Monday, July 3, 2017

The Discipline of Poverty

I have been thinking a lot over the past two years about poverty. Now, I must say that we are not deeply impoverished. We have pets. We rent a house. We have two cars. We have enough money to get through the month. But as a whole, that's where our money ends. And for nine months after we first moved to Des Moines, it didn't even make it that far. I am lucky to have amazingly supportive parents who have the means to give to us financially. My middle class upbringing saved us from some hard times and hard decisions. I've been given space until I could become a big budget person, trying to eek out all the money we can and reduce wasteful spending. I've also become the guy who can't figure out what things we can do for fun because I simply don't want to spend the funds or the money doesn't exist. I'm learning balance. But I'm also learning about the discipline of poverty.

The discipline of poverty is simply this: learning to embrace yourself as a child of the divine even when there isn't much to your name. And that's hard. Even before the myth of the self-made man and the idea that everyone somehow has bootstraps to pull themselves up by, there has always been a fear of the impoverished. I think it's hard for us to face how fragile we are, how easily everything could be taken away. If we didn't have support, if we didn't have a community that gave to us, we would not be where we are today. And those without support, when hard times hit, they aren't able to stay where they are. We tend to try to analyze what made their times hard. We chide them for taking lower paying jobs, for not spending more time at work. We demonize mental health crises and substance abuse problems. We try to make them "not us". But the more I learn the discipline of poverty, the more I find the fabric of life weaving us all together, even when I'd much rather not be "like them". In those moments, I find Jesus the itinerant preacher, moving from place to place, picking heads of wheat from the fields with his disciples as they head along their journey, always finding a new home to eat meals in. I begin to see this discipline in practice. They lived into poverty, not because there is something ultimately holy about not having or barely having enough, but because they sought to rely on community. We as well need to ask what it looks like to rely on community, because it is only by the strength of love given by those around us that we are able to survive. There is no other way.

I'm still not good at this discipline. I'd much rather not live it. Often I find our world getting smaller as we simply choose to stay home instead of going out. There are a number of reasons besides our budget why you often won't see us away from home that much (Did I mention the pets?) but I've also found ways to share in community that are beautiful. I've seen people coming together to support one another, to do meaningful things together with very little money being exchanged at all. I've found flexible ways to do what I desire. I've found community lifting up one another.

And as I think about the future of the Church, the future of ministry and life together, I wonder if this discipline is what parishes are beginning to learn. There are always the big donors in the parish, but more and more, many in the community are being stretched. They are being drawn into lower classes and wondering if they are doing something wrong in their lives. It's hard to be cash poor and not feel guilty about it. I struggle with that. Communities struggle with that. Churches struggle with that. But what if we leaned into this discipline? What could we learn as we focus more on community than budget? It would completely break apart current models of full time ministers and staff, tearing apart church pension funds and the structures of denominations themselves. It's a really scary prospect and there's a lot to lose. We might start to feel really insular and stay home a lot. We may not know exactly how to find balance. We may decide not to do anything fun or exciting because we don't want to spend the money or there simply isn't money in the coffers. We may look at the homeless in our midst and wonder if we will soon be without homes too. But in the midst of the scary and threatening things, the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night and fuels anxiety, there is a man moving through the fields with his motley crew. Sometimes he calms storms, sometimes he makes an abundant feast with simple loaves and fishes. Always he relies on the gifts of the people around him, entrusting himself to community. He casts his gaze towards the poor, the outcast, those whom appear to be left behind by their communities, and he heals, he restores, he brings them into relationship with those around them. He shows us that community is ultimately what we need, not money in the bank. He loves us into better ways of being together.

“Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’  Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:25-34, CEB