Quest to End Poverty in America

Quest to End Poverty in America Part 4

All of our efforts toward ending poverty must begin and end with the individual in need.  Yes, there are many things that we must do as a society, but while we striving to make those things come to pass, we know that very real people are living and dying on our streets.  Others are living way below a standard that most of us would find acceptable.  We must start with the individual and get that person help, and then we can focus on society.

On one occasion an expert was stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher he asked what must I do to inherit eternal life?”           -Luke 10:25

     Jesus responds with one of the best known and least understood of all his parables.  The story of the Good Samaritan has become a rallying cry for many who would want to come together to help the hurting, the lost and the forgotten.  The critical task that Jesus gives in this passage is that we must do something.  Over the years I have been in multiple church services in a wide array of denominations and often there is a time of prayer and or a message that tells us that God loves the poor.  Too often these messages are met with polite nods, a smile and a look at the watch to determine how long we need to wait until we get to the buffet.

If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

-James 2:16

Action is what impacts lives.  Many cannot and will not hear a message of salvation because their stomachs are growling too loudly or they are shivering too much from living out in the cold.  Jesus encourages us, even goads us to step up and take the risk to serve those who are in poverty.   

Through words and actions what we must communicate with those in poverty is that God sent His only begotten Son to earth and then Him (Jesus) living obediently even to death on the cross and then being raised from the dead to get us a shot at paradise.  But what happens to us when we accept that truth?  If it does not change us; was it real?  Jesus made the point that salvation should so overwhelm us that from deep within wells a feeling of compassionate action that impacts those around us.   The action does not get us into Heaven.  The action comes from within us like the tiny stream in Minneapolis that ultimately becomes the Mississippi.   Jesus starts this process and journeys with us through the process.  Along the way He will introduce us to people who will shape us and change us and help us to see Him more clearly.  This is the quest of the man or woman of God.

    If the man or woman of God would rise to the occasion than the church would be seen in all of its glory and society would be better. Instead the church of today builds big buildings, develops great programs, entertains the masses and then pats itself on the back.   Consider an alternate version of Acts 2 that is played out in many churches today.  If you remember, in Acts 2, the apostles are all in the upper chamber and the Holy Spirit comes upon them all.  A great worship service happens as the Holy Spirit shows up, prophesies and truth is spoken.  In the original story they tell the truth to the people who gathered because of the sounds coming from the upper room.  Over 3000 are saved that day, most of which did not come to the church service and did not intend to be a part of the events of the day. 

    But consider this version, the service goes on and the people gathered in the upper room are touched and blessed.  Afterwards, they all rush out for a nice lunch and an afternoon of watching football.  Over the next several years people who were at the service chat about that great service way back when.  What a waste that would have been.  We should gather in our churches, be refilled with the Life of Christ and then expend all ammo to share the Gospel with this world; when necessary use words.

Better yet, consider the following.  What if the man or woman of God took Jesus’ model of the Samaritan seriously and rose up in compassionate action?  While Jesus said that the poor will always be among you, He did not mean that people would always be homeless.  He meant that not all would be believers, remember the poor in spirit?  There will be the downtrodden, the hurting and the confused within the body of Christ.  Those are the poor.  Let us take compassionate action. 

The Original Model for Ending Homelessness

    “Who is my neighbor?”  Maybe the question was asked to limit the scope of who needed to be helped.  For others maybe it was a very real question.  Should we help anyone and everyone?

     Curiously, Jesus searched the faces of those around Him.  Some were focused and hanging on whatever words that He might use next.  Others were just passing by and seemed to hardly notice that He was even there.  Others were obviously watching very carefully hoping to catch Him in something that He might say that they could use to bring Him down.  Friends and enemies were all around Him as He carefully chose what story He would use to illustrate His next point.

    “A man was traveling on the road to Jericho.  Along the way robbers attacked him, stole what he had and left him for dead.”  The crowd nodded.  Most had heard about bandits along that road.  Some considered how foolish it would be to go along that road alone.  Others waited for the story to continue.

“While the man lay there bleeding, a priest happened by and passed by on the far side of the road.”  This made sense to many of the crowd.  If a priest were to touch this man and if the man died, the priest would not have been allowed to participate in the sacrifices.  “With the priest far up the road a Levite also happened by and saw the wounded man.  He too passed by on the far side of the road.”  This also made sense to the crowd.  Levites were focused on duty and did many unpleasant tasks.  He too would have been rendered unclean should the wounded man die on him.

“But along came a Samaritan who saw the wounded man and had pity on him.  His heart broke as he surveyed the damage on the man.  Reaching into his bag he pulled out some oil and wine and used them to begin cleaning the wounds.  A short conversation ensued but little the wounded man said made sense.  The loss of blood was getting to his brain.  Ripping his own clothing, the Samaritan worked to stop the bleeding improvising bandages and putting them in place.  By the time he was done the Samaritan was a mess.  He had dirt and dried blood all over him.  Using a piece of cloth that was on his donkey he wiped his hands as clean as he could get them. Quickly, the Samaritan laid the man across his donkey and took him to an inn.  At the inn he cared for him.  A thought simmered in his head that he needed to get his business done so he paid the inn keeper to care for the man.  He let the inn keeper know that he would be back and would pay him for any extra expenses.  The inn keeper happily agreed.”

     Jesus looked around at the crowd.  Several were still showing the shock of a story where a Samaritan was the hero.  How could that be?  Samaritans were traitors and half breeds.   But Jesus did not care for their racism and hate.  “Who was the neighbor to the wounded man?”

The only answer that anyone had was to say that it was the Samaritan.  “Go and do likewise.” 

    This story has been the lynch pin for the social Gospel.  How can we hear the heart of this story and not long to be the Samaritan?  Oh I want to be the hero that works to rescue the hurting man!  But how often do I fail like the priest and the Levite?  I choose duty.  Responsibility is right and good.  If I stopped and helped every needy person between my home and work I would rarely make it to work.  How often do I become annoyed when traffic stops because someone’s car has broken down instead of pulling over, getting out and helping?  It would only take a few moments.  It would feel good and I might actually get home faster.  But I would be inconvenienced.  I might get dirty.  But maybe that is the point of Jesus’ story.  His great grandfather David told the men around him that he would not present a sacrifice that cost him nothing.  Helping people will get you dirty.  It will make you tired.  It will cost you something.  But it seems to me that taking some time is loving your neighbor.

   What is clear in this story is the definition of who is our neighbor.  Anyone who is hurting, lost, confused and hurting is our neighbor.  This includes people of different faiths, different cultures and different nations.  Based on other portions of Scripture this also includes our enemies, people who would like to hurt us and people who would like to knock us down.  There is no thought by the Samaritan about the morality of the man.  All he saw was that there was a man in need and bent down took time and helped the man.

     What is not as clear is what does it look like to love your neighbor?   Let us look at some of the basic patterns of this challenging expression of love.

  • He came to where he was (Luke 10:33)
  • He saw the man (Luke 10:33)
  • He had compassion (Luke 10:33)
  • He went to him (Luke 10:34)
  • He bandaged his wounds (Luke 10:34)
  • He brought him to an inn (Luke 10:34)
  • He set him up for future success and left him (Luke 10:35)

Join us for next week’s blog where we will examine each of these areas.

Quest to End Poverty in America

Quest to End Poverty in America Part 3

Where do we start?

There is a strong temptation to start with a discussion of the causes of poverty. However, this tends to lead to debate and argument about who is to blame.  Typically these discussions will focus on two areas.  First it is the fault of the poor.  If they just tried harder or got off of drugs or countless other things than there would not be poverty.  In many cases this is true.  No solution to poverty can ignore personal choices that lead to poverty.  Choosing to skip work in order to drink alcohol or if your work performance is negatively impacted by drug use than yes you will be poor.  If you are lazy you will not be able to maintain a household and relationships, much less a job.  However, it is too simple to blame people for their own pain.  We will need to address personal choices in whatever plan that we institute.  The second area that gets much attention is the environment or the society that is to blame for poverty. This too is valid.  Racism, the restructuring of the family, businesses moving overseas and other environmental and societal issues are all a factor in creating poverty in this nation.

A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
    and scarcity like an armed man.

-Proverbs 6:10-11

Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food.

-Acts 7:11

These are both valid explanations. We will explore solutions and ideas around both of these areas around this issue; it does not benefit us too much to debate and argue over the causes.  While the debate is happening, the next generation is hungry, and ready to join the masses of men and women who are experiencing poverty.  Instead of starting with the causes, let us start with the issues right in our face.

William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army believed that if you were going to end poverty you needed to provide people with food, shelter, work and hope.


While we will discuss this further when we talk about nutrition, we must start with an understanding that people need to eat.  Think about how you get when you are hungry.  How is your energy level?  How about your mood?  How productive are you at work?  I once read a study of decisions made by appeals court justices.  Because of great documentation of the processes, we can tell what time all of the decisions were made.  The study noted that in the morning the defendants were more likely to get a favorable decision the earlier in the work day that their appeal came before the judge.  As the morning wears on and the time gets closer to lunch the decisions tend to be more negative for the defendants.  The same thing happens right after lunch. The justice is softer with a full stomach than when he or she is hungry.  Maybe part of any trial lawyers’ tool kit should be candy bars.  This hunger factor does not just impact judges, people tend to become more negative when they do not have much to eat.  Food is a critical piece of the solution.  We must make sure that all of our people eat.

Food needs not only to feed the stomach.  Food banks are full of canned foods and other foods that have been donated because they were approaching the end of their shelf life.  They also have a wide variety of foods that common folks don’t eat.  We give this to those who are living in poverty and expect them to be grateful.  Additionally our shelters, soup kitchens and other free eating sites are overwhelmed with an assortment of processed foods.  Because of the difficulty in gaining funding these foods must be served.  The problem is that these foods will lead to health problems.  Those with health problems have trouble keeping a job, have trouble functioning in a society that worships good health and youth and will ultimately create health care costs for all of society.

I once read that there is junk and there is food, but we really don’t have junk food.  I have come to agree.  When we get to the section on nutrition we must try to figure out how to get more healthy foods to those in poverty.

Food will give energy and health to those in poverty.  That is where we can start to make a difference.  People are hungry.  Can we find a way to feed everyone?  We will explore this throughout the book.  But consider that our current system of food stamps does not seem to be working.  We have way too many abuses and we have caused people to become dependent on the government to supply the resources.  Since we are a government by the people and for the people if we are to supply food for everyone we will need to take it from someone else.  Taxpayers often balk here. They will correctly state that they work hard for their money.  They ask why they should give away what they have earned to those who are lazy.  That is exactly what is being done when you pay your taxes so that the government can pass it on for you.  How can we feed the hungry people that will encourage them not to sit back and simply treat it as a handout? How can this be done?

There is a Biblical concept called gleaning.  Throughout the Old Testament the rich were commanded not to harvest to the edges of their fields.  They were commanded not to go over their fields twice.  The idea was that the poor could go out and gather for themselves and be fed.  Yet, the food gathered through gleaning was healthy and good for you.  The work in the outdoors was also beneficial.  Beyond that the concept is brought out that those that are currently wealthy by manmade standards need to share with those that are experiencing need.

What caused the great depression?

An investigation into the causes of the great depression will show that greed was one of the primary factors that led to the suffering of millions, worldwide.  Selfishness does not look pretty in society.  Yet we see this often as businesses try to squeeze every penny out of their enterprise regardless of who it hurts. 

Our goal must be to honor these men and women by allowing them to work for their food in some capacity. 

A solution to our hunger problem?

This gleaning concept seems to solve our problem.  At first glance this is a great idea for those who are hungry.  They get fed and the wealthy are not greedy.   But wait it’s not that simple.  What about those who have disabilities?  They may not be able to go out to the fields.  If they have families they can help.  Families are a part of the solution.  We will discuss that more in detail later.  But in our current discussion, what if there is no family?  Also consider that if a man or woman is out picking fruits and vegetables all day they are not looking for work that will help them not need to go out and glean.  If we are not careful we will entrap folks in the world of poverty.  Also at issue is that currently most of those experiencing poverty are living in urban settings.  Growing foods may not be very common and so opportunities to glean may also be lacking.  We will explore solutions to this problem when we discuss some promising opportunities around hydroponics and community gardens.  One final challenge comes to us in the form of those that really are lazy.  Some will simply not go out to gather the food and then expect others to come through for them.  There are those folks who will work really hard to show that they cannot work.  What do we do with them?  Do we simply sit and watch them starve?  What about their children?  This is a difficult problem with no easy solution.


Once men and women are fed they are ready to be concerned with security and stability.  There is a tendency to believe that shelter is all about a roof over their heads.  While that is part of the story, we must look deeper.  We focus on temporary solutions and wonder why people are unstable.  We offer rental subsidies, rescue shelters or tent cities or other short term, unstable answers to the housing problem.


“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 7:24-27

This temporary mindset carries over and suddenly folks begin to look at things differently. 

One example of where it impacts people at work as this mobile mindset carries over and they are always looking for the next job. They feel the right and privilege to do a poor job, be rude to their supervisors and give less than their best.  Why not, they can just change jobs.  It won’t matter all that much.  When they get fired it is the boss’s fault or the company is crooked.  Never is it their own fault.

Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich.

-Proverbs 10:4

It can even be argued that this same mindset carries over to family life as flexibility becomes the rule of law.  There is no need to be respectful of family if you can leave at anytime and couch surf or shack up somewhere else.  There is no need to heal relationships because they will accept you as you are and take your side down at the tent city or the local rescue shelter. 

Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

-Proverbs 25:45

Values also are impacted by this as folks waver when they are not in a long term permanent home.  If you are only living in the temporary and tomorrow does not matter who cares if you lie, steal or cheat?  A person has to do what they have to do to survive don’t they? 

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Isaiah 5:20

Our target needs to be a home, not simply a place to lay their head or leave their belongings. A home is stable and is also passed onto the next generation.  The stability is felt and understood by children and it will benefit them for many years.  How do we get there where everyone is stably housed?  Building smaller homes that those experiencing poverty can afford is a step in the right direction.  This could take the form of tiny houses or small cottages.  The difficulty comes when we think that we need to house them first and then deal with the issues that cause someone to become homeless.  Without the incentive of living on the streets or in a shelter we have seen clearly that most will not make new choices.  They are secure in their dysfunction.  If we want to develop a sustainable housing plan we must deal with the issues that cause folks to become homeless first.  That would require dorm like settings in rescue shelters where men and women can be re-parented with right values and right work ethics.


 “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.”
Proverbs 12:11

Work is about more than a paycheck.  If the only benefit was the paycheck than the welfare systems that have been in place since the New Deal would have done wonders for our nation.   

Work equals purpose.  Work gives men and women a reason to get out of bed and impact their place of business and their communities.  Work gives a reason to shower, to dress in ways that connect them to society and strive to get along with others.  This purpose is also carried over to families.  A strong work ethic leads to cleaner homes and students who study harder.  I have known men and women that graduated college because they wanted better jobs than their parents.  It is the work ethic that really changes the hearts of people. 

 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Colossians 3:23-24

At work you will forge some of the best friendships that you will ever experience.  While on the clock you learn the discipline of knowing when to speak and when to shut your mouth.  When you work you learn manners and how to talk respectfully to those in authority.  Work gives you projects that will be completed even if it is only the conclusion of a sale with fries there is completion.  Completing things is good for our minds as we realize there is a reason for our efforts.  A side benefit of work is that for at least a set amount of time it keeps folks out of trouble.  The old saying that says that idle hands are the devil’s workshop often proves to be true.

Having work does of course come with the benefit of a paycheck.  But now that check has meaning. When you are making a purchase of a movie ticket you no longer think of that movie costing you ten dollars.  You think is this movie going to be worth an hour of work?  When you go buy a one dollar candy bar is this worth ten minutes of work?  That changes how people shop.  Consider how you spend money when you receive it with a card for your birthday verses how you typically spend a paycheck.  Work makes us think differently about how we spend our money.

So how do we get people back to work?  Long forgotten programs that were part of the New Deal could be resurrected for the benefit of us all.  Money that is allotted to welfare programs could be combined with money set aside for building roads or state parks could be combined to reform the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) or the WPA (Work Progress Administration).  A revised CCC would take men and women who have demonstrated a lack of discipline and put them into a military like setting and put them to work taking care of our state and national parks.  We will dig into this deeper later.  The WPA style program would be for those who are disciplined, have special skills and can provide work that will benefit our communities.   

Here again we run into difficulties.  Unions have fought for higher wages, what happens to those wages when we take work from the union workers?  Again, no easy answers.  Another difficulty does deal with those who have physical or mental disabilities.  What do you do with them?   I would suggest that everyone who is drawing breath can do something to benefit our community.  There is no disability that can stop a person who is willing to work from performing an admirable job.

As many take time to complain about the growing gap between the rich and the poor I wonder how many have taken time to consider the truth that many of the government programs might be feeding the gap?


One time I was playing Monopoly with my kids.  They have a standard policy not to negotiate with dad because when I negotiate I tend to end up with property that will enable me to win.  As the game progresses and the kids own all of the properties and I am unable to build any houses or hotels I realize that it is only a matter of time before I will lose.  That lack of hope makes the game lose all of its luster and fun.  Now imagine a life where you believe that the odds are so stacked against you that you can never hope to win?  For many in our nation this is a sad reality.  If we can even dream of a nation without poverty than to be successful we must give men and women hope.  As a Christian I believe that the only lasting hope comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Everything else that might give hope is temporary.  A job is temporary, family is temporary but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He does not change.  That is hope that I can believe in. 

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Even if they or you reject this form of hope you must enable them to dream again.  What did they want to be when they were kids?  What happened to that dream?  What part of that dream can we bring back to life?  How do we help folks get back in touch with who they were created to be after a long season of neglect?  These are all challenges that we must address and not surrender until we find a solution.

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

-Helen Keller

Many of the men and women that I work with will tell me all of the things that they cannot do.  While I do care about these things, it is not particularly helpful.  No one will hire you for what you cannot do. My question is always the same. “What can you do?”  If they can breathe and force a smile on their face there is hope for them.  Help these men and women in poverty consider the things that they are capable of and watch what happens. 

My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me. 

-Jim Valvano

Within everyone there is something that is often sitting there, stagnant waiting to be called up when needed.  I have been hearing the term grit more often than before and this is that something that is often lacking in lives without hope.  We need to stir up grit within folks and motivate them to rise up and live courageous, heroic lives.

Over time, grit is what separates fruitful lives from aimlessness.

-John Ortberg


An additional element discovered by that Catholic Priest in Paris is the importance of service.  Even those with fewer financial resources are strengthened when they serve others.  As we develop our programs we must strive to empower those who are currently experiencing poverty to find someone to serve. 

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13

This might be serving our senior citizens so that they can live their final days at home instead of in the overpriced, understaffed and hopeless environment of most nursing homes.  This might include those currently homeless in the cleaning of our streets, parks and empty lots instead of standard employees.  The possibilities are only limited by our imaginations.  Give people purpose and they will never cease to amaze us.

So we have begun this journey together.  I hope that you will go onto the next chapter and continue on in the adventure.  In the meantime consider the following questions and discuss them with others.

Application Questions Chapter 1

  • What is the mental image that I conjure up when I think about poverty?
  • What are my emotions around those in poverty?
  • Where do I fall on the personal choice cause or environmental cause debate?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice to really help make poverty vanish from my community?
  • What benefits can I think of for our community if we were to end poverty?
Quest to End Poverty in America

The Quest to End Poverty in America Part 2

It can be done

Being poor might actually be the oldest profession.  I mean Adam and Eve did not even have clothing until after the fall.  That is when God intervened and conducted the first sacrificial offering to help those in poverty.  Many over the ages have noticed the plight of the poor and were touched by God to do something about the issue of poverty.  Yet, it is still here about 7000 years or so after creation.  What can we possibly do about it?  Of course most of us feel bad about people sleeping on sidewalks, under bushes and otherwise not eating good food.  If we think about them while we are sitting down to dinner in our warm homes surrounded by loving family with lots of laughter we might feel a twinge of guilt.  It is easy though to shrug it off and say, “Well they made choices.” Many would then add in a wide assortment of labels for these men and women like addict, bum, hobo or any wide range of derogatory terms and then we feel better about enjoying the blessing of our home and hearth.

     We might think, “Well I can’t do anything about it so why even try.”  I know that I have felt guilty sitting at a banquet with servers bringing me refills of tea or coffee while I hear a presentation about the plight of those in poverty.  It is not my intention today to induce guilt.  That guilt is already there.  Isn’t that part of the reason that you don’t look at the panhandler at the intersection that is looking at you while the light refuses to change to green.  While it is not our intention, we hurt for our fellow man but just simply feel unequipped to actually do something about the crisis.  The purpose of this book is to encourage you to do something.  Take action today toward this quest of ending   poverty in this most wealthy and powerful of nations.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

-James 1:22

Note:  I do recognize that even doing the best that we can to help; some folks will simply reject true love and will continue to live in poverty.  But let that not stop us from giving all of mankind a chance to experience abundant life. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed.

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

-Matthew 26:11

The idea of a quest to end poverty seems a bit insane.  This feat is beyond the wisest of men and animals and it seems impossible so why even try? 

I want to point out that it has been done at least twice.  In the first case after many years the people forgot what they did to end poverty and it returned.  That is why, once we succeed, we must build museums to remind us of the suffering that can take place when we refuse to bring justice and peace and hope to our fellow humans.  In the second case those living in poverty had no one living below them economically to serve. 

Ancient History

One from ancient history society that ended poverty started as a small impoverished village.  This village was so poor that if they had kept statistics like we do today over ninety percent of the population would have been living below the poverty line.  Things were looking bad.  In addition to abject poverty and uncertain opportunities for food, the people also had to be concerned about raiding parties from empires and nations around them.  Fear was very real for the citizens of the village.  The village had many things going for it.  Among the population were many highly intelligent and creative people.  After many generations of rough living the people were hardened and strong.  But the one thing that would ultimately help the people the most is that they were part of a kingdom that had a very wise king.  As the king considered the state of the village he knew that there was potential for so much more.  This king loved his people and they loved him too.  Unfortunately love does not fill the belly or warm the body.  Like I said, though, this king was very wise.

Calling his court to his side he launched his plan.  First he took each family of the village an olive tree.  He simply gave it to them with the understanding that someday they would pay him back.  Wise men came and taught the villagers how to plant the trees and care for them.  The climate was perfect and the trees prospered.  Throughout the process the people were visited by wise men that helped them continue the care of the trees and ensure that the people were always knowledgeable about olive trees.  Stories, myths and legends would be told that made the trees seem almost magical. The people were hopeful but they did not know why.  Soon the olives had their first budding and then in the blink of an eye it was time for harvest.  Again trainers descended on the village and the people were helped along.  When the harvest was complete others were responsible for taking the excess olives and taking them to other villages.  The people sold the olives and the village was not as poor as before.  Over time things like olive oil and other olive based products were created and the market grew.  Olive products from the village were traveling many miles and the village became prosperous.  After just a few short years the king was reimbursed for the original trees.  Experts continued to be available but for the most part the olive growers could do things on their own.  It became obvious to the villagers that they would need better roads and other things to help the trade to continue to prosper so they happily paid taxes that were put to good use to create these things.  When rumors of foreign armies were heard they joyfully paid taxes to build an army and navy.  The village grew and prospered many years.  Eventually the people were able to specialize into those who made tools, made olive oil, warriors and the arts came into being.  Now the village had wealth and there was no poverty among them.

NOTE: They had slaves that they had bought from foreign lands.  While I would say that these are poor they all had a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.  This is not to excuse them.  Life without freedom is not worth living.

This village I am sure you have heard of is Athens, Greece.  Too many years of wealth and prosperity took place and they were no longer the hardened people from the early days.  When the Persians came they could not stand.  With war came famine, infighting and disaster.  Instead of working together they lived divided by artificial factors like politics and family lineage.  Poverty returned with a vengeance.

There are a couple of things to point out here about this ancient story that are important to take note of and we will come back to later in this book.  If the King had simply gave the people food they never would have prospered.  He helped them get started and offered training and other helps along the way.  But each family only had success in accordance with their level of work.  Handouts will destroy civilizations.  Handouts are only appropriate after a disaster and only for a short season.  We must empower those who are experiencing poverty.  They have value and skills.  Let them use their ability for the forces of good.  Secondly, society had to work together.  When enemies threatened they had to work together, pay taxes and encourage others.   We must begin to see others as valuable to our own growth and prosperity and work together to face the difficulties that will come.

Our role in the church and in society as a whole when it comes to issues of poverty is to offer those in poverty a ladder.  It is up to them to climb it.

A second case of success took place in Paris, France in the early 1950s.  A young priest walking through the city after church one Sunday noticed some men that were experiencing homelessness going through trash.  Curious he began a conversation with the men.  They told him that they could take the bottles to one guy who would give them money to eat.  Another told him about another guy who would take bricks and other items for scrap. They would travel taking a few bottles to the bottle guy and other items to others who would buy those items.  At the end of the day, each man would have a little bit to eat that night. In that moment the priest had compassion on these men and he set out to organize these men.  He gave them assignments.  Some collected nothing but bottles and another nothing but bricks.  When the day was done all of the men came back together with big smiles and plenty of money for them all to eat well.  Again the priest organized the work party and they went out again.  Soon they made enough to rent a small place they could all live.  Eventually they were able to buy a building and they managed it themselves.  The priest continued to teach and train them on how to handle conflicts with each other.  He helped some learn to read and how to do math.  Most of all he taught these men to serve one another and also to serve others who were struggling.  The city was getting cleaner and the small group continued to prosper and their numbers swelled.  Some would leave the group to pursue education or other careers.  But service was embedded in their hearts. One day the priest noticed there were no more homeless in Paris and he became concerned.  He knew that if these men did not have someone to serve that they would become arrogant and proud.  They had to serve someone or poverty would return just as in the days gone by.  The priest went to third world countries to recruit folks to come to Paris, but it was too late.  Without someone to serve the men returned to bad choices and men were once again to be found living on the streets, feeding themselves by going through garbage. Returning to their selfish nature and experiencing the loneliness and pain of life alone, the great experiment came to a screeching halt.

The priest built these men a ladder and for a season they chose to climb it.

Service is an important key.  I don’t drink or gamble.  It is not my purpose here to debate the merits of that choice.  But I don’t drink or gamble because I want to be fully available to serve others.  If I am drunk I am not of much service to those in need.  If I lose my money to casinos I have less to share with my fellow man.  Service must be what shapes our character and inspires us daily.

I have often been surprised throughout my years of working with those in poverty how the men and women in poverty tear each other down, steal from one another and attack those who are making changes in their lives to get out of poverty.  They remind me of the story of crabs.  If a fisherman goes out and catches one crab and puts it in the bucket he must put a lid on the bucket.  However, if he catches two and puts them both in the bucket he does not need a lid.  The two crabs will prevent each other from getting out.

Don’t be a crab.

In both stories also notice the important role of inspirational, revolutionary and inspiring leadership.  Every community has someone with a voice that is filled with truth and grace.  Those voices must be supported and encouraged or the silence will drive people into poverty.

So it has been done. What do we do?  Where do we start?  That is what this book is intended to do.  That is, start something of a movement.  Find your piece of the action and get involved.  Each of us has God given passions.  We must find our role and move forward.  This book does not have all of the answers or all of the solutions.  It is meant to create conversations and to stoke the fires of passion for our neighbors.  This book will discuss patterns and ideas and they are debatable.  You can refute them, argue them but even in that there is conversation and if that happens I will consider this book a success.  Strive to add a verse to this book so that we can make progress. 

Note also that this blog is written from a Christian world view and many illustrations and patterns that will be discussed will reflect that view.  If you believe in Christ as your savior, this book will enhance your knowledge of Him.  If you are an unbeliever,  I ask you to not to throw out the whole concept because of your prejudice against people of faith.  This book has much to say about humanity and the process needs your help so stay with it and you too can add to the story.

Poverty is complicated and too many times policy makers and people of good intentions have begun a good work but have lost energy.  That is why it is only TOGETHER that we can do this.  We must forge an alliance with others who also want to do their part.  No one part is any more important than any other part.  The Bible teaches us that if we are united nothing will be impossible.  That is the reason why I think this is possible. 

The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

-Genesis 11:6

By together I mean that we must also include those in poverty in on the discussion.  After all they are the subject matter experts on what life in poverty is like.  My feeling is that they can identify the difficulties and the challenges.  For those in middle class and above I charge you to listen to their wisdom.  I have learned more from these men and women than I have from most of my college classes.  These are incredible survivors.  They make meals out of next to nothing. They can fix broken things without tools.  While they should be open to learning from you, you need to return the favor.  My experience is that when you listen to them, they will make more sense to you.

Wide or narrow attack?

It was toward the end of the World War II, the allies were approaching the German borders and a great debate began. Some felt that the allies should attack with a select front throwing every resource on a small area in the hope of piercing the front lines of the enemy?  Others believed that they should take on a wide front and engulf the enemy.  Ultimately, General Eisenhower chose to go with the wide front.  Many commentators believed that his decision extended the length of the war.  Most likely they are correct.  The Germans were in disarray and the Allies could have easily driven straight up to Berlin with little resistance.  Going with the wide front enabled the Germans to regroup and ultimately to make a final push through the Ardennes forest.  While some point a finger of blame at General Eisenhower for allowing that to take place and say he should have listened to General Montgomery and others who believed in the small front;  it is important to look at the big picture.  Ending the war too quickly would have enabled Germany to get out of the conflict with little impact on their homeland.  Another man, maybe worse than Adolf Hitler, could have arisen and gained power.  The quick fix would have been a band-aid.  Ultimately it is the wide front that ended the insanity.

Most of the projects and plans for ending poverty have been done on a small front and has enabled poverty to simply be rearranged on the plate and not defeated.  Wins are often made in the short run but nothing is ever sustained and the numbers of those in poverty actually grow.  This book will argue for the wide front.  We must attack poverty on all fronts with an aim to restore individuals, families and communities to health.  Together moving in many areas with one voice and one purpose we can win. Again there will be many areas discussed but as time goes on we will learn of more contributing factors.  We can’t keep waiting to find them all before publishing this book.  We will move forward with the best we know today but the conversation must be a living organism of its own.  Let us talk and share and see what we can do.  This generation can end poverty in America.  Let’s get started.

Quest to End Poverty in America

The Quest to End Poverty in America


    A Jewish man had two sons, the story goes.  He loved his boys intensely and worked to raise them with the traditions and the moral values that had given him his own success.  One day the younger of the two came to his father. “Father, I know that someday I would inherit a portion of this land and of your belongings.  I would like that now.”  The father was saddened by this mindset and broken hearted that this son of his would so reject him.  Yet, with a heavy heart he gave the younger son his share of the estate.  A short time later the son sold off all of his share and left to explore the world.  Each and every day the father went to a small hilltop where he could see the road and look for his son.  Day after day he was disappointed and returned to his home to pray, fast and hope for the best for this son of his.  The elder son was dutiful and cared for the family business and tried to keep his father’s spirits up. 

    Meanwhile, the younger son was living large in the big city.  With a large purse of gold coins he was the life of the party.  At first it was difficult for him to overcome the moral teachings of his father, but eventually his heart was calloused to such old fashioned thinking.  Each night he would drink until late in the night and each morning wake up with a different woman.  Rarely if ever did he even remember his family back home.

    Day after day the father continued to go to that hilltop and look for his son.  Travelers coming through would share with the elder brother about the wild living the younger was doing in the city.  The stories were always told in whispers so that the father would not hear and be even more broken hearted.  Bitterness, and to be totally honest, a little bit of envy came over the older brother.  Each day the elder brother woke up with the sun and would work all day.  “Why should he get to have fun and have no responsibility?”  Despite the bitterness the elder brother continued to do his work and served his father faithfully.

    After a particularly long losing streak the younger brother realized that his change purse was getting lighter and lighter.  As the purse shrunk so did his list of friends.  Soon he found himself broke and alone.  With no money the young man noticed that his stomach that had been enlarged with rich foods was shrinking quickly.  But with the famine raging in the land there was little work to be found.  Local businesses chased him away from their front entrances knowing that he had no money.  The young man was desperate.

    A well worn path know showed the route the father took day after day to his hilltop look out, hoping and waiting for his son to return.

   One day as he looked through some piles of garbage hoping to find something to eat, a man took compassion on him and took him to an inn and bought him a nice meal and gave him a few coins to “help him get on his feet.”  The young man was ecstatic and ran off to gamble and multiply his good fortune.  Over the next several days his purse expanded and shrunk until he was again broke, alone and hungry.  Again wandering the street and looking for garbage behind a building that was used as a synagogue the local rabbi came along and took pity on the boy.  He too bought him a meal and gave him a few coins.  Again the excited young man took off and gambled the windfall and repeated the process.  Week after week and month after month, the now aging man would expend his life in wild living and someone would take compassion on him and he would survive.  He was always grateful and typically polite.  He had learned where to hang out in order to get the best meals and the most money when he again experienced the loss that he learned was just a normal part of life.

The father continued to wait for his son.  Some days he felt hopeful and some days he lost all hope.  However, the youngest son was never going to return home.  The son would never feel the consequences of his choice.  People with good intentions kept feeling pity for him and rescuing him.  Unlike the original story the younger son never made it to the pig sty so that he could “come to himself” and return to his father.  Ultimately the father died broken hearted.  The younger son died on a cold night before he could be rescued.  He was buried in an unmarked grave because nobody knew who he was.

  While this nation has many flaws and has failed in so many ways.  It is still a great nation.  People from around the world still want to come here and be called citizens.  The people of this nation routinely donate money to help people for a wide array of causes.  Among those causes that often are given focus is the homeless.  Great passion is expressed in churches and among the social workers that we must help these people who are living on the streets.  Businesses are hurt by people begging in front of their store fronts.  Incredible government programs are developed to get them housed and out of our sight so that we might not be burdened by the sight of these dirty, ragged masses of humanity.

Unfortunately, most of these programs only provide handouts and temporary reprieve.  These programs take on multiple names but are typically the same.  Churches particularly reach out to the homeless and advocate for them to get help.  Social workers go to lobby congress to give more money for program to help these men and women.

There is one fatal flaw with all of these good hearted intentions.  They all prevent the person in poverty from returning to the father.  They never get to feel the shame of being a Jewish man working in a pig sty.  They are given resources that enable them to continue in the lifestyles that led them into poverty in first place.  As a result the numbers of those who are in poverty continue to multiply.

Imagine a ten story building.  On the tenth floor of this building are the ultra wealthy. The second floor is filled with those that are living a stable and moral life just above the poverty line.  In between those two extremes is where most of us live.  Between floors there are stairwells that enable people to move up or down between floors.  The stairwells going up represent hard work, education and healthy relationships.  The stairwells going down are representing laziness, lack of education and choosing unhealthy relationships.  Within this building are elevators.  There are some with special skills (think athletes and artists) who use those skills to quickly rise to the top.  Most do not get to use the elevators but they are there.

    On the ground floor is where those that are living in poverty live.  Because it is the ground floor there is much instability there.  People come and go and crime is common.  Nobody really enjoys the ground floor and most dream of winning the lottery and getting to live on the top floor.  Alas, there is no elevator or even a stairwell from the ground floor even to the 2nd floor.  There is only a rickety ladder.  Many are paralyzed by fear of climbing the ladder.  Often people in society shake the ladder if they even try to climb until they fall back to the ground. (Think Jim Crow and similar laws).  Even others living in poverty shake the ladder if they attempt to climb.  They are like lobsters who when caught and put in a bucket must be secured with a lid if there are only one but have no need of a lid if there are two.  The lobsters pull each other down if they try to escape.

The last group that keeps them on the ground floor are the incentive stealers.  Those on the ground know about the stability of the ground floor and if they get hungry enough or feel unsafe enough will make new choices so that they can climb.  While the others who are knocking them off of the ladder are mean and cruel, these are loving and compassionate.  But the result is the exact same.

In this series we will explore what can be done to greatly reduce and even end poverty in this great nation.  We will look at how our society often keeps people in poverty and consider what we should do to actually help these men and women climb the ladder out of poverty.

There will be disagreement and that is good.  We need to have discussion without calling each other names or demonstrating hate.  We just simply see things differently.  Let us work together to make a difference.  Let us work together to complete this quest of ending poverty in America.