Please, Give Generously Today
Dear old and new friends,
Jesus never said, “When in need—beg!” He sent his disciples off to preach the Good News without a staff, second cloak or money to live in the unshakable trust of God’s loving care. As for our daily needs, he said to pray, “Give us this day’s bread”; and the apostle Paul said, “Pray always.” Now since pray sounds very much like the English word “prey,” his disciples today whose ministries are in need often “prey” upon us as if we were wild game. As Sherlock Holmes said, “Hurry, Watson the game is afoot,” you and I are the targets in this holiday season for pious beggars from a rainbow of religious affiliations, some of whom actually come to your door begging. But I know of no single scriptural justification for Christians to become beggars, regardless how worthy their cause.
Personally, I was unaware Christmas was so near until two weeks before Thanksgiving in the front of local stores I found the holiday Salvation Army bell ringers. This is important: The Salvation Army is my favorite organization that cares for the poor; even if I detest their guilt-instilling bell ringers. God gave us eyes to see those in need and wants us to spontaneously and lovingly respond to their needs. Our generosity to them must always be a “gifting” of our love with zero guilt! Feeling guilty, that soul-needling sense that somehow we are at fault is contradictory to loving, yet guilt is often the hidden weapon of pious beggars. They prey upon us by mail, magazine ads and from the pulpit, along with encouragements to enter all kinds of marathons for various causes.
The Salvation Army Christmas fund-raising campaign was chosen by a group of university researchers to test people’s attitudes towards charitable giving. They chose a large store with two main entrances. Salvation Army bell ringers were placed at one entrance, and they alternated simply ringing their small bell with at other times also looking directly into the eyes of the customers, saying, “Please, give today!” Soon the store’s customers began entering by the second door; then when bell ringers appeared at that entrance as well asking for money some people actually began entering by the store’s third door marked for deliveries.
Together with this traffic flow evidence, researchers inside the store surveyed customer’s feelings about the bell ringers. Their combined research showed clearly we hate to be asked for money, though we are usually generous. People also hated feeling that their empathy was being exploited by being coerced by direct encounters to be charitable. As Christmas draws closer, in smaller communities it is common for bell ringers to be local volunteers from churches, various social and business groups. Naturally some of these folks are personally known, so now social pressure is added to insure donating. To avoid those distasteful bell ringers without guilt I send my Christmas donation directly to the Salvation Army itself.
Once while traveling west I stopped to visit a small, old wooden country church with a sign that said it was over one hundred years old. Entering I looked around, and my eyes were drawn to the rear of the church where against the back wall were leaning two old, unique collection baskets. At the ends of their wooden poles were faded, purple velvet bags attached with a bell at the bottom of each. In such a small country church where everyone knew everyone else, I easily could envision heads turning towards the sound of the bell on a collection bag rung by an usher either to awaken—or to persuade—a reluctant parishioner to give.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher known for his defense of personal freedom of the individual. While Nietzsche rejected Christianity, I wonder if Jesus of Galilee would have agreed with the truth of this quotation of his: “Beggars should be abolished entirely! It is annoying to give to them, and it is annoying not to give them.”