are sustained with the living bread and the water. Before the Throne, the broken world-views that sustain poverty are eradicated and the justice and mercy that come from a restored world view flow like a river from the temple.

      As Carl Ellis would say, “My, my, my.”

  2. #3 by Heidi on March 12, 2010 - 1:16 pm

    Looking forward to hearing all of the thoughts fleshed out. I’m most interested in how we as christians address all aspects of poverty at once. I stayed with The Jesus People in Chicago for a week and I thought they, like New City, did a great job addressing relational and material poverty simultaneously (to use your terms).

  1. Worship and Poverty Alliviation part 3: Not All Poverty Is Alike « Worship In The City
  2. Worship and Poverty Alleviation – part 4: Worship as Development « Worship In The City

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