We’ve been thinking together this past week about Shane Claiborne’s holiday mischief, talking about where it falls short from the standpoint of Transformational Giving (TG), and what a TG-based alternative might look like.
Shannon Pekary at Palo Alton’s Ravenswood Youth Athletic Center asked me what I myself would propose. Here’s my reply:
Shannon, what I would propose is a progressive dinner that I would call Gifts of the Magi.
Participants would be drawn equally from the suburbs or the charity’s champion base (often the same thing, quite unfortunately–this needs to be remedied as well) and the inner-city neighborhood or population on which the charity is focused. Figure a group of five to ten from each area would be about the right number to undertake the project initially, and the project could be scalable in groups of five or ten.
Prior to the encounter between groups, the charity would gather each group separately (in person would be great, or electronically would work, though less well) in order to engage in a discussion of questions developed beforehand, things like:
- What do you think the greatest need is for the people in the neighborhood you’ll be visiting?
- What do you think they will identify as their greatest need?
- What do you think their children struggle with?
- What do you think they do for fun?
- What do you think they like to eat?
- What do you think their hopes are for 2011?
- What do you think is the other group’s least accurate stereotype about you?
- and so on.
A list of twenty questions like this would be about the right number. Note that BOTH groups are answering these questions about each other. The answers should be written down and, ideally, recorded on video.
The charity would then give two people in each group $100 in order to prepare one course of a progressive dinner (appetizer-appetizer-main course-main course-dessert), with the charity itself preparing the fifth course. The other group members would be divided up to help shop, prepare, serve, and clean up.
The progressive dinner would then be plotted for geographic convenience, proceeding from house to house.
In each house the “course” would begin with a reading from the Christmas story in the Bible, along with a brief devotional reflection that highlights God’s grace to each of us evident through the story, as well as reflections on the interactions between the very different and disparate groups in the story.
Next, at each location the charity would facilitate interaction between groups by working through the questions each group previously answered, starting from the easiest ones and working to the hard ones, with the hardest ones saved for the last stop (more on that in a minute). Ideally this would be done in a fun and non-threatening format that does not embarrass or confront anyone–an actual Christmas party approach. The groups would also of course enjoy each other’s hospitality in the form of eating the food prepared in each home.
At the last stop, the charity’s office, the participants would talk through the last and hardest questions–the ones like, “What stereotype do you think the other group has about your group that is the least accurate?” The charity would also explain its mission, as well as the next phase of the event. Here’s the next phase:
Each group member would draw the name of a person from the other group. During the course of the next year, they would give and receive three gifts to and from the person whose name they drew:
- A gift of time (i.e., volunteering to help the other person meet a need they identify)
- A material gift (i.e., giving an item of value that they already own to the other in order to bring joy or meet a need)
- A financial gift (i.e., giving an amount that represents real sacrifice to the giver in order to help meet a need identified by the recipient)
The partners would then be given time at this final stop of the progressive dinner to talk about their needs and wants, exchange contact information, and plan when to get together next.
During the course of the year as the partners exchanged gifts, they would be required to share with the charity what happened. A representative sampling of these initial and subsequent encounters would be videotaped, with reflective interviews done afterward. A video on the year’s project would be developed and distributed publicly by the charity prior to recruitment for the next year’s (expanded) event.
I recommend this alternative approach, Shannon, because:
- It helps each group see itself as capable of giving and receiving from the other
- It consciously and purposefully upends stereotypes
- It has the potential to build meaningful ongoing relationships
- It is a Participation event with the invitation to Engagement built in through the multiple planned encounters
- It produces a visual record that can be used to coach and challenge future champions from BOTH groups
- It involves the charity in the role of convener and facilitator, not subject
- Real, thoughtful, progressively wiser help is provided to all participants
That’s more than mischief. It’s a pathway to maturity.