With Hallowe’en and All Saints Day, we are now astronomically in the second half of Fall. As the Autumn weather turns the leaves to flame, we notice more the chill in the air and the dimming of the day. Folks who are living on the edge of not having enough food or enough money to pay the rent feel this time of the year with greater urgency: fewer hours of daylight to make a little money, more severe consequences to lacking shelter.
Being aware of this might make you feel like seeking a way to help our poor neighbors. Good.
However, according to recent study data, Americans do not all share the same impulses to give to the needy. The web-journal Philanthropy.com reported in January, 2015:
“As the recession lifted, poor and middle class Americans dug deeper into their wallets to give to charity, even though they were earning less. At the same time, according to a new Chronicle [of Philanthropy] analysis of tax data, wealthy Americans earned more, but the portion of the income they gave to charity declined….
“The wealthiest Americans— those who earned $200,000 or more— reduced the share of income they gave to charity by 4.6 percent from 2006 to 2012. Meanwhile, Americans who earned less than $100,000 chipped in 4.5 percent more of their income during the same time period. Middle- and lower-income Americans increased the share of income they donated to charity, even as they earned less, on average, than they did six years earlier.”
Do you keep track of your own giving trends ?
In a StillSpeaking Daily Devotional this week,
Rev. Lillian Daniel reflects on this passage from the Gospel of Mark:
“Listen carefully to what I am saying— and be wary of the shrewd advice that tells you how to get ahead in the world on your own. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes,” Jesus said.
- Mark 4:24-26, The Message translation
A well-dressed woman at a religion conference told me that she had learned that it was harder for rich people to experience God's love than the poor. “The poor,” she explained, “have so little that they have to rely on God's love so much more. They just seem so much happier.” This was presumably why she delighted in mission work overseas, where the poor were “just so grateful.” …
I have heard rich people say that the poor are lucky before. But I have yet to hear a poor person say it.
Yes, Jesus does say that we get closer to God by giving away what we have. But the poor do not get closer to God by having less. Most people in the world are not poor by choice. They are poor because other people have more than their fair share. Whole nations steeped in poverty are not an accident of fate. Whole nations who enjoy most of the world's wealth are not God's will.
"Generosity begets generosity," Jesus says. Generosity ought to inspire others to be generous. Mission trips are miraculous faith-filled pilgrimages when they alert us to the injustice in the world and inspire us to be generous and to change things. Mission trips are self-serving vacations when we come back thinking that the poor we met overseas are the lucky ones.
We can admire the poor people we meet, and we can respect them, but to call them lucky is ridiculous. When generosity begets stupidity it wasn't really generosity to begin with. But when generosity begets more generosity, it is the real thing.
Prayer: Dear God, give bread to those who are hungry and a hunger and thirst for justice to those who have plenty. Amen