Thursday, April 10, 2008

Embracing an Economy of Gift Giving

It's really easy to get caught up in a calculation driven mode of ethics. Our highest value becomes effectiveness and whatever "works."

I recently had a very frustrating conversation with a very intelligent but very conservative guy (I posted some thoughts about this conversation HERE) and among everything he said with which I disagreed, there were a couple of things on which I agreed with him . He said that in making decisions it is difficult to choose between what works and what's right. Sometimes the things that work are just not right and, I would add with emphasis, sometimes the things which are truly right don't work. I still totally disagree with how he applied this principal for a myriad of reasons but he really was on to something.

In our culture of calculation we are often told that we shouldn't bother doing a particular act, however noble it is, because it just won't do anything. "Don't bother giving money to Compassion International, don't boycott anything, don't waste time recycling, don't worry yourself with dying children in Africa, you can't save them... none of that will be effective, it's economically impossible." This is the attitude of an economy of calculation. We are, ultimately, left disillusioned because nothing we can do out of love will actually work. Thus our own protection becomes more important than love. So we go and live in the suburbs to protect ourselves because there's no reason to love... it won't we effective. We are left only working toward what's possible and we stop dreaming. We stop imagining the world as God imagines it. We have calculated that we're just gonna have to let some die.

As good as it is if something ends up being effective, if we are held to those terms we are trapped. Only by embracing the culture of gift giving are we free from the calculations.

In the economy of grace, in the economy of gift giving, we say "I don't care" to the calculations and we refuse to just let some die. We become free to dream, free to imagine. As Craig Keen said today in class, the concept of gift "slips through the fingers" of calculations. And as Craig has said before, "we are free to become nothing," we are free to give ourselves to an ineffective life of sacrifice. Out of our gratitude, we give ourselves to the world. We continue giving money to support a child in South America, we refuse to buy that if it was stolen from the poor, we refuse not to love. I don't care if the calculations say it won't work, I am going to do what's right.

2 comments:

nate said...

Great...so the ends don't always justify the means (and vice versa), but when opportunity allows them to, what a blessing.

I could run with this post all the way to absolute truth. Great post!

WES ELLIS said...

Nate,
Yeah... I don't know if I'd call it "absolute" but I think it's a pretty helpful way of thinking.