June 23rd, 2014
Toxic Charity: Another Perspective
Over the next few weeks we will have a short series of guest blogs that touch on many of the same questions I've raised while discussing toxic chaity in my last few blogs. As promised in our last post, here is part two our guest blog from Access of West Michigan Hunger Response Director, Emma Rosauer. I hope these blogs prompt some thoughtful responses and questions and make sure to check back in two weeks for another blog.
Tansformative Charity: Part 2
It’s easy to understand ourselves and what we have to bring to the table. It’s also easy to be motivated by the solutions we have experienced or think are correct. When we see a crying child in the supermarket we instantly think “with my kids I would calm them by giving them a pacifier, a blanket, a snack, etc.” Our resources, assets, and connections quickly come to mind, “I can do something to solve this problem!” The more difficult task is to get outside of what is easy to us and learn about the assets and abilities of those who are experiencing the problem. Perhaps the mom of the crying kid knows that the child just needs a good nap when they arrive home. But as long as we maintain our distance and keep our conjecturing to ourselves, all we’ll do is judge and believe that our way is the solution.
The starting point to changing toxic charity to transformative charity is to address the awareness issue. What do we do when we become aware of an issue? How do we challenge our natural reaction to be the hero or have a great, self-originated solution? First, we have to start believing that we don’t know everything and that our ideas might not be so brilliant after all. Yikes again. That’s enough to trip us up and make us want to back out of the compulsion to help entirely! Once we start believing that other people are smart and have great ideas and solutions, we will be able to let other’s bring forth their assets, recognizing them and appreciating what they have to offer.
Next, we have to live, in some form, incarnationally. This is a proposition that Bob loves to promote. He should know, as he relocated his young family into an inner-city neighborhood and sought to build relationships with his neighbors. His intention was not to get chummy with “poor people” in order to minister to them or save them, instead he sought to be a neighbor and for them to be a neighbor back. As neighbors, the playing field is leveled, we are forced to get off our high horses and admit that sometimes we need to borrow our neighbor’s weed whacker or a couple eggs. The giver/recipient relationship is destroyed and the power struggle that happens when we seek to assert our superhero abilities is dismantled. These are good things!
Once we become friends and learners, we get to understand why the baby is crying, why forming a 5K run isn’t what a certain non-profit needs, and why the hungry kids and families don’t need a hand-out. Poverty isn’t only what is seen in one instance, and solutions to poverty are not surface level. People who experience poverty have individual stories which cannot be “fixed” with a one-size-fits-all approach. And most important of all, we will learn that people experiencing poverty have a whole ton of brilliance to bring to the table.
Practically, this means that we stop coming up with our own ideas and start learning, investing, making friends, asking questions, and asking for help. In Toxic Charity Bob offers some great principles for how to start asking the right questions and assessing our current methods of charity, and facilitating development work to ask those struggling with poverty to bring forth solutions. But the truth is, doing development work and transformative charity is not a cookie cutter solution and we don’t have a perfect way of doing it. And that’s exactly as it should be.
This isn’t easy for our human minds to grapple with; we want clear answers, formulaic methods for philanthropy, and flashy reports to affirm our stewardship and ministry. It requires us to start with individuals, to invest a whole lot of energy, to change our worldview, to possibly miss out on donations because we aren’t serving the masses. And it may even mess with us at a personal level, beckoning us to sacrifice and change what we thought was the standard.
It may be messy, but it’s worth it. And fortunately for us, we have a pretty terrific example of One who gave up a certain way of living to get to know some folks different than Himself. If we are willing to admit that we are just as much broken humanity as those we have often seen as “worse off,” we’re in a great starting place for all that the Lord desires to do in and through us.
Hunger Response Director
Access of West Michigan