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.
I 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 receivedÂ this Christmastime.