Thursday, November 25, 2010

We Americans are Great Givers

An open letter to our Third World neighbors:

    In spite of everything you may have heard to the contrary, we Americans do give very liberally. Many of us even outdo the poor widow in the Bible, the one Jesus commends for offering up her last penny. Indeed, we often give so far beyond our means that we have to borrow to our limit in order to keep up our rate of giving.
    Unfortunately, not much of that generosity benefits charities or our local churches. In that department, we Christians north of the Rio Grande contribute an average of only about 3% of our incomes. And of that money, usually well over one-half goes for things like air conditioning, heating, maintenance and mortgage costs for the buildings in which we worship and fellowship--up to two hours a week (unless we’re on one of our weekend vacations)--as well as to cover the salaries of those we hire to care for, lead and teach us, the members. So we hope this explains why so little of our charitable giving can actually go to meet the needs of the poor around us--or to the south of us--or to help propagate our faith. 
    To be honest, we admit that the bulk of our really cheerful giving is done at places like Wal-Mart, K-Mart and the nearby Quick-Mart. We do love to shop, and tend to give most generously for things like pet food, snack food, junk food, convenience food and for the array of fine foods available at our favorite delis and restaurants, much of it imported from countries like yours where labor is cheap. And we also contribute large sums to the automobile and oil industries, so that we now have more licensed vehicles to fuel and maintain than we have licensed drivers to drive them. In addition, we willingly give more and more of our incomes to banks and furniture outlet stores for ever larger and more comfortably furnished homes.
    You might wonder, Does all of this giving reflect our real values?
    Actually, yes. Each time any of us gives another offering at yet another cash register, we are saying that, at that moment at least, we consider that product or service worth exactly what we are investing in it. In the same way, when it comes to offering our gifts to God, as an expression of our love for our Creator and for our neighbors, we are also stating, quite specifically, the actual value that represents to us.
    Are we ever bothered by where all our money goes, and how quickly it is gone? Or that every year, in the US, most of us contribute far more to our nation’s military budget than we do to our church’s missionary budget?
    Yes, of course we're bothered, in light of our living in one of the wealthiest and most heavily armed countries in the world. And yet, for whatever reason, God, unlike our national government, doesn’t actually demand any tribute from us in return. God asks for our joyous and generous offerings, but so far hasn’t insisted on actually collecting all the rent we owe for living on this blessed part of the planet.
    So what would you do if you were in our shoes?
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