Time to reassess past then plan for future
I’ve found most of the discarded wrapping paper, some that was even scooted under a chair during the sometimes almost frantic opening of gifts on Christmas morning. The cookie crumbs have been vacuumed up, and I’m in the midst of washing dishes and napkins that were used in the annual holiday eating. It is glaringly obvious that we try to pack an enormous amount of activity into a short period of time and the degree of consumption is embarrassing. We must admit to the shameful reality that many of us have so much while others may have so little.
Sometimes it seems that we have reduced Christmas to simply ‘getting and giving.’ It does sound crass when we word it that way. However, let’s consider that for a moment. Most year-end celebrations like Christmas and Hanukkah grow out of the recognition that, indeed, we have been given life beyond our deserving by a supreme being. We most often name this supreme being God. We might ascribe different attributes to our God, but most often we attribute an awesome amount of giving that comes our way from a loving deity. We acknowledge that we get all of our real value from our God. Giving and getting are basic components to a God-mankind relationship. And so, too, is it basic that this is a two-way street. To whom much is given, much is expected, so says the ‘Good Book.’
Every once in a while, we are hit between the eyes with one of those memorable statements or statistics that lay out the unfair conditions of this world. I was given a sweatshirt once that proclaimed in bold letters that ‘The average age of a homeless person is nine years old.’ That sweatshirt is still in my wardrobe so I can wear it when I need a stark reminder of how fortunate I am and what that says to my taking responsibilities in life.
This is the time of year for assessments or present conditions and plans for the future.
Now that the build up for the actual celebration of Christmas or Hanukkah is past, it is appropriate to turn over the experiences we have just had and look at the underside of it all. The freedom to drive our cars whenever we wished in order to shop, attend parties or meet with family and friends is wonderful but it does reinforce our national energy dependence on fossil fuels with all its questionable attributes. Cheap toys for the kids can mean child labor in a third-world country and loss of jobs here in the United States. I could go on, but I think you get my drift.
Getting and giving, like everything else, can be good or bad depending on one’s motives and manner. Every year between Christmas and New Year’s, I sit down with all the solicitations that have been sent to me since the middle of autumn. I have bundled them up and saved them for a year-end analysis and action. It is a huge stack this year. That ought to tell me something about the nature of our economy worldwide and the needs of nonprofits that serve our communities. There is everything from requests to help in building homes on the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast to proposals by established grand institutions that need funds to educate our children or save our heritage.
The happenings of this past week are a valuable reminder of how materially and spiritually fortunate our family is. It should speak loud and clear to me of the degree to which I must respond to the solicitations for my time and money. Christmas and Hanukkah give me guidelines for the nature of my giving. When I become aware of all my blessings and acknowledge that most of them I neither earned nor deserved, I can, in a right mind and heart, pass them on. I must realize my good fortune to be born in the United States with a support system of family, friends, recourses and opportunities that I did not create. Likewise, the persecuted citizen in Sudan and the child with a birth disability in our country did nothing to induce their condition. Gratitude is a natural response to such revelations.
Most of us don’t see ourselves as philanthropists. We most often picture white-haired old men when we say that word. The dictionary defines the word philanthropy as ‘1. Love for mankind; good will to all men; 2. A benevolent act, institution, gift or the like’.
I think it is important to note the order of these attributes. First, you care and then you share. Simple as that, and I better get started. As it says on the year-end progress report of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, ‘Responsible philanthropy means taking action for the greater good.’
We can all do that no matter what our financial resources, age or traditions. This seems like a natural place for a drum roll and the making of New Year’s resolutions. The year 2007 and beyond is depending upon us.