Adding a little charity

Its the most wonderful time of the year, so the song goes. Depending on just who you ask, you may be the feeling that for some it is anything but. Interestingly enough I can certainly relate.

This year, I am having a very difficult time getting in to that all important “Christmas Spirit.” And despite what some may think, it has little to do with the fact that they have been piping holiday music into the speaker directly over my head at work since November 1, or the fact that my budget is forcing me to keep my shopping list small. I am not alone in that.  It has a little more to do with the fact that my family dynamics have changed this year, as well as the fact that Christmas with my son-in-law and the daddy of my grandchildren will be delayed till he returns from Afghanistan this coming Spring. In that we are hardly alone either, many families have undergone transitions this year, losing members for one reason of another, and there are thousands of men and women in uniform who will be spending Christmas away from home.

Even so, there are people who have it worse then I. Buying a gift for their children is in question for some parents. For some it is due to the fact that they have lost a job, and just paying the rent and buying groceries is more then unemployment can cover. For some that source of income will soon be gone. I wonder if they can feel any joy right now?

Other families have been hit hard by illness, which has changed everything. I can imagine it is hard to sing “Joy to the World” when one is facing Chemo, or when a husband has to put his wife into a nursing home. When one’s world has been upended like that, the trappings of a holiday tends to be not as big a deal as getting through the day, caring for the one who is suffering and just trying to keep up hope.

Others still have other issues that seem a holiday based on love and joy seem empty. Poverty, abuse, hopelessness are the norm, and for some it seems that there is no relief. They may enjoy the holiday, but it is only for a day and they know it.

Now that I have managed to depress anyone, I must ask a question. If we know that there are people who are in less then joyful situations this holiday, or if we find ourselves in that situation, then what can we do about it, and are we willing?

It is of no small coincidence that faith based charitable organizations have their biggest fund raising drives at this time of year. It is now where many also use a great deal of their annual budgets helping individuals and families. They recognize that at least for one day of the year, people want to at least attempt a feeling of joy, of family and of hope. Of course charities try to help at other times, but it is at this time, that the focus is the greatest.

While I can greatly respect their efforts, I do believe that spending so much focus on giving a little cheer on just one day a year is a little short sighted. What happens on December 26, when the illness is still there, the bills are still over-due or the kids are still without food? Or on February 15, or June 23? That becomes the big question doesn’t it? Is it enough to help out just for one day a year, and should we put all our charitable eggs in that one basket just because it’s Christmas? For some reason there is the prevalent myth out there that we need to be kind, generous and willing to look past differences on this one day of the year. Why just then?

It is a matter of fact that Christmas is going to be tough for a lot of people for various reasons. The economy or life circumstances has made things tough, and it isn’t likely that things are not going to turn around all that quickly. Charitable organizations are seeing more and more people asking for help, especially as government subsidies and private donor ships have waned. But there are things we all can do, simple things, proven things that can make for a better holiday, and maybe even a better 2011 for someone else, and likely ourselves.

There are of course a lot of things that we can do to help others, besides just dropping a few extra coins in the Salvation Army bucket or participating in the Toys For Tots campaign. If we want to be a strong, vibrant community, then we should want to participate in working to see that everyone in our community has at least their basic needs met, all through the year, not just at Christmas. We don’t have to depend on a charity, or faith based organization or even our government to do the work for us. We can participate ourselves, as individuals and as a community, even if it is in small ways.

What we often discover, when we participate, is that we are much more fortunate then we realized. When we help those in need, then we can be grateful for the fact that we are in a position to do so. We can also be very inspired by listening to other’s stories, and seeing that they know that things are rough for them, but they seem to be happy and content with their lot anyway. Anytime I’ve met someone like that, I feel ashamed for complaining about my situation, which often isn’t near as harsh as theirs. We get to experience gratitude, or if we decide to help out anonymously, an interesting feeling of satisfaction, knowing that you helped make someone else’s life a little bit more bearable.

When we help each other, we build relationships, which often evolve into friendships, which work to mold a better community. When we do these things, we can become more aware about the hurts and needs of our neighbors and be more willing to do something to help. Taking a willing stance to be less worried about only our own needs can actually make our own problems more bearable, because we aren’t focusing on them so strongly. We have managed to, at least for a time, focus on someone else’s needs, and we both walk away a little better as a result.

We in our community, our state and our nation have some tough challenges ahead. I do know, however that they are challenges that we can meet and reduce the damage from, if we are willing. It would require us to set aside preconceived notions, political leanings, personal prejudices, and individual ideologies.  I know, a seemingly impossible request, but one that is necessary so us to succeed.

As Christmas certainly is equated with a religion, I figured I would use religion to make my point. Being generous to others, willing to help, kind and thoughtful is certainly something found amongst   people of varied faiths as we shall see.

The Hindu faith teaches in its third niyama

Be generous to a fault, giving liberally without thought of reward. Tithe, offering one-tenth of your gross income (dasamamsa) as God’s money, to temples, ashrams and spiritual organizations. Approach the temple with offerings. Visit gurus with gifts in hand. Donate religious literature. Feed and give to those in need. Bestow your time and talents without seeking praise. Treat guests as God.

The Christian faith teaches

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27)

The jewish faith teaches

The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

The Islamic faith teaches.

All human beings, according to Islam, have been created by one and the same God,  and for this reason they belong to one great brotherhood. All being descendants of the same progenitor, Adam and Eve, they should naturally be each other’s  well-wishers. They must willingly come to one another’s  assistance, like  members of the same large family. Islam has, therefore,  laid the greatest of emphasis on the support of destitute and disabled members of society. It is a sacred duty of the wealthy to give part of their  possessions to fulfill the needs of the deprived sections of the community.

A society can flourish only when its members do not spend all their  wealth on the satisfaction of their  own desires but reserve a portion of it for parents, relatives neighbours, the poor and the incapacitated.  As the saying goes: Charity begins at home. A true believer is thus always prepared, after meeting the needs of his family, to assist other people in need of his help.

Almost every major faith has teachings on charity, and even many of those who do not profess a faith agree that helping those in need is a good thing. Naturally we don’t have to use the excuse of a Christian holiday to put these wonderful tenets into practice, and make them a part of our every day lives. My being the eternal optimist would love to see such a thing taking place and becoming common place. Considering that the four religions I mentioned are surprisingly similar when addressing that being charitable is a good thing, one would think that agreeing on this concept would have people setting aside their religious differences and simply work together to do a job that benefits us all. Maybe one day we can get a little closer to reaching that ideal.

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