Years ago I found an old book plate in a used book store that both disturbed and amused me. It was a depiction of charity and it showed a well dressed woman delivering something to some obviously impoverished people. She towered over them and looked more self-satisfied than compassionate. I kept the picture for several years until it got ruined by a leaking pipe while in storage. It wasn't something that I really wanted hanging on my walls and yet my ambivalence about the depiction of charity made me keep it.
In my work I am often engaged in 'acts of charity' especially around Christmas. We hand out bags of food to students at the university at the end of each term and we help do Christmas hampers at the college. I love doing this stuff - it makes my Christmas actually. Yet there are also times when I worry about becoming the self-satisfied woman in the picture, grateful to the poor for giving me the opportunity to feel good about myself for my generosity. Jim Tagg has an interesting post on the problems of charity at home that speaks to some of my own experience. Read it here.