There is a small movie making its way through U.S. theaters that is worth tracking down (Fandango can help). “Please Give,” as its title implies, is a thoughtful consideration of charity and what a messy business that can be.
This seems to be an especially pertinent issue for Christians, considering benevolence was one of the central themes of Jesus’ teaching. Watching the conflicted characters in “Please Give” – mostly well-off New Yorkers with a surfeit of material things – I couldn’t help but think how Christian charity is more complicated than donating 10 percent of your annual income.
Catherine Keener stars as Kate, a furniture dealer whose husband (Oliver Platt) is charming and whose teenage daughter (Sarah Steele) is happy enough, considering she’s slightly overweight and cursed with bad skin. Kate, though, isn’t content. Instead, she finds herself consumed with guilt, especially over the way she buys furniture off the families of the recently deceased and turns around to sell it for twice the price.
As penance, Kate compulsively gives to nearly every needy person she sees on New York’s streets. Sometimes she even tries to give to those who aren’t in need, as when she hands her leftovers to a disheveled man standing outside a restaurant. His awkward reply: “I’m waiting for a table.”
Despite one character’s insistence to Kate that she is a “good person,” you’re left to wonder if she is indeed motivated by an innate sense of goodness or by her overpowering sense of guilt.
Kate finds an odd sort of peace near the end (spoiler alert), when she finally gives in to her daughter’s repeated pleas for a $235 pair of jeans. Kate seems to understand that the jeans – while insanely overpriced – may be the only thing that can provide her teen girl with the self-confidence she desperately needs.
Is that spoiling her, or in some roundabout way another form of charity? What about those of us who try to practice Christian charity? We’re told that Christians should cheerfully give, but is that something that comes naturally?