Poverty Strongholds #4 – Lack of Knowledge

Poverty Strongholds – Part Four – Lack of Knowledge (common sense)

  1. Demons
  2. Poor Stewardship – link to past article
  3. Lack of Knowledge (common sense)
  4. Mind Sets (faulty thinking)
  5. Lack of Holiness
  6. Agreements with the Enemy
  7. Bad Theology
  8. Blaming & Excuses
  9. Refusing to be a Blessing
  10. Pain Upon Pain

Today we explore a lack of knowledge, where common sense is missing, and where as a result faith is over-applied.

When I was working in the professional development field one of my colleagues would always comment on how people are meaning-making machines. His observation was that something would happen and that people, by and large, would rush to ascribe meaning to it, to try and make sense of what happened.

And of course, he is right. As humans we do rush to make meaning of everything around us. We see this and that and we surmise and ponder and speak our conclusions. And while this is very normal and very human of us, we often run into problems and conclusions made too soon.

We may, in our hunger for meaning, come to conclusions that are false and that do damage. When we make up meaning, or speak out of our own best understanding, we will be carriers of false-hood and misinformation.

Within the Christian community (but most likely within all religion) we do this with bonus faith-speak thrown in — we often over-apply faith to help us make sense of what is going on around us. But faith was never meant to be part of our denial or part of our coping mechanism for what we cannot understand, (rather, faith is for action in response to the initiatives of God).

Now, I cannot solve all lack of knowledge problems with this day’s post. Lack of knowledge as a poverty stronghold is pervasive and exceptionally unfortunate. When we do not know something — we do not know something. We are stuck in our lack of knowledge.

For instance, I was recently in Uganda and one of the homes in which I stayed had a little girl about four years old who was quite sick. Our first few nights we heard her coughing and struggling to breath and to sleep. It wasn’t until the third night that I finally identified her particular struggles as croup (my own children had croup a number of times but it has been over twenty years since).

I immediately got up out of bed and went and told her grandma that she was struggling with croup. I briefly explained the illness and I told her to get some hot water and to make a steam tent over her, to do this for the nights necessary (usually only a few nights and she would be fine). She did this and within half an hour the little girl was able to sleep just fine.

Now, this was a classic case of a lack of knowledge. The grandma told me that the little girl was ‘coughing’ but of course I could hear the distinction and that she was actually ‘gasping for breath’. A small but very important difference.

In addition to croup, when I went to the grandma’s room to give the solution the little girl was without any clothes on in a chilly home, and of course, coming from the west I know that if we are sick we need to be kept warm and dressed in layers so that our bodies can focus on fighting the illness (as opposed to trying to keep warm). Two pieces of knowledge that they did not have.

These two pieces of knowledge literally could have meant the difference between life and death for this little girl, (by the time we said goodbye to these folks the little girl was well on her way to recovery).

The gaps in knowledge from the west to developing nations are huge and show up in these ways. I can easily see that without these two pieces of knowledge, coupled with our human need to make meaning of all things, that we could make all sorts of reasons why (if the child had died for instance).

We may claim, “God determined that her time was done and wanted her home.” (faulty blame of God’s omnipotence) or, “Satan came and took her life.” (faulty blame of everything as satan’s fault), or any number of other ‘rationale’s that would help explain and give some meaning. When in actual fact (if the girl had died) she would have died from being too cold and from not being able to breath. Not very glamorous and in fact heartbreaking.

In another case, just two days before I flew home, there was a young couple whose first-born son of about two months old died of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). I saw them the day after, less than twenty-four hours since they had put him in the ground. I held the mother as she wept and told them the best I could that it was okay to grieve and to cry and to be mad and to be sad.

This is not the normal advice given in Uganda — usually within the Christian community people are told to be strong and have faith, (and the pastor I was with literally told them this … one day after putting their baby in the ground… ).

Here again is a lack of knowledge. From the west we know that grieving is a very specific process and that as humans we must give ourselves time and space to grieve well. We know that the five stages of grief are 1. Denial, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining, 4. Depression, and 5, Acceptance. We know that each of these stages must be experienced and felt and allowed if we want to go on to live emotionally, spiritually, and physically strong futures. We know that it is not a ‘lack of faith’ to be angry with God. In fact, just the opposite.

On the ten-day mark since this little baby’s death I asked a mutual friend how they were doing. His reply, “They are going forward strong in the Lord.” …

I wanted to push a giant buzzer and yell, “Wrong Answer!” This is the wrong answer. If they are strong in the Lord and going forward just 10 days since their baby died, something is very wrong.

Now, as I said, bridging this lack of knowledge is a long slow process dependant on people bringing education and awareness in these matters. When people are missing important pieces of information it is not their fault per se that they don’t have the information. They are doing what they can with what they have and what more can be expected of them? Truly.

What can be done, though, is that this habit, this addiction almost, to make meaning of things, can be held back; we can learn to wait and to not rush to ascribe meaning. We can learn to become okay with ambiguity and not knowing the answers.

And when we are okay with ambiguity and with not knowing, we won’t be prone to explaining everything in an over-faith kind of way. We may not know the knowledge that we need to know but we don’t have to rush to fill this space with god-speak.

This requires that we hold our ground, remaining steady, even when we have no answers and we cannot see what is what. This is better than rushing to fill the space with explanations that are not explanations at all.

For once we are practiced (in refusing to give random meaning) then our minds and hearts are in fact open to hearing from the Lord and to the knowledge and understanding of things that we would not have previously thought of or considered.

From a coaching perspective we know that once we have rushed to an answer, our minds shut down to any further information or understanding and in many cases, we then remain in our ignorance and are unable to hear other considerations.

The pastors, around this young couple who just lost their baby boy, are solid in their knowledge that the only way to get past this death is to be strong and have faith. They are virtually impervious to any other considerations or options or ways of grappling with the loss — because they have made up their minds and are firm in their conclusions, because they have filled in the unknown (death will always bring us up against all that doesn’t make sense to us) with god-speak they are, unknowingly, doing damage to this young couple.

When we minister to people in their most vulnerable times with god-speak that sounds like faith (but isn’t) we shut down all potential for increased knowledge and understanding. Our minds, once firm in their conclusions, are closed off from further learning or wisdom. Stuck in this habit of response we often give people only one option, and in our god-speak we may even claim that anything outside of that option is a lack of faith, (adding spiritual abuse to those already brought low by life’s circumstances).

The only thing worse than a lack of knowledge is being shut down to further knowledge. For if we are shut down to further knowledge, the knowledge may be there, but we will be impervious to it, unable to accept it, to receive it, and to have our understanding broadened. This would be a true tragedy.

In summary, the first step to greater knowledge and understanding is learning to hold ambiguity well. We want to be strong enough people that we do not have to rush to conclusions. We don’t want to misapply faith when critical knowledge is missing. We want to be people who do not rush to god-speak as a way of coping with life. We want to in fact be open to new knowledge and the things we may not yet know by which life would improve.