One of the reasons I know I’m doing ok at community is that I’m still hurting people. I know it’s a strange comment and a strange metric or gauge, but it’s true. Now it is true that we as people can learn and grow to be embarrassed less, less self-focused, less pride-intensive, less offended, but we are all at different points in our lives. And usually with proximity and vulnerability comes the ability to hurt and offend. To this day, like my friend Shane Claiborne says, I have never been able to live in community without offending and hurting people. I have yet to outgrow that.
And so I have had new people lately angry or upset or offended with me. One friend, a beautiful geneticist, was upset that I was telling her that I like people more than they like me (including her) and always end up bothering them more than they want to do things. :-) I told her about all the times she wasn’t able to do things that we planned to do, or at least we hadn’t been able to do it yet. This bothered her, but before we could ever talk about it, she forgave me (and I apologized first--though unconditional forgiveness can pave the way for the conditions “required” for the gift of “conditional” forgiveness in the first place [figure that one out!]).
I had another friend with whom I was car pooling get upset with me because I was in an emotional hurry to meet up with family members. But my friend wasn’t comfortable traveling without stopping for directions. In an effort to calm her, I said “That’s fine. We’ll do what feels good for you. You decide. Yes we can stop for a map.” But I think she wanted more reassurance or more words because she got upset when after the 2nd stop we didn’t find a map, and I thought that meant we would go to the airport. I wanted to drive on to the airport to see my family. She said these words, “I feel like sometimes you don’t hear me. . .” What was strange about her being offended that I wanted to try to get to the airport, even though I was willing to wait and stop for a map twice and stop again for a map after not finding it twice, is this: my friend has never said I don’t hear her ever before. To my knowledge it was the first time that she has felt this way, and yet she said “sometimes.” This is either true and I offender her a lot, or she used the wrong words. I’m not sure which as we’re not around each other that much. I wasn’t able to get to my family in time more so due to leaving late, but I think offending a friend would be a small price to pay to see family from Nigeria whom you’ve never met before they fly back to Nigeria.
There are other stories, but I won't bore you with details. I will tell you that in one interesting situation my friend John said that money could be used on charity not on friends or people who were ok (I was using it on friends at the time). I thought the comment (though not his ultimate motivation) was well-intentioned and heading in the right direction. We do want to help those without. What the statement highlighted was the misguided way in which we give. It’s the usual recipe. The rich give to the poor through a website or a program or an organization and the rich go home feeling good about themselves for having given, and the poor go away feeing good because they received what they wanted or needed. This is not true giving. There’s no face to it. There’s no sacrifice of time, and there’s no relationship. Relational giving is the highest form of giving. Well, if not the highest, it’s the most natural. Time wouldn’t be so expensive if people didn’t value it so, but they do. It’s easier to give money then to give time. It takes time to build a relationship, time to rebuild trust, time to create trust in the first place, time to hope, time to love, time to make peace (as opposed to keeping peace). You could never say to a family member or spouse, “I don’t have time to be with you but here’s money to handle all your needs.” One reason is that food, shelter, clothing, and housing are not are only needs. People say sex is a need, but it’s not really. Love is. Relationship is. The way we were created we will seek it out wherever we can get it or find it, whether from a family, from a baby (at whatever age), from a dangerous gang, from a teacher, from an abusive spouse, wherever. There’s something about experiences that is not complete until the enjoyment of the experience is expressed to someone.
It’s like the Rollins story of the guy who ended up shipwrecked on a deserted island with Beyonce (you can insert any highly attractive famous person to any cultural group). Day after day, as they realized there was no one that would ever rescue them, the man began to nag Beyonce trying to convince her to be with him romantically. Beyonce always resisted his advances; she just wasn’t interested. But he kept bugging and bothering and pleading. One day when Beyonce realized that they would never be rescued she said “All right. I’ll give you one night.” So they spent the night together. In the morning, he was so excited and elated that he told Beyonce “Do you mean putting on this hat and t-shirt and mustache?” Beyonce said “What?” “Yes, will just put on this hat and t-shirt and moustache, please? It won’t be long. I just need to run down to the beach and I’ll be back.” It didn’t make sense to her, but she figured “Ok, whatever, I’ll do what he says.” So she put it on. The moment she put it on, he ran down to the beach’s shore and, as if he had just exited a boat, started running to Beyonce whom he recognized. When he reached her he said “Hey, Charles! It’s so good to see you. You will NEVER believe who I spent the night with last night?. . . .”
In all of the rambling and in all of my living, I’ve realized the really poor people are not those without money but those without relationships. When counseling the homeless (we all need it) I’ve realized that if I were in the situation, I wouldn’t be poor because I had relationships in which I would be taken care. I would quickly have a place to live, even if at least temporary. I would quickly get food in my tummy. And I would soon enough get a job again, even if part-time through a friend. In other words, poverty is not the lack of things such as food, shelter/housing, clothing, employment, water, etc. Poverty is the lack or relationships through which those things are naturally given and covered. Poverty is the lack of friendships. Check out this video which I’ve shown before from a Brazilian brother who seems to have come to this same conclusion that I saw in my work in South Africa.
Definition of Poverty
So the redistribution of wealth is something that we naturally experience in relationship and family. I don’t think we were meant to provide for physical provision without nourishing and nurturing the soul and spirit in relationship. I realize there are many types of families, so I’m speaking from a Christ-exemplified model. In a family, a person buys food and anyone eats; you go and buy provisions for the household and you do not ask for money back from those around you. But these people are not your family? I hear this often. Actually one thing I love about Jesus is that he expanded the definition of neighbor and brother. Everyone is your brother even your enemy, the person you would least expect it.
I don’t want to push the topic too much, but the best place to give is in relationship and in a way that costs you something. So though my friend is right that we should give to charity (I’m assuming this means people who are without provisions), this should be done by developing relationships with the poor. And in the same way that I give to my family and friends in relationship both with time and money, I give to my family and friends who are poor in relationship. And in families, no one keeps count, no record is kept. We live in love.