The Burden of Blessings

A few weeks ago, I began a series of theological reflections for our Thursday blogs. The Pro Deo Foundation’s mission is to create pathways for children and youth to flourish.Our strategy for accomplishing this mission is three-fold:

  1. Strategic partnerships with organizations who share a similar vision and passion for children and youth
  2. Local program initiatives that instill the developmental and relational assets that children and youth need to thrive 
  3. Grant funding to organizations in need

Each of these strategic foci has a theological antecedent that frames our work as a Christian organization: Trinity, Incarnation, and Cross. Today, I’d like to reflect on the Cross as our vision for granting initiatives.

Sometimes Christians refer to their possessions as “blessings.” I’m not talking about the basics of food, clothing, and shelter enough to live a meaningful life in a particular context. I’m referring more here to excess—the things we don’t need like a pool. Someone might say, “I got a bonus this year, so we are putting in a pool. It’s such a blessing.” But is it? It depends.

For the pool to be a blessing, it has to be used to bless God and others. If you hog the pool all to yourself, it will be nothing more than an expense. But if you share it and invite kids and neighbors to play and have fun together, then it becomes a blessing. In any case, what this means is that a blessing is actually a burden. If you don’t feel it as a burden, then it’s not really a blessing. My wife and children are some of the greatest blessings of my life, but they come with the burden of responsibility, and the burden to love even when it’s hard.

Christian theology teaches us that the greatest blessing of God is to be in fellowship with humankind. But what a burden we can be! The cross was the greatest burden one could bear (taking on the Sin of the world) which gave us the greatest blessing one could receive (salvation).

Of all the images and symbols that Christians have that remind us of Jesus (the lamb of God, the shepherd, the vine, the fish), the most common image that has symbolized our Christian faith for two thousand years is, of course, the cross. We make fine jewelry out of this cross. We wear it around our necks; some people get cross tattoos on their bodies. We make bracelet charms and earrings out of it. We cover it with jewels and diamonds. For many people, the charm of a cross on a necklace around their neck means nothing more than would the charm of a starfish, or a heart, or a cupcake, or the Eifel Tower. It’s just a meaningless symbol — an artifact. For Christians, however, it is a symbol of innocent death by torturous execution. In fact, that’s what the cross is: a symbol of torture. We might as well have a charm of the electric chair around our necks.

If God allows a Christian to earn wealth, this is a burden of responsibility that can become a blessing if offered for the good of the world. The cross is love laying itself down for the sake of the world. Pro Deo Foundation looks to cross to help us see that we are called to a particular vision of philanthropy. Central to the cross is the virtue of humility.

In Philippians, Paul writes:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ 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 and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:3-8

It strikes me that the way granting is done is as important (if not more) as the fact that we can participate in granting relationships with organizations around the world. Our inspiration for how we strive to imagine our philanthropic efforts draws from my friend and colleague Mark Petersen‘s book, Love Giving Well. Using the metaphor of his spiritual pilgrimage along the Camino in Spain and Portugal as his guide, Mark lays out a vision of philanthropy that centers on the self-giving love of Christ. Humility, gratitude, love, and faith are the virtues that are meant to be the DNA of any Christian philanthropy. 

We see that we are called to lay down our lives in the way that Jesus laid down his life for us. There are many ways in which we do not do this well. But it is the journey we are on. In our granting, we look to the cross to give us the humility to know that money does not entitle one to power dominance over another in the kingdom of heaven. We look to the cross to interpret our foundation’s dollars as a burden of responsibility and the joy of stewardship. We look to the cross to give us a vision of a new creation in which we can gratefully participate. This means that we are not only committed to granting awards, but to granting relationships.

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The Burden of Blessings

Chris Pritchett

Chris Pritchett was our first CEO of the Pro Deo Foundation. He currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife and three kids. Chris is the Senior Pastor of Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church

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