Poverty comes in many different forms. It is certainly financial. But we can experience poverty in other ways too. There is moral poverty, theological poverty, political/ideological poverty, health poverty, educational poverty, relational poverty, purpose and meaning poverty, vision poverty, and more. Each of these is devastating to the person who is caught in them. And often that person doesn’t even realize they are caught up in a form of poverty. Or if they do know, they often don’t know what to do about it. Too often someone trapped in a form of poverty is too busy putting out fires and just trying to survive that they have no energy left in trying to get out of their cycle of poverty.
Poverty is like sin. No, I’m saying that people in poverty are sinning. That’s a lazy argument. It’s more in the sense of what we say in our confession and forgiveness. That we are trapped in sin and cannot free ourselves. Poverty is like that. It traps people and they cannot free themselves. Theologically, we don’t believe in the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. You need God and you need others. And that’s true for all of us.
There are many reasons why someone would be trapped in a form of poverty, regardless of what kind we are talking about. Often it starts with one bad relationship and then descends from there. Maybe a bad decision. Maybe the best decision that was available, yet not a good set of options. Often there are systems at play – things that are outside of anyone’s control. There may be cultural norms involved too.
Second, it helps to have an understanding of how we experience and understand time compared to where we are in life. What I mean by this is that people at different economic levels have a different encounter with time. Those that are wealthy are all set – no concerns in the present. They aren’t worried about the future either. Their focus is on the past – because the past is all about presentation.
Those in the middle class don’t have time to worry about the past. They are financially fit enough for the present, which allows them to focus on the future – the time that is uncertain for them.
Those that are poor don’t have the time or energy to worry about the past. And because of the poverty they experience, they don’t have the energy to worry about the future either. They are concerned with survival right now – in the present. That is the only time that exists for them.
This is true when we consider other forms of poverty too, beyond financial poverty.
Consider political/ideological poverty. Have you ever heard arguments presented that can easily be countered when you consider the past or the future? Take an argument and extend it to either the past or to a future argument. Can it withstand scrutiny? Will the argument contradict itself going forward? Is the argument shortsighted and only concerned with the present situation? Then the argument is trapped in political/ideological poverty. There is no concern with long term logic or consistency. There is only surviving the present argument.
Those trapped in poverty will do or say almost anything in order to get what they need to survive in the moment. There is no thought to long term repercussions or inconsistencies because when someone is trapped in poverty, there is no future, or a possibility of a future. All you have is the present.
Unfortunately, we end up trapped in various forms of poverty often. The constant stream of information overwhelms us. It forces us to only consider the present across all portions of our life. And when all we can do is tread water from the tsunami of data, information, screens, emotion, stress, division, exhaustion, and more, then we are swimming in a sea of poverty, with no life raft in sight.