Micah Mandate

The Magazine of the J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice at Trevecca Nazarene University.

-Ryan Fasani & Eric Paul

In the last five installments, we have affirmed that “the mission of the church in the world is to continue the redemptive work of Christ in the power of the Spirit” (Manual, Article 11).  Jesus’ ministry—his redemptive work on earth—was the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor, the Jubilee, the Kingdom of God, the Good News to the poor (Luke 4).  Good News to the poor, we think, is to not be poor, and the Jubilee was largely an economic leveling between community members.  Christ’s redemption is preoccupied with poverty.  Consequently, the church as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12), continuing the redemption of the world, is also preoccupied with poverty—proclaiming the Good News to those that suffer from poverty, the poor.

We understand, however, that we have unfairly left unexplained what it is we mean by poverty. To assert that God is a God of the poor without making some strides toward at least a working definition of poverty weakens our project.  Perhaps the following assessment of poverty should have been the first piece.  In part because it informs our reference of poverty throughout the series, but more importantly, because in the church’s diagnosis of poverty lies the biggest potential for missing the God of the poor.  If God’s redemptive work in the world truly liberates people from that which enslaves, then the church must ask whether we have placed ourselves physically as a body working toward human freedom or “distanced” ourselves from God’s work.  While this last section in the series explores further how we miss God by misunderstanding poverty, it leads us into the next step in our journey: a definitional series exploring the nature, causes, and interconnectedness of poverty as well as the church’s habit of largely misperceiving it.

Should the church have a chance at being Christ’s body in the world, should we have a chance at being God’s agents of redemption, then it is without option that we know from what people need to be “bought back” (redimere, the Latin root for redemption).  Namely, the church must understand poverty, as poverty holds ransom the poor from living life fully in God (Matt. 20:28; John 10:10).  To understand poverty is to recognize and comprehend it (diagnosis) and respond effectively (prescription).

An untrained eye sees poverty as deficit, a lack of things.  In this view, income is the largest determinate of poverty—one is poor if one has a deficiency in buying power.  A broader definition might include non-material deficiencies like education and political knowledge.  Christians have sensitivity to the immediate limitations of these definitions and will add to them a spiritual deficit.  All these definitions, though different,  assume that if the poor receive what they do not have, for instance, money, water, education, and a working knowledge of the bible, then they will cease to be poor. If the diagnosis of poverty is the absence of things, the prescription is to acquire those things. It comes as no surprise, then, that many Christian ministries to the poor are “gift drops.”  When one lacks, Christians should give.

Economic development professionals have discovered that poverty is far more complex than the simple experience of deficiencies.  A glance at three— Jayakumar Christian, John Friedman, and Bryant Myers—will not enable us to develop an alternative definition of poverty, as that would require a more lengthy assessment of their work.  Instead, all three development professionals will lend a hand in us suggesting that poverty is and therefore the church’s response must be far more complex and nuanced.

Christian, in his PhD thesis, Powerless of the Poor: Toward an Alternative Kingdom of God Based Paradigm of Response, explains that poverty is the experience of living in power-stealing systems. These systems that disempower individuals are social and personal.  For instance, personal systems that steal power from the individual are physical (weakened body and mind), personal (inaccurate identity), and religious (deceiving spiritualities).  Social systems that can disempower include one’s culture (ideology) and social place (relationships to others, especially the non-poor).  These systems complexly interact and influence each other, further reinforcing the experience of powerlessness—poverty.   Poverty is essentially being caught in disempowering systems.

John Friedman, in Empowerment: The Politics of Alternative Development, contests that if poverty is the experience of deficit, then the deficit is a lack of power in rather stationary and overlapping domains.  This creates a layered and nuanced experience of power or its lack—a layered experience of poverty. Different types of power arise from these overlapping domains (e.g. power arises through party affiliation in the overlap of the political domain and the economic domain). The poor have a particularly difficult time engaging these domains—economy, civil society, politics, and state—precisely because of the pressures on them as ones impoverished. The poor do not have the organizational resource, political influence, or judicial access to realize a different future.  Poverty is essentially disconnection from the power found in social organization and political representation.

Bryant Myers, in his Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development, attempts to build on Christian and Friedman’s analysis by explicitly utilizing the biblical story as guidance.  Myers largely agrees with the aforementioned analyses but diagnoses a more fundamental commonality between all that are poor:  poverty is the result of broken and unhealthy relationships to self, God, others, the environment, and one’s community.  Poverty is at its core a spiritual brokenness, but not in a way that deems other components subordinate.  Instead, Myers uses a theological understanding of sin to assess the spiritual nature of individual (relationship to oneself) and systemic (relationship to other individuals, the community at large, and natural resources) causes of poverty.

As Christian, Friedman, and Myers suggest, poverty is a complex experience, and it’s simply inaccurate to diagnosis it as the experience of basic deficit.  If the disease is complex, the diagnosis, then, must be complex and sophisticated.  And if the diagnosis is complex—and the church is to be faithful to its call to redeem the impoverished—the prescription (ministry to the poor) must be at the very least complexly appropriate to the need.  What might this suggest about our clothing collections, food drives, and hygiene kits?  What about our clothing closets, our free hot meals, or our Christmas toy collections?

We’re afraid to say it, but we must:  our churches do not understand poverty—certainly not its complexities.  We know our poor neighbors need Jesus, but we are unaware, for instance, that they may be trapped in a system of disempowerment largely bequeathed to them by generations of broken social relationships, reinforced by marred personal identity and cultural stereotypes, and augmented by untreated physical disease.  Being Christ’s body in the presence of such experience—being near to God in the poor (Matt. 25) and being God to the poor (Luke 4)—necessitates far more than warm clothes in the winter or extra toys at Christmas. By missing the diagnosis of poverty, the church is missing its role in redemption.  By missing poverty have we missed God altogether?

-Ryan Fasani, Ex Director, and Eric Paul, Resident Theologian, are guest contributors of Micah Mandate from East Nashville Cooperative Ministry.

-ENCM is an East Nashville based, ecumenical ministry organizing neighbors and churches to develop a food-secure community through emergency food assistance, urban food growing and allocation, and nutrition and cooking education.

-To view the rest of the Keeping God at a Distance series, please click here.

Ryan Fasani and Eric Paul-

[Entire Sanctification] is wrought by the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service. – Article of Faith, Entire Sanctification

I (Ryan) am particularly interested in the “power” sanctified believers receive from the Holy Spirit.  I recently read about the obliteration of mountaintops in the South East for the extraction of coal.  That’s power!  From the dynamite, to the massive trucks, to sheer mass of earth that is relocated—it’s all the result of power.  But power is used for good or for ill; it is wielded by an agent to an end—to detonate, to destroy, to heal, or to build.  The sanctified believer is empowered by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  But this empowerment personifies the love and grace of the Spirit of Christ, rather than the power of domination, oppression, and violence.  The power imbued from the Spirit through sanctification works through human agents as participants in the coming Kingdom of God, which stands against the principalities and powers of this world.  Thus, the power given by the Spirit is situated toward an end.  Stated in a question: “To what end is a sanctified believer sanctified?” Read the rest of this entry »

Rachel Swann-

As lunch was being stirred in the kitchen and community members came in the doors to wait in line for assistance, Ryan Fasani and Eric Paul, executive director and resident theologian of the East Nashville Cooperative Ministries (ENCM) told about their experiences working in the small building on Main Street. It is the thoughts and reflections they have on their daily lives that lead them to need an outlet. The two began searching for a place to write these thoughts and came across the Micah Mandate.

Fasani, a husband and father of three, graduated from Vanderbilt University Divinity School after undergraduate studies at Point Loma Nazarene University. He made the move from California to Tennessee for the divinity school program. There he said he felt a calling. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Moranville-

The morning I read this verse was just like any other morning. I woke up, went to breakfast in the cafeteria, read a chapter of Proverbs, and then began working on things for my internship. It’s funny how God uses things in life to reveal Himself to us. Proverbs 22:2 says, “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.”

This particular morning, I was beginning work on a community assessment of Donelson, since my internship is at Donelson Church of the Nazarene. Being a Social Justice major, my goal in this project and in the internship as a whole is to see, first of all, what the community of Donelson needs, and second, how the local church can provide fulfillment of those needs.

Donelson is wedged in a peculiar place in Davidson County. It is about 10 miles from the center of downtown, a short drive up Briley Parkway to Opry Mills, and lies along the road from ultra-suburban Mount Juliet and the very urban parts of Nashville. What does all this mean? Simply and frankly, it means that Donelson is very middle class. Average home size: 2.2 persons. Average individual income: $39,806. Median age: 36.7 years. The poverty rate is almost half the rate in Tennessee as a whole. An overwhelming majority of the people of Donelson owns one or two vehicles, and most residents drive them alone to work.

I sent a text message to another staff member at Donelson Church, saying, “Turns out Donelson is VERY middle class.” The person replied, “Yeah, kinda expected that. Just normal families is what I expected. No essential needs…”

No essential needs?

I sent a reply with Proverbs 22:2. No essential needs? Read the rest of this entry »

Keeping God at a Distance: Turning Into Christ and Toward the Poor

Posted by admin November - 10 - 2010 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

Ryan Fasani and Eric Paul-

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.

“Now I’m a church going woman, but we have a problem here in Antioch, and it’s the homeless.  I work in a service station and these people steal ice…Nashville has a bad reputation for being soft on the homeless.  This community is in danger.  We don’t want them here.”  I (Eric) sat and listened to her demonize God’s children, responding to her new homeless neighbors more in anger and fear than thoughtfulness and love.  This woman spoke in one breath of her Christian faith and in the other breath her dissatisfaction toward the temporary relocation of Tent City.

Tent City, under the Hermitage Avenue Bridge, was the home to nearly 150 homeless neighbors until The Flood in May of this year.  With most of their assets awash in the rising Cumberland, many found shelter with the Red Cross at Lipscomb University.  But emergency shelter is only temporary, and in just a week, these homeless brothers and sisters relocated—this time to a privately owned field in Antioch leased to them by the owner.

A Town Hall Meeting was called to address this ‘problem’ that had now invaded Antioch.  A cacophony of voices formed a unified front against those who had nowhere else to go.  The same phrase repeated throughout the night: “We love the homeless, but…” We can all finish the sentence, because we all feel the tension. If we’re honest, our Christian faith and our actions toward those that are without home are at odds. Read the rest of this entry »

Ryan Fasani and Eric Paul-

‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’  –Matthew 25:34-40 (ESV)

Let me just say it:  Christians don’t like Matthew 25.  And as the scriptures Christians don’t like go, so goes Matthew 25.  It is relegated to the catalogue of biblical obscurity, and ultimately pushed right out of many Christians’ mental back doors, never to be heard again in bible study or from the pulpit.  In other words, Christians systematically “un-believe” it.  The result is a tragedy—a tragedy we need to take seriously if we are to live faithfully in urban America.

We (the authors) think Matthew 25 is actually quite clear.  Given the array of possible interpretations of, say, the beast rising out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads in Revelation 13, or the “woes” to the rich, the well fed, the laughers, and those spoken well of in Luke 6, Matthew 25 only has two possible interpretations.   The first possibility:  serving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, being hospitable to the stranger, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick is just like (similar to) serving Jesus.  The second possibility: serving those in need and being with the suffering is actually (literally) serving Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »

Keeping God at a Distance: An Introduction to a Journey

Posted by admin October - 13 - 2010 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS
Ryan Fasani and Eric Paul-

“The gospel does not merely bring the kingdom of God to the poor; it also discovers the kingdom of the poor, which is God’s kingdom.  The gospel does not merely call to conversion and faith.  It also shows that the poor are God’s fellow citizens, like the children to whom the kingdom of God already belongs.” – Jurgen Moltmann

God associates with the poor. In the Exodus narrative, God liberated God’s own poor and oppressed people.  Likewise, God became poor and homeless through the Incarnation (Matt 8:20) and his call to ministry (Luke 4:18ff), and God even pronounces blessing upon the poor—for they will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:3).

Does this indict the rich?  Not necessarily.  Does it disrupt Christian notions of financial security and upward mobility?  Certainly.  The mere utterance of the phrase “God associates with the poor” makes us middle-class Americans rather uncomfortable.  What kind of a God chooses the poor to be blessed, and what exactly does that blessing look like?  Honestly, we don’t know!  Perhaps, even more than disrupting our notions of financial security, this is an indictment of the way we do church.  Fundamentally, the mission of the church must find its purpose and vision as it relates to the Missio Dei, the Mission of God.  In short, where God chooses to be and with whom God chooses to associate, the church ought to follow.

We’ve already covered some ground without a word about our project.  We’re heading on a journey and you’re welcome to follow.  We’re exploring the distance between God and the church—God and so many of God’s disciples.  More substantively, we’re exploring the distance between the church and the poor and looking closely at the shortcomings of the church’s predominant method of missio: charity. We share common experience in our attempts at serving faithfully in East Nashville and we deeply desire to see the Missio Dei in our midst, guiding our vision of service. Read the rest of this entry »

Hester makes career of befriending homeless

Posted by admin March - 17 - 2010 - Wednesday 1 COMMENT

Rachel Swann–

People wait in line for support services, mail and store, at Campus for Human Development. (Photo by Rachel Swann.)

Not long after the death of her father, Rachel Hester, Executive Director of Room In the Inn’s Campus for Human Development, was on her way to work when a homeless man stopped her. The man was a member of the community at the Campus, a high profile service provider for Nashville’s homeless, and he knew about Hester’s loss. Worried that money might be tight with her father gone, he offered Hester a handful of cash.

The incident showcases the friendships that develop at this unique ministry. This homeless man and Hester had a relationship that went beyond her providing services to meet his needs. He reached out to her to provide for his friend in her time of struggle.

For nearly 20 years, Hester has served and advocated for Nashville’s homeless population. Her first experience at Room in the Inn was in 1989, when she arrived at the agency as a Trevecca student volunteer, eager to help. The nonprofit then employed just three people. Today, she heads this sophisticated, comprehensive service organization that helps thousands annually. Read the rest of this entry »