Previously, I wrote a quick summary of Miroslav Volf’s first hour of his presentation entitled, Free of charge: Giving and Forgiving in a World Stripped of Grace. This time I’ll summary his second hour on “Giving.”
he started this hour with an aside. He commented that when he does this kind of talk, he finds that attendees are substantially more interested in his work on forgiveness than on his comments about giving and gift giving. What might this say about us in that we are far more interested in thinking about forgiveness than giving gifts (which is what forgiveness really is)
To his points:
1. Giving is the opposite of amassing things.
2. While fulfilling, giving is hard because it usually requires self-sacrifice. Yes, some gifts cost little or even benefit us (e.g., a performer gives the gift of performance but through giving it gets even better as a performer). It is hard to give because: (a) it costs us something, (b) we have to fight the tendency toward laziness or sloth, (c) pride, desire for manipulation, sense of entitlement, airs of superiority, desire to demean, etc hinders us. Further, some of us are tempted to being “smart takers” (i.e., taking under the guise of caring for others)
3. Problem: we craft God into our own image. We imagine him as negotiator and attempt to negotiate with him. We bargain with if/then statements. If you give me x, I will give you back y. The tragedy is that we’re trying to negotiate with God but we have nothing to offer him in exchange. And what we think we are offering or bringing to the table are things that given as gifts to US by God himself. This insults God’s gift and his burning love that is the motivation for that gift. Bargainers have to bargain from a position of strength–but we have none with God because his loving gifts overwhelm us.
4. Why do we give? Why should we give? We give because God is a giver. He gives to us for our enjoyment and for us to pass on to others. We give because it is the nature of our character–made in the image of a giving, loving God.
5. God loves a cheerful giver. He wants us to be givers who give without grumbling. And when we do, we experience true living. (example of following musical score. At first it may be mechanical and even oppressive. But when it is played well, you experience its freedom, its true expression.)
6. But God is neither a negotiator or a Santa Claus. He give gives us gifts with an address on it other than our own–gifts intended to be given or passed on. But what happens when we keep other people’s gifts? Misappropriated gifts brings out God’s response of justice.
7. Must we assess the deserving nature of the gift giver? While we may speak of wise gifts, Christianity is built on gifts to the unjust and just alike. maybe we should talk about wise vs. discriminating? Volf thinks gift giving can be both wise AND indiscriminate. Wise gifts may consider impact and effectiveness. Indiscriminate means one doesn’t evaluate whether the recipient is deserving or not.
Lastly, sometimes the suburbanized, tolerant mindset of love doesn’t feel that God’s love is really love but manipulation. Love is not like Santa but true love has a spine. It can be severe, robust, opinionated, etc.
Next post will cover his final talk on forgiveness.
Yesterday I mused about how I didn’t see much change in the spending and consuming habits of those in my area. Yes, Jess, it does appear people are spending to abandon around here. We do have less of the credit crunch I believe since housing developments didn’t boom in this area.
But, let’s consider another related area. When times are tough on the pocketbook, one of the first things to do isn’t stuff for me, it’s donations to others. We know this because nonprofits are registering their lowest levels of donations since the weeks around 9/11 (when we suspect many stopped giving to their usual ministries to give to 9/11 victim families).
There are two possible reasons for this drop in giving: (1) people actually have less income and so give less, or (2) people give less for fear of not having enough income. Probably both are true. The challenge when we face tough times is to keep remembering to love our neighbors and not become fixated on our own needs/wants. It is true that we can love our neighbors without giving a dime but I suspect even our non-monetary giving decreases when our own anxiety increases.
This reminds me of cry of Proverbs 30:8-9: …give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, “who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
This morning on the way to work I heard a story about Andy Petitte (NY Yankee 2007 accused of taking HGH to speed his healing from an injury). Apparently, he is a believer and has given some apology for his using this now banned substance. Reporters talked to members of his bible study where they talked about praying for a blessing on the Petitte’s family. This particular radio personality scoffed at praying for Andy and said, “how about praying for the hungry?” Despite his sarcasm, the reporter had a point. Do we pray and give to those truly in need?
In light of this, 2007 is drawing to a close and if you are like many, you are considering where to give those last charitable givings for the this tax year. There are many good choices but consider giving your money, prayers, and time to these organizations (that I am acquainted with) trying to do something good for the “least of these.”
1. Student Scholarships for the The Urban LEAD program at Biblical Seminary. This is a cohort of individuals (launching in February) looking to advance their education WHILE they work and minister in urban contexts. It might not seem like the least of these, but this is training for the front lines of ministry where few are willing to go.
2. The Ark Afterschool Program for kids in North Philly. Josh and Anne Macha have been spearheading afterschool activities (study, art, bible study). These children have almost no chance of doing well in school but these and other volunteers are making a difference. If you don’t have money to give but time, consider coming out one afternoon a week. The right side of the page (link above) has donation information.
3. The Place of Refuge. My good friend Elizabeth Hernandez directs this counseling ministry that targets the urban poor struggling with trauma. Many of the people who are served by Refuge do not have the capacity to pay for their services.
4. Whosoever Gospel Mission. This 100 year old mission and thrift store in Germantown was burnt to the ground in 2006 by one of its residents. The agency continues to make progress on rebuilding its buildings. One of the casualties in the fire was the delay of getting its women’s mission going strong. Dr. Robert Emberger, a grad of Biblical Seminary, has labored there as director for quite some time. Consider helping them with the costs to rebuild. They do not have a website but here’s the number: 215.438.3094.
I’m sure there are many many more wonderful charities that serve the least of these. I encourage you to pick your favorite and bless them with your time and money as you are led.