One of my new year’s resolutions for 2011 is to try hard to agree with Shane Claiborne and Christianity Today’s Mark Galli at least one time apiece.
But it is still 2010.
Shane’s A Season for Mischief and Conspiracy: A New Take on Christmas Charity on Huffington Post is not a new take on Christmas Charity at all but rather the same old take–disappointing for a radical of Shane’s caliber.
The question Claiborne is addressing is that a rich suburban church wants to help poor folks in Claiborne’s neck of the woods, yet they want to do so in a way that preserves the dignity of the recipients. Writes Claiborne:
Here’s what we came up with. A group of us who live in the inner city pray, and then come up with a list of a dozen of our neighbors who have had a particularly difficult year — like my friend who worked for the shelter which lost its funding and had to lay everyone off, or our neighbor whose house caught on fire, or the family around the corner whose 14 year old got pregnant this year. Then, we give that list to our suburban co-conspirators, and we let each family know to expect a little visit at a set time (though we keep the details of the visit on the down-low).
On the special night, the carolers roll through the neighborhood. They visit each home with some lovely singing, deliver a plate of baked goodies, and then they head out. They are long gone by the time the family has opened the envelope underneath the cookies — which contains several hundred dollars and a note that says, “Know that you are loved. Merry Christmas.”
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.
It’s the last part that seems so sad and typical to me–no one, giver or recipient, comes away transformed by the miracle of ongoing relationship that transcends, rather than reinforces, the usual stereotypes.
Sadly, Shane is technically correct that this particular mischief is potentially less humiliating to recipients than other similar Christmas projects I’ve seen. But ought we not to have our sights set far higher than lauding projects that simply avoid humiliating others?
Instead, we ought to have something truly more radical in mind. To that end, a quote from my upcoming book, The Whole Life Offering: Christianity as Philanthropy, due out in February:
In Christianity-as-philanthropy, financial and material giving is the visible token and pledge of a whole life offering of comprehensive, beneficent, direct, unwarranted, unfailing friendship-love of others in the name and after the character of [God].
The predecessor of giving is repentance, shaped by comprehensive personal preparation according to the aforementioned Works of Piety. As Jesus instructs in Luke 11:41 (NASB), “But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.”
In contrast to philanthropies, which view money as a tool for social change and the giving of money as an expression of personal values and vision, in Christianity-as-philanthropy giving is self-emptying. It is worship of [God] through the care of those he loves. This kind of giving is an end in itself, not a means to change the world. It is sacramental, not transactional. The recipient is friend of God standing in the stead of God and is regarded as such.
It is only on such a foundation that money or goods can be rendered to others in a way that does not demean or define relationships.
After the manner of Christ, all financial giving ought to be token and pledge that the giver will withhold no good thing from the recipient… rather than giving as drive-by that leaves giver and recipient no better acquainted and no more likely to bear one another’s burdens than before cookies and carols and cash are clandestinely conveyed.