Our Monday post on Why Shane Claiborne’s Idea of Being “Long Gone” is the Wrong Kind of Holiday Mischief prompted an astute and well-reasoned question from Shannon Pekary at Palo Alton’s Ravenswood Youth Athletic Center, who wrote:
I am confused by your response. It seems to me that Shane’s answer very much falls in line with PEO model that MIF teaches of a P response. As MIF points out often, it is very difficult to take someone who has no connection to a ministry and overnight turn them into someone who is engaged in their cause. Shane’s response accomplishes a number of things: 1) Puts a suburbanite in an inner-city community “carroling” of all things. Many people are terrified of coming to the inner-city, and just this one step can be a transformation. 2) Creates an initial connection, people get to see the people they are giving to, 3) Solve an actual real need, and do it in secret, as Jesus commands.
Perhaps the Simple Way would then follow up with the givers to see what the experience was like, and see if they would like more opportunities to have a more permanent connection with someone in the community.
So, how would you do it differently, taking into account that you are dealing with deep divisions between these two worlds, including fear, race, economics and distance?
Good thoughts all the way around, Shannon. Recall from Shane’s post his paragraph summarizing the result of his group’s holiday mischief:
Last year our little mischief-makers gave away over $10,000 to families around the city. And the cool thing is the families do not even know who they are. They don’t even know the name of the congregation and may never see them again … all they are left with is a little reminder that they are loved.
This is a classic transactional approach:
- The purported “haves” would like to help the designated “have-nots”;
- The transaction occurs (in this case, the covert transfer of funds via caroling and Christmas cookies);
- Stereotypes are reinforced (those with money are the “haves” and thus the givers; those in need of money are the “have nots” and thus the recipients);
- The parties each receive what they were seeking (the “haves” are excited to have “made a real difference,” and the “have nots” receive funds);
- They can then part and not need to see each other further–well, until the need arises again for each (the “haves” feeling the need to make a difference, and the “have nots” needing more funds).
There are a number of ways to describe the mutual damage caused by such an approach. In the P/E/O language of Transformational Giving, the best way to describe it is that a Participation project that is not intentionally structured from the outset to lead to Engagement will often lead to contented immaturity.
Is it possible for someone to go from P to E as the result of participating in drive-by-caroling-and-dollar-delivery?
How frequently does it happen?
A lot less than we wish it would.
In fact, such situations (P events that aren’t part of an intentional overall P/E/O strategy woven from whole cloth) almost invariably lead to transaction rather than transformation, as the purported giver experiences a tremendous sense of contentment rather than the clear and present and specific challenge of continuing on to Engagement.
Every fiber of our being wants to believe that Participation that is powerful and real and deep will quite naturally lead to Engagement, but, surprisingly, it frequently does not. Champions get easily stuck at P. They love it there. We take them on a mission trip overseas thinking, “Once they get to the field, the things they see will change their lives forever! They will become knowledgeable, passionate, unrelenting advocates for the cause!”
But without intentionally thinking through and structuring and telegraphing the intended P to E invitation to the champion ahead of time, what often happens is a “Been there/done that/got the t-shirt” experience: The donor spends a few thousand dollars and a few weeks of vacation and thinks, “I have done my part. On to the next radical challenge!”
So the limitation to Shane’s mischief-making is exactly that: it’s mischief making. It carries the scent of the radical but ultimately allows both fighters to retreat to their own corners after the bout of holiday largesse. The path to Engagement is not embedded in the Participation event–that is, Participants can feel quite content (even smug) in Participation (even repeatedly) without ever encountering The Real. Neither party is formally and consciously challenged by the Participation event to move to Engagement, where the cause becomes a part of their everyday life…
…such opportunities are built into the P/E/O process as formally and explicitly as the Participation step, which is not the case here. This is drive-by charity, reinforcing stereotypes, creating good memories for everyone (via a transaction that makes good value for all), and leaving the other anonymously distant enough that we need not be troubled by the vagaries of real relationship. Notice that Shane doesn’t describe the result of the event in terms of new relationships forged and stereotypes upended; instead, he describes it in terms of anonymity and distance safely maintained.
Check out these three past posts for more details on the dangers of Participation events that are not built with the focused purpose of guiding champions from P to E:
- The P/E/O exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, part II: Why It’s Dangerous to Get Stuck at P
- There’s no E in your P: The tragedy of confusing project participation with causal engagement
- Five Things I Think I Think About Transformational Giving, Part IV: Most of what we do now is P
But what about Shannon’s final question: What could we do differently? In Transformational Giving, any solution would have to be designed with the following parameters in mind:
- Both parties would give and receive in ways that upend stereoypes of who “has” and who “has not” (think here of Jesus saying to the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21, “One thing you lack“);
- The gifts would be the start of relationship–token and pledge that no good thing would be withheld from the recipient in the future;
- The event would be embedded within a larger, intentional, defined framework designed to consciously invite all parties to grow to full maturity in Christ, with the P to E move clearly demarcated and offered.
With these thoughts in mind, what alternatives to Shane’s holiday mischief would you propose? Please hit up with your ideas in the comments section, and I’ll add my own in the next post.