7: Possessions

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Today, I am joining Amy and Steph's book club review of Jen Hatmaker's book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. The basic premiss is that Jen identified seven areas of excess in her life, and wrote a chapter about how she spent a month reducing in each area. I am writing about Chapter 3, Possessions, where Jen decided to give away seven items that her family owns, every day, for one month. Whether you've read the book or not, I hope you will read what I've written. I think your thoughts will be provoked. Plus, this post has taken me days, and it has worn me out.

So. This chapter really messed with me. It's not because I feel completely convicted, but rather, it is because I bristled at Jen's assertion that "donating to Goodwill is fine, but . . . " She went on to quote Shane Claiborne (see below), and she concluded that specific, person-to-person giving, where rich and poor meet, is more meaningful. I bristled because I donate to Goodwill and the "but" made me feel bad. I shouldn't feel bad about doing something that is good. And yet I did, because it pointed out an embarrassing reality of my life - I don't have a lot of interaction with the poor.

I used to. I grew up with lots of kids who qualified as poor. At school, my middle-class self was in the minority. Many of my classmates lived in government housing, and they called me "rich" because I lived in a two story brick house. (Yes, Jen's introduction about why she wrote this book - being called "rich" by a hurricane evacuee who saw her house - resonated.) I was familiar with "the poor." We passed notes in Spanish class and worked on the yearbook together. It wasn't always friendly; some kids resented me and showed it in nasty ways, but now I can say that I'm glad I had that experience.

Had that experience. It is over now. My life is different and I am living like most people - with my own. For the most part, the poor are with the poor, the middle class are with the middle class, and the rich are with the rich. I mean, really - are you friends with people in a different (really different) socioeconomic situation? It is a conundrum. When I am provoked by an author like Jen, to think about interacting with the poor, getting to know them, and meeting their needs first hand, it is easy to let defensiveness stop me short. It is easy to find excuses. What? Am I supposed to move my family? Put my kids in a failing school? Drive downtown at night? Giving to charities and dropping off at Goodwill isn't good enough anymore? There is a temptation to say, "Whatever. I do enough."

That is where this chapter gave me fits. And after much thought, (and writing, and deleting) I don't think Jen wants me to feel terrible about myself. I don't think she is advocating class warfare, or the idea that possessions shouldn't be earned. I think she simply wants me to remember that "the poor" are real people. They have hearts and faces and tears, like me. They have dreams and faults and fears, like me. It could be me.

I get that. I know that. I can think about a lot of different people in my life and KNOW that. Still, I am wrestling with this quote, and the idea that it can be this simple:

"I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that the rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor . . . I long for the Calcutta slums to meet the Chicago suburbs, for lepers to meet landowners and for each to see God's image in the other . . . I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end." Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution, as quoted in 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.
It wasn't like that where I grew up. That town suffers from poverty now more than ever. It wasn't easy for the haves and the have-nots to be so close. They knew each other, and poverty prevailed. It wasn't easy for our giving and taking to be done without a third party. There was anger, and there was hurt. Everything was complicated. As a result, I find it hard to buy into the Kumbaya tone of Shane's last sentence. I'm not convinced that we will see poverty come to an end, and with that admission, I am tempted to shy away from the face - yes, the face - of poverty. Who wants to see that? 

I'm pretty sure the answer is: Jesus. 

So. I am left clinging to what my pastor says every Sunday, and what Shane says right in the middle of his big, hopeful quote: For each to see God's image in the other. To see . . . each other. If I see God's image in you, and you see God's image in me, then perhaps it isn't so complicated. Perhaps that is what was missing from my experience before. Perhaps, with God's reflection in the picture, we can see the good intentions on both sides. Perhaps there is Kumbaya hope. 

What do you think? Is face-to-face giving important to you? How do you do it?

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26 Responses to “7: Possessions”

  1. you did a fantastic job with this, courtney!  i have to say that the whole Goodwill thing got to me, too.  it was what challenged me immensely in this chapter.  i could easily say, "ok, i'm willing to give."  but to find actual PEOPLE who had those needs, possibly interact with them, make it a personal exchange?????  ouch.  i don't even know where to begin.  i know people who know people who know people. . . and that's how isolated i am from "the poor."  it's going to take effort.  
    on the other side of that, though, i have words from another book ringing through  my head: "clutter takes mental space.  space that could be used in much more beneficial ways."  so from that perspective, and the perspective of focusing on the Lord, seeking Him, seeking to hear from Him. . . this produces an urge to just purge as quickly as i can, and Goodwill is just as good as any other avenue.  know what i mean?  
    i'm praying about this one.  that the Lord will perhaps help me accomplish both solutions.  not that i want a quick fix.  but i DO want to purge quickly, for i can feel my mental energy being sucked out of me as i observe the excess and feel the weight of it.  YET. . . i am challenged with the face to face giving.  and how it's so much more meaningful.  and that is where i'm seeking His direction.  and for it to be very clear.  
    suffice it to say that i'm listening.  and listening hard.
    can't wait to hear others' thoughts on this chapter!  have a great day!

  2. Clapping for you, girl.

    I actually have another post written up about the face to face giving. Oh, it's easy to drop those bags at the doors of GoodWill. Tidy, neat, no fuss helping, but where's the interaction? Where's the story behind the people who are getting what you are giving?

    This chapter has prompted about three different things in my life, but the first is to seek out people when I give things away. Right now, I volunteer at a shelter. Instead of tossing my kid's old toys into my trunk and dropping them off, I'm going to give them to a place where I know the names of the people who live there, where I know the kids who will be playing with them. It's a small, small start, but I'm starting.

    Thank you for participating in book club. Love your insightful thoughts.

  3. First, I am not very good at face to face giving. I'm good at "Goodwill giving" and I think it is because that's what I'm used to. Coming from an upperclass family, we served the poor on select weekends a year but it wasn't like we had relationships. So we did the Goodwill thing. I am determined for our life to be different. While we don't have to, we do, by choice, live in a lower income area and my hope is that we would get to know those around us and meet needs as we learn of them. My prayer is that our home would be open and a safe calm place for others and that we would have open hands. However, I fight my desire to be safe and hold onto things...pretty much constantly. It's a struggle for sure.

    Second, I think the meshing of classes is complicated, but I think it could be quite a bit more Kumbaya. I think a lot of the problem is what you said when you hinted at that possessions need to be earned. I think the upperclass hangs onto that a lot (and I know, that was/is my family!) that the lower class needs to EARN things. BUT grace. We are unable to earn grace, yet we are given it freely. I think we need to think less about needing people to earn things all the time and just give. I'm not saying that just lazing around taking handouts is good, but I think that is the minority, and  I think sometimes, often, people just use that as an excuse not to give. It is our responsibility to give freely, not to worry about things like that. At least that's my opinion! 

  4. I'm still on the first chapter of the book!  Figuring out what God wants me to do in the whole food thing.  I'm afraid if I put too many chapters in my brain and on my heart that I'll get overwhelmed and do nothing.  

    I haven't read this chapter so my comment may be off.  I've been on both sides of the giving deal -- face to face and then anonymous.  Any yes, goodwill giving, too.  What do we do with the lower class people's pride?  I'm always aware of that thus the "anonymous."  The young single mother needs extra but to keep from embarrassing her I can tuck $50.00 in her purse or diaperbag. I'm a "see-the-need" type person who relies on God to show me how much and where.  I think where I lack is giving of myself.  Giving money is sooo much easier.  Amy said she volunteers at a shelter--so out of my comfort zone.  Maybe something like that is where God will lead when I get to that chapter. 

  5. Great post! This past January I was helping my folks go through and move on some things. It was funny (and exhausting) that they wanted things to go to different places. Mom wanted her books to go to her fav used book store, Dad his to the public library because he helps at their annual sale. Dad wanted "dong-xi" (things) to go to the Jeffco Action Center because he helps with their semi-annual "beautiful junk sale" and volunteers weekly at their foodbank. Left over towels went to the vet to help with animals who stay over night (the receptionist squealed when I dropped them off). So, I do get that "Goodwill" giving can be a cop-out (and that may not be what Jen was fully intending). BUT I also think there are ways to make it more of an investment than it might look at first. I realize this is more about Jen's writing than yours :)! I just started rambling!

  6. Hi Katie - Thanks for your comment. It made me think. What I was getting at with my statement re earning possessions, was not that the poor should earn charity. I am in favor of grace, for myself and others - for sure, and I'm so glad you prompted me to clarify that. Rather, I was getting at the unhealthy resentment I sometimes see in Christian circles against people who have things. When we point accusatory fingers at those we perceive to be "rich," we do not encourage giving. There is a real danger in anger taking over: You have too much. It's not fair! A certain self-righteousness prevails, and when that happens, we aren't seeing God's image in each other. Everyone is left with hurt feelings and an aura of judgment. I would rather see the Christian community encouraging people to give from wherever they are, in a loving and supportive way. 

  7. Thanks, Amy - your clapping makes me happy :) Love your idea about giving directly through the shelter. I've found God opening my eyes in similar ways; showing me where I can make a direct impact. It is good stuff.

  8. Exactly, Steph. Sometimes it is best to just start the purging process so that you can then think more clearly. I have no doubt that God will let you see needs and how to meet them, as the process evolves.

  9. Hi Pamela - Thanks for your comment. I'm guessing that God may be leading you out of your comfort zone. He is good like that :) I've spent a good part of the last year volunteering at a home for pregnant teenagers. At first blush, it was out of my comfort zone, but I'm so glad I did it. Those girls reminded me of my former classmates - literally and in a more spiritual way. I can see now that my experiences there was opening my mind back up on this topic, and I am interested to see where He leads me next.

  10. Amy - I agree. Third party giving can be a real investment when you take the time to choose your organization and you have a spent some time working with them. It takes the "middle man" out when you are part of the middle man! Great point.

  11. Well written, Courtney. I've had the opportunity to interact with the poor as a teacher as well as through ministry opportunities at church. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to see them as more than faces. Over the last few years, my heart has grown even more tender as we have moved from comfortable middle class to lower middle class when I started staying home with my son. I've gotten a glimpse of those awkward feelings when friends who are a little more "well-off" unknowingly make comments or purchases that I'm no longer able to be a part of, and I've become more aware of the power of giving of myself. I still give to Goodwill, too, but it all goes back to 1 Corinthians 13:3, "If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." Perhaps that was Jen's point? You have to love what you're giving to for it to be genuine. 

  12. Kelly - You make such a great point: "You have to love what you're giving to for it to be genuine." It shouldn't be just my unwanted junk that I drop off at Goodwill, and it shouldn't be my distracted time that I give in face-to-face volunteer situations. Quality donations and looking people in the eye with love make all the difference. So glad you pointed that out.

  13. Oh my gosh, I love that you have a real comment system in place. It makes following discussion so much easier. Can you see how green with envy I am?

    Off to catch up on the comments.

  14. Oooh...this is a challenging concept! (And a great post). It's something that echos a sentiment of my heart - I want to give face-to-face, to help where it's really needed and not just to make myself feel better. But I don't know how to begin. I guess I have this belief that a third party is needed or helpful so that the connections can happen. Because it would seem forced to purposely make friends with people who have less than me possession-wise. Perhaps that is a place for pray...to ask that God would bring these connections about so we can live kingdom lives here on earth.

  15. Andrea - Yes, that is something to pray for. Another person who wrote on this chapter, Jess at notyouraveragemommy.com pointed out Jen's prayer, "God? Connect us with people who need our stuff." Simple, but genius. I agree that the needy certainly don't want (or need) forced interactions with people who want to give. We don't want to insult anyone's dignity. Third parties are helpful for avoiding that - for example, a mom can go shopping at Goodwill and pick out Christmas presents rather than have them delivered to her door by well-wishers who just spoiled the Santa Clause concept for her kids. On the other hand, looking someone in the eye as you hand them a much-needed sweater is a good thing. I think there is room for both types of giving. 

  16. I struggle with this face-to-face thing, too. It was easy when my friend's house burnt down - I could give her whatever she needed because I know her. But when I go next week to drop off my maternity clothes at the pregnancy crisis centre, I won't see the girls who get my stuff (actually, I can't. Privacy and all that). I like to cling to the like three whole encounters I've ever had with "the poor". I'd do a whole lot better if I could just strip away the whole label thing and just meet on neutral ground.

    I really don't like me right now! ;) 

  17. This reminds me of an opportunity I had a few months ago. A girl who had been going to our church on and off found herself kicked out of where she was living with nothing but the clothes on her back in the middle of winter. She showed up on my doorstep. It was so easy to give her clothes and call on my friends to give her clothes. SO EASY. Because I saw that she was warm, that she had shoes - and that the stuff I didn't really NEED at all was going to good use. But as you say and as Jen says, when we're not directly in contact with those in need, we become numb, selfish really.

    I don't interact with people like her nearly as often as I'd like to. No, like I need to. Thanks for spurring me to find more opportunities.

  18. I am visiting from Amy's.  Courtney, I loved that quote as well.  I too struggle with really knowing who the poor are --not good at face to face.  When we (collectively) see the poor face to face I think that is when we are reminded as you said, that they are real people too.  That is what then should move us to action.  Not just "giving" to aleviate guilt, but because they are real people with hearts and faces and tears (I like that). 
    Good stuff. thanks for sharing!

  19. I agree with you. I've read Shane before and appreciate his heart. We do need to see Christ in everyone and love the way Christ loved. But how that looks in each persons life will be different. Jesus didn't have his friend Lazarus sell his house. We need to be open handed and not cling tightly to anyone but Christ. Great post!

  20. Yes, it is. I actually do have friends, good ones, in all the categories you mentioned. I am close to my housekeeper who has several working for her that live in poverty, she does the cleaning business as a ministry and I help those girls with what I have and it is a gift to see how my son's clothes, the things that he outgrew might be the only thing they have to wear. I also have very dear friends who live in poverty in Rwanda. And I have started a non-profit for 80 kids that live in child headed homes - no pareants because they were all killed. Anyway, I am grateful that God droppped these relationships in my lap and I didn't have to go looking for them. I think that is harder. Trying to figure out where to give your time and resoureces when the needs are so great everywhere.  And I know lots of people that put me to shame when it comes to giving, we can always to do more but more importanly, what is God asking us to do. Oh my, you got me going here. Thanks for this lovely post Courtney.

  21. Andrea - You are fantastic and I like you right now! Stripping away labels is a large part of progress, I think. You shared good thoughts here.

  22. But isn't it great when God literally puts people at your doorstep like that? You must be doing something right for her to know that she could turn to you. I count that as an all-around victory. 

  23. Loraine - I'm so glad you stopped by. Guilt giving is not ideal, but sometimes it can be the first step towards big time, personal, cherished giving. I think that is part of what Jen was getting at; or at least, that is what I'm starting to think after all this discussion. 

  24. Shelly - You are the best. I'm so glad you stopped by and shared this with us. You say that God dropped relationships in your lap, but part of it is that your eyes are open to needs. I bet we all can learn something from your experiences - we know housekeepers, but do we all look into their needs? That is just one major takeaway from your comment. Thank you :)

  25. Face to face giving is not that important to me. I do it when I can, and it makes me much happier than when I donate in bulk, but I always assumed that it was benefitting me more than the other person. I worry they might be embarrassed...for the "charity" i bring. I don't think handing a poor person a something means as much to them as treating them like a person, talking to them, offering them your hospitality, living w/ them, etc. is. 
    And I come from an unusual perspective. I'm a rich Christian and I don't feel bad about it! God has just put us in this position. I have a house cleaning lady. She comes to my house for pretty much the whole day because we spend a ton of time talking and we eat lunch together and I make her coffee and she brings me flowers and you know what? She is my friend. She blesses me probably more than I bless her.
    Sometimes I think we as Christians get so hung up over poverty...but maybe rich people need more soul help then the lower classes...a humbling perspective. I might have all the stuff but be spiritually bankrupt compared to someone who doesn't have much. It's my hearts desire to bless others, to be Jesus to others, to have open hands and an open heart. I don't think it's rocket science. God will use me where ever I am. I don't have to be poor to be used, and I don't have to be rich either. Just willing.

  26. this is a hard one. many "poor" could/would take offense to someone handing them things like they're charity-cases, whereas Goodwill provides a buffer zone. it keeps the poor person's dignity intact. yet there's something about shaking someone's hand and looking into their eyes...love how you handled this issue. bless you friend.