Today is Super Bowl Sunday.
In his blog this morning, Seth Godin, entrepreneur and marketing guru, describes the Super Bowl as one of those tribal events we all do together to prove we are in sync. So, in an effort to support the tribe I will watch the game later today. And in the interest of complete transparency, I will be rooting for Payton Manning more than a particular team. But that is not the Super Bowl I want to talk with you about this morning. The Souper Bowl I want to talk about is the one our middle school youth will be asking you to support in a few moments.
Your dollar or ten dollars or twenty dollars added to a soup pot.
Then delivered to the Westchester Food Bank.
Then used to purchase $4.00 worth of food for every dollar we add to the pot.
Then, returned to places like the MK Interfaith Food Pantry or the No. Westchester Community Center where the food is shared with neighbors who rely on the supplemental food they receive to feed themselves and their families.
Pretty simple, right?
Easy to do.
And, a great lesson and learning experience for our youth.
In responding to those in need, this congregation…
All of you…
All of us together…
Have been amazingly generous in more ways than I can count.
If it wasn’t for your concern and your compassion quite literally…
Neighbors would have gone and would go hungry. Instead of having a safe place to stay, others would be forced to risk their lives by sleeping outside. And, families would not be in the homes in which they now safely live.
But, alongside that I want to put this.
In the last couple of weeks I have been a part of a conversation sparked by the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It. The book was written by Robert Lupton, the Executive Director of a community development organization that works in the impoverished communities around Atlanta. The critique Lupton offers, particularly of churches, is this:
“Doing for rather than doing with those in need is the norm. Add to that the combination of patronizing pity and unintended superiority, and charity becomes toxic.”
Doing for rather than doing with is the norm.
While I think much of what we do as a congregation moves in the direction of doing with, Lupton’s critique is an important reminder. For too many years the focus of mission for churches was pity more than partnership. Helping those poor people over there wherever that happened to be, but making sure our helping kept us a safe distance away. Even today the language we use and which we probably need to rethink and to change, uses the word mission which is a carryover from the past and from a patronizing attitude which we are being called to move beyond.
As a counter-balance to what Lupton sees and experiences in the work he does, he offers this which he calls The Oath for Compassionate Service.
- Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
- Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
- Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
- Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said – unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
- Above all, do no harm.
These are all helpful reminders as we try to figure out what it means and what our responsibility is and how to take Jesus seriously when he says, “Whatever you do for one of the least of these you do it to me.”
As you may know, I am trying to learn Spanish.
I am not very good yet, and it is taking me a very long time.
But I keep plugging away at it poco a poco. Little by little.
But, as I learn Spanish, I also learn something about English.
And something about myself.
Two Spanish words are helpful as we think about Souper Bowl Sunday and what all this means for us. I found myself thinking about the difference in these two words as we begin to get ready for our service learning trips to Nicaragua in two weeks.
The first word is ayudar – to help.
When faced with a need – hunger, housing, poverty, education, a friend or family member facing a difficult situation – our first instinct is to want to help.
But when we go to Nicaragua to build homes with and for families, the Nicaraguans don’t use the word ayudar. Instead, they use the word apoyar – to support. They understand and they want us to understand that we are not there just to help, but we are there to support them in their efforts to improve their own lives and to improve their communities.
We can learn from their insight.
Whether we are building homes in Nicaragua or putting our dollars into a soup pot.
It is support more than help.
It is partnership more than pity.
It is beginning to understand that whoever we are and however we are and whatever country we live in or came from or how much money we have or don’t have, we are all in this together.
So, by all means…
This morning if you are able or so inclined…
Add your dollars to mine because today is Souper Bowl Sunday.
And, yes our dollars will help because we have neighbors who are hungry.
But with each dollar we put in the pot, let us do so in partnership and not just pity.
To support and not just to help.