Charity, Part 2

Peter Buffet, son of Warren, wrote a memorable article about philanthropy, which I’m attaching. But for those who won’t read it, I’ll give a few quotes:

“Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.”

“Micro-lending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?”

“What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it.”

The philanthropists to whom Mr. Buffet refers attempt to tackle the problem of poverty. The mindset he attributes to these good folks holds that well-being consists of making more money, so the poor can meet their practical needs, and the rich can live at least comfortably and also practice charity.

Dallas Willard, the late USC philosophy professor, wrote some enlightened and enlightening books. Still, in Spirit of the Disciplines he proved that even the wisest can be can be dead wrong. He addresses and advocates these spiritual disciplines: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice, study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission, solitude, fasting.

While other wise Christians contend that poverty should be considered among valuable spiritual disciplines, Willard dismisses the discipline of poverty in derisive manner, suggesting that that people in the church should reconsider the praise and admiration they lavish on those who live in intentional poverty.

I have to wonder what church he was referring to. In about twenty years of church attendance, I haven’t known of anyone praising anyone for choosing poverty. But I’ve heard plenty of praise for people who choose wealth and then pass some along.

My friend Olga, who held two college degrees and could’ve drawn a professional salary, chose to live by cleaning houses, two or three days a week, so that she could devote herself to prayer, worship, writing poetry and helping friends in need. Another friend, Diane, a lay sister with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, took a vow of poverty, chastity, obedience and wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor, the same vow all MCs take. Only for the lay members, chastity doesn’t preclude marriage, nor does poverty mean they should give away everything. Rather they should minimize their needs, so that they can offer wholehearted and free service. Like Olga did. Like Christ did.

Again I wonder. Could it be that serving others is more vital than giving to them or enabling them to earn more. Maybe loving human contact is the most precious commodity of all.

I won’t suggest that devoting ourselves to serving people is the cure for poverty. But perhaps we might consider opting out of the mindset that earning and spending (even though our spending may be philanthropy) should be framework in which we live and move and have our being.



One Comment

  1. Thanks for this insight. Recently, I have been considering what it would look like to live simply. Small example: Could I do without my personal internet and rely on coffee shop and library connections? The search for peace and solitude, and a meaningful connection to like-minded writers with a passion to express Christ’s love is burning a hole in my soul. At the same time, I am striving to be content with my life such as it is.