Freedom: Escaping the Philanthropy Trap

Somehow we’ve hero-ized giving when we’re guided in clear language regarding giving “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” You may recognize these words from Jesus and yet, they are hard to follow in our success and credit seeking world. Our self justifying ways regarding philanthropy whether outward or even within our own beings, is yet another manifestation of our economic idolization and a sure way to forget the humility we are all called to practice on our spiritual journeys.

Often, would be philanthropists may indeed be prisoners of their money and or resources. They may be trapped, perhaps ensnared, in a spiritual sense and without an awareness about the need to, let alone the means to escape, under normal circumstances.

Yet there is a way out but it depends on the would be enablers to not see donors and beneficiaries but see soulful beings on a journey in this place and time.

How one gives, not only the act itself, but also how one thinks and feels, what story one tells themself, and how someone engages internally with their giving, matters.

The way you give and the attitude in which you give will determine if you free yourself through your giving or if you ensnare others in the process.

And, enablers, don’t keep thinking it’s simply your job to get people to give to your cause. Without some courage to talk to people openly about their own soulfulness and how wealth potentially obstructs their own spiritual journey, you may be reinforcing the bars of their prison, making the walls thicker, extending their sentence. Further, you may unwittingly find yourself sharing a cell with them.

As a fundraiser, if you do not recognize people as spiritual beings, potentially trapped within their own materialistic and resource rich prison, you are missing your calling to be loving and supportive and to support all people with dignity, even those with great material wealth. The wealthy may be the most needy… spiritually speaking.

Those of you who might receive a gift, from a benefactor, no matter who they are… be careful that you do not give your freedom away by entering into the prison with the unaware prisoner bearing gifts. You can trust that inner feeling of being entrapped, disrespected, giving away your dignity, or being locked in. Run from those gifts that aren’t truly gifts (given with true humility) run from those prisoners of wealth who are unable or unwilling to see. Often they’re disguised so well as philanthropists their costumes even fool themselves.

Without careful spiritual discernment, our possessions can possess us.

In some cases you might be able to help free a prisoner of wealth through maintaining you’re own dignity but be careful… the allure of the wealthy life being better is dangerous. And once you’re on the inside, it’s hard to remember what freedom even feels like. Wealth can be a well formed disguise, and often the costume is so well conceived over decades that the prisoner doesn’t realize their own chains and cell.

(The rich young ruler asked) …”what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (thinking he had already done all the “right things”) the young ruler said “All these I have kept since I was a boy,”

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

NIV Bible – Luke 18:22-27

So realize, would be fundraisers and potential beneficiaries… by accepting a gift given the wrong way or with the wrong intent, you may be condemning people you call donors in ways you never imagined.

Absent humility, giving becomes entrapment for both giver and receiver.

Are you stuffed with “junk food”?

I’ve heard some people say they have no sense of the Divine within. Some tell me they never hear God speak to them. Some say they have no sense of God’s presence. Some rail against the church or someone who they think has led them away from God or from Love. If for whatever reason you don’t sense, feel, know God’s loving presence, start with knowing it is here, now, even if you don’t recognize it. Ask to see or experience.

Focus on a moment in the last 24 hours when you glimpsed something or someone that gave you a glimpse of the Divine within yourself. Now focus on that rather than waiting for your own version of the “parting of the Red Sea” or the getting “knocked off your horse” that you’ve been awaiting.

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.

John Piper, A Hunger For God

So push yourself away from the drama- filled, over-indulged, keeping up with the neighbors, intellectualizing God into a box, never satisfied, table of the world so you can see God & God’s love in the places you’ve been trying to consume, control or use rather than appreciate.

God’s love, always here, always available, for everyone. Yes, everyone. Simply stop and ask to see.

I’ll do it myself!

As we grow, there comes a point in our young lives that we in some way express, I’ll do it myself!

Fast forward, years, perhaps decades, that turning point often becomes a key aspect of our current identity. There are both pros and cons to the identity linked to “I’ll do it myself” in our current culture, independence is celebrated; individuality expected and supported.

Neither right nor wrong, our current culture often pushes us into a corner which shames us into expressing our rugged individualism. This inner story we tell ourselves can be one of the large stumbling blocks on our spiritual journey.

Identity speaks more to our relationship to the inner story we tell ourselves, perhaps how we relate to our ego or the various personas that make up our ego… but let’s not get caught up in our intellects too long… bottom line, our identy/s (ego, persona, etc.) helps ground us and guide us through this seemingly ungrounded and challenging world.

In these times of uncertainty, our identities can become both a place to go for relief but also a prison that keeps us locked in. A way you can explore whether your identifications have you grounded or locked away is by looking within at how you identify yourself. Take a look at the identity wheel below and highlight the top 4-5 ways you identify yourself of you think others identify you.

I tried to locate the originator of this model but did not, if anyone knows, please let me know so I might give credit where due.

Now that you’ve identified your top 4 or 5, narrow it down to your top one or two. Once you’ve done that, cross one of your top ones off the list. As you do, note how you feel.

Ask yourself what you would be without that identity. Explore within to notice what thoughts and emotions emerge. You’re likely noticing your deep attachments to the inner story you’ve been telling yourself about who you are. Further you may be noticing a glimpse of some new freedom as you notice that you are much more than the story which identify with so closely.

If you’d like to explore this further, I’d be glad to hear from you.

Are you on the right track?

Short answer, yes.

Now let’s dig into that a bit. Often our inability to ‘see’ we’re on the right track keeps us from realizing we indeed are. Our modern society markets so many things to us , and in such a way that we often are overwhelmed by choices. Sometimes when we finally choose a direction or make a decision, we begin to question if it is or was the right one.

Our struggling does not actually knock us off the right track but rather keeps us from accepting what is on our right track as a part of our life’s Love lesson.

Let me be careful to offer that although “life’s Love lesson” may sound friendly, enlightening and ultimately supportive… when the “triple L’s” show up in your life, they will often appear as insurmountable problems, challenges or fears.

What to do…

Recognize your own unique path. Accept that it is your path to navigate for better or for worse. Accepting the reality of where you are on the path is helpful even it is difficult to do. It may not feel like it often… or ever, but trust me, you are beloved and you have special gifts that you and the world needs.

So how do we discover these gifts? How do we live out our uniqueness in a way, knowing we are on the right track?

Be still.

Be still.

Notice what you notice right now. This will only take a minute. What you’re noticing may be within you; it may be around you; may be a memory; a plan; an emotion; a desire; just pay attention to what is there for you now.

Now observe it, feel it, sense it.

Breath. And again.

Slowly notice what it is, and ever so gently inquire, why am I noticing this? What, if anything, am I to do with this noticing?

Take your time. No hurry. You’ll never get through all those emails waiting for you anyway!

As you’re able bring the question back to you’re attention, “am I on the right track” and ask how does this noticing inform me about my wondering? Is there something for me to do with whatever I’m noticing or seeing?

Often our question will bring interactions or people to mind which are there to guide us as well. In the garden, Jesus struggled in prayer, asking God to “take the cup from him” if possible as his best friends slept. Needless to say he asked them to pray with him, to “stand guard” but they kept sleeping as he struggled to give up his agenda to the greater agenda laid out before him.

Within each of us, a similar battle rages. We balance our own agendas with a bigger or Sacred agenda which both challenges us and scares us. Over time we recognize that our fear drives us toward others for help and support and yet our closest “friends”, including our inner friends, “sleep”. They don’t help us know what to do and they at best frustrate our efforts to hear the truth. And often when they do awaken, they overreact because they don’t know how to react. Fear drives many actions and inactions.

All our efforts to get our internal world “in-line” to know if we’re heading the right way on the right track comes down to one thing… our willingness to accept the path, the track we are on and where it is heading. We often don’t like it or want it,  bravely into the dark often feeling terribly alone. As we are able our response to that sense of alone can be to welcome it, “I don’t know why you’ve come to make me feel so alone.” knowing only one thing for sure… Love is here with us, even when we don’t sense it.

Will the real Kinsman Redeemer, please stand up.

I am so grateful that a friend suggest I watch Rev. Dan Meyer ‘s sermon recorded on June 7, 2020 for Christ Church in Oak Brook, IL. Dan highlighted many of the various views and facts about racism in the U.S. today.

Seems like I’ve been doing a lot of on-line stuff lately so I began, admittedly rather dutifully, wondering what I might fast forward through to get to the main points. Turns out, I’m glad I had some time to really listen because as he spoke, my eyes were opened anew.

Don’t get me wrong, Dan’s sermon and delivery definitely and admittedly came from a point of privilege and he was clear to even frame it as such. As with most of us who come from privilege, we hope that someway, somehow, revolution in our thinking and acting around racism can come about peacefully. I pray each day for peace, but am also mindful that it took a gruesome murder in MN and a “hanging” nearly 2000 years ago to wake some of us up. I pray we don’t hit the privileged snooze button again.

Dan discussed Black Lives Matter and his own inner processing of all that is going on. I was grateful to hear him struggling out loud, in a most articulate way. When he mentioned Black Lives Matter in an affirmative tone, I was hopeful. He went on to deconstruct the political baggage that has been loaded onto Black Lives Matter. I was grateful.

Further he shared the idea that we are called to look in the mirror, to “remove the log in our own eye so we can see.”

Turns out, some logs are heavy. They are hard to manage let alone remove, on our own. Imagine the size of the logs that come from decades old, perhaps century old trees.

In his closing he referred back to the idea of the Kinsman Redeemer from the book of Ruth in the Bible. It is a beautiful idea to be sure. In essence the Kinsman Redeemer is someone deep into one culture who helps an outsider assimilate into that culture. The Kinsman Redeemer could almost be considered a cultural mentor or coach.

What came to me so clearly as I viewed and listened to Dan’s splinter… is that my log, is my nearly subconscious and definitely immediate move to cast myself into the role of the Kinsman Redeemer.

Thank you for helping me remove that log from my eye. The other inner move that occurred for those of you still with me, is as this log was being removed, I noticed a level of frustration that I was placing on Dan’s splinter. As God opened me more to this new view I struggled for quite a while not to make Dan’s splinter the main problem. Often I find when God is doing a new thing with me (or others), fear will arrive and we quickly try to get away from fear through a number of inner and outer escape strategies. This time, I would not succumb to “running away” to projection by God’s Grace.

So if I’m not the Kinsman Redeemer, who is in our current society?

That became an easy answer for me: “the least of these.” Yes, we’ve all heard “the last shall be first”, but it’s really hard to give up the role of the hero or wanna be hero. Then the beatitudes came rushing in as the Spiritual leadership we so desperately need in this difficult, yet hopeful time. The Kinsman Leadership role belongs to: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. That’s a good list that points us toward “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Yes, them, us. It would seem we need to more and more make an effort to see the world, our culture, our country, ourselves and God through their eyes, until we become more like them, more like Christ.

Also in Dan’s closing he provided some guidance in the form of an acronym on how we might proceed. Using the same letters, I ask for guidance as I humbly PLEA for guidance and healing.

Pray for new eyes to see as God sees (very dangerous prayer).

Lose the kinsman redeemer super hero costume and role.

Envelope myself in Christ’s deep humility.

Ask for forgiveness, knowing, confidently that we are beloved.