Saturday, June 06, 2009

Giving to the Poor: The Two Big Issues

If I break down Jesus’ command a bit, I find myself faced with two major dimensions I need to resolve. The first is giving time and/or money. The second is the identity of the poor.

Jesus command is more complex that just giving money. I wonder if I should be instead giving time, or giving time and money. I’d rather just give money. But that desire alone tells me that I should probably give my time. It’s something I want for myself, which is reason tells me it’s still a place where I don’t want God to be. Giving my time means making sacrifices elsewhere. It also means new relationships and the new commitments that come with them. It requires more than money. It requires me. I’m much more selfish about giving part of myself. Money is just money.

The third issue for me is the poverty issue itself. I think this is embedded in the broader justice issue being discussed in Christian circles. Economic equality is a trendy issue among the progressive faithful (and in the broader culture to some degree). I live on the edges of those circles, so I see bits and pieces, catch glimpses. But I’m still not convinced.

Here’s why. I tend to side a bit more with fundamentalists in this regard. I do see other priorities trumping this one. The question isn’t whether giving to the poor is a good thing. Clearly, it is. It’s a question of whether it’s the best thing. If I could only choose one or the other, which is most important? (Fortunately, it’s not an either/or. It can be a both/and!) In truth, I’ve answered that question already in the ways I allocate my time now. I give to my church faithfully and serve in a Bible study. I feel like the rich young ruler when I say that. He said, “I have kept all these things since I was a child.” That’s my fundamentalist side.

However, I think the fundamentalists have failed by nearly eliminating serving the poor altogether. (“You still lack one thing,” Jesus responded.) Economic equality and social justice are worthwhile causes, and I feel that to be balanced—or at least, more faithful—I should be supporting them in some way. I need to strike that balance then by adding an emphasis on social justice to what I’m already doing.

So then, what does this look like? How poor is poor enough? And why isn’t giving my money good enough? I mean, are we talking Chicago homeless poor, or are we talking Haiti poor? Are we talking mission poor, or garbage-dump slums poor? How poor do they have to be to qualify?

Are these even the right questions?

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