What is it about flowers that change the room? When I was a hospital chaplain, a room always felt different when people had brought flowers in. Even if the patient was fighting an uphill battle against a difficult illness, flowers brought hope into the room. When we have company over, we often put flowers out to make it a little extra special, and it totally changes the environment. Just as brewing coffee brings awakening, or how lighting a candle offers a gentle glow; a humble jar of flowers seems to multiply the love, kindness, and hope in the space.
As we approach the very last hours of the year, I want to touch on a timely subject.
Our financial system runs on a strict observance of the calendar, and once the clock strikes midnight and closes the 2016 year, we begin a new tax year. In order to get credit for charitable contributions on your taxes, you’ve got to beat the deadline, so the end of the year is a time when many people start making donations. For churches and other non-profit organizations working to advance causes of love and justice, this is the time of year that the books come back into balance with the budget we projected the year before as people make year-end contributions.
It’s sad, in a way, that some people largely donate in order to get the tax write-off. But if you have an appreciation for economics, it’s also somewhat encouraging that our system is set up to financially incentivize charitable contributions.
There are many causes that we cannot (and in some cases, should not) defer to a government agency. Our taxes support things like schools, roads, and medicare. Our other, tax-deductible contributions support things like spirituality, feminism, and minority issues. Whatever issue is most important to you, there is an organization fighting for it. If we all throw our weight behind organizations that are already working to improve the world, we can all be part of building a better world.
A Better World. As a Christian, I express this concept as the Kingdom of God, the goal of perfection in love and justice that all major spiritual traditions pursue. The Christian faith itself, in the early centuries, was often called “The Way.” It was a movement comprised of more than just practices of prayer, meditation, and ritual dining–from its birth, Christian has been a way of pursuing love and justice rooted in the example and teachings of Jesus, who was a man of divine character who came from an inconsequential town called Nazareth. In his birth, and in his triumph over death, Jesus revealed God to us. His work in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, forgiving sinners, dining with outcasts, and criticizing the powerful got him killed, but the story of the Resurrection illustrates that all the evil and violence humanity can commit cannot stop the power of God to empower us in practicing the way.
I’m no millionaire, but even small contributions at the grassroots level (my level) make a difference.
First, making small contributions to organizations that are working in these causes is a way to add your name to the list of supporters on an organizations financial records. In a world that runs on the principles of economic exchange, financial statements and accounting books are where we find reality. Want to know if an institution or a public figure is corrupt? Follow the money. Want to know how many people will be saved from disease or hunger? Follow the money and it will become clear.
Second, giving something is always better than nothing. Maybe you’re afraid you can’t afford to support something. In that case, the cost of a cup of coffee is relatively painless and actually makes a difference. Maybe you’re embarrassed you can’t give more. In that case, you should remember that most people don’t really pay that much attention to you anyway; plus, if someone’s really judging me because I don’t give more than $5 to something, they’re welcome to make up the difference for whatever they think I should be donating. No matter how small, something is more than nothing.
Third, giving gets me more invested in the efforts and achievements of these organizations as they fight for causes I believe in. It changes the way you read the headlines when you see an organization you support accomplishing something big. It makes you somehow a part of that achievement, and the joy of celebrating it multiplies.
In the last hours of this year, and as you look toward another year, I encourage you to join in prayerfully considering what small contributions you can make to get involved in the wonderful work happening all around us in building a better world. Even the smallest gift is enough to put flowers on the table, and bring the scent of hope into the room.
N.B. For more on the causes I specifically support, see my write-up, Building a Better World.