3 March, 2021

New Steps and a New Gift

by | 30 December, 2014 | 1 comment

By Mark A. Taylor

Every year at Christmastime I look for a way to give something to someone who can”t or won”t give me anything in return. Usually this means an extra offering to a favorite mission, a check written to a local shelter, or gifts purchased for our church”s project to “provide Christmas” for needy children.
PrintI do this because it”s always seemed to me that exchanged gifts are trades, not really gifts. They”re fun, and they can be a good part of office or family celebrations. But true generosity doesn”t happen with rules about dollar limits or gift categories. Nor does it flourish when my gift simply creates pressure or expectation for the recipient to buy something for me.

I suppose I”ve felt satisfied with this approach, because it is a step outside the world”s attitude toward holiday shopping.

But the material posted at our site this month convinces me I have many more steps to take.

The first step is to realize that poverty is not a curse or a punishment, that scores of urban ghetto dwellers are not there because of their own laziness or lack of integrity.

Yes, I agree that disintegrating family structures and failing inner-city schools are breeding generations programmed to survive on government programs and holiday handouts. But this is all the more reason to consider what we can do beyond occasional spurts of generosity.

Several of those writing or interviewed in these posts have begun the hard work of solving systemic problems instead of just temporarily alleviating difficult symptoms.

Their example leads us to a second step, and that is to commit to some long-term solutions. And those solutions will inevitably lead to building relationships with those who need help to find their way out of poverty. It”s not a surprise, then, that you”ll see that word relationship again and again in the articles about poverty we’ve posted in recent weeks.

Many these days are realizing that relationships are a key to every kind of transformation. Missional leaders urge us to build friendships with our neighbors in order to create a path that may lead them to Christ. Recovery experts tell us no addict gets sober alone.

And those who have known nothing but poverty will not see another way unless someone loves them enough and long enough to walk with them to a better life.

We won”t do this until we look again at ourselves and realize there”s more than one kind of poverty. In God”s eyes, our “righteousness is as filthy rags,” as ugly as any worn by a homeless person on city streets. As LeRoy Lawson puts it in one of this month”s book reviews: “It”s where our poverty of being meets with their poverty of means that real ministry takes place.”

Pondering that truth may be the best gift I’ve received  this Christmastime.

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    Most Christians do need many more steps to get beyond spurts of holiday handouts. The gift of an on-going relationship that helps others to a better life suggests helping others get out of the systemic problem of poverty. And the emphasis on relationship suggests it is dealing with personal issues as they relate to systemic issues that will solve the problem.

    I think Jesus and the early churches had little concern for systemic issues of poverty. They were, in fact, mostly poor themselves, and mostly powerless in terms of systemic issues. Jesus did have power to heal multitudes, and his time in doing that showed great generosity; the early churches did have some funds to help widows and orphans and showed great generosity, since they were already mostly poor themselves.

    This suggests to me that our goal is not to solve systemic issues or even to get people out of poverty. The goal should rather be that those who have more things, even those who are less poor than others, show generosity to those who are more poor. This would involve relationships, but especially willingness to give up more and more of our things and money to help the most needy directly (rather than giving a small or medium amount to an institution that helps poor people). In the U.S., this would mean getting out and meeting more poor people, helping them regularly and generously, to the extent that we approach poverty ourselves. One example might be meeting families who stay in motels and helping pay required security deposits for an apartment. If this was done regularly and generously, it would mean a lot of steps and gifts each year. Let’s be creative and compassionate.

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