Book Review: A Framework for Understanding Poverty

A Framework for Understanding Poverty 5th edition 9781938248016 1938248015This book: A Framework for Understanding Poverty, was recommended to me by Aaron Campbell, who pastors a church in urban Philadelphia: https://antiochphilly.org

While the book is written primarily for educators to understand and help students in poverty, the research and principles outlined in the book have a much broader application.

Poverty is a Theological Issue

Poverty is not only a political and economic issue, for Christians it is also a theological issue. What the Bible has to say on the topic of poverty goes far beyond the statement that “the poor you will always have with you.” (Mark 14:17)

Taken on its own, this statement of Jesus is often used to say that poverty isn’t something that we as Christians need to care about, since we will never succeed in eradicating it prior to the return of Jesus. However, taking a broader look at the Bible reveals that God has a lot to say about poverty.

For example, the books of the minor prophets, particularly Amos, chastise the people of God for not caring for the poor, and even exploiting them. See Amos: Faith that Works.

Amos is not alone in this message, however. We can say that poverty is a result of the fall, i.e. sin in the world. Like sickness, it is a symptom of the present fallen human condition which Jesus will ultimately make right.

Going all the way back to the Law of Moses and throughout the prophets, the message is that God’s people are to watch out for what is called “the quartet of the vulnerable,” i.e. the most vulnerable people in society, who in their case were: widows, orphans, sojourners, and the poor. Provisions were made in the Law of Moses to prevent systemic poverty and to provide for the needs of those who wound up in poverty as a result of their own choices.

Poverty is a Lack of Access to Resources

Ruby Payne describes poverty as a lack of access to resources. She explains that poverty is relative to location, but that there are certain behavioral patterns which characterize those in poverty which are true across cultures and national boundaries. Interestingly, to prove this, the author did research not only in urban settings in the United States, but also rural settings and internationally, including in Hungary and Slovakia, places I am very familiar with from having lived in North-East Hungary, near the border with Slovakia. I recognized some of the characteristic behaviors she described both in people I worked with in Eastern Europe, as well as in my own family of origin.

She began the book by dispelling many myths about poverty, such as that poverty is the result of laziness, or that it is limited to minority populations or urban areas. She then went on to describe some of the hardships those in generational poverty (two or more generations) face which often prevent them from escaping. Generational poverty can have damaging effects on the brain, as the constant struggle for survival and the presence of different kinds of predators can prevent the development of skills which are needed for the kinds of success in life which allows someone to escape poverty.

Understanding poverty as a lack of resources is important, because it means – as Payne states – that poverty is not mostly about not having money. It is most significantly about relationships.

The Importance of Faith Communities in Relieving Poverty

Payne states that the most important factor that can help those in poverty is for them to be part of a faith community. This is both because of the spiritual resources which provide hope, or “a future story” as Payne calls it, as well as the social and supportive aspects. This is part of the reason why Paul the Apostle is able to say that though he had no money, in Christ he was rich. For more on this, see the recent message I gave on this topic: The Soul Felt Its Worth

May we as the people of God have the heart of God towards those who are weak and vulnerable in our society, and may we act of His hands and feet!

I found this book very insightful, and I recommend it for anyone looking for a balanced and research-backed approach to understanding this important issue.

 

 

Celebrating Saint Nicholas

December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day, or the Feast of Saint Nicholas.

Whereas Americans tend to say that Santa Claus comes on Christmas Eve to deliver presents, for Europeans Saint Nick brings chocolate and some gifts on December 6.

“The Real Santa is Dead”

One of my American friends once told me that they don’t do Santa Claus, because they like to keep fairy tales out of their faith. That’s a fair point. However, when it comes to Saint Nicholas, we would do well to not lose the legacy of the historical person as we throw out the proverbial bath water.

To that end, my wife and I have always taken the approach with our kids of telling them about the real Saint Nick: the pastor and theologian who loved and cared for the poor in his community.

We explain to them that the reason there are so many Santas in malls and at events is because Saint Nicholas was such a wonderful person that people want to keep his memory and legacy alive, and they do that by dressing up in that red costume with the beard.

This led to a funny episode once, when we were waiting in line to have our picture taken with a mall Santa, and my son – 5 years old at the time – started talking to another kid in line and told him, “Did you know that the real Santa is dead?!” Needless to say, the kid was surprised and concerned to hear this news!

The Real Saint Nick

Saint Nicholas was born in the 3rd century in the village of Patara, in what is now southern Turkey, into a wealthy family. That’s right: no North Pole nor reindeer for the real Santa, but palm trees and white sand beaches.

His parents died when he was young, and he was taken in and raised by a local priest. Following Jesus’ call to the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:21) to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas dedicated his entire inheritance to assisting the sick, needy and suffering.

He became a pastor, and was later made Bishop of Myra. He became famous for his generosity and love for children.

Nicholas suffered persecution and imprisonment for his Christian faith during the Great Persecution (303-311) under Roman emperor Diocletian.

As a bishop, he attended the Council of Nicaea (325), at which he affirmed the doctrine of the deity of Christ against the Arian heresy.

Homoousios or Homoiousios

The discussion at the Council of Nicaea was summarized by which word to use in describing Jesus’ nature: whether he was homoousios (of the “same substance” as God) or homoiousios (of a “similar substance” as God).

At the the Council of Nicaea, bishops from all over the world gathered to study the scriptures and address the Arian controversy which advocated for the term homoiousios, denying Jesus’ full deity. This view, which is also held today by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was deemed heretical by the council of bishops based on examination of the Scriptures, which teach that Jesus is Immanuel (God with us), and is true God of true God.

The debate got very heated, and at one point Nicholas reportedly got so upset with he deemed to be blasphemy, that he slapped an Arian.

This is the real Saint Nick: Palm trees and white sand beaches, defender of the faith, and slapper of heretics.

Nicholas died in 343 in Myra. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6.

Where the Tradition of Gift Giving Comes From

Many stories are told about St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. Perhaps the most famous story is that of a poor man who had three daughters of marrying age. Because the man was poor, he was unable to provide a dowry for his daughters, which meant that they would not be able to find a descent husband and would either be married into further poverty or would have to become slaves.

After Nicholas found out about this family’s situation, he visited the family’s house at night, leaving them three anonymous gifts: bags of gold, which he tossed through an open window while the family was sleeping.

The story goes that they found the gold in their shoes when they awoke, which is the reason for the tradition in Europe that Saint Nicholas leaves chocolate in children’s shoes. Nicholas provided for these poor girls to help them break out of the cycle of poverty.

Rather than trying to make Christmas Santa-free, let’s take back the true story of Saint Nicholas and take hold of this opportunity to talk about a Christian man who loved Jesus, championed good theology, and exemplified Christ through compassion and generosity to the needy.

 

Project Greatest Gift 2019

Project Greatest Gift is White Fields’ annual outreach to children in foster and kinship care in Northern Colorado.

Last year we were able to provide for 241 kids and their caretakers, and this year the Health and Human Services departments from the counties we partner with asked if we could do more, and of course we said ‘yes’! So this year we are aiming to cover 314; the most we’ve ever done.

Clearly Project Greatest Gift is meeting a real need which is not going away.

In this video, Christine Appel shares some information about the great needs that these families face and how we can help:

Project Greatest Gift runs throughout the month of November, which means that we are already two weeks in, and over half of the kids and caretakers still need sponsorship.

It’s not too late to sign up to sponsor a family this year to help make Christmas more joyful, and ultimately to introduce them to the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.

Did you know that children in the foster system are an at-risk people group within our communities?

In almost every case, the reason children end up in foster care is because of an unsuitable home environment, which often involves violence, neglect, drugs and crime. These environments not only result in trauma, but they are also associated with poverty. Many foster care situations are kinship care, which means the child is cared for by a relative, which can create a financial burden, especially in the case of grandparents living on pension.

Poverty has a profound impact on a child’s mental and physical well-being. In other words, the suffering that a child who is raised in this environment endures is not only limited to their childhood, but can adversely impact the rest of their life.

Our church, White Fields Community Church, has a history of ministering to children in the foster system. Through some of our leaders, we have developed a great relationship with the Health and Human Services departments in Weld and Adams Counties, and we are able to make an impact in the lives of needy families in our area. In recent years, we have had the special opportunity to get to meet and serve these families at a Christmas event we help put on for them in Greeley at which the gifts are distributed.

If you would like to be involved, visit us on a Sunday morning this November, leave a comment below, or contact the church here.

If you can’t participate but would like to support this endeavor financially, you can make a donation by clicking here, and choosing Project Greatest Gift from the drop-down menu. 100% of your donation will go straight to the kids and their families.

Project Back to School 2019

boy in brown hoodie carrying red backpack while walking on dirt road near tall trees

Project Back to School: July 7-28, 2019

Did you know that children in the foster system form an at-risk people group without in our own communities?

In almost every case, the reason these children end up in foster care is because of an unsuitable home environment, which may involve violence, neglect, drugs, crime, etc. These environments not only result in trauma many times, but they also tend to result in or be associated with poverty. Many foster care situations are kinship care, which means the child is cared for by a relative, which can create a financial burden.

Poverty has a profound impact on a child’s mental and physical well-being. Children living in poverty have higher rates of absenteeism from school. Students who come from low income families are six times more likely to drop out of high school.  Adults without a high school diploma are 4 times more likely to be unemployed and live in poverty, which means raising their children in poverty, perpetuating a cycle of poverty which may persist for generations: poverty affects education which affects poverty. (source 1, source 2)

One of the ways that we can help kids break out of this cycle of poverty is by encouraging them to stay in school – and one of the ways we can do that is by helping them have the things they need to be confident and excited about going to school, so they can succeed!

Our church, White Fields Community Church, has a history of ministering to children in the foster system, and three years ago we began a new ministry: Project Back to School.

We are working with Weld County Department of Human Services, and this year they have identified 120 at-risk kids who need help with school supplies, clothes and shoes.

We are trusting that God will raise up people to bless these families in the name of Jesus. It’s a way for us to love not only in words and in speech, but in action as well (1 John 3:18).

How to Get Involved and Make a Difference

1. Sign up in person

If you live in or near Longmont, visit White Fields Church on a Sunday morning this July and sign up to sponsor one or more children.

2. Sign up online

If you can’t make it on a Sunday morning, but are still local and could drop off items to us for delivery, leave a comment below, or contact the church here.

3. Contribute Financially

All monies that come in designated for Project Back to School will go directly towards buying school supplies for at risk children. You can make a tax-deductible donation on our church’s website here: whitefieldschurch.com/give/ (choose Project Back to School on the drop-down menu).

Join us in praying for these kids, and that God uses this initiative to bless them.

 

Project Back to School

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Did you know that children in the foster system form an at-risk people group without in our own communities?

In almost every case, the reason these children end up in foster care is because of an unsuitable home environment, which may involve violence, neglect, drugs, crime, etc. These environments not only result in trauma many times, but they also tend to result in or be associated with poverty. Many foster care situations are kinship care, which means the child is cared for by a relative, which can create a financial burden.

Poverty has a profound impact on a child’s mental and physical well-being. Children living in poverty have higher rates of absenteeism from school. Students who come from low income families are six times more likely to drop out of high school.  Adults without a high school diploma are 4 times more likely to be unemployed and live in poverty, which means raising their children in poverty, perpetuating a cycle of poverty which may persist for generations: poverty affects education which affects poverty. (source 1, source 2)

One of the ways that we can help kids break out of this cycle of poverty is by encouraging them to stay in school – and one of the ways we can do that is by helping them have the things they need to be confident and excited about going to school, so they can succeed!

Our church, White Fields Community Church, has a history of ministering to children in the foster system, and two years ago we began a new ministry: Project Back to School.

We are working with Weld County Department of Human Services, and this year they have identified 135 at-risk kids who need help with school supplies, clothes and shoes.

This is the most we’ve ever taken on. The first year we did 50, last year we did 100 – and this year we’ve accepted their request to provide for 135 kids! It’s a big step of faith, but we are trusting that God will raise up people to bless these families in the name of Jesus. It’s a way for us to love not only in words and in speech, but in action as well (1 John 3:18).

If you would like to be involved, visit us on a Sunday morning this July, leave a comment below, or contact the church here.

 

What Happened That Made You Like This?

Since the shooting in Las Vegas last Sunday, authorities have been searching for a motive for why Steven Paddock opened fire on a crowd of people with the intent to kill as many as possible. So far, no leads have turned up. Everyone who knew him seems genuinely shocked. He doesn’t seem to fit any of the expected patterns or usual profiles. People are confused and asking: How does someone get to the point where they would do something so profoundly evil and terrible as this?

The modern worldview is that we are progressing as a society, we are evolving and getting better. Furthermore, it believes that “evil” doesn’t really exist per se, but that “evil behavior” is the result of outside factors:

  1. You have a psychological complex because you were raised improperly.
  2. You did it because of bad sociology: you weren’t educated enough, or you were poor.
  3. It’s a result of bad genetics and/or you are aggressive because of millennia of natural selection which favored aggressive behavior.

There might be some truth to the matters of how someone is raised, but this theory is insufficient. This theory has no category for a Steven Paddock, who doesn’t fit any of these models. He wasn’t poor, he wasn’t uneducated, he was raised in a loving home… It’s interesting to watch reporters grasp at straws to find a reason for what happened to him that made him like this…

It reminds me of a scene from the book, Silence of the Lambs, about the serial killer: Hannibal Lecter. Officer Starling goes in to interview Hannibal Lecter, and she is looking at him and considering what he has done, and she sees his attitude, and she asks:

“What happened to you that made you like this?”

Officer Starling is the quentisential modern person. She thinks: “You are doing bad things, therefore something must have happened to you, something must have come from outside – it couldn’t have come from inside!” This is a philosophical leap of faith, which assumes that people are basically good, and if they do anything bad it is only because of outside influence.

Hannibal Lecter replies:

“Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviorism, Officer Starling. You’ve got everybody in moral dignity pants – and nothing is ever anybody’s fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand and say I’m evil? Am I evil, Officer Starling?” (The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris)

Hannibal Lecter is making a very important point: the modern worldview has no category for evil.

The modern world view has actually been eroding very quickly. In the 20th Century, the world became wealthy and educated, many of the problems of poverty were overcome, and yet wars and violence didn’t end, they escalated. The 20th Century was the most bloody century in history – at a time when the world was more educated, industrialized and wealthy than ever before.

The Christian worldview, however, which is based on the Bible, has no problem accepting these things – because we have a very comprehensive view on sin.

We have a category for Hannibal Lecter and for Steven Paddock. The Bible tells us that within all of us lurks the capacity for terrible acts, because we are fallen and corrupt. The theological term is: Totally Depravity. That means that, apart from God’s work within us, even the good things we do, we do for less-than-pure motives: either to benefit ourselves, bring praise to ourselves, or to justify ourselves.

But the Bible doesn’t just stop there with telling us what’s wrong, and that evil lurks inside of us; it also tells us what God has done to save us and redeem us. It tells us what God has done to destroy evil without destroying us: He took on human flesh, became one of us, and died a substitutionary death, so that through His death He might destroy the one who holds the power of death, and set free those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

We should pursue better legislation, further education and the eradication of poverty, because we have been given a calling and vocation from God to “subdue the Earth,” i.e. to manage it well and to do all that we can under God to promote human flourishing. But we must remember that such things do not change the heart. We must place our ultimate hope in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

Charitable Giving Habits of Americans

Living abroad for many years, one of the things which I came to realize and be impressed with, is how much American citizens give to charitable causes.

I was living in Hungary when the monster earthquake hit Haiti, and Hungarians were blown away to hear that average people in the United States were giving generously to help provide aid and relief for people they had never met in some faraway country. They were used to governments giving aid to regions with humanitarian crises, but for regular people to do such a thing was surprising to them.

It could be because people in the United States have more expendable income than people in most parts of the world, and that our currency is strong and goes further than other currencies. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that there is a culture here in the United States of using what we have to do good for other people.

Perhaps it comes from our history: having been a nation of immigrants, whose ancestors moved here to seek a better life or to escape poverty, and so it is built into our collective psyche, to use what we have to help others, knowing that we have experienced divine providential fortune to live in this country.

It also can’t be ignored, that a great number of Americans identify as ‘religious’. Part of the Judeo-Christian ethic is that, like Abraham, if we have been blessed, it is so we might be a blessing to others – that God wants to bless other people through us (Genesis 12:2).

The Sacramento Bee published an article last month, showing the Adjusted Gross Income of every county in the US compared to how much was given in that county to charitable causes, non-profits and churches.

Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, it was the poorer counties which gave more per capita than the richer ones. One of the major factors in how much people in a given county gave to charity seems to be religious affiliation; places with more people who attend religious services saw higher rates of charitable giving.

The idea that people who have less tend to give more may not be surprising to everyone. Jesus drew the attention of his disciples to a woman in the temple who gave her last 2 mites – all that she had, whereas other people who had more gave less of what they had. Preachers have long cited statistics which show the same thing: ironically, the more one accrues, the more miserly they tend to become with it.

How about Boulder County, Colorado, where yours truly is located? 2.6% of income was given to charity. That’s pretty low, and pretty ironic, because people in Boulder County, in my experience, talk a lot about being “locally minded and globally conscious” and caring about the well-being of other people, even if most of them are not Christian or attend religious services of any kind.

Neighboring Weld County was not much better at 2.7%, Larimer County came in at 3.2% (there are quite a few more church-going folks up there).

Here is the map with each county’s income versus charitable giving:

http://public.tableau.com/javascripts/api/viz_v1.js

Dashboard 1

 
Do you give charitably? The Bible recommends 10% of one’s income. The only places that came close to that number were the heavily Mormon populated counties of Utah.

Where do you direct your giving towards?