Thursday, May 2, 2013

NuDunkers, Prodigal Christianity, and Charity

Tomorrow (Friday) at 11am Eastern, the NuDunkers are holding our third live chat on Google+ Hangouts. This is our first hangout with special guests, though, so we're excited! For that hour we'll be talking with evangelical neo-Anabaptists, David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw, about their  new book, Prodigal Christianity: Ten Signposts into the Missional Future. See the event page for more details. (If you're unable to watch the live chat, no worries - it will be available on YouTube after the fact.)

As has been our developing custom, each of the NuDunkers prepared for this live event, each posting on our respective blogs beforehand. In this case, everyone read the book and posted on their blog. Well...everyone except me; I bowed out of the book read/posting for busy-ness reasons, but I'll be "there" tomorrow helping facilitate the event. And that's the joy of this being a shared endeavor, because I still experience the fruits of my fellow NuDunkers who engaged this exciting book. Here are their reflections on its various aspects:

(Warning: Tangent on charitable giving)

I especially want to heartily affirm and riff off of something Andy says about prodigality vis-a-vis charitable giving (i.e. they are not the same thing). This hits an open nerve for me that's connected to recent local congregational fundraising for the United Methodist Church's Imagine No Malaria initiative. I'll just go ahead and say it: I don't think this is a good idea, and Andy captures well why I think it's not a good idea:
...when giving is divorced from relationship it opens the door for corruption. What I mean by corruption is not necessarily criminal in nature but that which adversely places both parties within a dysfunctional power structure which creates a system of injustice for both the beneficiary and benefactor. In a recent conversation I had with a missionary we discussed the negative effects of patron–client relationships which create cultures of dependency leaving the beneficiaries subservient (and dependent upon) to the generosity of the benefactor. These effects have serious implications which lead churches down paths that exclude the opportunity to exhibit and share in God’s prodigal grace through embedded relationships. Instead they become a self-serving means of making the benefactor feel good by giving monetary charity without ever having to vulnerably enter into real relationships with the recipients. Moreover with the institutionalization of the dysfunction, it becomes necessary for the institution to both keep the beneficiary dependent within this system in order to maintain the giving outlet for the benefactors. (Emphasis added.)
This is spot-on and captures the structural/systemic, cultural, socioeconomic, and political dimensions of the whole game of charitable giving to "good causes." I'm not picking on Methodists here, because Brethren are just as susceptible to this kind of do-gooderism as anyone else, perhaps more so because of our strong tradition of service, the "you wanna see what we believe, look at how we live" kind of ethos. (Mennonites, by the way, seem to be a bit more sensitive to power dynamics than either Brethren or Methodists.)

Here's another way to say it: In Charles Petersen's excellent overview of the work of philosopher Stanley Cavell, he points out Cavell's suspicion about the relatively advantaged classes (Cavell was thinking of moral philosophers in ivory towers but it works here, too). Petersen's summary:
Their moral problem is not that they do not know what is right (as with the most advantaged), nor that they don’t have the resources to pursue it (as with the least advantaged), but that they do know what is right—and what is right has become only a matter of conformity. The relatively advantaged thus act by rote, giving to charity, say, without becoming charitable human beings...
I think that's exactly the problem with relatively well-off American Christians getting too wrapped up in  save-the-[x] projects administered by huge bureaucratic organizations (denominations in this case). No, this isn't the shape of Christian prodigality (or "charity" in a more classical sense). From Josh's post:
In reflecting Jesus - the God who kneels - the church is more like itself when we take root in nitty gritty of the day to day. Instead of trying to leverage our influence (by numbers or by wealth) the question presented in Prodigal Christianity is simple- How can we more fully embody the Christ who lived, ate, breathed, died, and rose again in the world. Real people, real needs, and actual neighborhoods are then the context in which the church can more fully live into its name- the Body of Christ.
Amen, brother! So I'm grateful to my fellow NuDunkers for your reflections, and I look forward to our chat tomorrow. (And one of these days I'll actually read Prodigal Christianity, I promise!)

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