Supporting causes greater than ourselves is a longstanding American tradition. The proof is in the numbers. Most notably in times of disaster like the tsunami of Japan or the Haiti earthquake or Hurricane Katrina – Americans open their checkbooks and set generosity free. Last year, driven by tragedy in Japan and Haiti, eight in ten Americans gave money or time to a charitable organization. And it’s exciting to watch the Millennials and the Generation Xers being clever about giving. Even though they haven’t established steady incomes or accumulated wealth, they are creating innovative programs that provide others new ways to support charitable concerns – like building wells in Africa. Among so many donors to both faith-based and community charitable endeavors you’ll discover a variety of giving patterns and perceptions. Do you have a plan for giving to something greater than yourself?
Over the past decade Vice President Joe Biden and his wife averaged donations of $369.00 per year. That’s .3% of their income. Is this his plan? This past weekend I learned of an individual who announced he didn’t give to charities because he was paying taxes. What’s his plan? In his mind is there nothing greater than himself? In a recent article about presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, the reporter tried to embarrass the candidate by writing that while his church encouraged giving 10% of one’s income – he had only averaged 9.7% over recent years – a full .3% under his target! They tried to use his generosity as an attack on his integrity. Whatever our position on the matter of donating our time, talent and treasure, we can agree a variety of perceptions exist.
In church, much of the worship experience consists of corporate activities – things we do together – such as singing, sharing in a public prayer, or meditating on common thoughts during the pastor’s sermon. But part of worship is individual in nature and that’s our personal worship as we give our offerings and tithes. While the ushers pass the offering basket to everyone at a designated time, how each person responds is known only to them. Often, sealed envelopes are placed in the basket. Some churches use a velvet bag suspended from a handle so gifts are quietly and privately given out of view. In the church in which I grew up, the ushers would deliberately turn their backs and look away from the parishioners as the plates were passed down the row to add to the sense of privacy. While a time of offering is corporately observed it is an individual act. Support for charitable work in a community can be either private or public but the vast majority of donations are given with little fanfare.
There are varying reasons as to why and how people give to the church or to charity. Some bring family traditions to bear, some call upon varying interpretations of the Scriptures, others have ulterior motives and crave publicity more than philanthropy. Some jump from one emotional appeal to another. Others want to quietly make a difference in their community and support the need that will always be with us. And for some, giving is an afterthought – they put in what they won’t miss or the loose change left from a week of eating out.
Here’s another perception to add to the mix.
One Sunday, our family came early to church an hour before the worship service. Sue needed some extra time ahead of the service to practice that morning’s music. To fill the time I took our daughter, Sarah (then three and a half), to the church library for some books and then up the stairs to the balcony to read. I thought she might enjoy exploring the area and seeing this perspective of the beautiful church architecture. To a child’s eye a view from the balcony must appear as if gazing into the Grand Canyon. We rarely sat in this area as we usually were involved up front in the choir or with special music. Fascinated by the newness of this space, Sarah kept busy exploring the sloping floors and sweeping views the balcony as I quietly read.
After a few minutes I heard a cry of excitement and turned to see her running down the center aisle of the balcony with raised eyebrows of amazement and waving a dollar bill over her head.
It was profound in the singleness of the thought. I was overcome with the joy reserved for parents who sense our simple instruction about giving and priorities are taking hold in a young mind. She hadn’t found a dollar for her piggy bank or for candy or a dollar for new crayons – she had found – an offering! Now here was a cheerful giver.
There is unparalleled beauty in a child’s innocence and in the humbleness of a pure thought. What a thrill to tarry in the presence of a simple idea for a dad whose mind is pulled by the mortgage payment, the food bill, and the unexpected dentist’s bill.
I encouraged Sarah in her discovery and told her we would put it in the offering plate during the service. But she couldn’t wait! She had to give it right now!
At her insistence, we went downstairs right then and she crawled under the back pew where Mr. Keener, the head usher, kept the offering plates. She tucked the dollar into the bottom plate of the stack so it wouldn’t be seen. “Jesus likes that, doesn’t He Dad?”
It’s easy for us adults, with our busy schedules and sophisticated budgets and our long-range plans – to easily overlook need and scale but at some point wouldn’t we be well served to contemplate a child’s idea of giving – a pure and simple expression of priorities. Do we dare compare it to our own?
Whatever our perception of giving, I hope Sarah’s story at the least would cause us to adopt a plan or an attitude about giving. Do we offer the left over change on the top of the dresser or do we give from what is left after the bills are paid or do we just let others support the work of the church and the community? Are we looking for a good feeling or do we make a deliberate commitment to regularly write a check because somewhere out there is a cause greater than ourselves?