Friday, March 26, 2010
On Christmas Eve day, the suburban families would deliver the gifts to their adopted family in the city. The spirit of the season as it was shared in this very personal and tangible way would enrich the lives of both poor and affluent families in unique ways. It was an idea that had great appeal and it gained momentum each year.What a perfect illustration of selfish charity. Oxymoronic perhaps, but apropos nonetheless. We have a deep tendency to want to experience the benefits of our charity - we give because it makes us feel good.
But the year I moved into the city, the first year I sat in living rooms with needy neighbors when the gift-bearing families arrived, I observed something I had never seen before. The children, of course, were all excited at the sight of all the colorfully wrapped presents. The mothers were gracious to their beneficiaries but seemed, to me at least, to be a bit reserved. If there was a father in the home, he simply vanished. At first sight of the gift-bearers, he disappeared out the back door. It dawned on me that something other than joyful Christmas sharing was happening here. Although the children were ecstatic, the recipient parents were struggling with a severe loss of pride. In their own homes, their impotence as providers was exposed before their children. The mothers would endure this indignity for the sake of their children, but it was often more than the fathers could take. Their failure as providers was laid bare. It was destroying what shreds of pride they were managing to hold on to.
It was obvious that this charity system had to change. The following Christmas, as caring people began to call in for their adopted city family, they were asked if they would be willing to give an extra gift this year. Would they give the gift of dignity to the dads? Instead of delivering the gifts directly to their adopted family, they were asked to bring them unwrapped to the Family Store where a Christmas toy shop would be set up.
A small price would be placed on each toy or article of clothing-somewhere between a garage sale and a wholesale price-and parents from the community would be invited in to Christmas shop. Those that had no money could work at the store to earn what they needed to purchase gifts for their family, since cash flow would be generated through the sale of donations.
Then on Christmas morning, parents in the city would experience the same joy as those in the suburbs: watching their children open the gifts they secured for them from the efforts of their own hands. We renamed the Adopt-a-Family program and called it Pride for Parents.
But that is not the kind of giving we are called to in Christ. we are called to give without such benefit, or even assurance. We are called to give and trust in God that our giving will accomplish what we want it to. Further we are to trust in God even when we know that the gift has gone wrong.
There is even a theological related aspect. In this illustration, the recipients of the charity are allowed an illusion if you will of buying the gifts. Of course, its still charity, but the parents are allowed to pretend that it is not.
I wonder, just wonder if the same should not be true of our faith. We Calvinists know that we cannot earn our salvation, but the humility that that fact generates is not readily or easily accessible, particularly in those newer to the faith. We work so hard to preserve the "truth" of our Calvinism but I wonder if we do not in the process humiliate people away from the cross.
A good friend once said to me that there was "something to be said" for "believing like Calvinists and acting like Arminians."
I think this makes his point perfectly.