Thanks for following along as we discuss the principles outlined in the book Making Neighborhoods Whole (2013) by Wayne Gordon and John Perkins. The third principle in our series is redistribution. Before everyone panics and stops reading, we are not referencing socialism or suggesting a Robin Hood approach for your communities (go ahead and put away your bows, arrows, and tights). Redistribution, as defined by the Christian Community Development Association, simply refers to “sharing that is motivated by a love for others and by a desire to abide by scriptural principles” (76). As followers of Christ, this scriptural sharing helps us to both steward the gifts God has given us and love our neighbors as we work together to ensure everyone has access to opportunities. The principle of redistribution, when done with the right attitude, in the right way, and with the right focus, has tremendous potential to help transform communities.
At the heart of redistribution is an attitude of stewardship (75). Pause and think for a moment about the last time you checked out a book from the library, no judgement if you have to think back to school days. You selected your books, brought them to the desk to be processed, and received the date for when they were to be returned. Now think back to what you did when it was time to return the books. You most likely just walked up to the door and slid them into the drop box without any fanfare. It was uneventful. In fact, you probably can’t ever recall a time at the library when there was wailing and gnashing of teeth, cries of “It’s mine, you can’t have it!”, or people flailing on the floor throwing temper tantrums (unless toddler story-time went terribly awry). We have no problem returning books to the library because we understand that we do not own the books. The library owns them and we are momentary stewards. Even if our paid taxes helped purchase the books, we know that the library is for the benefit of the entire community, not our personal book collection. It would be irrational for an adult to get upset about returning a library book. However, when God asks us to return or share time, finances, talents, houses, or other possessions how often do we become irrational with Him? I think we tightly cling to these things and put up a fight when asked to give them away because we assume that we have ownership. If you have given your life to Christ, He is the owner. From lofty dreams to tangible things, and right down to your very breath, it is all His. We are simply momentary stewards. In order to biblically approach redistribution, we must truly believe that the earth and everything in it belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). The blessings God has graciously gifted us are not for our own personal collection; they are for the glory and benefit of His Kingdom. We are called to carry an attitude of stewardship and actively seek to share (76).
As we seek to share the gifts God has given, we must be mindful of the way in which we share. Bob Lupton, in his reflection Redistribution, Exchange, and Kingdom Stewardship, astutely recognizes that since most needs within urban communities are due to chronic poverty and not crisis situations, a development response, rather than one-way crisis intervention, is needed (83). Simply providing handouts, although well-intended, can inadvertently do more harm than good. Lupton lists loss of dignity, unhealthy dependency, and eroded work ethic as potential outcomes, since one-way giving “subtly communicates that the recipient has nothing of value to offer the giver” (83). As agents of God’s Kingdom, we want to represent Him well in the areas where we are called to serve, not enact harm. This is why relationships are so vital for redistribution. Within the context of relationships, each person is allowed to contribute and exchange the resources and gifts that God has given (83). Think of it as a good, old- fashioned church meal where everyone comes and brings a dish. An opportunity is created, everyone is invited, and the meal is made all the better by the variety of contributions. It would be incredibly awkward if only one person was allowed to bring something and then went around spoon feeding everyone. Let’s not do that to our neighbors. Instead, let’s paint a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ, with different people (all made in His image) coming together, mutually sharing their different resources and gifts, all for the glory of God.
When we develop essential relationships where we are called to serve, our awareness is heightened to a variety of needs. This can easily become overwhelming. Maintaining the right focus can help us in striving toward sustainable change instead of temporary fixes. The CCDA suggests that focus should be placed on “creating fair opportunities for people to live healthy and fulfilled lives” (80). They have found that education, microenterprise, and social justice are three major areas that can help bring about those equal opportunities (79). These areas provide great direction for concentrating efforts. We cannot run someone else’s race, nor do we want to go around handing out ribbons to everyone, but we can certainly make sure that everyone has access to the starting line. Seek to collectively create opportunities.
Redistribution causes us to ask many questions. What gifts and resources has God given you? How are you actively seeking to share those with others? Where is He calling you to build relationships? What opportunities will be collectively created? As we start asking and answering these questions, our neighborhoods and cities might start to look more and more like His Kingdom. How exciting!