One of the most shaming things in America is to ask for help, especially material, economic and financial help.
But we are also shamed by physical and psychological needs. Aging. Debility. Handicap. Mental illness.
Success in America is to need nothing. To never need help. Your job in America is to be fine. Autonomous and self-sufficient. To be anything less--to need the help of others--is to be a failure. A drag on society. A loser.
This shaming is killing our churches as it shuts down the economy of love, the ways in which we share and respond to the needs of others and how they respond to our needs. The theologian Arthur McGill calls this economy of love a "community of neediness."
But the flow of this economy shuts down if everyone in the church is neurotically shamed into hiding their needs from others. We all would rather play the hero, we all want to be the helper, the one who serves. But we don't ever want to be the one being rescued, or the one needing help, or the one who is being served. Standing in that location--being the needy one among us--is very, very uncomfortable.
Churches tend to hide their fear of loving each other by serving strangers outside the community of faith. The church gives food at the food pantry. The youth group builds a house for a poor family on a mission trip. We send money overseas to the Third World.
Those people are the needy people. We'll help them. But me? I'm fine. I'm good. No, I don't need anything. Can I help you?
It's not that those people at the food pantry or in the Third World don't need anything. It's that the church is responding to these needs in a state of denial. The church is denying its own need, weakness and vulnerability. Thus, the church comes to see itself as a hero, riding in on a white horse to save others. Since we don't need anything from the people we are helping there is no reciprocity, no economy, no relationship, no giving and sharing back and forth.
We show up, do our good deeds and then pack up and leave. Why? Because we don't need anything from those people. They need us. We don't need them.
But we do need them. And we need each other.
All that to say, the economy of love is an eccentric experience. Need is turning outward to others with the expectation of help. What I currently "have" on the "inside" is not enough. I am not self-sufficient. I need you.
In a community of neediness I must look eccentrically outward toward others. In the eccentric economy of love I am filled by others who pour themselves into my life as I pour myself into theirs.