Thursday, August 4, 2011

Where does/should the money go?

I've been thinking a long time about how to write about giving to charity.  I keep trying to, and then not finding a way do it without sounding all uppity and holier-than-thou.  So I bag the idea and go back to being kooky.

But serving others is important to me, so I'm going to try to write something about giving and serving on the next several Thursdays.  As I wrote in my very first post
Intentionally scrimping on ourselves is counter-cultural.  But I believe that we're happier if we spend our money on things that are bigger than us, things that are outside of us.  I want to be able to help a friend in need, or to donate to a cause I believe in, and to tithe to my church.
I've managed to hit the "counter-cultural" aspect in this blog a bunch of times so far. I've written about where my money doesn't go (not to new clothes, or breakfast cereal, for example).   I've gotten a lot of feedback; much of it is very supportive.  The critical feedback tends to fall along these lines: "If you have enough money to afford X, then you have a social or moral obligation to do so."  The X might be store-bought clothes, or oil-heated water, or toothpaste.  That is, normal American stuff.

I understand these comments, and I know that they are part of the social world I wander around in.  I don't take them lightly -- I think community is really important, and I don't blow off social conventions just because I think I'm better or smarter or something.  

But let's broaden this perspective a little.  Here are pictures of three people who won't ever comment on my blog.  Mbongeni Ncube is a 12 year old boy in Zimbabwe; Genet Tesema is a 13-year-old girl from Ethiopia.  They're two of the three kids that our family sponsors through World Vision.  Marie Louise is a Rwandan widow supporting 4 dependents who runs a business that employs 2 other people.  I loaned her business a small amount of money (a micro-loan) through Kiva.  
Marie Louise was born in 1977, and she is a widow with two children, 7 and 9; both are in school. Marie Louise takes care of four dependents these days. She employs two people from her community as helpers so that her business runs well. The hours of her daily activities are from 7 in the morning to 9 in the evening every day.
In this larger context, seen through their eyes, the ways that I am "obligated" to spend on myself blur a bit.  

And if I go a lot broader still -- if I try to look at my obligation as a Christian, my own self-purchases seem even less important.  I've had a hard time finding that Bible verse that says, "Blessed is he who spends his wealth on himself in a way that his neighbors think is right."  It's a lot easier find verses saying, "Deny yourself and follow Me".  I've even found a bunch of verses that say that the whole process is supposed to be joyful.  Hence, the kookiness of so much of the rest of this blog.

I know that I'm far from being a typical American consumer.  I'm even farther from selling all my possessions and giving the money to the poor.  But on the choice between these two paths, I know which way my head is supposed to turn.

So, it turns out it's harder than I thought not being uppity and ooh-look-at-me.  Drat.

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