An old friend was visiting me this weekend while she interviewed for her possible residency at the local hospital. She entered medical school while I was in seminary. We lived in New York City at the same time. But, our relationship goes back even further than that. We were in youth group together at my home church. She was a freshman while I was a senior. I adopted her — mostly because she was good at Spoons and encouraged my ridiculous and incessant laughter before the Ha Game even began. She knows me well. Somewhere over the weekend, we started talking about how we got to this point in life. We pondered why certain things mattered to us — like justice. That was her question. She asked what might have inspired my commitment to justice. That’s not exactly how she asked it. Her assumption was that it has always been there.
I suppose that’s true. A good friend can point that out. She can tease you for your intense commitment to local foods to the point where you talk about your favorite farmer while cooking. She will be amused when you urge her to turn off the lights when she leaves the room. She won’t roll her eyes. She’ll understand that this is how you’ve always been. You’ve always tried to figure out a way to live in harmony with God’s creation. Even though she doesn’t believe in God anymore, she’ll make references to the faith that each formed you. Good friends are good for that reminder so that you know why it bothers you so much to read a New York Times column about When Donations Go Astray.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how I want to give. I think about the hands that made the items. I think about how energy went into getting the gift onto the shelf. I think about how that gift will delight the receiver. And when it comes to charitable giving, I want to know about those commitments as much as I want to know how the given charity is following Christ. If they have anything in their statement of faith about the infallibility of the Bible, I won’t give to them. For me, that means that the organization isn’t giving from generously. It translates to a narrow definition of charity where the giver has all of the solutions. For me, that is not a gift. That’s an assumption and it can break hearts more than it can bring good news to the poor. I don’t believe that any one person can assume that they have all of the answers to our problems in this world. I believe that giving must first come from seeing Christ in another — but then again, I preach about that. Still, I think it’s how to give.