Archive for the ‘Poverty’ Tag

Kinks in the Christmas Spirit   2 comments

Dec. 2: Simplicity: Spirituality on Rations

Charlie Brown treeKimberly and I are boxed in by limited resources, especially emotional resources.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit” Jesus said, and though it doesn’t feel blessed, I find it carries a spiritual wealth that others miss.  In fact, the really hard part of our experience is not from our personal limits, but from our society’s values and judgments.  Our daily choices must break through a constant barrage that threatens to swamp us.  Our society has traded in Jesus’ version of abundant life for the American version of abundant life.  It is now measured by success above faithfulness, impact above humility, drive above being, power above brokenness.  How can we grasp in today’s world any sense of the blessedness of poverty?

Here are a few of the riches we found in our own experience of poverty.

1) Focused orientation: Excess breeds a casual spirit.  With few resources comes a focused life.  Superficiality is stripped away, and the things that really matter really matter.  If you have one true friend, for example, you learn a depth of friendship that a crowd of pals won’t teach.exclamation

2) True values: Someone with a folder of opportunities and a stash of resources has a wide range of choices.  Those of us with few resources must guard our priorities or suffer dearly for it.  Since my spirit falters under criticism, for instance, I choose carefully the issues on which I take a public stand.  I have not always been this way–I used to voice every disagreement with relish, aggressively.  That was not good for me or my relationships, or even good for the truth.  It was a potent defense mechanism, which I have laid aside, making myself much more vulnerable, but also more authentic, a high value for me now.

3) Enhanced growth: I expected in theory that more resources would create more potential and freedom, but I found in experience that suffering and stringency are much more fertile soils for self-discovery and growth.  When life is smooth, I have little need or motivation to go plowing up my soul, but daily struggle demands attention.  Patience and courage and perseverance and faith are strengthened by the obstacles we face.

fragile box4) Deepened empathy: Recent studies have shown that those who have more care less about others.  Statistically, the poor are more generous than the rich.  Those of us who feel threatened and battered by life can better understand and feel compassion for others like us, and we feel safer with someone whose soul has been deeply cut.  The tender are tender.

5) Healing relationships: Deep connection doesn’t come through sharing our strengths and abilities, but rather, like grafted branches, our exposed wounds bind us together in a living, vital way.  It is in shared weakness and want that we create strong community.  When the window dressing is stripped off–all our efforts to look good and capable and successful–then the real me can connect with the real you, and acceptance of my true self has astounding power to heal.grafted branch

I can resent my poverty or scrabble to escape it or pretend it isn’t there, but when I embrace my poverty, the true spirit of Christmas is released.

Posted December 3, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Inventing Tradition: Simplicity   Leave a comment

We think of traditions as ancient, honored customs… but they had to begin somewhere, sometime.  After all, the first Christmas was in a pile of barnyard hay with a few dirty sheep-herders gawking nearby (the natty, gift-bearing VIPs showed up later).  Jesus was not born in a room full of colored lights and snow-flake medallions.  Even the angels singing out in the muddy fields didn’t show up for his party as far as we know.  So Kimberly and I decided to start from scratch in creating our own unique holiday traditions.  We planned to emphasize a different aspect of the season each week of advent… only it isn’t playing out as we had expected.

CHARLIE BROWN ALL GROWN UP

CHARLIE BROWN
ALL GROWN UP

We both like Christmas conifers, and the use of evergreens in winter speaks to us of life outwitting death, of stubborn hope in the midst of barrenness.  So we decked our banisters and brought in a scrub tree from the yard.  My idea was to decorate in stages, emphasizing each particular advent week focus, but our scraggly, homegrown tree looked more like a sign of want than of hope.  It started life as a weed in our flowerbed, and not having the heart to toss it out, I dug it up and planted it in the back yard.  It has been growing there for four years, completely neglected, and is now 6 feet of meager, sickly green thistles.  Those barbs were painful enough to scrape against, but since the branches were so weak, we had to shove decorations deep inside.  We should have worn long sleeves and gloves.  That pathetic see-through shrub had all its defenses up… a tree thick with issues… how appropriate for our home.  It was truly a symbol of life… life as we know it.

NOT MUCH ROOM TO MOVE
BUT WHAT A VIEW!

To put a positive spin on our impecunious Christmas, our first week spoke of simplicity.  No lights, tinsel, streamers, or presents under the tree.  Even if we had a star, the top of the tree was too flimsy to hold it.  Kimberly and I live out of a shortage of resources.  I didn’t have the energy to find and care for a nice pine or fir, or even the initiative to plan that far in advance.  I had a little energy, and with it I transplanted a sprout, and now we have a tree, spindly as it is.  Having fewer resources makes for a tight circle of possibilities, and that may feel like a bare prison stripped of goodness or a narrow shelf above a sheer cliff.  We have felt that at times.  But a simple lifestyle may also be seen as freedom from the clutter of excess and from the need for a wider cleft in the rock.  We have fewer choices and less to protect, and that helps us focus on what is truly important, helps us enjoy the simple things more richly, gives us access to one another’s hearts more openly and easily.  The only difference between a simple lifestyle and an impoverished one is faith, and that difference is profound.

Posted December 13, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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