Monday, October 19, 2009

micro-loves

Barking Reed is, for me, a healthy alternative to trying to slam my head through a brick and mortar wall. See, I go to this thing at a place with some people, and the other thing - this "church" out of which the thing I go to has been spawned - has given our thing five hundred dollars to spend on people who need it. This week a discussion of how to use that money and something came up that made me want to smack a wall with my face.

My friend Andrew had suggested we might spend some of the money on the organization Kiva, which provides zero-interest loans to people in the developing world who have no other way to get help. It's a streamlined, well-run organization that makes it extremely easy for you to give a leg up to another human being... without treating them like a pity-object for the development of your own personal warm-fuzzies.

While you get direct interaction with the people to whom you are making these loans, you are only loaning them the money; so unless you're a real poop-stain, you don't get to think of yourself as the great white bwana bringing salvation from on high to the poor, benighted savage. It treats this person, instead, like a real live human being, a wondrous sack of person-hood worthy of your love and respect who, because of circumstances beyond your knowledge, needs some help. It is, I think, one of the best available options for trying to help those caught in the cycle of poverty.

Which is why it makes no sense to me that one of the members of our group would resist the idea with great vehemence. It costs us nothing (they have 98% repayment, which is superb for any lending institution) and helps to alleviate the horrendous rich-poor imbalance that afflicts the world today. Win-win, right? Well, not exactly. Not if you hold to the sacred-secular dichotomization idiocy of a lot of the nominally Christian population of North America.

Earlier on this blog, I linked to a Wendell Berry article that explores this idiocy in great detail, but to summate I'll just say that the idea is borrowed from Plato and suggests that there are two spheres, one spiritual and one material, with the material one being inferior, in a moral sense, to the spiritual one. The consequence of this idea is the belief that the physical world we inhabit is not very important. False and often arbitrary distinctions are made, and the "church" ends up teaching that you shouldn't really care about the physical needs of people, because those things do not really matter next to the crucial question of whether or not they say the right things and have their "heart" changed by a loving God who will otherwise burn them forever in an everlasting fire. It also leads people who hold this view (and there are a LOT of them) to think that it's okay to wreak havoc on the natural world because it, too, is of an inferior order.

I know this is why the guy at my meeting was against Kiva, because he actually came out and said it. He talked a bit about how he'd rather give the money to a Christian organization and then he said, "if we don't tell them a salvation message, we're basically just throwing our money away". So there you have it: if you help someone out in some practical way without giving them any explicit, propositional message about Jesus, you have done nothing. Or, to put it more crassly, if you give a starving man a meal without forcing him to sit through an explanation of some pamphlet, you are wasting your resources.

Um.

I didn't really know what to say to that. This is so far off-base from what I have come to think of as the core Christian message that I don't really know how to bridge the gap. In our group, this chap was in the minority. One person told him they'd rather give money to a competent organization than to give it to an inferior one just because it called itself Christian, and the point was made as well that Kiva is non-partisan and often works with regional churches and "Christian" organizations in the countries where it makes its loans. He argued a bit more, and in the interest of actually getting the money spent on Kiva, I suggested that we might pick a specific loan that was being done through a church - a proposition to which he grudgingly agreed.

He was in a minority in that group and the truth won out, but what has me wanting to bash my head against a wall is that I think our group is a bit of an exception. I was telling this story to my friend Ruteger* out in California on Monday, and he asked, "Well, isn't that just the basic premise of evangelical Christianity?" I did not have an answer, but it scared me to think that he might be right. It sort of fits my experience with the NAPEs (North American Protestant Evangelical) environment; which is weird, because it doesn't at all fit with the Christ depicted in the Bible, which these people so rabidly pretend to follow.

St. Francis of Assisi (a most excellent fellow) is quoted often as saying, "Preach the gospel at all times -- and if necessary, use words." A lot of people pay lip service to that idea, but for most churchy folk it is far too open-ended and leaves way too much up to God. To my mind, though, if you have to beat people over the head with the good news, it isn't all that good. And if you need to have control over over who gets to preach it, it can't be all that compelling a truth.

Loving other people is the good news. I think you get to share this news because God is love, but when you have to stop to scream that little nugget every ten seconds before you can proceed, it sounds to me a little bit like it is yourself you are trying to convince, which is a sign of self-obsession. Self-obsession may be a commonality in our culture, but it is certainly not something that Christ advocated. He said, rather, that you are lovely and loved; and can therefore stop doing all the silly, destructive things people tend to do when they feel unloved, and instead start spending your time loving other people.

The NAPEs cannot rule the day. The truth is bigger than their stupidity, and love will out. This is my hope and my faith. My sorrow, however, is that in their fear of what love demands they are denying it, and in the name of a sad caricature of love are bringing great destruction to this country, this people, and this world.



---

*"Ruteger" is actually "Mark" from the last "Anatomy of an Effup" post. He said he thought "Mark was kind of dumb, and that he'd always pictured himself as a Ruteger. He said this not because it was true, but because he likes making my life difficult. I asked him to think of a better name, and he's now mulling it over.

4 comments:

  1. Hey Josh--
    I like your blog. :)
    Thanks for linking to it from Facebook. This post especially made me smile/cringe/totallyrelate...
    Anyway, I enjoyed it.

    Keep writing!
    Cheers, :) April

    ReplyDelete
  2. One of the things that I love about Mennonites, and why I ended up affiliating with a Mennonite church (and marrying a Mennonite), is a profound understanding of what it means to serve others - that the material/physical and spiritual are NOT separate realms, but that giving someone the proverbial "cup of cold water" IS an embodiment of Jesus' love for them, no words necessary.

    I will add the caveat, though, that even though I see this as core Mennonite theology, and have seen this approach towards service acted out reflexively by every kind of Mennonite, there are those sectors of the Mennonite world that do espouse the evangelism-first message. BUT - and I think this is important - they ACT in such a way as to illustrate an integrated and wholistic implicit faith.

    As always, appreciative of your musings.

    (The Anatomy series has instigated much profound self-reflection as well - sorry this has not shown up in your comments box but I haven't been able to find the words. Sometime - soon I hope - I'll give it a shot.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. So what's a Christian to DO?
    Be kind to everyone - sure - we're told to do that - and give - yes - especially widows and orphans.
    Give to efficient organizations like Kiva to distribute well - seems reasonable.
    It's interesting that there doesn't seem to be much opposition to these?
    When one sees that there isn't enough of this kind of thing happening then one could be tempted to throw ALL of one's energies into it.

    What else? Well, we're told to do a whole lot of other things too - one big one seems to be "spread the good news of the gospel". Hmmm. Seems to be a lot of opposition to THAT ONE.

    Personally, my motives aren't always so great in giving to the poor. On the one hand I know that I should, and so I do - some. But often I do that instead of "spreading the good news of the gospel".

    I'd much rather send off a cheque than, when presented with a great opening in a grocery store check-out line "present the good news of the gospel".

    The whole world is resisting the freedom for Christians to do THAT. The rest of the world is allowed to present "it's" gospel. Interesting.

    I wonder how effectively the good news is spread by someone just going around being kind (as one should) but not every sharing motivation. I wonder if the recipients might figure out some explanation of motivation all on their own - because, after all, everyone else has eventually shared their motivation.

    Seems to me that C.S. Lewis had a few things to say about Christians like me who are too chicken to share my motivation.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you, thank you and thank you as well, dad. You've reminded me of a point I thought of tonight as I sat by a campfire with my little group as they talked some more about the dispersion of this money.

    The point was this: I think one of the easiest technical logical errors to make in reading my blog is the fallacy of exclusion. That is, to say that because I said that Jim likes red balls, it therefore follows that Jim does NOT like purple balls.

    I never really intend to speak against sharing your motivation or the good news, if it is indeed your motivation and the news you have to spread is good. I start to get bothered, though, when the supposed good news ends up just being an advertisement for American culture, like "cover up those naked breasts, you vile Tahitian savage, for God is angry at your nakedness and wants to save you from this iniquity".

    I do tend to think that it is much easier to avoid these sorts of errors if one just shuts up, but I do not deny the possibility of really sharing good news, as you really and truly believe it.

    I don't know if the whole world resists a Christian's freedom to do that, though. Many places do, but here at least I think that it is a hard case to make, and that most often the very vocal resistance (other than just the "I disagree with you" kind) tends to come from people who are tired of having "Christian" folks yell "God hates fags!" (thank you, Fred Phelps) and similar sentiments.

    I think that often our persecution complex in this country arises out of a deep sense of shame at what we legitimately understand on a subconscious level to be our ongoing betrayal of Christ in the name of mammon. But that's just me.

    ReplyDelete

Support my writing habit: click below to...

SOME POSTS THAT'VE BEEN POPULAR, RECENTLY...

CHECK OUT MY FIRST BOOK ON GOODREADS...