Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Condescending Charity, Liberating Love / MLK Day 2014

And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal. -Athanasian Creed

God is Love. -1 John 4:8, Bible

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. -Luke 1:52-53, The Mother Of Christ

In the beginning was the logos... The world came into being through him, but the world did not know him... John 1

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist. -Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara
I once heard a sermon on “why we should give.”

I don't recall much of it, 
but I do remember one of the "reasons" given. 

It feels good to give,” the pastor encouraged us, toward the end of the sermon. (I was a visitor).

If you don't believe me, try it!”     

Try it.

Try giving! You'll see!!!

You'll... see... 

Well, I've tried it.

And here's what I've found.

Sometimes it feels Good. Sometimes it Doesn't.
And, although God may “love” a “cheerful giver,” I don't think that that pastor was right.

To be clearer: I think he was absolutely wrong.

In the world as it is, we shouldn't give because it feels good or bad. We should give because it's the right thing to do—when and in which situation it is the right thing to do.

However, in the world as it ought to be, nobody should have to give, because everybody will have enough.

Giving, rather, then, ideally, (as “stuff” will always move from one location to another), becomes the sharing of those things which all, collectively, hold in common, rather than the granting graciously and mercifully of what one believes he or she “owns.”

South Loop Campus Ministry Community Meal
Charity, as we commonly know it, is necessitated by injustice.
Charity is the result of inequality.

Of hoarding. And of greed.

More deeply, it is the result of ownership—the demonic delusion that any of God's creation belongs exclusively to any human or any group of humans.

By nature, charity is condescending, because it starts with the reality that the giver is in some way—usually socially and economically—“above” the receiver.

Interestingly enough, in the world as it is, it is often those who hoard or have the most who get praised the most when they finally do decide to give. This is the case for those givers who "save" small country churches and for philanthropists who fund gigantic foundations.

Indeed, when one gives from a place of great privilege, and receives great and public praise, giving may feel quite good. In fact, one might be deemed a Saint—by the media, by one's peers, even by those “poor” people that one has helped with such a generous and Christ-like tax-deductible contribution.

I, too, know this praise.
And praise feels good.

Each week with members of South Loop Campus Ministry, First Trinity, and Grace Place, we either deliver sandwiches to the homeless, or invite the homeless in for a meal.

You have such a heart for the poor, Pastor!” “I really admire what you guys do!”

Not only do people admire us for our work, but often they, too, want to “pay it forward,” “get involved,” or “give back.”

And they should! Because IT IS NECCESARY.

In the world as it is.

But, again, in the world as it is, all charity is condescending.

And our intention in creating any event should be toward creating a moment or moments of community—not a moment of charity. A moment when we see our sister or brother as he or she Is—one with us and one with God. Not as he or she currently exists, as one “less fortunate.”

We do not want to create a dynamic of an “us” giving to a “them.” Rather, for a few moments each week, we want to act out the world as it ought to be. We share what belongs to none of us, and what belongs to all of us, because it belongs to God, and we are all God's children.
Students and community members deliver sandwiches is sub-zero
temperatures with South Loop Campus Ministry
This, of course, we also act out (in lesser quantity) when we share in Holy Communion.

The act, of course is always symbolic.

Then we go home, to bed, back into the “real” world.

God is Love, according to the author of 1 John. God by God's very nature is coeternal and coequal according to the Athanasian Creed. That is, as clarified by St. Augustine, God the Trinity might be described as Lover, the Beloved, and the Love.

God is Love. Love is co-Equality. Love is co-Eternity.

It makes sense that St. Mary, in her song about God's work sings of something we often skim over in our overly-sentimentalized, Hollywood, Disney, How-I-Met-Your-Mother, momentary-Christmastime-gushy-feeling, can't-we-all-just-get-along, it-feels-good-to-give perceptions of Love.

It is not of Charity
(the acting out of the world as it ought to be—acting out equality through sharing that which is not normally shared in the world as it is)
that Mary Sings.

Rather it is of Justice, of Liberation
(the creation or the becoming of the world as it ought to be).

Not acting out the ideal world in the world as it is in Eternal moments, 

but creating a world that is the world as it ought-to-be, in a more-than-a-moment Eternity.

At least for now.

The lowly shall be lifted. All will be able to eat.

And Live.


The quote above, the one from Câmara,
is almost a cliché among my colleagues, and among our circles of friends.

It's on posters and coffee mugs, tee-shirts and needlepoint pillow-covers.

But it continues to speak to the tension raised when we, people of faith, really seek to have a “heart for the poor.” No... Scratch that...

Make that: Have a heart for all of our sisters and brothers in Creation...
Make that: Have a heart for our God who is Love,
and co-equal,

and who calls us to love one another,
and to create a world that reflects that love,
that co-eternity,
and that co-equality.

Câmara was right, though.

recently shared all over facebook
Though the word communist may not hold the stigma it used too—nor does it suffice to describe the ideals that many of my colleagues and I share, we are still subject to similar labels, to labels in general.

Radical, Idealist, Impractical, Socialist, Liberal, Democrat, Loose Giver, Anti-Christian (this one is the funniest and most hypocritical, of course)...

Lots of labels. Still. When we ask:
Why are people poor?”
Why are fewer people rich?”
And ultra-rich?”
Why don't we change some laws and some structural oppressions in order to change that situation?”

Poor St. Mary—and even Christ himself—must have dealt with much the same. Well, actually, much worse!

At least understanding this makes us feel kind of cool when we do get labeled!

Some friends (and fellow Lutherans) have expressed discomfort in my involvement in politics over the last few years. Discomfort in our work in SOUL and IIRON. And in Bridgeport Alliance.

That's not the work of the church!, they argue. Causing trouble. Exposing inequality. Calling for liberation and justice

“That's not the work of the church!”

We do service. We do charity. We Give! And pray! And sing!

And, well, it feels good!


To be clear... I think they are absolutely wrong.,

If the Church is to be about Love, co-eternal, and co-equal,
it must be about justice, equality, and liberation as a goal,
and charity in the meanwhile.

(aka the Kingdom lived in the world, already, with fervent prayer for the Kingdom to come that is not yet.)

AND IT MUST WORK FOR BOTH if it is to truly do works of love.

If the church's only act of Love is charity,
it is incomplete, and steeping in an unjust world.

As we prepare this year for another MLK Day, and as we work with SOUL and IIRON (and other justice workers work on similar projects around the globe), I invite you to join us—or join your local organization.

There will be buses from Bridgeport and from Roosevelt University, among other places.

This work is not in addition, or a compliment  to faith, but a work of faith—a work of Love.

You may even give your goods to feed the poor; you may bestow great gifts to charity; and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. -Dr. King on 1 Corinthians 13.

May God grace us with hearts of Love, and the desire for that Love to come to fruition in all of society, in all of our lives, and in all of existence.


Pr. Tom Gaulke
First Lutheran Church of the Trinity
South Loop Campus Ministry, Episcopal/Lutheran 

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