Monday, March 19, 2007

Gift Mode

Last week, I was watching and reading Miroslav Volf to find material about reconciliation that I could use for Sunday's sermon. In one of the articles, He mentioned Natalie Zemon Davis and her book, The Gift in 16th Century France. She says that people can operate in one of three modes: coercion mode, sales mode, or gift mode.

This intrigued me. So I did some research into gift theory.

This field was established in 1925 by Marcel Mauss. "Gifts are thought to be voluntary and altruistic, Mauss argues that they are obligatory and selfish" (Irven DeVore, Harvard Anthropologist). Gifts can even be used to manipulate and control others. Some economies appear to operate on the basis of obligatory gifts.

This raises the question of whether there can be such a thing as a true gift, a "free gift."

Jacques Derrida argues that four criteria must be met for there to be a "free gift":

  • There is no reciprocity. The receiver of the gift does not return a gift to the giver.
  • The recipient does not realize that he has received a gift. This way there can be no sense of debt caused by the gift.
  • The giver must forget that he gave the gift. Otherwise, he would be able to benefit from the gift by thinking well of himself.
  • The thing itself cannot appear as a "gift." As soon as the thing given is seen as a boon, it imposes a sense of obligation.

Clearly, Derrida believes that a real gift is impossible. Others (Russell Belk) have suggested more realistic criteria for true gifts:

  • The gift must involve sacrifice by the giver. The giver gives of himself. A gift that cost nothing is not a true gift. King David said, "I will not sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing" (2 Samuel 24:24). This is behind the moral discomfort of "re-gifting."
  • The gift must be given for the pleasure of the receiver. If the "gift" is given for some selfish purpose, it is not a gift. Husbands should take note, giving your wife something that you want is worse than no gift at all.
  • The gift must not be a basic necessity. While a box of chocolates would make a suitable gift for most people, a bag of potatoes would be inappropriate. Another mistake husbands often make.
  • The gift must be uniquely appropriate to the person. This is why giving money seems so "cold."
  • The perfect gift surprises and delights the recipient. If the gift is expected, it ceases to be a gift.

Marshall Sahlins said rather cynically, "If friends make gifts, gifts make friends" (page 10)

Sometimes when people appear to be giving a gift, they are really operating in manipulation mode or transaction mode. A true gift is free of any obligation. But it is not just the giving end where there can be a problem.

The recipient of a gift can turn a true gift into a "transaction."

For most people, religion is a combination of transaction mode and manipulation mode.

In some forms of religion the worshipper uses the rites and ceremonies to manipulate the diety. Christians sometimes fall into this error. They think that if they are good that God owes them a good life. They try to put God into their debt.

Others have a higher view of the process. They don't stoop to manipulating God. They simply expect "what is fair." For them religion operates according to quid pro quo.

Now most Christians "know" that grace is the "unmerited favor of God." They "know" that salvation is a gift. They "know" that nothing can be done to earn God's love.

Problem is, they don't live that way.

Pastor Rod

"Helping you become the person God created you to be"

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