Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rethinking "charity" and "philanthropy"

At the weekend I was pleased to see this provocative op ed piece by Peter Buffett, "The Charitable Industrial Complex."
It's been rattling around my brain, and colliding with the Gospel for this coming Sunday, Jesus' parable about the guy who couldn't resist building bigger barns.
There are so many stories that come to mind that I don't know where to begin.
What is the gap between the person who has no charitable impulse at all, who has probably ripped others off to amass his wealth and can only think about preserving it, and the one who has charitable impulses, but can only frame them in terms that a person of his social and economic class understands, and who ignores the power differential between the one with wealth, and the one(s) they decide to help?
I suppose the difference is that it is possible to challenge the one with some impulse to share - though I offer this as an hypothesis, not having found it to be true.  Colonialism among philanthropists is rampant, and so few foundations are generous toward those who seek genuine, systemic change.

I wish I thought guilt was a motivator for "giving back".  I think the two great motivators are a) to keep a revolt from happening or b) to help "them" be more like "us" (rather then helping them be more the people God is calling them to be in their context).

Both "charity" and "philanthropy" have at their root words meaning love.  And it seems to me that both carry a denotation of the very humanism that Buffett calls for.  Can we redeem these words? And can we have a conversation about the Christian understanding of love - that love does not use power, coerce, or lord it over others.  Oh dear, I could wax Pauline...

I love the two skills Buffett highlights:  listening and imagination. If we can truly listen to one another, and listen beneath the listening, perhaps we can imagine ways to rebuild systems so there's less need to meet needs, more room to build relationships that enhance the quality of all our lives.

I sure wish I were preaching on Sunday...

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