Saturday, April 16, 2011

Smart Phones and Poverty

What does the vow of poverty mean in the 21st century? As radical as Francis' commitment to poverty was and as impressive as it seems to us, he lived his poverty in a particular historical context that is quite foreign to us. Francis did not have to make the decisions we face today in the 21st century. I don't mean to diminish his life, in fact what he gave up to live the vow was dramatic for the place he found himself. But times change . . .

In the 40's and 50's to stop on the side of the street and give a homeless person $5-$10 was absurd. That was a lot of money and therefore a lot to part with, but today to give that same amount would be no sweat off most people's back. Times change . . .

There was a time when every sister in community having access to her own personal car was unheard of, but today, given the range of ministries and varied needs of the individual most sisters do in fact have access to a personal car. Times change . . .

Today it is more challenging than ever to decide what the vow of poverty really looks like. I do not doubt or criticize those who feel called to such radical poverty that they literally live with little to nothing. The reality, however, is as an active community ministering in the world and preaching the Gospel, there are certain cultural and societal necessities that may outwardly appear to be inconsistent with a life of poverty that in actuality are not.

This conversation of the idea of poverty in the 21st century started with me a few weeks ago when I was talking to my mother about the need for a new phone before novitiate in July. (By the way, I was officially accepted and will definitely be entering novitiate this July!) She suggested I look at the smart phones because they have come down in price. I immediately retorted that I could not have a smart phone, it is not consistent with the life of poverty I am choosing.

Over the past few weeks though I have had this conversation with a number of sisters and family members that have given me pros and cons to add to the debate. For example there is a very useful app that is completely consistent with a life of poverty. This app allows you to scan a barcode with your phone so that you can retrieve a list of the stores in your area that sell that same product cheaper. Seems efficient to me.

Needless to say, I have found myself seriously contemplating the iphone. While I have not made a decision either way I am considering the pro/con list carefully. On one hand I do question what is poverty, and in the 21st century when technology is becoming common place where is the line? In many ways our ministry could be supported and more efficient with the greater use of technology because that is where the young people are! When working at Neumann it would take a student three days, if not more, to respond to an email. If I were to post it on their facebook wall I would have a response within minutes and in many cases seconds! Something to ponder . . .

When I really think about all the iphone has to offer however, I find myself wondering if I do really "need" it. And I fear I would become addicted to the use of it. Could I have one and not become obsessed with it? Maybe, but I believe it would take a conscious effort.

At this point the list is pretty even, and the scales are not leaning one way or the other. Luckily there is time to discern smart phones and poverty.


  1. You hit the nail on head at the end, "could I... not become obsessed with it?" Will it own you, or you it? Only you can answer that question and live with the answer daily. Good luck.

  2. Yeah, everyday the answer changes . . . I keep telling myself I'm not making a decision until I feel the same answer for longer than a day . . . I have a feeling I'm going to end up phoneless! ha ha ha. . . thanks!