What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-30-19
This coming Sunday, November 3, First Congregational Church of Granby welcomes guest speaker Clive Rainey to our 10am worship service. Clive is Habitat for Humanity’s “first volunteer. Clive joined founders Millard and Linda Fuller soon after they founded Habitat in 1976. You can read more of Habitat’s story here. Clive has served in many different capacities and played a key role in the development of the organization. In his 40 + years with Habitat, Clive has lead thousands of builds all over the world.
When asked “What is the first feeling you have when you put a hammer in your hands?’ Clive responds, “A feeling of power! This hammer is more powerful than guns or bombs or terrorism or dictators; more powerful than poverty or hatred. With this hammer I can change the world! I can begin that change with this house, this family, this neighborhood, this community, this country.” I think Clive would agree that the power he is speaking of does not reside in the hammer itself but in what the hammer represents. In the context of Habitat, the hammer represents a particular approach to changing the world called “partnership housing.”
It’s Habitat’s model of partnership that has made it truly transformative–the kind of organization that high capacity leaders like former president Jimmy Carter would give their lives to. My understanding of the model is that it’s less about charity and more about solidarity. When one is building a house in partnership with a family, a neighborhood, and a community, a context is created in which authentic relationships across race, class, and cultures can emerge. Charity keeps social hierarchies in place. There is the helper and the helped. No matter how the situation of the helped might be changed, the helper maintains her status as “not the helped.” In partnership characterized by solidarity, it’s clear that we’re all in this together. My fate is inextricably linked to yours. In the case of Habitat, clients are literally co-builders with volunteers. This social leveling creates an opportunity–even if for a moment–wherein helper and helped have the opportunity to meet together as equals in an authentic relationship of mutual love and respect. The helped is no longer an “object of charity,” but a full human being, no longer “other,” but, in some sense, me.
I have found that solidarity can scare the pants off most white, middle class, mainstream Americans. We don’t want to consider the possibility that given different circumstances, we might need housing assistance. We don’t want to consider the possibility that our relative privilege has little to do with our own personal worthiness and much more to do with chance and the fact that we live in an exploitive system that tends to benefit the few at the expense of the many. We don’t want to give up our sense of status and superiority. We don’t want to stand in the place of those who have experienced misfortune, discrimination, or exploitation. My guess is that that’s why there is a lot of charity in the world. Much rarer is true partnership. Habitat has developed an authentic, partnership model.
For me, solidarity, not charity, offers an opportunity for a more authentic walk with Jesus, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself” (Philippians 2:7-8). It turns out that the model of authentic partnership is also a model for authentic Christianity.
For critiques of the charity model read Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas and Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It by Robert D. Lupton. I hope you will join us this Sunday to meet Clive and learn the meaning of authentic partnership.