Friday, September 17, 2004

Mailbox Theology

Long ago I went to Cedarville College (where? In Cedarville, Ohio, of course). It's a Christian liberal arts college university. We had lots of chapel services and students would get up and give testimonies. There were a few students of humble means who would get up and praise the Lord that just when they needed some money, they'd get an anonymous envelope containing just the amount of money they needed. It always gave me a warm fuzzy. And I usually felt a little tug to slip a fiver into an envelope. We joked about it in the dorm calling it "Mailbox Theology." By my senior year I got to wondering if these folks might be priming the pump. I chuckle to think that they probably were.

Don't get any ideas that I'm priming the pump. I've got too much stuff now. There are lots of greater needs out there.

There's trouble with telling other folks to give. Over the Labor Day weekend, I went to family camp at Camp Barakel "up north" in Fairview, Michigan. The speaker exhorted us to "give till it hurts." He's a good guy and I think highly of him. But walking back to the campsite I shared a thought with my wife: "I'd feel better if the people in the business of telling people to give more weren't those who so often receive."

I'm probably dumb to think that it's more effective to show people needs than to tell them to give. If Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker had shown their poor sweaty pooch, maybe folks wouldn't be grumpy after their money paid for an air-conditioned doghouse. (Don't take my word for it, google Bakker and air conditioned for yourself.)

Seeing needs and giving is problematical. If needs are remote, we don't know whether our money is well spent. If needs are close, we may know for sure our money will be misspent. You can't live other people's lives for them. In the old days they talked of "deserving" poor. You don't want to give a drunk money he'll spend on alcohol.

There's a thread in this ramble, and that's the need to be discerning about giving. You don't want to give to those who don't need it (like me) and to those who'll misspend it.

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