February 9, 2009

Poverty and Spiritual Gifts

I tend to reminisce on the sermon from Sunday during my shower on monday morning; scrubbing myself just doesn't seem to occupy my mind enough, it seems. Anyway, yesterday's sermon was well-written, articulate, and on the whole, interesting. Bill presented the analogy of a toolbox and the building of a deck to the Church and its use of spiritual gifts for a purpose. But as I lathered, rinsed, and repeated, it occurred to me that what you hardly ever hear in the same breath are ideas on spiritual gifts and those in poverty. He presented the idea - correct, I think - that our spiritual gifts, when best used, compliment and reinforce each other to produce the best results; you can't build a deck without a screwdriver. Without the right tools, the deck just doesn't get built. It's a community project - spiritual gifts are for the building of the Church (metaphorically speaking, not like an actual building), as a group; they are not for the appeasement of the individual.

But I started thinking, what about those in poverty? Are they "spiritual-gift"-less? If not, why aren't their spiritual gifts being used, and whose fault is it? Is it something that can be fixed? How would we do that?

Your thoughts?


Jeffrey Rudy: said...

You know, at some point in the sermon, I thought about your "painting" allegory where the guy fixes all repairs by painting them. I almost said something about that, but figured I cut up enough. :)

You raise a great point here, but I'm curious if the spiritual-giftedness of the poor is ignored because the poor are ignored in general? Or are you saying that you see cases where the poor are being ministered to, but not really being invited or incorporated into serving others (with whatever gifts they have)?

Chris said...

Well, both I think. I think on the one hand there are churches that more or less ignore the poor and thus their unique gifts (I assume we all would say they have gifts just like the rest of us, since I doubt very much that God discriminates based on socioeconomic status). On the other hand, there are some fantastic ministries to the poor that basically seem to treat the poor as objects to be served rather than people to disciple and people who can grow in their faith. They're the impersonal bunch, "the poor," rather than a crowd of unique individuals who have talents of their own and can serve. It's almost the same mentality as the first bunch, with a different outlet; if the first ignores them so they can keep their stuff and remain aloof, the second bunch "serves" the poor simply for their OWN spiritual edification and keeps them at an arm's length instead of inviting them to participate in church life. Plus, there's the whole "tolerance" factor in our society that creeps in; can't reprimand the poor guy for doing something he shouldn't, because he was poor and thus we "shouldn't judge him." We should tolerate him because "he's suffered enough already."

I dunno, it's a question that I wrestled with after the sermon. You don't ever hear it addressed, is all.

Dan said...

I had a conversation with a guy at our church about this (we need a simple carpenter act done for our children's ministry) and this guy wanted to involve some homeless men who have construction/carpentry backgrounds but aren't being utilized by anyone, much less the church. His view (and I agreed) is that when you start serving God, even if it's a byproduct of helping out someone else, it is a spiritual opening for God to affect you.
We didn't talk so much about spiritual gifts, but it was on the periphery and would have come up if we had pursued the conversation furthur.

Chris said...

It seems to be related to our culture's view of work (a view with which I am currently struggling): you are not valuable if you are not currently employed by a job that pays american money. If you are not, you are not valuable. It's particularly problematic with men, who are still (despite the many movements that claim the contrary) expected to be the "breadwinners" in the household. If you aren't winning bread, you aren't in a place to do non-paying work like volunteering. It affects the church more than we'd probably like to think; the unemployed and the poor "can't" volunteer because they'd have a job if they were worth having to do work. It never occurs to us that maybe by giving them work to do, we can then recommend them to paying jobs!

Rob said...

I think you first need to clarify what you exactly mean. "Poor in Spirit" or "Poor" as in economically - you seem to be conflating the two. Also what do you define as the spiritual gift - it seems unclear from your initial post. Is it just the spiritual gifts defined in scripture or are you suggesting more

I think you can be incredibly rich (or incredibly poor) and it not make a wit of difference as to your spiritual gifting. If one is to pursue prophecy I would suggest that it is a spiritual matter that can be achieved in any stage of life - you have to "eagerly pursue" it as we are called to do. Thus, you can face obstacles if poor (and thus so focused on getting a job you don't have time to pursue) or rich (so inundated with luxuries you get distracted or simply become deaf to the calling).

Why in general are we seeing less gifting? I'd suggest two reasons: 1) Ignorance; 2) Culture. By ignorance I mean many people are left to their own devices when it comes to exploring gifting and the church writ-large tends to mute talk of gifting if only because they are unsure how to teach or direct. Heck, I had a question regarding prophecy (a gift I'm attempting to pursue) and my pastor was honest when he said "Really there is so little in scripture, I don't have much better advice than to pray and be open". I think this leads to only a few trying to develop it as it is so nebulous a topic to pursue. Or, even worse, many attempt to develop a gift only to see their very individual attempts fail and so give up.

Also, maturity is a problem as I have found it is quite hard to say I will "eagerly pursue" something that is totally out of my control. How can one "eagerly pursue" visions and dreams that will only come from God? Sleep more? The development of gifts I think has to flow from maturity and dependence.

Dependence of course butting heads with Western individualism - as trying to focus on the group goes against our cultural mores. However, it is in our selfish nature (as humans) to desire self > whole and probably this desire is no more greater number of areas of spiritual development. I'd probably suggest ignorance is the greater issue.

Chris said...

Leave it to a PhD candidate to suggest that education is the best way to see a change :)

I think that Bill was also a bit vague on the nature of "spiritual gifts" as well, so that could be part of the confusion. I'd wager that it's more than just the ones that Paul lists, that those are examples, but I could be wrong. I do agree though, that a person's socioeconomic status has little to do with the amount he or she uses their spiritual gifts.

I wager you have a good point with the "dependence" bit as well, and that the two are actually linked: our culture and the way that it makes us crave independence of the whole (yet strangely making us just as part of the whole as before) actually fosters our ignorance of spiritual gifts. When nobody tells you about it, it's hard to know, right?