Man oh Manischewitz it's Advent, time for giving and shopping and planning and whatnot. It's also giving time at the church. We put up over 1300 stars with gift requests on the walls of the church, from several different agencies. Most of them are for gift cards, many are for towels and underwear and kitchen utensils, and one agency asks for extra large jeans so their people can wear more than one pair at a time in order to keep warm on the street.
But every year, some people wish for expensive gifts. One star on the wall this year is a Coach purse. This has caused lots of discussion and disgust at the parish. This Christmas wisher is being described as greedy- and her star has been taken off the wall.
Another parishioner told me recently that she doesn't like to give gift certificates, because she is afraid that the receiver will just spend them all on cigarettes. I know people who keep McDonald's gift cards in their pockets for when they pass people begging on the street, so that they can know that person won't spend whatever cash they might have given them on alcohol.
All this has me thinking about the nature of giving. When we want to give to the poor, do we always have conditions? Why does it matter to us what someone spends money on?
I get it, I do- I would prefer any gift I give to improve the life of the person who receives it. I wouldn't want to give a person license to damage themselves. But is it supposed to be different? Am I supposed to give without expectations, without conditions?
And that Coach purse. I can totally see why this person is being called greedy. But the place where I get stuck is, I'm greedy too. The things I've asked for for Christmas, they're things I don't need, things that aren't noble. So here's the question that rings in my mind: why is it okay for me to be greedy, but not for this poor woman?
I can't afford to buy this person's Coach purse so I guess I don't have to be too conflicted about what to do in this case, but it surely makes me think about why we give and what we expect of each other.