Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Own Fiscal Cliffs

Many who follow this blog have been involved in non-profits and congregations professionally or as volunteers, so we know about things like “fiscal cliffs,” when expenses exceed donations. And many of us have coped with minimal incomes as clergy, teachers, writers, artists, and service providers, and have braved fiscal cliffs of our own when bills exceed income.

Some years ago I was grateful to have income from leading a weekend retreat, glad to be slightly ahead of the game financially. Then I broke a tooth, requiring unexpected dental costs that emptied my checking account. There were two ways I could interpret that situation: feel despair that my earnings had been depleted by this incident; or feel blessed that I had the resources to cover the unanticipated event. I chose the latter, though I teetered precariously on the brink of a less grateful response!

Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan has suggested that Jesus’ appeal to the poor came because of his attention to the body and its needs, thus the healings, thus the references in the Lord’s Prayer to “forgive us our debts” and “give us this day our daily bread.” Crossan says that bread and debts “are the two ancient ghosts that haunt the peasant imagination.” Often ours as well.  

Those of us in helping or creative vocations often struggle to make ends meet. In the early ’90s I took a job that required me parking my car in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood. Walking past one fine home after another, I thought how Hollywood occasionally makes movies about rich people who have an epiphany and give it all up to serve the less fortunate. I joked with my coworkers that I thought there should also be films about people who have spent their lives helping the less fortunate who have an epiphany and give it all up to become wealthy! (I can guess that you might now be thinking of prosperity gospel and mega-church pastors!)

Preliminary studies indicate that the area of the brain stimulated by winning the lottery is similarly stimulated by giving to charity, a kind of neurological “reward” for doing good. That may be why the best book on serving others that I have read, How Can I Help? (Ram Dass and Paul Gorman) offers examples that the least patronizing and most satisfying help is experienced as mutually beneficial.

When his cheery nephew comes to wish him “Merry Christmas” and invite him to Christmas dinner, Scrooge resists and, regarding his poor nephew’s observance of the holiday, retorts, “Much good it has ever done you!”

To which the nephew replies, “There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say.”

Many of us have derived and even promoted good without much profit. Thus we are more likely to take seriously all those end-of-the-year requests for donations from charities and ministries.

Let’s all feel good this Christmas by making it a little easier for our favorite do-gooders to avoid fiscal cliffs.

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes.  This ministry is entirely funded by your donations. Please click here to make a tax-deductible contribution. Thank you!

For a partisan political take on the government’s fiscal cliff, read my latest Huffington Post post: Pushing Tiny Tim Over Fiscal Cliff.

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