Summer Internship Week 3

Written by Clark Blakeman on Saturday, 09 July 2011. Posted in Words

Summer Internship Week 3
As we go through the summer our interns are writing short reflections on what they are experiencing and processing. Each week will be a particular ideology; either a theological concept or a community development principle. As they read, discuss, and act in their neighborhood or church, the week's theme will be considered. At the end of the week, they will write about how they've been personally impacted.
The topic during week 3 was a community development concept we call Reciprocity. Yeah, not a commonly used word, but it has incredible capacity building implications. Often we set up programs to meet needs. We "give a fish." But without the opportunity for people to give back generally they remain dis-empowered. This is counter relational and counter development. Listen in as our interns wrestle with the implications of reciprocity on how they view themselves and service-programs.


Cassie - This is the third week of my Second Stories internship.  Our theme for this week was reciprocity and/or mutuality.  The dictionary’s definition of reciprocity is “the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, esp. privileges granted by one country or organization to another.”  In our discussions, we tried to define reciprocity as a give and a receive between people.  This is rooted in and building on last week’s topic of Trinitarian theology.

As I try to live out theology practically, reciprocity becomes an essential part in community development.  The book we are reading this week is Restoring At-Risk Communities by John M Perkins.  He says that every person has three felt needs that should be met first.  The thought being that we as humans all need to belong, be significant and have security.  The idea is that after their felt needs are met, then they can start to learn how to get out of their cycle of life, whatever that might be.  This is one of the core themes around community development.  Reciprocity ties into this because to help a person feel like they belong, are significant and have security often requires us to step back and receive something from them.

Too often our churches or culture say that good ministry or helping others is giving something to “them”.  However, that is where I was taught to stop, people only need me to give to them.  I now think this is wrong because if I am to practice Trinitarian theology that requires me to be in relationship with any person I run into.  Being in any healthy relationship requires me to give and receive.  Many people would agree with me, however this is very hard to do in “ministry” settings.

What if a homeless person takes advantage of me?  Why does simple conversation feel so awkward?  I know Jesus loved people but do I have to let this man be my friend?  These are all questions I struggle with.  I do not like stepping out of my comfort zone, or being awkward or choosing to put my blessed life in the background so I can better connect with a homeless person.  However, if I sincerely believe that any person has the right to be loved, belong, be significant and be secure; then I have to start practicing reciprocity in healthy relationship with anyone I come into contact with.

It means I cannot easily get frustrated with a stranger who doesn’t serve my food exactly when I want it.  It means I have to watch my language no matter whom I am around.  It means I should trust God enough to have a kind, simple (even if it’s awkward) conversation with a stranger.  It also means I need to practice discernment and not let anyone trample over me in words or deeds.  Part of being in healthy relationship is having good boundaries.  Also part of being in relationship is remembering to give the other person space to give to me.  Why is giving to another person so much easier?  I think it is because it takes courage to receive from another person.  As I start to practice courage through this internship and the rest of my life, I would challenge you to continue to ask questions and struggle with what it looks like to be more like Christ.

Chris - What do missions trips to Mexico, food service to the hungry, and giving money to the homeless have in common?  These are some of the activities performed by Christians (and non-Christians) as we serve others in the name of God (or out of kindness to others).  The people who receive goods and services are blessed, and the people who provide goods and services are blessed, though in very different ways.  This brings me to the issue of reciprocity—of mutual giving and receiving.

In the church, I don’t believe we have a good handle on this issue of reciprocity.  I know that I don’t.  It’s not how I grew up, so in some ways it has been foreign to my thinking.  Let me explain with two contrasting examples—that of a typical mission trip to Mexico, and that of a typical exchange of money to a homeless person.

Illustration 1.  Who hasn’t heard stories of people going to serve others in Mexico?  More often than not, lives of the goers are changed (at least for a while) by seeing and experiencing the love and joy of others who live in complete poverty.  During that experience, there is a giving and receiving of something valuable by both parties, though the gifts are in very different forms.  Both parties are clearly blessed in this mutual exchange.  This is reciprocity as I am referring to.

Illustration 2.  Often, at a food service event for the hungry (such as during holidays), there are two distinct groups of people: the givers and the receivers.  Churches (or those who are financially stable) tend to be the givers, standing behind tables as they dispense food.  And those of the community who are in immediate need are the receivers, waiting in line to receive food, sometimes smiling, yet shamed by their inability to care for themselves or provide anything in return.  The community members are blessed by the food, which meets their immediate needs.  And the church often finds its blessing as a spiritual blessing, as services provided to the Lord Himself (Matthew 25:45).  So, do I think we should stop feeding the hungry?  Absolutely not!  But I do think we should consider some of the ramifications of how these services are provided.

As I reflect upon Scripture, God loved us so much that He provided the means for our saving through the death of His Son.  We are provided everything by God.  We come with empty hands, providing nothing for our saving.  Nonetheless, God does not just leave us on the receiving end.  Instead, He invites us to participate with Him in His story of redeeming the world.  He gives us love and respect, and He welcomes it back from us.  He invites us to be a part of His own life and family.  How might God’s story shape the ways we live life with others?  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’m not content with my current practice of this issue either.  Any thoughts?

Mickey - This week we’ve been spending time thinking about reciprocity. To explain the idea of reciprocity I’ll give an example of self disclosure. When I am getting to know someone and I share a personal detail about my life, I expect them to hold that detail with a little discretion. There is some hint of personal risk involved when I share something private. If the other person has decent interpersonal skills and wants to build the relationship, then would be a perfect time to share, in return, something personal about themselves, risking a little bit of their own pride. This is the general idea of reciprocity.

We can clearly see reciprocity (or mutuality) within the Trinity. God shares the responsibility of humanity; the Father calls us, Christ paves the way, and the Spirit guides us. Seeing this kind of relationship in God himself speaks volumes into how we could better guide our relationships here in our lifetime

When two or more parties share the load of something (anything really, it could be secrets, it could be redeeming humanity) they share responsibility and take on the risk of trusting each other to get the job done. When it comes to relationships, some may find the term mutuality more appealing.
One thing we attended and will be attending more throughout the summer is a free community breakfast hosted by a rotation of three churches. On this particular morning I sat in that breakfast not offering any help, I only observed. What I observed was directly opposing reciprocity/mutuality, and though in hindsight it’s a little discouraging, it cleared up any lingering suspicions I held about the validity of the idea. What I saw was the church members separating themselves from those in their community who came to the breakfast and serving them wholeheartedly. They were very kind and very attentive to their physical needs. There were very few genuine relationships being fostered.

Through the eyes of reciprocity, I can only wonder how that breakfast would have been different had the church asked or expected something in return for their kindness. I’m not suggesting they charge for the breakfast or even demand some kind of service in return. What could be beneficial is offering an opportunity for shared service to those who feel led to help out. The feelings of worth found there could be so much more beneficial to the attending community than the breakfast itself ever could.

Personally, I have been contemplating how this affects my personal relationships with family, friends, and my coming dorm section next semester. For the most part reciprocity is something that goes on whether you acknowledge its existence or not. My aim is to acknowledge it’s existence and work to focus it’s affect. How I am doing this is different for every relationship but it is something I think would be worth it to challenge yourself on. Think of a ministry your currently involved in. Now rather than thinking of how you can best serve others, try to come up with a way in which that need can be met where the person being served can be empowered in the process and maybe get some inspiration to help another.

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Clark Blakeman

Clark Blakeman

Clark is the founder of Second Stories. He conducts the bulk of our training while also establishing partnerships in SE Portland and beyond.

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