definition of poverty

Taking my time reading through Robert Lupton’s Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor. The book is divided into four parts with chapters that are really short essays.  On page 43 he begins a section titled THE MAGIC OF EXCHANGE in which he inserts a definition of poverty:

Remember your last garage sale? Or the last antique bargain you purchased at a flea market? Or the last car you traded? How is it that when a transaction is done well both purchaser and seller come away with a sense of gain?  It’s the magic of exchange.  And it transcends the boundaries of age and gender, race and class.  Whether the find is a rare Babe Ruth baseball card, a silk blouse reduced for quick sale or the perfect piece of land at the right price, the ecstasy of exchange is for all to enjoy.

Exchange is a remarkable invigorating process.  The very thought of acquiring a new treasure motivates us to calculate value, rearrange priorities, juggle finances, analyze past performance and make predictions about the future.  And ultimately, it pushes us to the risky edge of letting go of something valued in the hopes of gaining that which will be of greater worth to us.

However, when the labor you offer is unneeded in the marketplace or when your abilities are worth less to employers than the amount of your welfare check, you are exchange-less. Indeed poverty may be defined as having little of value to exchange.  And when society subsidizes you for being a noncontributor, it has added insult to your already injured self-esteem.

He goes on to ask some pointed questions:

From the time we insistently turned our heads away from our mother’s spoon-feeding to the day we left the nest, we have known instinctively that dependency is not for the healthy.  How then have we created systems of dependency for those in need and thought it good?  Or worse, established free clothes closets and food pantries devoid of the dignity of exchange and called it Christian?

The magic of exchange is part of God’s common grace for all those He created in His image.  The work of the Kingdom involves doing justice with and for those who have been excluded from the full measure of His grace.  As co-creators with our Father, we have the high privilege and sober responsibility of recreating systems that have fallen to self-interest, expediency and apathy.  Ours is the task of modeling the highest forms of charity that include even the most vulnerable among us as valued participants.



2 Responses

  1. Rob,

    Thanks for sharing this. Very important to keep in mind … there is so much to be UNlearned, isn’t there?

  2. Reminds me of a book I read a few years back. “Unlearning Church” by Michael Slaughter. There is so much of what we do and how we think that needs to be unlearned and than relearned. But maybe its in the unlearning that we relearn??

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