Pastor’s viewpoint: Aug. 24, 2019
From the old French “poverte” or the modern French “pauvrete” or the Latin “paupertas” or the Anglo-Saxon “povert,” the English word “poverty” implies the lack of something. That “lack of something” can change the detailed meaning of poverty. The lack of money is economic poverty. The lack of friends is social poverty. The lack of food is nutritional poverty. The lack of a relationship with God is spiritual poverty.
The best-known poverty is economic poverty, and even that’s hard to define. In general, economic poverty is defined as an income below what might be needed to participate in the society in which one lives. Relative poverty describes, not the income needed to sustain life, but the income required to participate in one’s community. It’s based on a poverty threshold, which in America is $12,486 for a single individual, $14,507 for a couple, and $24,339 for a family of four.
Absolute poverty is an attempt by the World Bank to set a standard for what is needed to sustain life around the world; in 2015, it was $1.90/day, up from $1.00/day in 1996. Absolute poverty is also referred to as extreme poverty — the level at which human decency would say is unacceptable. Now remember that economic poverty is the best-known type of poverty, but the most common poverty, and the cause of much, if not most, poverty is spiritual poverty …
 Jesus saw the crowds and went up a hill, where he sat down. His disciples gathered around him,  and he began to teach them:  “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!” (Matthew 5)
The real tragedy is not the spiritual poverty; the real tragedy is that most people are not aware of their spiritual poverty. Life is a three-legged stool; body, mind, and spirit. There are people with physical handicaps and others with mental handicaps, often a simple lack of education. And there are lots of people living in spiritual poverty; one leg on their stool of life is missing and the stool won’t stand on two legs. But our society is filled with people trying to build their lives on a three-legged stool, missing a leg … or sometimes two!
So the prayer of the church is not only for an end to spiritual poverty, but a prayer for wholeness … in body, mind, and spirit! There are Christian missions and programs to feed people in the local community and around the world. There are Christian schools in most communities and most of the major universities in America’s earliest days were started by and affiliated with the church. And finally, there are churches dotted all across the American landscape to address the problems of spiritual poverty … all seeking to help people find wholeness!
Charles “Buddy” Whatley is a retired United Methodist pastor and, with Mary Ella, a missionary to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona.