An Exchange for Dignity

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The make-shift store had finally been set up.  It wasn’t anything spectacular but somehow we were able to fill the entire basement of the 316 House with mostly new gifts that had been donated the previous two weeks.  Though we had delivered invitations to our neighbors in the row houses, we weren’t sure if anyone would show up.  Why would people come to a make-shift Christmas store when they can sign up with any number of agencies to receive similar gifts for free?  So we waited, ready to welcome folks into our modest store, sell some gifts at a much reduced price and even wrap the newly purchased items before they walked home.
Slowly, one by one a neighbor or two began to transcend the steps to the basement.  These neighbors had become familiar with the 316 House as a ministry house to women and children in the community, but never before had it served as a store!  I watched as our neighbors walked by the gifts, perusing the tables and checking the prices.   I distinctly remember one such mother.  After being there only a few minutes she was amazed by both the gifts being sold as well as the price of the items.  She quickly headed out the door as she said, “I’ll be right back!  My husband has to see this.”
Though the first ever South Side Christmas Store came by humble means, for years to come I will treasure the image of a mother and father as they shopped together for their kids, paying for these gifts out of their own pocket.  As they left I watched as they walked back home, bags of wrapped gifts in hand and smiles of dignity and empowerment upon their faces.
To be honest, I struggle with our South Side Christmas Store in that in many ways it perpetuates the materialism and consumerism of America, not to mention that it has little to nothing to do with the person of Christ.  Yet, without question, I have found that the store provides two great benefits:
  1. It challenges our current system of charity.  It is a simple yet profound practice.  Rather than giving these gifts for free (which has great potential to affirm a system of entitlement, dependency as well as strip mom and dad from the responsibility and joy of providing for their children), sell these gifts in a manner that is affordable yet requires an element of exchange and personal investment.  Doing such leads to the second benefit…
  2. People are affirmed who are often considered incapable of doing anything of worth such that they are dependent upon the handout of others.  This simply is not true!  I am by no means denying that ‘charity’ is needed, but this ‘charity’ must lead to holistic development of a person, otherwise it is as harmful as doing nothing.  Such a system of exchange, allowing people to do what they can do for themselves, promotes responsibility, affirms a person’s dignity and enables them to live fruitful lives for the kingdom.  Is this not what Jesus did for the woman at the well in John 4?
As I read in the Scriptures this morning, Jesus railed the scribes and Pharisees for their self-righteousness and selfish way of living.  In Mt. 23:11-12 He says, “But the greatest among you shall be our servant; whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Did not our Lord model such living unto us?  Was He not the eternal Son who gave up heavenly rights to live among us, in the flesh?  Was He not our Lord, yet He came to serve us (and even die) in order that we might have life?  And so it is to this we are called – to walk in humility and servanthood.  As it relates to my community (the struggling families, felons, sex offenders, single moms, misfit kids), aren’t we (the Body of Christ) called to follow in Christ’s footsteps to humble ourselves (not considering ourselves better) and serve as Christ has served us?  If our annual Christmas Store can serve for such a purpose then count me in.
4th Annual South Side Christmas Store ? Saturday, December 15th, 2012
*Please contact us to donate toward this effort (all gifts much be received by Monday, December 10th, 2012)

– Eric

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