Crossing Boulevard

with Rev. Rachel


I am not saying that I loved the book. I am saying that “Toxic Charity” poked at my heart, exposed some gaps in my leadership, and called me and mine on the carpet.

The author, Robert Lupton, reads the riot act to the Church: We mean well, our motives are good, but we have neglected to conduct care-full due diligence to determine emotional, economic, and cultural outcomes on the receiving end of our charity. We have been evaluating our charity by the reward we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served. We have failed to adequately calculate the effects of our service on the lives of those reduced to objects of our pity and patronage.

Ouch! Of course, not all charity is toxic. Ultimately, the author’s point is not to point fingers but rather to call for more responsible and effective aid.

When I showed up to a Circles USA informational session in January of 2016, I can remember hoping that whomever showed up would hold me accountable. I wanted to put myself in a place where I would have to go deep or go home.

It was not my first rodeo; which is to say, I knew that my participation did not mean that this congregation would automatically jump in with both feet. I knew that there was a good chance that the very subject matter (poverty) would take me under or usher me back into my shell. We all have shells, you know.

Still, I took you with me. Month after month, while I experienced Richmonders work on more fronts that I can name—oh the places you will go when you try to look poverty in the eye—I have thought about this congregation and others like it. I have thought of the assets we forget we carry and the assets overlooked in others.

From the beginning, the church set out to be a people of goodwill (v.47). That offends almost no one. That in the beginning, in the name of Jesus, the church sold our possessions and goods and distributed the proceeds to all as any had need (v.45), well, that’ll make almost everyone squirm, the toxic charity camp included. Squirm away, the gospel lovingly whispers.

I am thinking about the call to stay in the trenches and the call to be joyful there. However you are wading in the deeper waters of human need, remember to do it while breaking bread and eating with glad and generous hearts (v.46). That is the way of the early church. That is the Jesus way.