Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Gimme gimme gimme!!!!!

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.


HerMajesty00 said...

Perhaps the coach purse request is from a teenager. Every kid in their school has one but they do not..... I refused to buy my daughter stupid Hollister clothes but sure enough when I substitute taught in the middle school just about every girl DID wear Hollister clothes. One on sale (still overpriced shirt) made her feel a part of the school AND she was so grateful..... What if this 'purse wanter' is a foster kid?...

As for the gift card givers to homeless- Margo please tell everyone to do it. Not because we should dictate what a person should spend money on (one of the points after all of your blog posting!) but because an addict will not leave the street for shelter until there is no money left for alcohol or drugs. Each year some of our addict 'regulars' froze or succombed to the elements. NOT because they were bad people but because their addiction convinced them that money for food and shelter had to be spent on drugs. They only come in to a detox sometimes to get warm when all the money is gone.

Kristen said...

Or the Coach purse could even be a request from a parent who wants to give a nice gift to a child or someone else whom she wants to impress (like a boss) or a friend who wants one. Maybe a little misguided, but how can we know what's in that person's heart?

I really struggle with the judgment aspect of giving... In Kentucky, we could be fixing a leaky roof for a family wearing dirty clothes and without shoes, but they have a plasma tv, a satellite dish, and an ATV. Ultimately, it's not up to me to judge, and we don't know the full stories of people.

I hate to say that giving is good for me, regardless of what happens to the gift, because that's pretty selfish too. But once we've done our parts it's out of our hands, and we may never know if/how we played a role in God's plan.