Chapter Seven: Wise Giving

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(Note: Spoiler Alert. This post is writing commentary on the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). This book is being discussed on April 11 by the Avondale United Methodist Book Club. Those who want to read the book before forming opinions are advised to read this column after reading the book. For the rest of you, consider this a long-winded review and commentary on the book, and please comment your thoughts.)

Several billionaires have recently committed to giving away their fortunes to charity. But in doing so, people like Bill and Melinda Gates, or Warren Buffett, are trying to be wise, trying to ensure they get results for the billions they are giving away. They have the funds to do R&D in charitable giving, to find the combination that achieves the results. Lupton suggests that many of these sound business principles are good principles for responsible charitable investing. Among those are:

  • Focus on your passions.
  • Investigate the best practices of those in the field to determine what works.
  • Create a prototype to test new approaches.
  • Record the process.
  • Document the findings.
  • Tweak the methods.
  • Replicate successes.

Putting those into the terms of benevolence:

  • Is it yielding good returns?
  • Is it consistent with our passions?
  • Does it reflect our values about relief vs. development?
  • Is it invested on the cutting edge?

Buffett, in particular, has these questions about his bequests, taking the long view:

  • Are recipients assuming greater levels of control over their own lives or do they show up, year after year, with their hands out?
  • Is leadership emerging among the served?
  • Are their aspirations on the rise?
  • Is there a positive trajectory?

Controlling the Lake

We all know the feed a man a fish/teach a man to fish motif.  But what happens when the fish disappear from the lake due to pollution or overfishing?  Taking control of the lake is a community issue. It isn’t just done on an individual basis. This is why the issue is community development and not human services. There is an implied ownership by the community of their community. Too many people are furnishing human services and calling them community development.

Opportunity International has a specific framework it uses to know who and where to set up its micro-lending opportunities. They ask many questions about community building and economic development. Lupton draws from their system the following:

What questions should we ask about community building work?

  • Who are the producers? – Must be members of the community.
  • Where is the energy? – Don’t worry about scale or impact, follow the energy.
  • What’s the “win” and is it achievable? – Start where people are.
  • Who are the principal investors? – Multiple investors are ideal.
  • What’s the organizing mechanism? – Invest in building capacity for community unity.

What questions should we ask about community economic development work?

  • What are the local assets of our clients? – Focus on households, not just the loan client.
  • What are the assets of this place? – Assess local potential via association, resources, physical assets, local methods of exchange.
  • What’s happening in the local, national, and international markets? — Market opportunity.
  • How are entrepreneurs supported? – need to grow entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs.

With all of that, a really good question is: does micro-lending work in the United States. Micro-lending requires and ingrained work ethic, entrepreneurial instinct, and stable support system. These are essential just to survive in many developing countries. In the United States, welfare has created generations of dependency and eroded the work ethic.  “Where a people assume that their subsistence is guaranteed, hard work becomes neither a necessity for survival nor a means to escape poverty,” Lupton notes.

It raises an interesting question: Is social security just another way of saying ensured poverty?

Chapter Six: No Quick Fixes

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(Note: Spoiler Alert. This post is writing commentary on the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). This book is being discussed on April 11 by the Avondale United Methodist Book Club. Those who want to read the book before forming opinions are advised to read this column after reading the book. For the rest of you, consider this a long-winded review and commentary on the book, and please comment your thoughts.)

“Top-down charity seldom works.”

Poverty infects every nation. People feel that big problems require big fixes. Governments want to be involved, big corporations get involved.  But just as politics is local, all charity begins at home.

Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid chronicles the error of top-down charity — the $1 trillion in aid that that has flowed into Africa and killed her continent.  She counters “across the globe, the recipients of aid are worse off; much worse off.”

But she doesn’t just decry the problem, she offers a solution. Moyo’s road:

  • Get off aid.
  • Promote entrepreneurship.
  • Promote free trade.
  • Invest in Infrastructure.
  • Secure reasonable loans, not grants.
  • Encourage stable home ownership.

Her notes to NGOs include:

  • Don’t subsidize poverty.
  • Reinforce productive work.
  • Create producers, not beggars.
  • Invest in self-sufficiency.

Chapter six is where my current town, Kansas City, shows up in the book. Lupton tells of talking with the pastor of a prominent Baptist Church with an idea to make Kansas City the first hunger-free zone. With the technology in place to identify church members and their locations, members would allow themselves to be located, and locate, other Christians in their neighborhoods to organize food drives, with the items taken to collection points for the needy. The momentum would create a wave of compassion across the city.

Lupton was impressed with the system for gathering, but asked how the food would get to the needy? How would unhealthy dependency be prevented?

The pastor didn’t have the distribution figured out, but assured Lupton it could be done on the way. But they had to start now, before another city in North Carolina became first to have a hunger-free zone. In other words, the dependency issue would probably not be addressed.

“A massive and sustained food drive says much about the compassion of a city, and I admire the Kansas City spirit” Lupton said. “The hard part, however, does not lie in the creation of new models – food-buying co-ops, food for community service, wholesale outlets. The hard part is rethinking the entrenched giveaway mentality and restructuring an established one-way charity system. A hunger-free zone may be possible, but developing the dependency-free zone is the real challenge.”

“Perfect” weather for a ham and bean dinner

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Start of the evening dinner crowd.

Start of the evening dinner crowd.

A bit of winter weather didn’t deter people from attending the annual Ham and Bean Dinner at Avondale United Methodist Church from noon-7 p.m. on Saturday, February, 28, 2015.

Waiting for diners at the soup and corn bread table.

Waiting for diners at the soup and corn bread table.

The weather forecast kept on varying throughout the week — was it going to snow on Saturday? was it going to snow before or after the dinner? was it going to be a dusting or several inches?

Deserts on the desert table before the dinner started.

Deserts on the desert table before the dinner started.

When all was said and done, light flurries started in the late morning, and a continued throughout the day. The threat of more and heavier snow later apparently encouraged a large early crowd. Attendance was heavy from noon-2 p.m., but by the time my family took its bussing and setting tables from 3-5 p.m., the attendance was very light. We almost wondered whether anyone further was going to come.

Setup in the kitchen before the dinner started

Setup in the kitchen before the dinner started

But someone was always coming, and as it neared the 5 o’clock hour, and the snow stayed its light fall, people started coming out again. When we ended our shift as servers, and took our place as diners, the dining room started looking busy again.

Steve Boman and busboy Cooper Boman.

Steve Boman and busboy Cooper Boman.

During that final shift the youngest busboy — Cooper Boman — could be seen getting an early start on learning the value of serving others. He helped his mother Jill Boman as they cleared and reset tables.

Cooper Boman hard at work.

Cooper Boman hard at work.

The meal was good, as always, the fellowship fantastic, and the desert table deliciously decadent.

The dinner rush.

The dinner rush.

Chapter Five: Beyond Us-Based Giving

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(Note: Spoiler Alert. This post is writing commentary on the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). This book is being discussed on April 11 by the Avondale United Methodist Book Club. Those who want to read the book before forming opinions are advised to read this column after reading the book. For the rest of you, consider this a long-winded review and commentary on the book, and please comment your thoughts.)

“Look at most any promotional package for a mission trip and you will get the distinct impression that lost, starving, forsaken people have their last hope riding on the willingness of U.S. church groups to come and rescue them.”

The Christian Compassion Industry is a big business. The Federal Trade Commission is tasked with keeping businesses fair and free. But they don’t look at religious charity – and perhaps we need something that does.

Most of our trips are to places needing long-term development. Most of the short-term projects are crisis-type projects. These mission trips have value, but should be packaged as insight trips or exchange programs.

The Toxic Mission Report

Theme: what serves the interest of the church does not necessarily benefit those being served.

Churches look for Return on Investment, an increase in volunteerism, but don’t always track how effective that volunteerism is on the front lines. They might send a lot of people out to help with a project, and not consider covering the costs to the mission they are “helping”, the resources they devour to do their good.

Lupton asks:  “When a church makes decisions about serving others, are the ones being served the urban poor or the church?”

A Balanced Portfolio

In planning for retirement, we are counselled to have a balanced portfolio to protect from risk. It is a sort of mutual fund approach to investing. Individuals and churches tend to try the same thing with their charitable and missions giving. But to make a real difference in people’s lives requires a focused approach.  Entrepreneurs that start new businesses and create new jobs also buck the diversified approach and focus on something particular – their vision, their hope, their passion. Diversified is a big business investor approach. Diversified volunteerism increases number of church volunteers – activity not outcomes. Lupton says “to achieve measurable change in the lives of the poor and the communities they inhabit, focused, not diversified, investment is required.”

Chapter Four: Need vs. Relationships

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(Note: Spoiler Alert. This post is writing commentary on the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). This book is being discussed on April 11 by the Avondale United Methodist Book Club. Those who want to read the book before forming opinions are advised to read this column after reading the book. For the rest of you, consider this a long-winded review and commentary on the book, and please comment your thoughts.)

“Cure without Care is like a gift given from a cold heart.”

Lupton starts this chapter with a tale of two food distributions.  The first is at a local church food pantry, with a long line of people waiting for food. There is a well-organized distribution system.  Plenty of rules: One visit per month, must have legitimate ID, on bag per household, proof of poverty qualifications. The second, a few blocks away, people in a food co-op are boxing up food for redistribution to group members. All are involved. Each pays $3 a month to turn that into $30 in food for each of 50 households. Everyone is engaged. Their involvement fosters community.

The rules for charity in the first example lead to an efficient distribution, but can be toxic to human dignity and building relationships. Get to close to the people being served, and charges of favoritism can make your life miserable. This is why Food Security for America is assisting and encouraging churches to help people set up co-ops.

“Food in our society is a chronic poverty need, not a life-threatening one.” Lupton says. “And when we respond to a chronic need as though it were a crisis, we can predict toxic results: dependency, deception, disempowerment.”

Another telling story comes from the Q&A session following a speech Lupton gave to a multi-church benevolence group. One person was pestering him about his concerns that food distributions could be toxic.  Finally Lupton said: “Why do we persist in giving away food when we know it fosters dependency?”

To which he got as unexpectedly candid response: “Because it’s easier! It costs much less in time and money to run a food pantry, and that’s what the churches want! Churches want their members to feel good about serving the poor, but no one really wants to become involved in messy relationships.”

Ouch! What a telling tale. I personally wonder if that is the same reason people like government programs to take care of things. The added benefit of having the government do it is then it is other people’s money.

Need-Based Relationships

“Relationships built on need do not reduce need. Rather they require more and more need to continue.”

Lupton gave an example of this. One of the workers at a soup kitchen struck up a conversation with one of the patrons. A sharp-looking, neat mother, she had lost her job and was staying in a shelter. Her injury made it hard to find employment. So the church woman helped her into an apartment and a job search. She always had prospects, but never found a job. Around Christmas church members surprised her with a shower of Christmas presents, only to find other families, from other churches, had already done the same thing.

The relationship was based on need. Meet one, another would come along. Dependency ensues.

Giver-recipient relationships do not build trust. The poor stay outside. The resources owned stay inside. Rules come from those in control. Trusting relationships require outsiders to become insiders, recipients to become dispensers and makers of the rules, the ones to build community.

Chapter Three: The Anatomy of Giving

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(Note: Spoiler Alert. This post is writing commentary on the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). This book is being discussed on April 11 by the Avondale United Methodist Book Club. Those who want to read the book before forming opinions are advised to read this column after reading the book. For the rest of you, consider this a long-winded review and commentary on the book, and please comment your thoughts.)

It is important that giving be truly free. It must never degenerate into charity, in the pejorative sense. Alms-giving is Mammon’s perversion of giving. It affirms the superiority of the giver, who thus gains a point on the recipient, binds him, demands gratitude, humiliates him and reduces him to a lower state than he had before.

  • Jacques Ellul, Money and Power.

In this chapter Lupton tells about his first Christmas living in one of the neighborhoods he was helping to develop. After years of commuting, he had finally become a neighbor. He was sitting with a family on Christmas Eve, when a knock came on the door. A family was there delivering gifts for the inner city family.  The mother’s nervous smile concealed her embarrassment. The giving family came in and presented, the kids unwrapped.  No one noticed that the father quietly slipped away. This was the first time that Lupton realized how all this generous giving emasculated a father in his own home.  How children learned that the “good stuff” comes from rich people and is free. How not all charity is good charity.

The holiday season is full of giving. While giving is supposed to be a joyous process, Lupton was now seeing a darker side. When this giving is a charitable event, there is an emotional price tag attached.

“Doing for rather than doing with those in need is the norm. Add to it the combination of patronizing pity and unintended superiority, and charity becomes toxic,” Lupton says.

The solution to this is the idea of parity vs. charity. It is a delicate process to establish real parity between individuals and groups of unequal power. Lupton calls this holistic compassion – relationships built on reciprocal exchange.

When Justice Meets Mercy

I had asked a question about justice and mercy in a previous post.  I think Lupton gives some answers to my questions in this chapter.

Compassion is a powerful force. It compels us to do amazing things for people in need. “Mercy is a force that compels us to acts of compassion.” It collides with Injustice. What power does mercy have against injustice? This explains why the Bible places even emphasis on both mercy and justice.

Act Justly. Justice is “fairness or reasonableness, especially in the way people are treated or decisions are made.”

Love Mercy. Mercy is “compassion, kindness, or forgiveness shown especially to someone over whom a person has power.”

Twinned together, these commands lead us to holistic involvement. Divorced, they become deformed. Mercy without justice degenerates into dependency and entitlement, preserving the power of the giver over the recipient. Justice without mercy is cold and impersonal, more concerned about rights than relationships…

Mercy combined with justice, however, creates:

  • Immediate care with a future plan
  • Emergency relief and responsible development
  • Short-term intervention and long-term involvement
  • Heart responses and engaged minds

But does this give us a definitive answer about giving to the homeless person on the corner? Lupton asked three different people. Gary Hoag —  “generosity monk”  — says yes – freely received freely give. Andy Bales, CEO of Union Rescue Mission, LA – says sometimes, but money is least helpful thing we can do, a last resort.  Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, said “Absolutely Not”

Always. Sometimes. Never. Sound like it still requires us to be personally engaged in listening to the Spirit for what we should do.

Pop Goes The Weazel

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Boy, the lyrics to this song aren’t like anything I learned in elementary school! A whole lot of Anglophobic lyrics about the British needing to watch out for the Americans.  Still, the catchy tune is familiar. And one can learn a lot about period politics if we avoid inserting our own period’s biases into the mix.

So, here it is: have fun listening and learning.

1

When de night walks in, as black as a sheep,

And de hen and her eggs am fast asleep,

Den into her nest with a sarpent’s creep,

“Pop goes de Weasel.”

Oh all de dance dat ebber was plann’d

To galzanize de heel and de hand,

Dar’s none dat moves so gay and grand

As “Pop goes de Weasel.”

De lover, when he pants t’rough fear,

To pop de question to his hear,

He joins dis dance, den in her ear,

“Pop goes de weasel!”

2

John Bull hells, in de olse cow’s hum,

How uncle Sam used Uncle Tom,

While he makes some white folks slaves at home,

By “Pop goes de Weasel!”

He talks about a friendly trip

To Cuba in a steam war-ship,

But Uncle Sam may make him skip

By “Pop goes de Weasel!”

He’s sending forth his iron hounds,

To bark us off de fishin’ grounds –

He’d best beware of Freedom’s sounds

Oh “Pop goes de Weasel!”

3

De Temerpance folks from Souf to Main,

Against all liquor spout and strain,

But when dey feels an ugly pain

Den “Pop goes de Weasel!”

All New York in rush now whirl

Whar de World’s Fair its Flag unfurls,

Bet de best World’s Fair am when our girls

Dance “Pop goes de Weasel!”

Den form two lines as straight as a string,

Dance in and out, den three in a ring –

Dive under like de duck, and sing

“Pop goes de Weasel!”