Thinking Out Loud

December 8, 2013

Reconsidering Christmas Shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child BoxesSeveral years ago I wrote a post here asking some questions about the whole Operation Christmas Child (OCC) thing. As I said a year later, I didn’t want to be a “grinch” when it came to OCC, I just wondered about some big picture issues.  Then last year, I reformatted the whole article to include some points that a reader had left in a comment.

This year, I was prepared to lay the whole subject to rest. Besides, collection for the boxes in our local churches has come and gone. But the article keeps attracting readers, and last week Lucy, a reader, left a comment that reminded me that as OCC grows — now with an online component that allows you to pack and ship a shoebox from the comfort of your own home right up to a much later deadline — people still have misgivings and second thoughts about the program.  Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was the only one who had serious reservations about the OCC program. I just see it as a well-intentioned venture that, in reality, exports Western materialism. Even given the potential spiritual good, do we want children associating Jesus with wrapped goodies? Isn’t that enough of a problem here in America?

I’m a Christian who thinks Samaritan’s Purse has done wonderful things in helping people around the world. But let’s help children by really making a difference in their lives. World Vision and other ministries have programs where you can contribute toward gifts such as farm animals, wells, small business opportunities for women, etc. Much, much better than trinkets.

And thank you, Lucy for that comment. Organizations like Compassion, Partners International, The Christian and Missionary Alliance and Gospel for Asia are among the many — and I chose ones with both American and Canadian websites —  that allow you to make significant, life-changing donations to an individual or an entire village of the type Lucy describes.

Shoebox sized giving will produce shoebox sized results, and furthermore runs the risks she described in her comment. If you’re reading this on a computer — even in a library somewhere — you are among the richest people in the entire world. This Christmas, literally share the wealth.

There is a saying, Do your giving while you’re living, so you’re knowing where it’s going. The Christmas “gift catalogs” of the four organizations listed above allow you to know exactly where your money is going. Don’t lose this opportunity.

Comments can be made at the original article — first link above.

October 19, 2012

The Shoebox Thing Again

No post here ever got me in so much trouble as this one, when it ran in 2009 and 2010 and I became the Grinch that stole Operation Christmas Child.   I just wanted to be “thinking out loud” and look at the thing from all sides.   That doesn’t mean I would never fill a shoebox. I might just fill it differently. Besides a good blog is nothing if not provocative, right?   Or would you rather not think at all?

Comments are again closed here, but there’s a link to the original November 24, 2009 post where you can add your two cents, or whatever the equivalent is in euros. HOWEVER, this time around we’ve added some additional questions and concerns that came about when Sarah posted her comments. They begin with number 9 in the list below; items 14-16 are from an article she linked to in her comment.

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project. To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable. It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens. But I have some concerns about this that I had not seen in print or online when I wrote the original post and thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store. When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to? Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program? What happens to all those boxes? As barren and arid as some of those places are, dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys? Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point. We’re talking major carbon footprints. And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive? One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks. I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy. Socks don’t make noise. I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft? World wars have started over lesser things. Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands? Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors? Is there trading? If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not. Maybe they share better than kids in the West do. But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property. I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower. We all could probably get by with one or two. What I really need is access to a lawnmower. But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago. (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations? If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for. Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?” Some people get downright depressed after Christmas. BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver? None. Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before. (But furry dice? What were you thinking? The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)
  9. Does this encourage children to value Western cultures more than their own?
  10. Do “shoebox” gifts become better than something simpler made lovingly by a family member?
  11. Are they introducing commercial gift-giving into a culture that doesn’t celebrate Christmas in that way?
  12. Do they respect people of other faiths who don’t celebrate Christmas at all? Is our intent to evangelize or convert with our gifts?
  13. Do they portray one race/culture as being better or more successful than others?
  14. When we include personal care products such as soap and toothpaste in our gifts, are we sending a message that we feel they are not able to maintain their personal hygiene?  Toothpaste may be perceived as candy. Should we be rethinking some of our efforts to help people?
  15. How do they work to bring about real change, in places where the needs are for justice, peace, and access to the necessities of life?
  16. Imagine yourself as a child living in a family where all resources go to obtaining food and shelter and suddenly you receive a package with a doll or a toy car. What does it feel like to receive something from someone who has such excess income that they can buy something that is not needed?

The link Sarah provided contains many, many position papers on the Shoebox program, that are good reading for any thinking person. Click here to access the .pdf file which contains notes from people who were actively involved in the distribution. Sadly, that article is no longer online.

Okay, so maybe there is  good that outweighs any potential downside. I am NOT saying don’t do this.  But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case —  once in awhile. That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

Comments are closed here so that you can add your comment to the original collection on November 24, 2009. Click here.

October 29, 2010

Rethinking Rethinking Shoeboxes

Hey, give me a break.   I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Operation Christmas Child.   I just wanted to be “thinking out loud” and look at the thing from all sides.   That doesn’t mean I would never fill a shoebox.   I might just fill it differently.   Besides a good blog is nothing if not provocative, right?   Or would you rather not think at all?

This time around, comments are closed here, but there’s a link to the original November 24, 2009 post where you can add your two cents, or whatever the equivalent is in euros.

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project. To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable. It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens. But I have some concerns about this that I haven’t seen heretofore in print or online. So I thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store. When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to? Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program? What happens to all those boxes? As barren and arid as some of those places are, dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys? Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point. We’re talking major carbon footprints. And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive? One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks. I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy. Socks don’t make noise. I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft? World wars have started over lesser things. Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands? Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors? Is there trading? If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not. Maybe they share better than kids in the West do. But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property. I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower. We all could probably get by with one or two. What I really need is access to a lawnmower. But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago. (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations? If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for. Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?” Some people get downright depressed after Christmas. BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver? None. Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before. (But furry dice? What were you thinking? The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)

Okay, so maybe the good outweighs any potential downside. I am NOT saying don’t do this.  But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case — once in awhile. That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

Comments are closed here so that you can add your comment to the original collection on November 24, 2009. Click here.

July 22, 2009

Paying Someone to Pray for You

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:47 pm

Joel wrote and asked if I would promote his website on my blog.   I get more of these requests lately as the readership grows, as well as people wanting me to promote books.

I took one look at prayer-helpers.com and frankly I was appalled at the idea of people setting up a commercial enterprise to “prey” on those who wanted someone to pray for them.    Without questioning the authenticity of whether any prayer would ever actually happen, I was concerned that this site would simply exploit people who were disconnected from a local church, or from friends or family who would pray for them.

“Generally,” my wife said, “You pray for people you are in relationship with.”   I agree with that sentiment; though I have done several shifts at a prayer counseling center.   We didn’t charge people.  The “pray-ers” didn’t get paid, either.   But probably 90% of the people I’ve prayed for have been people who I knew more than superficially.

I made up my mind I would not promote Prayer Helpers here at Thinking Out Loud; something I admit I am now inadvertently doing.   I want to know what my blog readers think.   [At this point, you might want to click on the link to the site, above...]

First, here is part of Joel’s letter to me:

…I was hoping that you might be willing to consider reviewing my new Christian website, prayer-helpers.com on your site.  I think the concept of pay-for-prayer may be controversial and interesting for your audience.  My goal is to bring easily accessible prayer partners to people who may not have them available.  I would happily answer any interview questions you might have.

Interesting, yes.   Controversial, definitely.    Deeply disturbing, incredibly.  Maybe somewhat guilty-by-association.   I wrote back:

Yes it is controversial.
Too controversial.
This is why people need to belong to a local church.

That left Joel wanting more.   He replied:

Why do you say it is too controversial?  Also, some people are either too far from a local church (alaskans, etc) or for some reason are physically disabled and unable to go so the online community needs to be there for them.

I’m sure Sarah Palin would get a chuckle out of the (small ‘a’) Alaskan stereotype.  (This is the closest I came to thinking I was being “had” in this entire exchange.)   I wrote back:

“Freely you have received, now freely give.”

The example of Jesus driving out the profiteers from the temple is sufficient evidence for me that we can’t exploit a person’s spiritual quest for the sake of deriving income.    (Trust me, being in the Christian bookstore business, I’ve spent countless hours working through that whole situation.)   I know that pastors are paid, and spend some of their time in prayer, but the idea of taking a need for prayer and the clicking “add to cart” is crossing a line, I think.   And it’s reminiscent of the Catholic church asking people to pay for indulgences before the Reformation.  Or televangelists asking people to send in their prayer requests on a special form, and then there is suspicion as to whether any prayer was offered or if the forms just went out to the dumpster, where the network TV crews found them.

Plus, we’re supposed to pray with as much as possible, not just pray for.

I just don’t see the convergence of internet technology and prayer being best applied here.

Joel ended our dialog with:

Thank you for your response.  I respectfully must disagree with you.  I see no difference between your christian bookstore and the prayer-helpers.com website.

And for me, that response clinched it.   I wrestle on a daily basis with what I do vocationally and the things done by the Christian bookstore industry in general.   Some of the marketing, the branding, the excesses, etc. are downright shameful.

Joel saw no difference.

That pretty well sums up what Prayer Helpers is all about.

~Related post at John Saddington’s Church Crunch blog.

…but sadly, it gets worse at… (wait for it)… Christvertising.   Seriously.   Or maybe not so seriously.  You never know these days.

November 28, 2008

Dealing with the Excesses of Christmas

We don’t embed YouTube and Vimeo vids here as a concession to those still surfing the net with dialup; but for the second time ever in Thinking Out Loud history; I am linking you to a YouTube I think you should watch, that’s already appearing on various other blogs.  In fact, try to watch it in full screen mode.

But wait; before we go there, here’s a little perspective from The Thinklings blog, based on a story you can link to from the New York Daily News.

Now then, if you survived that one, and would like to see Christmas expressed differently in the part of the world you can control; here’s the YouTube link.

In America the western world, seems like nothing succeeds like excess; but we each have the power to, in ways big and small, be the change we want to see.

November 13, 2008

Donald Miller on Capitalism’s Influence on the Church

free-market-jesusToday we watched the curriculum DVD, Free Market Jesus, produced by Bluefish TV for use as either a one week or two week small group teaching.   As a single viewing, Miller’s lecture runs 61 minutes; as a speaker, Miller is soft spoken, engaging and very focused on his topic.

I couldn’t help but notice a similarity between this and the two Rob Bell full-length lectures I’ve reviewed previously on this blog.   Whereas Bell’s Everything is Spiritual deals with science, while his The God’s Aren’t Angry deals with anthropology; Donald Miller’s Free Market Jesus deals with economics; the influence that profit-driven capitalism has had on two institutions:  the Church and the family.  Together, these three lectures make a great trilogy.   I only wish that, like Bell’s full length DVDs these were a retail commodity instead of a more-expensive curriculum product.

After showing how the Church looked toward free market economics as a model for growth and structure, the second half of the lecture deals with God’s model for Church and family.   It’s one of those, “How did we get on this subject?” moments that transitions suddenly, but well.   As a curriculum product, there’s lots of room for discussion here.   I watched some of this twice.

Well, that’s how I saw it; but as we often do at Thinking Out Loud, here’s some of the publisher marketing.

The average American encounters more than 3000 advertisements each day. The formula for most ads is:

  1. You are not happy
  2. You will be happy if you purchase this product.

How has this overwhelming commercial message shaped our view of spirituality, the church and Jesus?

In Free Market Jesus, Donald Miller illustrates how culture always serves as a lens for our understanding of Christianity.  He then addresses how scripture defines spirituality and why the scripture is still relevant in our modern culture.

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