By Kendra Langdon Juskus
Flourish magazine, Fall 2010
Giving is en vogue. And deceptively easy.
Actually, it’s as easy as swiping a credit card. Lately it seems that every purchase we make is advertized as a purchase for good: We’re encouraged to “think pink,” and shop accordingly, to contribute to breast cancer research. If we buy clothes from the GAP’s (PRODUCT) RED line, 50% of what we pay goes to community health initiatives in Africa. Buying Project 7-branded bottled water or gum might help plant a tree or provide counseling to victims of violence.
But is true generosity—not just the gesture, but the virtue—easy?
Giving without getting
Jesus tells his disciples, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back” (Luke 6:30). In that same passage in Luke, Jesus says, “If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic…and lend to [your enemies] without expecting to get anything back” (6:29b, 35a).
That’s not so easy. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to give without getting something in return, especially if we think we deserve recompense. But corporations and marketing managers have lured us into expecting something of our giving. We give when we get! Plus, it turns out that wrapping some charity into your product boosts sales. Genius.
Sometimes it’s easy and it feels good to give abundantly, but sometimes it’s hard. And that’s OK. It’s called sacrifice, and it mirrors what we remember at Christmas—the sacrifice of Christ, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7).
Is more stuff the answer?
What charity-through-consumption doesn’t factor in, besides the development of a spirit of authentic—and sometimes difficult—generosity, is the promotion of consumerism, the perpetuation of unjust working conditions for struggling people all over the world, and the production of more things to clutter our lives and environment.
In the United States, we make an average of 4 ½ pounds of garbage per person per day, all of which goes into over 3,000 active landfills around the country—landfills that leach and emit toxins that threaten humans, wildlife, and ecological systems. When we buy any item, even something with a philanthropic cause, its packaging, and eventually the item itself, gets tossed into this waste stream.
The problem worsens during the winter holidays, of course, when Americans load landfills with 4 million tons of garbage in the form of wrapping paper and shopping bags.
What generosity can look like in the twenty-first century
One of the many things Jesus offers is an alternative way of living in a world that desecrates its physical surroundings and human lives. Where the world asks us to take, Jesus asks us to give.
Fortunately, opportunities for practicing true generosity abound. Here are some ways to give to those you know with love and creativity, and to give to those you don’t know with a heart that expects nothing in return:
An initiative that encourages the church to “Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All,” the Advent Conspiracy asks, “What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?” It aims to make that happen by encouraging Christians to buy just one gift less than usual in order to donate money to clean water well-drilling projects around the world. Watch the Advent Conspiracy video to the right to learn more.
Hand- and Heart-Made Gifts
Put your heads and hands together to create gifts with your own ingenuity. The Body of Christ has many skills to share. Some gift ideas that meet frugality and need:
- Gather in knitting or crocheting groups to make scarves and hats for homeless shelters to have on hand
- Apprentice with others to build furniture for families in your church or town who need a new dresser or desk
- Mow lawns, help with housework, or shovel snow for folks without the physical strength to do so on their own
- Bake a hearty meal for a busy family.
- Find ideas (and instructions) for creative gifts on this family craft site, Instructables, and through the Canadian Buy Nothing Christmas initiative.
Instead of buying gifts that will stack up in already-crowded closets and play rooms, participate in a kind of gift-giving that will provide resources to families and communities in need of some help to flourish. The following are some reputable organizations that you can donate to, often in the name of a loved one:
- Heifer International – “Just one goat can change the world!”
- ECHO – Give everything from seeds to knowledge.
- Gift Card Giver – Donate those nagging few bucks on your Christmas gift cards to someone who could actually use them.
- Compassion International – From mosquito nets to major surgery.
- Charity: Water and Living Water International – Put clean water on your wish list.
- Help renew deforested regions through Plant With Purpose and Care of Creation.
When You Still Have to Shop…
Buy Fair Trade, local, or organic items if you’re going to give store-bought gifts. It’s sometimes more expensive to buy goods in these categories, but that’s for a good reason: it means the artisans and farmers who have created those products are being paid decent wages and working in fair labor conditions. The money you pay will not only compensate producers appropriately, but it will also contribute to the flourishing of their communities and local environments. Check to make sure the Fair Trade items you purchase are approved by TransFair USA or the Fair Trade Federation and your organics are really organic.
Good places to start with these kinds of gifts:
- Ten Thousand Villages – A trusted source of fair trade handicrafts since 1946.
- Alternative Gifts International – A clearinghouse of organizations and projects to give to or buy from.
- Global Exchange – An online source for fair trade goods.
- SERRV – Artisanal and edible gifts from farmers and craftspeople around the world.
- Freeset – Eco-friendly, fair trade bags made by women in the largest, most infamous sex trade district in Kolkata, India.
- Hand & Cloth – Provide the opportunity for women at risk of sex trafficking to gain education and employment by purchasing a beautiful quilt recycled from old saris.
- Amani Ya Juu – African women receive the ministry of reconciliation while crafting quality handbags and jewelry together.
Kendra Langdon Juskus is a writer and editor and the managing editor of Flourish magazine. She lives with her husband in Illinois.