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For some time now I have been wondering if philanthropy is one of those words that has either lost its traditional definition (love of mankind) or never should have been used to describe giving in the first place.
In fact, I wonder if our use of "love of mankind" actually is possible or even desirable. Yes, there are numerous examples where giving springs from sincere feelings about the poor or a genuine desire to alleviate suffering, spread the Gospel, deliver health care, rescue young girls and boys from the bondage of trafficking and restore dignity to people. No doubt these are good things - but are they really philanthropy? Are they charity? Are those actually two different things? C.S. Lewis would say they are.
In "The Four Loves,”C.S. Lewis defines the root word "phileo" as a particular kind of love. It happens when "two or more companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one."
Friends (those who experience phileo love) are absorbed in an interest outside themselves. It is not so much love of the other person (and certainly not mankind in general) but a love of something they share in common.
That is why I believe we have lost the true meaning of what we call philanthropy. We have been caught up in a love that is not phileo at all. It is something else entirely. For some, it is "love of solutions" or "love of fixing intractable problems" or even "love of feeling love" but it is not true phileo. There is little sense of being companions and sharing a common interest.
At the same time, we have distorted the meaning of charity (agape) from its original divine "loving the unlovable" to a mere feeling that resembles a dole or something done to relieve us of our own discomfort. Unfortunately, like phileo, charity has become something it is not. It now too often describes purely emotional and ineffective giving with little regard for what happens. It is more like pity than love. It is considered by some the least reflective and even potentially harmful.
To the contrary, true charity is the highest form of giving because it is selfless and most reflects the nature of God. Charity is the only form of love that is supernatural and can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Charity is the love that we cannot create - no matter how hard we try. It is the cement that holds the Church together, and it is why Christ left us with just this command: "Love one another as I have loved you." It is the love that lays down its life for a brother; the love that seeks the good of the other person over its own; and the love that is the first fruit of the spirit and the last to remain when all else has passed away.
Of all the loves described by Lewis, it is the only one we cannot produce on our own. That is why I believe we should recapture the Christian heart of giving - charity - in what we do.
Maybe we can leave "love of solutions" to others and restore the true meaning of friendship and charity in our giving. The world has far more resources than the Christian community for today's philanthropy. Only the Christians have charity - agape - because it is supernatural and unique. It is fine to become more disciplined in our giving but we should not do it at the expense of our one distinctive - charity.Comments
I have long held that that whereas dogs teach us about the nature of God, cats teach us about the nature of evil.
You may surmise from that opinion that I am a born cat-hater. You would be correct.
However, 12 years ago God, in His infinite humor, decided that I must become a cat-lover.
Not of all cats, just one. So far, that seems to be as many as the Lord feels I can handle. Said cat is named Lickity-Split (as will be explained presently).
Twelve years ago I was out for a pre-dawn walk. A tiny black kitten began following me. I turned and shooed it away. I went on. She continued to follow. We played this game for 100 yards or more. At which point I told her, “Fine, go ahead and get lost. I don’t care!”
Fifteen minutes and half as many blocks later she was still following. So now I was thrust into that situation everyone hates, the one where life suddenly confronts you with the Philanthropical Imperative: “Okay, Bill, here’s a need. What are you going to do about it?”
Disgusted, I picked up the animal and carried it home.
My daughters put up signs for blocks and blocks around our house (I made sure of that). No one claimed the kitten. Imagine that!
Knowing in my heart I was doing the wrong thing, I fed the kitten.
Which is how I learned my first lesson in philanthropy: whatever you feed (or otherwise resource) will stick around.
Lickity has outlasted three daughters, three dogs, and two other cats. Today, while my wife. Lynn. and I inhabit an otherwise empty nest, Lickity remains right at home. Safe. Secure. Happily fed. She’s definitely part of the family.
That’s NOT how philanthropy is supposed to be! (On this point, see Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton on how good intentions so often create dependency rather than dignity and self-sufficiency).
The other lesson has to do with Lickity’s name.
After she arrived, we always wondered why the tip of her tail was perennially wet. We never could figure it out. Then one day I found her curled up on my daughter’s bed—and I heard a sucking sound.
Yes, the kitten was sucking her tail! Just like a baby sucks its thumb.
Great! Turns out the kitten had/has abandonment issues, so the vet said. Sucking her tail is her way of comforting, calming and reassuring herself. For that reason, we named her Lickity-Split (she’s also very fast).
For 12 years I have observed this odd licking behavior. My theological conclusion: to every creature God has given something by way of natural provision for what it needs. Something no one else can or should provide.
When Lickity lost her mother, she lost three things: protection, food, and a mother’s touch. God sent her my way to supply the first two. God gave her a tail to make up for the last one.
When it comes to human beings, God’s provision always involves their giftedness—their unique core strengths and motivation. Every person, no matter how compromised, has their own unique giftedness. Every community, no matter how impoverished, has a collection people who each bear unbelievably potent gifts.
So if I want to give people and communities dignity and self-sufficiency, my job is to help them discover, celebrate, and use their individual and collective giftedness.
I suppose there is a third lesson about philanthropy (or in my case, “felinthropy”) I have learned through Lickity: be careful about where and to whom you give, because you’re liable to fall in love with the recipient of your generosity.
I never saw that coming. Me being a lifelong, card-carrying cat-hater, I could just as easily have kicked the little black kitten away that morning and been done with it. Instead, I made the mistake of showing it a little kindness. That’s all she needed. Slowly but surely, Lickity wormed her way into my affections, such that now I’m starting to wonder how I’ll ever manage when the day inevitably comes that the Lord calls her to her reward. I know I will feel an enormous loss.
C.S. Lewis was right: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal” (italics added).
Bill Hendricks is President of The Giftedness Center in Dallas, Texas. You can read more about him and by him at his blog,BillHendricks.net.Comments
It's not often I ask someone to pray for me before going into a museum or library. But this past week I did ask that of my brother-in-law because going into the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., was a test of my skeptical nature.
Growing up in the middle of the post-WWII evangelical culture, I was exposed to some of the giants of that era: Bill Bright, Elton Trueblood, Billy Graham, Ray Stedman and others. They were men and women of great faith and vision living in a time of extraordinary expansion of the parachurch movement, seminaries, megachurches and global ministries. Sadly, many of us carried along in that stream were all too familiar with the dark side of the leaders and their organizations. Continent-size egos; the corrupting influences of wealth, power and acclaim; and the inevitable accumulation of an admiring bureaucracy took much of the gleam off.
Today we call those who are disappointed with organized religion the "nones.”We were simply disillusioned and cynical. Too young to have any genuine perspective, we saw up close and clearly the soft, white underbelly of American evangelicalism - and we left. Some of us returned to our roots and discovered what T.S. Eliot said is true: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
So, I prayed I would be kind as we walked in the front door of the Billy Graham Library. I knew the now infamous talking and singing cow that greets every visitor at the beginning of the tour was going to be difficult to ignore - and it was. Franklin Graham's explanation that it will teach children what he sees as the central message of his father's life: that God can do mighty works with anyone who submits to him, even a poor farm boy, is a stretch.
However, once past that, the Library is neither the shrine I expected nor the $27-million monument to an individual who was so often reported along with stories of discord and rifts within the Graham family. Yes, Billy Graham's response after his first tour was "Too much Billy Graham," and maybe he's right. However, the team of designers and curators has, with only a few exceptions, managed to create an experience that honors his ministry without manufacturing a myth.
Yes, there are areas of his life and ministry that have been glossed and buffed, but it is hard to imagine anyone being put off by what is so obvious: Billy Graham has been a man of extraordinary integrity, faith, commitment, innovative energy and humility. His own professed and public self-doubts have distinguished him from many of the overly confident and driven leaders so anxious to accumulate followers and fame.
As a seminary student at Harvard Divinity in 1975, I wrote a paper on the faith development of Billy Graham. My professor and fellow students saw him as part of a larger religious sideshow. In fact, when it was proposed that Graham come and speak to the student body, he was voted down loudly. No one wanted someone of such questionable theological sophistication on the campus.
Two decades later, Billy Graham was invited to speak at the chapel of the Kennedy School of Government, and what follows is part of the introduction given by the campus chaplain, Peter Gomes:
"I invited the Reverend Graham to preach because he was an outstanding spokesman for the Christian faith, and I wanted to give him the chance to be heard more widely, and especially at Harvard University," said Gomes.
Gomes said that in the past two decades Graham's stature had risen, and he was thrilled that the invitation to speak next month was accepted."This is an occasion of recognition and honor to one of the great figures of the 20th century."
I encourage you to visit the Library and witness not a memorial or shrine but a testament to a life of integrity, honesty and calling.Comments
Our guest blogger this week is Ben Smilowitz. In his first year of law school, Ben saw the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and realized a need existed for someone to demand public accountability and provide an open line for survivors, emergency workers and volunteers to report gaps during disasters...so he started the Disaster Accountability Project. DAP has become the leading nonprofit that provides long-term independent oversight of disaster management systems.
His perspective is valuable, and The Gathering wants to share his thoughts with you.
The recent natural and man-made disasters in Boston, Texas, the upper-Midwest, China, Iran/Pakistan, and Bangladesh underscore the importance of disaster planning. Although costly, effective and speedy responses and well-planned recoveries can make the difference in saving lives, alleviating suffering, and reviving communities.
Community foundations in and around disaster-impacted areas are uniquely positioned to convene regional stakeholders and serve as magnets for the typical post-disaster flood of donations. Within a day of the Boston bombing and Texas explosion, The Boston Foundation and Waco Foundation launched or joined fundraising efforts that quickly became the main fundraising hubs for each disaster. This fundraising model helps ensure relief and recovery is locally controlled and fosters community participation. Those administering and overseeing these local funds are more likely to have the first-hand information needed to determine which efforts deserve funding, reducing wasteful duplications and dangerous service gaps.
Contingency plans are useful in situations where a local foundation is temporarily knocked off-line by power outages or staff shortages. Sister/brother relationships between foundations in different geographic regions are one way to ensure continuity. After Hurricane Katrina, a group of foundation executives parachuted into Louisiana to create the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation (now Foundation for Louisiana) as a local receiver and disburser of funds. The inclusion of survivors and community members as directors or advisory members of these local funds can increase local buy-in and public trust.
Similarly, in the context of international disasters, locally controlled responses are much faster and more efficient and effective than those originating overseas. We know time is of essence, and we may only have 72 hours to find survivors under rubble after an earthquake. Hundreds of thousands, or even millions, can become homeless overnight and need shelter, food/water, and healthcare. Should we invest in shipping shelters across time zones or instead support local civil society organizations that have the capacity to provide services in a neighboring community?
Disasters can be horribly disempowering: Loss of life, homes, and jobs; debilitating injuries; and devastated communities. Empowering survivors to make post-disaster decisions is integral to a successful recovery. In fact, a local response/recovery is the best way to ensure help is demand-based and avoids many of the logistical headaches when so many well-intentioned relief supplies are unneeded or duplicative. Furthermore, investing in the civil society of disaster-stricken communities increases the likelihood that recovery will include aspects of mitigation and disaster risk reduction to prepare for future events.
Unfortunately, the Boston and Waco examples are not the norm and current post-disaster fundraising trends unintentionally empower the decision-making and priorities of organizations based thousands of miles from most disasters, over those of the directly impacted. Donors offer few incentives for relief groups to be more transparent and accountable, as most aid organizations know that their Charity Navigator and Guidestar ratings are based on their tax compliance instead of the effectiveness and efficiency of their real-time efforts in particular disaster zones. We all know disasters are more nuanced than looking good on paper.
Disasters have become feeding frenzies for thousands of relief organizations large and small, respected and newly formed. With heart-wrenching pictures on their websites, groups solicit funds regardless of their current position to deliver services in affected areas. Potential donors consistently lack sufficient data to make informed decisions about where to direct resources and differentiate between organizations that are re-granting, focused only on recovery, and those with long-standing relationships and many “boots on the ground” in the disaster zone.
I started Disaster Accountability Project to change this disaster fundraising paradigm. We can maximize the impact of disaster relief by incentivizing transparency and creating donor demand for better real-time information. Our SmartResponse.org is collecting pre and post-disaster data on the capacity and activities of civil society and other organizations in disaster vulnerable areas so the public can have immediate data about which organizations (both local and international) are on the ground and have ability to deliver services. While it is important to generously support direct aid, it is also critical to support dedicated oversight to ensure aid is working.
Feel free to email Ben at Ben@disasteraccountability.org.
Early on in the life of The Gathering I had a conversation with Anne. We had never met but she wanted to know more about the mission of The Gathering. When I told her we were hoping to be a “bridge” between donors and what they needed to make good decisions she smiled and said, “Well, aren’t you the good little social worker? You really need to be needed, don’t you?” She then drew a graphic I will never forget. Two lines down the middle of the page represented a river. On one side was The Gathering and on the other side she drew a blank circle with a question mark. “Instead of building a bridge you should build something on the other side of the river that will be so compelling, interesting and useful that people will figure out a way to get there without the ease of a bridge. They will tunnel under, dam up the river and walk across, use a helicopter, throw a cable or swim. They will get across because they are determined to get to what they want and value. Otherwise, you will be focused on your own need to be a “bridge” and that is not only unhealthy for you but you will attract people who need bridges.”
I realized then the wealthy and donors are surrounded by people wanting to build bridges for them and to solve problems. They want to serve them by relieving them of the stress of doing it themselves. It is everything from shaping the values of their children to doing the due diligence for their giving. There are organizations and services clamoring to be a bridge to make it easy to get to the “other side”. I knew The Gathering was not going to be that. We could not be just another organization or ministry meeting a need and making things easier. We were going to build something that would be of such value that people would find a way to get there to be with others who had done the same. It would not be for everyone.
I’ve never forgotten her challenge and now when I meet with people wanting to be a bridge for donors I ask them the same. “Do you want them to become dependent on you and your need to be needed or do you want to see them figure out a way to get there themselves – at the risk of not needing you?”
It’s a good question for us a donors as well. Are we creating a whole network of bridge builders in our lives to make things easier or are we learning how to get across the river and grow?Comments