02 October 2009


I have met people who believe in and live on the idea that everything that you need and want in life you can get for free... if you talk to the right people, if you jump through the right hoops, if you present the right argument. This concept is completely foreign to me.

When I first began doing referrals, I was presented with (to me) the strangest requests: Where can I get free tennis shoes? Can you get a free bike? I need some free furniture... clothing... cell phone... medical care... housing... groceries... TV. A free TV? Come on. You guys. You can't get free TV's. I've been here for a while, and if you could get TV's and cell phones for free, I would know.

But you can.

If you have a caseworker at the DHS, you can receive a referral for everything you need to fill your house for free.
If you don't currently have an income, you can get a card that allows you to get $200 a month for groceries for free.
You can get clothing for free.
You can get new Patagonia shoes for free.
You can get a cell phone for free, and minutes every month for free.
You can get a voucher that will pay your rent every month for free.
You can receive checks from the government every month for free.

But there things aren't really free--they are paid for by someone else. (Really? Yes.) And that bit of information is about as foreign to the population I work with than the "Economy of Free" is to me. These things don't just ... not cost anything. They are paid for, worked for, and Given. But to those who receive them, they are not Given, just Received.

This could be frustrating.
I have tried to explain this system to many of the people receiving assistance from my desk.
"This is not a piece of paper that waives the fee for your police report. This is a check for $6.00, made out the the Grand Rapids Police Department, paid for you by someone who doesn't even know you--they gave up $6.00 so you could have it... and have the opportunity to attain housing."


This could be the purest form of giving possible, going unrecognized.

When you give, you often Give-Because. You give because you want to know that you are making a different, because you want to make the world better, because you want to know others are happier and taken care of and still alive because of you. Because of you. You get this feeling, this wonderful feeling that you have done good. Now, I believe this is great--that this feeling is God-given and there is no guilt in wanting to desire it.
But what if you Just-Gave. You just gave money and time and resources because that's what people do, and you did not see or know or even consider the outcome. Or maybe you didn't even give, you just lived, and there was a small bit of money that was silently and subtly detracted from each of your paychecks--transformed into something that benefited someone else. You didn't get any satisfaction, and no one felt indebted.


Now, I'm not saying that this is always used in the best way possible, or even used responsibly, but it could be, and it sometimes is, and if we transformed this bitterness and submitted this to God, how would this look different?

Would we feel liberated?

Would we be free?


  1. but if you are forced to give it up (because it's a tax, mandated by law), then are you really giving? shouldn't we rather create a society where people are able to choose to give, and further, a society where they WANT to make that choice?

  2. of course! but that will take some work, as we both know. I'd like to present taxes in a way in which people are more willing to contribute to them--and this may lead to more awareness and investment in what they are used for. I think that would be a good step forward.

  3. I would also think that people are always able to choose to give--and my grandmother's mailbox daily reflects how many opportunities our community presents to those who are generous.