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A Personal Invitation

By September 10, 2014 4 Comments

Let me begin by expressing my deep gratitude to Sarina Gruver Moore for guest-blogging for me all summer here on The 12.  Sarina is such a talented, wise writer—I know from the emails I received when people realized that I was not the source of the postings under my name how much she was appreciated by all of you.  For me personally, Sarina’s willingness to take over the blog this summer was a great gift that allowed me to really focus on learning: I was in Italy much of the summer, where I had the privilege of studying Dante’s Commedia as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar.  Despite the direness of the summer—what the New York Times described yesterday as “the worst summer of news ever”— the summer of 2014 for me was rich and restorative. But that is thanks to Sarina and my other friends who made my being away possible. 

It’s the possibilities of friendship, then, that made me want to think a little more about what Jeff Munroe explored last week in “What the Ice Bucket Challenge Means for Fundraising.”  Curious about the phenomenon of the ASL Ice Bucket Challenge that swept the internet over these last months, Jeff notes at one point: 

And not being famous or popular enough to be named by someone is the downside of this challenge.  Millions of people were named, but millions of others who probably would have participated were never challenged by someone else. 

I wonder if the “downside of this challenge” is actually the biggest lesson: people participate—even in things that seem odd or unexpected or costly or potentially uncomfortable—when they are asked.  They typically don’t when they aren’t.  That’s a simple but provocative idea.  Think about its implications. 

Think about how it might change how we do church, how we do ministry, how we do life. 

What’s more, folks will often go above and beyond what one expects once they are asked.  Consider how the challenge began: originally, people were asked to donate money OR dump the bucket of ice as a negative consequence. Instead, as the challenge went on, people started doing both—and seemed to take a considerable amount of joy in doing so. And asking more people to do it.

Sure, people are good-hearted and sometimes volunteer.  I myself suffer quite often from a case of simple, chronic duty-itis.  But even I, inveterate Martha that I am, know that I am much more willing to help, to attend an event, to spend a little extra time, to donate money, if I am asked. 

Think how often we don’t ask.

Which puts me in mind of a story: when I was a child, my mother came home from one of her many committees and reported over supper that they had been discussing increasing participation in the group.  After various strategies were suggested, one woman said rather exasperatedly, “what do they want: a personal invitation.” 

To which my mother replied: “Yes.”

Think, too, about why we don’t ask.  What stops us?

As Jeff observes, “millions of others who probably would have participated were never challenged by someone else.”  Why not? Of course, many reasons probably exist, but could it be partly that no one even thought to ask them?  Or worse, didn’t know enough about them to know if they were worth asking? How often do the “usual suspects” do the work because it’s easier than figuring out and going to the trouble (and perhaps risk) of asking a barely known person sitting in the pew?

They’re going to say no anyway, right?

Tell that to hundreds of thousands of pounds of ice. 

I don’t know if I have a way for Jeff to “harness” all of this for development purposes.  But I do wonder how things would look if, in the cause of Christ, we were willing to ask folks to participate with us—and without apology for the weird and wild behavior that might follow. 

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.


  • Laura says:

    I do wonder how things would look if, in the cause of Christ, we were willing to ask folks to participate with us—and without apology for the weird and wild behavior that might follow.

    That line's going to stick with me.

    (Welcome back!)

  • /s says:

    I love your mother 😉

  • Jeff Munroe says:

    Jennifer – one of the "duh" maxims in fundraising is "the number one reason people give money is because they are asked."

  • Jennifer Holberg says:

    Very true, Jeff. I was inspired by your column to keep thinking, so thanks. Asking is hard work, to be sure. I was just struck by how often we don't ask.

    Thanks, /s–I think I could write a year's worth of columns on my mother.

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