Lent: Giving Out, not just Giving Up

Lent isn’t just for Catholics anymore. It seems like every year I hear even self-described nonreligious friends musing about what to give up for Lent. Check out the 100 top choices people made last year according to their Twitter feeds.  It’s an interesting mix, from the sarcastic (“virginity” or “Christianity”) to the sublime (“smoking” or “negativity”).

The point of today’s Ash Wednesday post is not to add yet another suggestion to this list. I figure if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably already considered what to give up this year. Instead I want to simply propose that Lent is not just about “giving up” but “giving out” too.  If you’re giving up Starbucks for Lent, why not calculate the amount you would have spent on your morning java and give that to the poor on Easter? If you’re giving up Facebook or Pinterest or ESPN.com, why not invest the time you would have spent surfing learning about poverty and injustice–and then give to the cause that most inspired you?

Best of all, why not supersize Lent by gathering a few friends together in order to “give up” and “give out” together? My favorite story of Lent-in-community remains my 8 friends  who one year “gave up” all drinks except tap water and creatively raised more than $40k to fund clean water wells in Haiti. This year they’re doing it again, except now they’re going for $100k!

My goals for Lent this year are more modest. Since we recently moved to a new city, we don’t yet have a small group of friends with whom we can grow in economic discipleship. Even though I blog and think and speak about this stuff all the time, I am not regularly gathering with anyone to support each other in living simply for the sake of giving generously. I’m in that stage of transition where I still don’t really have local friends I can go to a baseball game with, let alone talk about the challenging issues of living a just economic lifestyle. So this Lent, all I’m hoping for is to find a couple friends to form a Giving Group that meets 4 times a year.

If you’re doing any “giving out” this year, please comment! (And if you are doing a Lazarus at the Gate group, I’d especially love to hear about it.) I always find it very encouraging to hear what creative steps of faith groups of friends are taking. May you have a holy Ash Wednesday!

“Book Review” — Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!

This is a guest post by Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert), “reviewing” his latest non-Dilbert book.

When I was asked to write something funny but insightful about “economic discipleship,” “simple living,” and “just giving,” I thought you folks must be hurting pretty bad to ask an atheist cartoonist.  But luckily for you, my agent suggested I use it as an opportunity to promote my book.  Even better, I could write about those topics with a few applications of cut-and-paste, saving me the need to do any real work.

While browsing your site, I found “ideas for inexpensive weddings.”  I wish I had seen this before I got married.  More to the point, I wish my wife had.  Luckily I had stashed away a few acorns so I could afford this shindig.  Still, I felt some inner need to keep the budget under control without appearing cheap.  My strategy was to frame all wedding decisions in terms of how many African villagers could be saved from starvation with the equivalent amount of money.  For example:

FIANCEE: Do you think we should have a big cake or a little one?
SCOTT: Well, the difference seems to be … about twelve Rwandans.  It’s up to you, honey.

And speaking of wasting money on wedding stuff, I don’t get the concept of favors.  “Favor” is one of those great ironic names.  To my way of thinking, you’re not doing a guy a favor by giving him something he doesn’t want and can’t throw away.  That’s more like a penalty.  In fact, I could imagine exactly this sort of penalty for minor crimes.

JUDGE: You urinated in public.  Your sentence is that you must keep this functionless knickknack somewhere in your home for the rest of your life.
URINATOR: Noooooo!!!!

I see that your site is not only about saving money, but also the morality of giving money away.  Let me ask you folks a simple question: Who is holier — Mother Teresa or Bill Gates?  Let me being by pointing out that on Mother Teresa’s side of the ledger is her lifetime of spiritual inspiration and helping the poor.  Not too shabby.

On Bill Gates’s side, we have his targeted philanthropy — for vaccines and whatnot — that will probably end up saving the lives of 100 million people.  And he has already convinced his good friend Warren Buffet, and perhaps others, to do similar things with their own fortunes.  So let’s add another 100 million people saved by Bill Gates’s secondary effects.  You could talk me down to an estimate of 10 million eventual saved lives, but still, it’s a big number.

If you can answer the above question, then we can move onto who would win in a fight between Santa and Jesus.  I won’t tell you my favorite answer, but it’s in my book (p. 61).

Finally, let me ask you: What Would Trump Do?  If my religion were based on the teachings of Donald Trump, I would try to make a lot of money and keep it all.  And I’d feel good about it because I was being true to my beliefs.  I’d hate to go through life feeling like a hypocrite.  Nonbelievers have it good, too.  They can keep their money or give it away — whatever feels right.

Things get trickier when you base your religion on a nice fellow who wants you to give most of your money to the poor.  How do you justify buying a third television set when people in New Orleans are living in rolled-up carpets?  That’s not a rhetorical question.  I actually wonder about the answer.  Here are some of my best guesses about your rationalization:

  • Jesus likes me better than poor people.  He’d approve of my second iPod.
  • If I give a poor person a fish, he’d only eat for a day anyway.  What’s one day?
  • I give 10 percent of my money to charity.  God says that’s exactly the right amount.  Eleven percent would anger God.
  • Poor people are lazy or crazy.  My money won’t fix that.
  • There’s a loophole in the Bible that says I can keep my money.  Woo-hoo!
  • I am bad at economics and I am convinced that keeping my money stimulates the economy and helps poor people indirectly.

Am I missing any reasons?

I hope this has interested you in buying the book — it’s chock-full of these annoying but entertaining questions and anecdotes, as well as teaching you how to live on less than $1000/day while saving the world from economic injustice.  Please order it from Amazon using this affiliate link, which as I understand pays a nice kickback to this site’s editors:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002FL5ICC/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0YE1PHY1HJNHG9FKMVQX&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938631&pf_rd_i=507846

Sad but True

I encountered this in a blog recently, and first it made me laugh at how I do whine about relatively insignificant things, like how drivers pull in right front of me and drive really slow. Then it made me feel bad in a good way about how much more I still need to grow in my commitment to practical concern about the much greater suffering of others.  What’s your reaction?

Debt

We recognize that debt is an extremely important issue.

In fact, if someone is deep in credit card debt, we feel that it is better to do whatever it takes to pay it off as quickly as possible, even if that means postponing significant giving. In the long run, you’ll not only be more financially secure, but you’ll be able to free up more to give. Most Christian financial stewardship ministries do a great job of providing resources on budgeting and debt, which is why we don’t reproduce that info on this blog.

But there are drastically fewer voices empowering the church to invest in biblical justice for the poor, so we keep our focus and passion there. In the meantime, here’s just this one bit of profound wisdom on avoiding debt: