Why Shane Claiborne’s Idea of Being “Long Gone” is the Wrong Kind of Holiday Mischief

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.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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8 Responses to Why Shane Claiborne’s Idea of Being “Long Gone” is the Wrong Kind of Holiday Mischief

  1. Roy says:

    Thank you thank you thank you for finally saying this. Shane’s post stems from an old Campolo story (which is mostly apocryphal, being that it’s from Tony) about folks leaving stuff on the front porch and then calling anonymously to say there is something there. Shane and Tony’s motivation is pure; to minimize pride on the part of the giver and dependence on the part of the receiver. But the method is wrong. Thanks for speaking up on this point.

  2. EFoley says:

    My pleasure, Roy. I suspect I will not receive any cookies ‘n’ cash this holiday, however…

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Why Shane Claiborne’s Idea of Being “Long Gone” is the Wrong Kind of Holiday Mischief | Transformational Giving -- Topsy.com

  4. 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?

    Please be specific, as many of our ministries face similar requests each Christmas, and we are not quite sure how we should respond, and whether it is worth the effort to create some kind of special annual gift giving thingy that might not really coincide with our ministries.

  5. Pingback: Alternatives to Shane Claiborne’s Holiday Mischief, Part I: Why Holiday Mischief is not P/E/O | Transformational Giving

  6. Pingback: Christmas Is Not About Giving. It’s About Sharing. | Rev. Eric Foley

  7. Pingback: Christmas Is Not About Giving. It’s About Sharing. | Rev. Eric Foley

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