Yesterday, on the bus I read in the Metro that a man had died while doing a charity trek in Greenland, a few weeks earlier I read a similar story of a woman who died during a Channel swim, in both cases who can't help but feel sympathetic that two people have died while trying to raise money for charity?
But, at the same time, these stories helped confirm an idea that has been rolling around my head for a while now. The way giving happens in the Western world is a graceless affair and is instead based on personal work.
We've all been at the end of a friend's sponsorship request. They are going to do something particularly hard (or stupid) and in return we give them money that will go to charity. The end result of this is good - money going to charity. But the method is really strange if given a moment's thought.
Let's imagine for a moment that someone was to write an honest sponsorship blurb:
"Hello friends, I am hoping to raise money for a Donkey Sanctuary by performing the heroic act of Slaying a Dragon (or Insert Appropriate Act Here). Aren't you just so impressed with my bravery, courage, dedication and willingness to suffer pain for a good cause? In short: aren't I totally awesome? I'm going to prove how totally awesome I am as a human being by Slaying this Dragon. I would like you to give money to support my cause. But I'm not basing my request on the worthiness of the cause rather I'm basing it on how totally awesome I am. Yes, I deserve to be given to because of my dedication to Slaying a Dragon. Mere mortals would quail at such a task but I am so much more! Count me as worthy to be given to. How can you fail to be impressed with my awesomeness? And if you are so impressed then surely you must feel obliged to give me money?"
And this is the good type of sponsorship - some are the blatant: I'm Going On a Brilliant Holiday Please Give Generously type of sponsorship.
This is works based giving. It is of no surprise that the woman who died managed to raise more by dying than she ever would have got by living. For when giving is based on personal works what could be more worthy than dying in the process of completing a challenge? Neither is it any surprise that such a method of giving should have come about in the Western world - a bastion for individualism and personal merit.
It would be an interesting calculation to work out the amount spent every year in the United Kingdom in doing acts which people are sponsored for. What if that money was spent on the charitable cause itself? Consider the classic case of climbing some foreign mountain - what if the money spent on travel, equipment, insurance and lodging was instead dedicated to giving?
Sponsorships annoy me, when someone asks for money for a good cause then it should be the case that it is the cause that makes me want to give not the person asking. Are we really so selfish that are money has to prised from our cold fingers by some act of desperate bravery? Sponsorships insult givers by the implication that we wouldn't give unless impressed by some act of personal suffering or courage.
As Christians should we not be better than this? Why do we give as Christians? Is it not because we realise that it is our duty and privilege as Christians, a response to all that God has given us, because our hearts are moved by the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves and we know that all we own belongs to God and as faithful stewards we should give to the work of God and give to help the poor and the needy?
To put it another way: when did our giving become dependent on the works of others? Giving is a grace, done out of love, not in response to works but in response to need. To give because a charitable cause is worthy is excellent; to give because our friend is somehow trying to become worthy by some act of pain or challenge is not so.
And why, when it comes to raising money, are we so afraid simply to pray and ask? Pray, because God has promised to provide and ask others so that they might know our need. If our cause is a good one we should not base our request on our own personal worthiness because that is likely to fall far short. Sure, I would love to go on some charity trek in a rather nice foreign place somewhere and get 'sponsored' for it but such an attitude says more about my own desire for personal fulfillment than my desire to truly give.
In the gospel Jesus tells us: "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6v2-4).
Do not announce it with trumpets or with some facebook proclamation of some noble deed so worthy of others 'giving' and praise!
The world very often makes giving about the praise of men, giving based on personal works, giving in order to proclaim to everyone else what wonderful people we are, giving to make us feel better about ourselves, the type of giving that gets us sponsorships. In this mindset giving becomes very selfish, all about what it says about me, all about my personal worthiness. But we give out of grace, for the reward of our Father in heaven not the praise or respect of men - God centred not man centred.
This issue takes on special importance in my mind because over the next year I need to raise £3000 for Christians Against Poverty, it's a large figure that feels very intimidating. And I've been thinking about how to raise such an amount in a way that honours God.
My conclusions so far are as follows: 1) My primary method of raising such an amount is prayer. God is the first provider though he may well use human means. 2) I'm also going to ask friends and family for support (particularly those in the Christian family) in a way that emphasises the cause. 3) No sponsorships. 4) Sell things or refrain from buying items and put that money towards the goal.
It's not going to be easy. My unbelief can cause me to doubt whether God will provide. My pride will mean that writing letters asking other people for money will be a challenge. My pride also makes it a temptation to ask based on my own qualities rather than the cause I'm supporting. And selling things or not buying things requires me to maintain a sacrificial attitude to giving that doesn't come naturally. It would be easy to fall back on personal works, choosing to go through pain and challenge in order to earn giving from friends. But what does that say about my trust in God to provide? Only that I doubt his grace, in giving to his children as he has promised.