If giving is living, to live is to give

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2006

This week I heard a multibillionaire say on television that he could not afford to retire. His reason? He was afraid he would not have enough to retire on. He went on to state flatly that his billions were just not quite enough. It appears there are a lot of folks who can’t seem to enjoy what they have for thinking about what they don’t have. For good reason this season of the year is needed to help us think about our own blessings then give to those in need.

Just this week I received an email from a former student and friend who is founder and president of a prestigious corporation in California with offices in China. His email carried a copy of President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 as an attachment. As I reviewed that document, written in the midst of the horrible civil war, I was struck by the fact that it reads almost like a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s providence and many blessings.

I am convinced that America is being sorely tested at this juncture in our history. We are a people who have gone astray from the moral and spiritual path laid out by our forefathers. We have made mistakes and miscalculations that have been costly in terms of human life and material wealth, yet we remain blessed by God beyond what we should expect and beyond our best dreams.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In his proclamation Lincoln said:

“No human hand hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People”.

There is a powerful force in America’s psyche that makes giving a natural and beautiful thing to do. Historically we have always shared our blessings with the needy at home and abroad. Mortimer Zucherman described it well in a recent editorial in the U.S. News and World Report newsmagazine:

“We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong central government, a dominant church and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young frontier society with no tradition of strong central government, with no state religion, and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church, or a school, or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer could not put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help the favor was promptly returned.”

Over a century and a half ago, the French critic of American culture, de Tocqueville, was impressed by our ability to make money but also our willingness to share our blessings with others. He wrote, “When an American needs the assistance of his fellows, it is very rare for that to be refused. When some unexpected disaster strikes a family, a thousand strangers willingly open their purses.” Here in our local community we could name dozens of times when neighbors and friends shared their time and money to help others. Picayune is rich in organizations manned primarily by volunteers, whose purpose is to help individuals and families when and where they need help.

We have recently witnessed the setting up of many personal and corporation foundations whose purpose is to help underprivileged students get an education, seek cures for the treatment of serious diseases, and to promote the spiritual well- being of the nation. Take for example the three people who were chosen Persons of the Year by Time Magazine, Bill and Melinda Gates and a terrific rock star from Ireland called Bono. Before the Gates met Bono in 2002 they had no interest in doing so. Bill thought it would be a waste of time. “World health is immensely complicated. It doesn’t really boil down to a ‘Let’s be nice’ analysis. So I thought a meeting wouldn’t be all that valuable.”

As the Time reporter said, “It took about three minutes with Bono for Gates to change his mind.” Thank God for persuasive Irish fluency. An alliance was born in the world-wide war against poverty. “Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world’s richest countries into forgiving 40 billion dollars of debt owned by the poorest; now those countries can spend the money on health and schools rather than interest.” The Gates, having built the world’s biggest charity, with a $29 billion endowment, spent the year giving more money away faster than anyone ever has.”

At a recent National Prayer Breakfast in the nations capitol, Bono said, “After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world’s poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And its true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors. In fact, Mr. President, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health.your plan for aids relief.put 471,000 people on to life saving anti-retroviral drugs.and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.”

You might be aware that, back in the 1970s and 80s America invested in rural development in India. Today India is well able to feed its people and is a thriving market for our goods and services. In fact 43 of the top 40 consumer nations of American agricultural products once received U.S. foreign aid. However, the helping hand of our government does not compare to the contributions of 965,000 charity organizations that gave $248 billion in 2004. Despite our roller coaster economy over the last four decades, the total amount of charity organization’s giving has increased in 39 of the last 40 years. Today, over 80% of America’s aid to developing countries comes from private sources. Less than 20% comes from the government.

In this holiday season from Thanksgiving through Christmas we give because we have been richly blessed and we have an obligation to give back. More of us could and should, give more. We are called upon to help others because every human being is endowed by our Creator with tremendous worth and dignity.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, come you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me.”

— Matthew 25:34-36, 40