mainestewards

November 29, 2014

Arm’s Length Generosity

Filed under: Children and Families,Social Gospel,Time and Talent,Uncategorized — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:56 pm

My latest inner journey began quite innocently. There was nothing particularly unusual about the Sunday morning: I settled into my pew, opened the bulletin, and began to sift through the various inserts that would shape a good portion of my calendar for the next few weeks. The announcements were things I already knew about, but a special green half-sheet offered something new, “Sign Up for Christmas Giving Opportunities.”

It’s been quite a while since we have been part of a congregation that had an active Angel Tree sort of ministry. This is going to be fun!

There were two invitations to choose from: We could provide gifts for a family in need through our relationship with one of the local food pantries, or we could provide gifts for children of incarcerated people as an extension of our parish jail ministry. Aside from some differences in the details, the guidelines were pretty standard for this sort of outreach…until it came to the delivery instructions:

Gifts are to be wrapped and returned to the church office by Wednesday, December 10th. Please put the recipient’s first name on the gift and use the Family # in place of the last name.

Pretty standard. I can do that.

Gifts are to be wrapped and delivered to the children’s families several days prior to Christmas. If you prefer not to deliver the gifts yourself, we can arrange delivery for you.

Are you kidding me?! My reaction was immediate and visceral: Not. gonna. happen.

I would love to be high-minded and claim that I was living into the tzedakah, the Jewish practice of generosity that places a higher value on situations in which the giver and the recipient are unknown to one another. But that’s not my truth this time.

I could also claim that it’s somehow more “Christmas-y” for the recipients to receive anonymous gifts. It’s a little more magical, and it preserves the recipients’ dignity. But, again, it’s not the truth.

No, it’s not the face of poverty that’s the problem here. It’s the face of generosity. The real reason that I recoil from the notion of personally delivering gifts to the homes of children whose parents are incarcerated is not because of their situation; it’s because of mine. Abundance is embarrassing. Admitting to my share in Lady Bountiful Syndrome is simply too big a risk, too raw a truth, too real in its disparity. I drop gifts off in the church office for the same reason that I buy neatly wrapped cuts of beef from the grocery store—it tidies up the reality.

Perhaps it would be appropriate, therefore, on this First Sunday in Advent, to make a New Liturgical Year’s Resolution: I am challenging myself to live openly as a generous person, in spirit and in practice. I will learn to put a face on loving my neighbor as myself, to stop hiding from the light of genuine engagement. Will I be ready to deliver the gifts myself next year? I don’t know. I can’t promise that. I can only promise that I will, somehow, be changed.

In the meantime, I’m off to buy “Jenny, Family #16” that sturdy lidded stock pot she’s wishing for.

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