Leave Room for Some Dignity
+ Quotes from "Always a Guest"

I understand why we like to watch these video clips. They make us feel good (if we’re on the giving side). They inspire us to go and do likewise. And that’s well and good, too.

But they also make me cringe.

Here’s how they usually go:

{Sad music} Enter poor person. Probably a single mom. Working two jobs to meet the bills. One more disaster happens. She’s out of food. Out of hope.

{Uplifting music} Enter Christian people. Cue the smiles. Bags of groceries. They give single mom a hug and tell her they just want to spread the love of Jesus to her.

{Happy music} Single mom cries and says she was so desperate. But now she’s so blessed. So grateful. She thanks Christian people for their goodness.

But something about these clips makes me feel we’re stripping dignity away from the person who has needs. And putting a halo on the God-people who have the goods.

I understand that those with much are to give to those with less. And give God the glory for it.

But I’m not sure that’s always what happens when we film it for show.

I think Barbara Brown Taylor gets what I mean. In her newest book, Always a Guest, she says this:

“If you have ever been on the receiving end of such charity, you know that the hand that gives is always higher than the hand that receives. Think about it. Would you rather answer the door to find a group of good people bearing gifts for your needy family (with their own need for you to praise their goodness all over their faces), or would you rather know the fields where you are welcome to go at the end of the day with your own baskets to gather your own food for your own family, so that they rejoice to see you coming through the door instead of some well-meaning strangers?”

Taylor says that when we give, God doesn’t require us to stand around to be seen or thanked. Not that anything is wrong with being thanked. But that’s not the point of it.

Maybe that’s why God said to not glean all the harvest from your field, but remember a foreigner is coming up behind you, so leave a sheaf for them to pick up. Leave a bit of their humanity to salvage. Yes, give them a hand, but don’t keep your hand out for the resulting praise.

Taylor says a lot more in this book. And she usually says it in a way that other people don’t. That’s one reason I read her books. She helps me see things differently. And usually clearer, even while leaving me less certain about it.

As she says,

“Trust is never entirely logical. Faith never makes perfect sense.” 

Quotes from Always a Guest

Here are some other quotes I gleaned from the harvest in Always a Guest:

DON’T SHOVE MARY BACK INTO THE CLOSET

“For reasons that are complex and often unsatisfying, Mary is not nearly as important to Protestants as she is to Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Advent is really the only time she shows up in most Protestant churches, chiefly to hold the baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant and then go back into the closet with Joseph and the shepherds until next year.”

STAY IN THE ROOM

“When people figure out that unity is about more than agreeing with each other and reconciliation has more to do with staying in the room than with winning—then remarkable things can happen.”

USE IT FOR LOVE

“For the God who loves it all has given it all to you to love as well.”

THINGS YOU NO LONGER HAVE TO DO

“The only reason we have the slightest idea what genuine love looks like is because we have been loved that way, by God and by one another. That’s what saves us over and over, so that there are all sorts of things we never have to do again.

  • We don’t have to avenge ourselves.
  • We don’t have to take matters into our own hands.
  • We don’t have to get even.
  • We don’t have to punish our enemies.
  • We don’t have to appear wiser than we are.
  • We don’t have to shield ourselves from joy or sorrow.
  • We don’t have to fear strangers.
  • We don’t have to lock our hearts.”

HAUL OUT YOUR BEST DISHES

“Freeing them, we are freed. Feeding them, we are fed. When we get it deep down in our bones that there is only one feast, set for all God’s people, we will haul all our best dishes out of the church and set them before the world.”

DON’T JUST TEACH THE GOSPEL; EMBODY IT

“God has entrusted us with the teaching of the gospel—and more than that—with its embodiment, which includes protecting the vulnerable bodies all around us every day. The good news is that we have everything we need to do that: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”


My thanks to Net Galley and Westminster John
Knox Press for the review copy of Always a Guest

4 thoughts on “Leave Room for Some Dignity
+ Quotes from "Always a Guest"

  1. blankNancy Ruegg

    Barbara’s comments would steer us toward anonymous giving–a secret to be shared between the individual and God. I think He augments the satisfaction and pleasure for the giver when no one else is aware of what he or she did.

  2. blankDavid

    “… something about these clips makes me feel we’re stripping dignity away from the person who has needs.” Spot on. And agency. I don’t know about Christians but IMHO the left in this country (UK) have the same problem: the poor/oppressed/downtrodden are helpless victims who need the uplifting compassion of the Enlightened. The left are often shocked and appalled — feel kind of cheated? — when the poor/oppressed/downtrodden act to uplift themselves. Sorry to be political but I think Christians are qualitatively more self-aware on this point (if not always quantitatively;).

    Stirring quotes from the book. I would say get all the women out, not just Mary. Women have almost all of the best bits in the gospels; the disciples are often just proxies for the reader (like Watson in the Holmes stories), but who gets the attention?

    Just reading that list of Things you no longer have to do was very liberating and almost made me cry!

    Really love your writing, and your book reviews.

  3. blankLinda Stoll

    Lisa, hi! I’m always excited to read Barbara’s books … they stretch me, give me cause for pause, help me to see through different lenses. My copy is in transit in our local library system. I hope it’ll be in my hands by the end of the week!

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