A Time of Giving
Raymond J. Waller, PhD
Many people, because of personal faith, philosophy, a neurological and irrational response to flashing decorations, and uncounted and unknown other motivations, think of this time of year as a season of giving. Some readers may have found themselves serving food to hungry people a few short weeks ago on a holiday called Thanksgiving (a clarification may be needed at this point. You didn’t serve the hungry, because the problem of hunger was resolved officially during the presidency of George W. Bush-hunger no longer exists in this country. If you served food to people who looked hungry, they may have been food insecure, which is the term used by the USDA. I’m sure you see the difference.) may have done so because you are thankful that you are not among the regularly hungry food insecure. You may have engaged in this service because it made you feel good to do so. You may have served the hungry food insecure in order to casually mention to others your exemplary conduct, whereby they would recognize you as the pillar of generosity and humility your mother told you that you are. If you work in certain vocational areas, such as higher education, then one of the primary domains of your job performance is service (in higher education, you are evaluated in 3 areas: teaching, scholarship, and service), and you may have needed to beef up the résumé. In any case, the outcome was that a good thing was done.
Thanksgiving, as I understand it, is a day that celebrants take the time to reflect on their personal bounty and, if so moved and in the position to do so, share that bounty just a bit with others. We are now within days of another holiday, widely though not universally observed, called Christmas. Christmas is also a time of giving-although it means much more, depending on the person-but is different in that Christmas celebrates sacrificial giving (again, if I understand correctly). I have heard people speak of their concern and anger over there being a ‘war on Christmas’, but I don’t share their concerns. At this point in my own life, I have no desire whatsoever to offend other people with word or deed, so I am more than willing to consider how I express my best wishes to another person during this holiday season. Likewise, any way you express positive wishes to me (assuming someone has them) is appreciated. No battlefield to conquer here.
As far as a ‘war on Christmas’, the fact is that I can sacrificially give if I want to, regardless of your opinion, so you may want to have your attorney draft the surrender terms-I think I just won the war on Christmas. If there is actually a war on Christmas, I think the true adversary is me. It is difficult not to see Christmas as, at the very least, a careful balancing, based on cost-benefit shopping plans, of what I give versus what I receive. At best, I recoup anything I’ve spent and make out like a bandit, showing a huge net profit for every dollar spent (this is called a business plan). If the war I’m describing is lost, we could just rename ‘Christmas’ Thanksgetting, that way having both alliteration and some circuitous continuity from the previous holiday.
My point is, you may want to call your attorney back and have him wait on drawing up your surrender. Besides, he charges by the hour (this is called his business plan). My previous statement-I can sacrificially give if I want to-is, at best, only partially true. Most of us want to sacrificially give, just as surely as most students want to receive an A in every course. Not every student, however, puts in the work that earning an A requires, any more than every good intention becomes good work. This battle, like so many, really wages within rather than without.
For people of the Christian faith, scriptural passages describing the birth of Jesus are discussed by many as being ‘the Christmas story’. At the risk of presumption-and after confessing that I am neither a Biblical scholar nor have I played one on TV-I think there should, then, be two Christmas stories. The second, though another Biblical chronicle-will be recognized by many, regardless of personal faith. It is the account of an elderly, impoverished widow, who, upon entering the temple, put two small copper coins in the treasury, among many wealthy people who were giving much larger sums. Of course, these wealthy donors gave only a fraction of what they had, while the widow gave everything that she had. It is worth noting that a widow during that time period would almost certainly have no means of income. Obviously (as may be the case when I’m ready to retire), there was no social security.
Another common point made when this story is told is that, in at least some cases, the purpose of large donations from wealthy contributors was to be watched and venerated by others—a phenomenon, perhaps, similar to news stories, magazines, and television shows devoted to deifying celebrities today. Speaking solely for myself, my level of interest in either of these panderings of purchasable reverence is nonexistent. Most of the reasons mentioned earlier that can motivate giving are ultimately self-serving. As mentioned, a good thing may have occurred to a person in need, but the giver, in such circumstances, is deprived of receiving the truest gift any of us might ever be offered-the depth of our humanity. Even those who give to others only ‘because it makes them feel good’ often fail to see that they fail to see. Giving-real giving-is sacrificial, often inconvenient-or painful. The person I want to watch is the widow-she truly has something to teach me about giving.
Do not assume that any of these observations and exercise in reflection are an intent to criticize another person, nor should they diminish your joy during the season. I extend to you only the sincerest wishes for all the positive things this season might bring. Actually, I extend one other… if you also consider the example of the widow a rare lesson in giving, I convey to you one of the most personally meaningful examples of sacrificial giving I have seen—the people and the organization known as TOPS (The Ordinary People’s Society). I have, in one way or another, been part or participant of many organizations. The energy, commitment, mission, perseverance, and passion that are part of TOPS surprises and humbles me continually-but less so than the things this organization-these people-accomplish. And in this season of giving, and in the event that you hear a call to give, do so. If you need a venue for giving, just look around. Or speak with the people at TOPS. I do not say this as a recruitment or solicitation attempt. I offer this option as a gift, which is what my participation with TOPS has been.
TOPS a Time of Giving
A Time of Giving