We like big.
Big jobs paying big money, big shops with big choice and big charities helping large amounts of people. It’s the same with our food, journalism and altruism. We like it large-scale, efficient and reliable.
But what does this mean for the way we help people? It often means we outsource our do-gooding. We open soup kitchens, big hostels and training centres. We love to love people effectively, the kind of love that you can put on a spreadsheet and use to apply for council funding the following year.
This can be fantastic, life-changing and engaging, but the mistake comes when we paint this capitalist altruism as the only way. When we say, ‘you want to bring good news to the poor? To bind up the broken hearted?’ Then what you’ll need to do is set up a Just Giving page and run to Lands’End. Leave the gritty stuff to the professionals.
The culture of the professional do-gooder is disempowering to the individual wanting to lace their ‘do-gooding’ through the fabric of their life.
I live in a community house. We got together because, a year ago, a few of us shared at an open-mic night for dreams and visions that we wanted to look a bit more like the early Church. We share rooms and possessions. We have an open door and run a micro-hostel from our spare room. We aim to create a make-shift family for the poorly, run-down and homeless. Mostly, just one at a time. Around our lives and jobs. As best we can.
It often doesn’t look like a council-funded success story. It looks inefficient, messy, costly and inconvenient. I spend around 30 per cent of my waking time washing up (and two per cent complaining about washing up) and my bedroom door has a lock.
In the last months I’ve given a ukulele lesson to two homeless friends, conducted a funeral for a magpie we co-parented with a guest and twice been the object of police contact. Last week I cried my eyes out at the baptism of our current guest and this morning found the route to the washing powder blocked by an anonymous foodbank donation.
We get it wrong more times than I can tell you. I’ve learnt more about my flaws this year than my strengths, but it’s beautiful.
And I’ve just had to scratch the surface to find that we are no pioneers. The Church network is chock full of messy people giving their lives to the gospel’s cause of love.
I’ve learnt that when we make our love-giving clean, efficient and large-scale we can easily miss the point; that we are called to be sacrificial and our care-giving is supposed to be risky.
What people need, more often than not, cannot be provided wholesale. It’s being known, accepted and being believed in. It’s family.
Luckily, that’s what we, in the Church, have buckets of.