Sunday, January 03, 2010

New wine - old wineskins

The sermon this morning was based on Jesus’ metaphor of new wine in old wineskins. As a whole, it was a petition to us all to consider whether or not new priorities can be pursued successfully through old institutions. An example used was a book by Dambisa Moyo called Dead Aid, in which she apparently argues that African poverty is not so much in spite of foreign aid, but rather because of it. I haven’t read the book yet, but I did hear part of an interview with her in which she said that the governments of many African countries find it easier to obtain handouts than to work to develop their countries infrastructure so that self-sufficiency might one day be achieved. This phenomenon results in guaranteed poverty for the citizens, although the politicians never fail to fatten themselves at the foreign aid trough.

Moyo—we were told—doesn’t condemn all aid; help that is pointed specifically toward the self-sufficiency of targeted individuals, families and communities has an important role to play, as does disaster relief. Government to government foreign aid, however, Moyo maintains, is doing more harm than good.

What do you do when a panhandler holds out his hat to you in the street? “Got any spare change, my friend?” I generally walk right by. Most of the time, I have “promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep,” and that serves as a handy, Frostian, excuse to ignore the supplicant. I sense intuitively that a loony won’t make an appreciable difference to the man’s state of affairs, but at the same time, I expect the hot cup of coffee the loony might buy would be comforting in the short term.

So here’s the new wine. Charity is only given where it saves lives in an emergency, where it contributes directly to the goal of individual, family and community self-sufficiency and where there is no chance of fraud. If dignity, self-respect and self-sufficiency become our goals, then what new wineskin is needed to hold this new wine?

A very pertinent question, don’t you think?


  1. Then perhaps we should take the time to take the panhandler for a cup of coffee instead and find out what their goals (and difficulties) may be and how else we may be of assistance in helping them gain self sufficiency. But then again maybe panhandling is their self sufficiency.

  2. Marg;
    You're absolutely right. What I admitted (walking by panhandlers) was more by way of confession than advice. Today's sermon dealt with the hazards of giving outside of relationship. We need to give personally, not anonymously.