Giving

The Christmas season is upon us — it’s pretty much sitting right there on top like a sumo wrestler — and it’s time to think about giving again. A strange thing to say, really, because what time isn’t a good time to think about giving? And then after thinking actually do some giving?

I don’t think I need to make much of an argument for giving, especially from a Christian perspective. Scripture is rife with positive commands to give, to take care of orphans and widows, to be generous in giving. And some of the harshest condemnation arrives at the feet of those who had the means and didn’t bother yet thought themselves righteous.

Yet I think (and this is just me talking here, feel free to correct me if you think I’ve gone off the rails) that too often the need seems far away: Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, Mexico. Of course there are needs there. Great needs that organisations like World Vision, Come Over and Help, and others are making great strides in addressing.[1]

There is a real need in the communities we live in, as well. In the church community — especially important, I think — to help those who need financial support, and those who simply need someone to connect with, and whatever other need arises. The tragedy is, I think, when giving becomes simply about money; giving can also be about helping someone on the fringes of the community feel less alienated, or it can be about just being there for someone who’s going through a bad time.[2]

Still, there is a greater and even more hidden need in our secular communities. If you live in a city, for instance, the needs may be varied and obvious, but if you live in the suburbs (like I do), where appearances are everything and every family in every cardboard-cutout house seems just shy of perfect, these needs may be more hidden, and far harder to spot.[3]

In burbs, your church may find different needs to address. Perhaps these people don’t as much need a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name as they do advice on how to get out of debt. Maybe they don’t need a solid meal as much as someone to consult about raising their children. Maybe they don’t need clothes, but instead need to learn to strip away the accoutrements and facades of their lifestyle and contact something real. Jesus, for instance, is real. A church dedicated to being Jesus’ hands and feet in community if real. Scripture is real. God is real. His death on the cross is real, and his resurrection is real.[4]

Maybe what I’m trying to get at is some sort of holistic thing. We maybe can’t all go to Mexico or Mali, but we certainly can and do go the grocer and to the bank and to the hairdresser. The church has a responsibility but also an exciting opportunity: Jesus came to reconcile all things to himself, and he chose a bunch of sinners to do it, with his usual backwards logic. It’s exciting. And frightening. But I think giving can be like that, when you do it right.5

[1] Before you give to a charity, please do check out their financial statements and such. I singled out WV and COAH because they both dedicate over 80% of their income directly to their causes, the rest being used for administration and fundraising. Quite a few charities seem to spend a lot of time and effort and money fundraising and little time actually helping anyone. WV and COAH are wonderful exceptions.

[2] Qubit decided this would be a good time to come around and playfully bite and claw my fingers. Maybe I was making too much noise for her or something?

[3] American Beauty is a stunning film with a ridiculously stupid counter-cultural message. Yet at the heart, its portrayal of the festering rot inside those beautiful facades is spot-on.

[4] The reality of these things, I think, can so easily pierce whatever veils we (we’re human! we do these things!) put up around ourselves. It’s easy to become accustomed to the language we use to describe these realities, but coming in contact with the bare majesty of what Jesus did and is doing can rip away even that. God, after all, is pretty powerful.

[5] I used to catch a lot of flak for bitching about stuff without actually doing anything about it. I’m happy to report this is no longer the case. I’m not going to spell out how exactly, as with prayer so with giving (keep it in the closet), but Laura and I are trying to do our part.