Nashville is known for a few things. Beyond the hot chicken and country music, you will find that Nashville has accumulated quite the number of churches over the years.
According to The Tennessean, Tennessee has more mega-churches (churches with over 2000 members attending weekly) per capita than any other state in the country.
So what happens when that strong of a religious climate meets a city where commerce and the events industry are also at an all-time high?
You find events like I observed this past weekend as I was helping a caterer serve food--a socially-conscious, cause-related shopping experience that is curated by a high-end designer. Basically, 20 vendors set up their booths and sell products with a cause attached to them.
All the while, guests pay a ticket price, enjoy cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and buy fedoras, coffee mugs, purses, jewelry and a variety of other products that are attached to a story of how it benefits the vulnerable.
Events like this sort of jolt me into a pensive state, especially when I overhear a lady selling someone a purse for $275, and that a lady from Guatemala made part of it. Also especially as I was simultaneously carrying around a 10 foot copper rain gutter full of nachos with a fellow server on the other end – though that was mostly just funny.
You see, communities of faith are pulled towards being relevant to the culture in which they find themselves. And in a city like Nashville, markets like this are the culmination of such a fusion. Do people do it with the best intentions? Certainly many do. Do people do good things with the money raised? Certainly that happens.
Here’s my concern. Are people in the developing world, who are undoubtedly skilled craftsmen and women, being inadvertently used as part of a business model to sell products they make at an escalated price an ocean away? Are we taking a man who makes incredible shoes and marketing them to wealthy Americans instead of helping him figure out a reasonable market price and product for so many in his surrounding area that need good shoes?
I’m not suggesting it’s black and white or that those participating aren’t doing what they see to be a good thing. I’m merely saying that instead of being socially-conscious from a distance (and feeling content that we “did something”), we can give more of ourselves, our time, and our pocketbook than we do right now. Paying $275 for a purse, will profit the lady who made it very little.
The Bible teaches us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. In other words, whatever we care most about is what will get our attention and care. Is the buying and selling of “charitable” goods treasuring our brothers and sisters in the developing world, or is it holding tighter to our position as consumers, and assuming it is the only way to make a difference?
As people bombarded by a consumer market, we have to make a conscious effort to make sure that we don't think that buying a product is changing the world. Human beings are what need developed, even more than the economy. If we don't guard ourselves against this mentality, we run the real risk of using a person's story to promote a product line, ultimately forgetting that the person is just that--a PERSON.
It is a special thing to play a part in providing for someone in need. But that special thing can become a detrimental thing if we do it on repeat, without thought. In attempting to be generous, consider the people on the other end of the gift, not just the ease of swiping your card. Consider how you can give generously--of yourself--the currency that means the most.
So, be it providing a school uniform for a child whose family is in need, GED materials for someone trying to get back on their feet and go to college, or volunteering at a program that assists in caring for the elderly, make sure your giving isn’t tied to a cultural fad, but the building up of those who would otherwise be left without the assistance they need.