Friday, January 18, 2008

Leisha=Downer, but I'm okay with that

I hesitate to bring this up, because I feel like I'm on the verge of becoming that person who others avoid talking to at parties, but I'm just going to own it and post about what's on my mind.

On Wednesday night we were talking about the sermon, about giving joyfully, sacrificially, and something else that I can never remember. Because of time constraints our conversation didn't really go beyond joyfully, but I left the conversation feeling a bit uneasy about something. It seems that as American Christians, we don't truly understand the concept of giving sacrificially, especially when it comes to money. Even in our conversation Wednesday, I'm glad that we were talking holistically about worshipping God through the giving of everything we have (e.g. time), but we didn't really talk about giving money. My perception is that it's built into our capitalistic culture to consider our money our own even more than other resources like time, and that we tend to get defensive when it is implied that we aren't truly worshipping God with our money.

In the Western world, we have about 67% of the world's wealth held by about 12% of the world's population. Even though we may not think of ourselves as wealthy people, even the poorest members of our society are richer than most people in the developing world. I found it striking that in the same evening that we're talking about giving, we heard how during our homeless outreach most of the people encountered didn't need anything in the way of food or clothing. (I totally applaud those of you who went on that outreach, and that you were willing to give your time and energy in conversation and building relationship. That was really awesome to hear about.)

I am reading the book Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan, an Indian missionary. He's quoting a book by economist Robert Heilbroner, describing the incredible difference between the average American family and the average Third World family. In the end the American family is living in the tool shed, eating moldy potatoes, with one set of clothing each, a few old blankets to sleep on, and only one pair of shoes for the head of the family. The nearest school is three miles away, and the nearest health clinic, staffed only by an uneducated midwife, is ten miles away. They do not own any books, magazines, or newspapers, but that's okay because no one in the family can read. K.P. then tells the story of a young Indian man who felt called to a community of families like this one. Since no one could read, he put together a Gospel presentation based on pictures, then needed a projector in order to reach the thousands of people in this community through only he and his wife and small children. He went every week for months to sell his blood at the hospital in order to purchase a projector, even though his own family was on the brink of starvation, because his urgency for the Gospel was so great.

When I compare stories like that, stories of true sacrificial giving, with the luxuries that I heap upon myself daily and take for granted, I am ashamed. How can I feel any satisfaction for the money that I do give, or the time that I spend, or the relationships that I invest in, when my giving is out of the excess God has blessed me with? I have never gone without a meal so that someone else could hear the Gospel, I have never even gone without a movie so that someone else could eat. I believe the self-satisfaction we allow ourselves when we give even 10% of our income is deceptive when we have so much farther to go until we get to sacrifice.

*Steps down from soapbox*


annie skroski said...

I totally don't think you're being a downer (but who am I to talk?) and I'm all for keeping things real and honest. I think you are right on in terms of us not understanding what true sacrificial money giving is like. Any time I've been hurting economically, I've been blessed to have support from other people to help me out when a lot of people don't have that luxury. And I like your point about American homeless tend to be "better off" than those in other countries as well.
However, I don't think we didn't focus on the money aspect necessarily because we didn't want to. I know I personally struggle more with giving of my time because it's easier for me to throw some money at a cause than to get personally involved in it. Plus, God was telling me a few other things that didn't necessarily have to do with money:) I think we were just trying to expand the whole concept to giving our of whole selves, which should include all our resources. I think maybe I could expand your comment that American Christians don't understand the concept of giving sacrificially at all- economically or with our lives.

Leisha said...

I definitely don't mean any of this as a criticism of the HC. I think the conversation on Wednesday was just the tip of the iceberg, and if we had unlimited time we might have gotten into this more.

However, as I was reminded recently, everyone in the world has the same amount of time to do what we can with. Everyone in the world has the same number of hours in the day, to give or not give with.

In America, however, we have far and away more money and financial resources than anywhere else in the world, so our level of responsibility in being the hands and feet of Christ, the ambassadors and priests of the Kingdom of God, with our money is much higher than someone who has very little.

Giancarlo said...

Interesting -- I thought the conversation was heavy on the money side of giving. Maybe this is one of those things where we notice what we want to notice, rather than what actually happened.

Anyway, what struck me about the whole idea of giving is this: I can always earn more (and, by extension, give more) money. I've never felt that to be much of a challenge (maybe that will change if I ever have substantial bills). What I can never reclaim is time. That's why, at least on a personal level, I consider my time to be the bigger sacrifice.

Obviously not everyone is the same about that. But still.

Josh said...

i guess it always depends on who you're giving to? and what you're giving?

you know what other cultures are more rich with? making others feel appreciated, community, fruitful relationships? no?

thatoneguy said...

Mike, I like your money/time distinction, and I agree; but I also think that while you and I can always earn more money, you and I are not the point. Where physical resources are also scarce, a financial contribution might be spot on. So I think sometimes it's good to "just" throw money at things, despite the lesser impact it may have on our end.

thatoneguy said...

Just don't try to dramatically hurl the money into the sea. It's difficult.

Leisha said...

I would argue that if we are able to comfortably "throw money" at an issue, it's not sacrificial at all. It's much easier to be cheerful if the "sacrifice" is minimal.