god's plan

Humanitainment is a term that’s been used over the years to describe celebrity-generosity efforts. A good and most recent example is captured in the music video “God’s Plan,” where Drake is seen surprising unexpected and particularly poor Miami residents, some with shopping sprees, others with cars and wads of cash.

”God’s Plan” entered elite company this week as it became one of only two songs in US history to surpass 100 million streams within its first week on the market. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching.

“God’s Plan” has been praised publicly by many who have shared posts like these:

With all the accolades and attention, is it fair to say “God’s Plan” is God’s plan? I’m not too sure. 

lesson learned

In 2011, we moved City Church from a Dayton, Ohio suburb to the heart of downtown.  We quickly found ourselves scrambling to handle the opportunities and challenges that came with being an inner-city church.

As Thanksgiving rolled around we decided to buy groceries for families in need. Ignorantly, I thought it would be a good idea to video some of the deliveries in order to show the congregation where their financial contributions had gone, letting them experience the good feelings that came with meeting the needs of others. One family in particular seemed to be the most surprised, thankful, and interested in additional help. This inspired another idea: let’s invite them to the Christmas program, show on the big screens the video of our first visit at Thanksgiving, and then call them up on stage and surprise their family with Christmas presents (I feel sick even retelling the story). 

We went through with the plan and, in the moment, nothing felt out of the ordinary. Then again, I was raised in predominately Caucasian, evangelical environments and believed that my duty was to help others whenever I had the means to do so. Boy, was my world about to change. It started that same night when, after the program, a social worker who attended the church approached me with passion to ask, “What just happened? What were you trying to accomplish bringing them up on stage and giving them gifts like that?” Before she could say another word, something clicked in me and I immediately realized what we had unintentionally done. We had used another family’s unfortunate situation as a means for feeling better about ourselves. It was wrong, unproductive, and even statistically detrimental.

when helping hurts

Three weeks later, this organization knocked on my door and asked if the church would consider partnering with them in transitioning a poverty-alleviation community from northern Dayton to downtown. We accepted the opportunity, and it has now been 5+ years of learning what poverty is and what it isn’t. I would venture to say that no one, I mean no one, has grown in this process more than I have. I am thankful for ThinkTank Inc. They’re the best of the best. They know what they’re talking about and have received national recognition in regards to their thoughts about and approach to alleviating poverty. In his book, When Helping Hurts, (a must-read!) Brian Fickert says he knew of one group nationwide that was “doing it right” - yep, you guessed it: ThinkTank, Inc. 

In North America, helping, more often than not, leads to hurting. Most giving falls into the category of “rescue and relief.” Although there is a need for this kind of generosity, communities are not sustainable when this method of giving becomes dominant. “Rescue and relief” includes overnight shelters, soup kitchens, and other efforts aimed at meeting a person or families’ immediate needs. This type of behavior was inspired by our government in the 1960’s and we’ve had a hard time doing anything else ever since.

poverty in America

Currently, 46 million Americans are living in poverty. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson was facing pressures from similar poverty problems. America’s debt was just north of $310 billion and unemployment was 5.2%, which meant almost 10 million of the 192 million Americans were out of work. 

Trying to fix the issue, LBJ introduced his war on poverty with the promise that it would eradicate poverty in the US. He launched the careers of tens of thousands of social service professionals and the federal budget dedicated $10 billion to the relief of poverty. Despite the army of social service works under LBJ, 42% of Americans still volunteered in organizations, fraternities, associations, and churches to help lift fellow citizens up and out of poverty.

Unfortunately yet predictably, LBJ’s war on poverty failed, and as the number of federal social services workers expanded exponentially, the government’s budgets swelled correspondingly. By 1975, the country was spending $60 billion annually on poverty programs administered by 100,000 professional social workers, and only 30% of Americans were volunteering. 

By the time the newly elected congress of 1993 sought to reform the welfare system, the federal budget included $225 billion per year, with 200,000 professional social workers on the payroll. Because government had usurped the role of good neighbors to alleviate poverty, only 22% of Americans were active volunteers at this time. 

Unfortunately, reforms have been steadily eroded by governments clamoring for underclass votes; today we spend in excess of $700 billion per year to relieve poverty and boast 650,000 professional social workers “on the job” while, sadly, only 24% of Americans are active volunteers. To sum it up, in the 50+ years since the war on poverty was launched, Americans have spent more than $11 trillion on poverty alleviation, with some arguing the problem is as bad as it’s ever been. $11 trillion is 11 million times a million!

Both historically and statistically speaking, you cannot throw money, shoes, coats, and/or cars at people and expect them to “get better” or “be like the rest of us.” Poverty can only be alleviated when people are willing to commit to building intentional personal relationships that have no expiration date. If there is one thing we’ve learned at our poverty alleviation community, Miami Valley Life Alliance (MVLA), and from history, it’s that poverty is only alleviated when we realize:

1.    Poverty is more than a financial problem - At MVLA, we believe that poverty can exist in 5 areas of a person’s life but, unfortunately, we often process the situation backwards by looking at and evaluating poverty purely as a financial problem. At MVLA, we believe poverty can exist within the following areas: Financial, Intellectual, Physical, Relational, and/or Spiritual. Often, poverty starts in the spirit, ruins our relationships, which then takes a toll on our health (physically). This hurts our intellect and then, ultimately, our finances. 

2.    Intentional Community that crosses ethnic, economic, social, religious, and political lines is the only long-term and lasting solution to poverty alleviation - The only way to alleviate poverty, historically speaking, is by coming together and accepting our differences in a way that allows us to learn and grow from each other. Most of us, no matter what we have, are one day away from having nothing. We are in desperate need of diversification in our relationships. Real value and satisfaction in life is never found in what we have, but in who we know.

god's plan

Author of the 2012 book, Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity,  Ilan Kapoor wrote, “Celebrity humanitarianism, far from being altruistic … is most often self-serving, helping to promote institutional aggrandizement and the celebrity's brand. It advances consumerism and corporate capitalism, and rationalizes the very global inequality it seeks to redress.”

When it comes to "God's Plan," maybe Drake should learn something from JAY-Z who said, “the purest form of giving is anonymous to anonymous,” because when it's not, historically speaking, we tend to do more harm than good. 

"God's Plan" hasn't changed. It's the same as it was 1,000 years ago. First and foremost, people need people. People come alive and experience lasting change within the context of committed relationships. When that is substituted for disconnected rescue and relief (only) efforts, Funny or Die's attempt to be funny tends to become reality... 

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