Often times, it’s a good idea to take a step back and examine the culture we live in. A guy who gets me thinking, and slightly cynical about the culture we live in, is Slavoj Zizek. In one particular observation, he dissects the way in which charity is evolving in the west (click to watch his lecture). He points out how we have been able to merge two opposing ideas, consumerism and charity, into one motion. That when we buy a cup of coffee from Startbucks, we are also helping farmers in Ethiopia earn a fair wage, that when we buy a pair of shoes from TOMS, we are also giving a pair to a poor child in need. When you think about it, it’s a significant shift in the way we think about charity. We’ve somehow made it possible to give in the midst of receiving. As charity continues to be embedded into the way we consume, it is becoming more of a supplement to our consumption rather than an isolated action itself. This has become the new default mode in which we give. It’s generosity with a tax receipt.
Just look at the commercials on TV. Whether it’s Ronald McDonald houses or BP’s investments in the gulf coast, it seems like companies advertise their charitable contributions to society more than the products or services they provide. The eco-friendly, social justice angle of business seems to sell, and these days, they’re not afraid to let their generosity be made known. It seems like “going green” and investing in communities have become a foundational pillar in how marketing is executed.
But whatever happened to giving in secret, not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing (Matt 6:3). It’s hard to find where the sacrifice in all of it is when we’re able to give and receive in one single motion.
More recently, the scriptures have been teaching me the simple truth of giving without expecting anything in return. It may sound obvious, but that’s a revolutionary idea in our culture today. It feels like some kind of string needs to be attached to our gift, a paper trail we leave in order for us to personally capitalize on our contribution.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind getting a tax receipt or buying a pair of TOMS, but it’s important to be aware of societies influence in the way we give. Pure sacrifice isn’t suppose to be convenient. Giving isn’t meant to suit our lifestyle or personal agenda. It usually sets us back, hurts our wallet or costs us something of value. In my opinion, it resembles the gift on the cross. It has no conditions, no expectation of a return in investment. It’s a loan too heavy to pay back, a favor too large to return. That, my friends, is the gospel’s renditon of charity.