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Jaded or joyful givers?

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The fabled tooth fairy has yet to make an appearance at our house. When my daughter lost her first tooth last fall, she vehemently refused to put it under her pillow. “Why would I give such a special treasure to a complete stranger?” she reasoned.

Trying to persuade her toward more “conventional” 5-year-old behaviour, I began to plead: “But if you put your tooth under the pillow for the tooth fairy, she’ll leave some money in exchange.” Surely the promise of cold, hard cash would sway her.

“Money?” gasped Sophia. “I don’t want money. I already have too much money!” And that was the end of that.

After I finished chuckling, I took some time to enjoy the sentiment. It’s not too often you hear someone say they have an excess of amount money. Usually, we’re bombarded with messages that boil down to “More money, more money, more money!”

Charity appeals

Most of the messages we hear about money are fuelled by greed and consumerism. But some of them are legitimate – just think of all the worthy charities that request money on a regular basis.

In Canada, there are currently more than 86,000 registered charities doing good work on our behalf. It’s humbling to know that, because of my small donations, others can work for the common good of my community and neighbours – relieving poverty, advancing education and building faith.

I’m grateful that my local church uses my tithes to reach out to people in Winnipeg’s inner city. I’m grateful that MB Mission uses my donations to make a difference in the lives of Thai orphans. I’m grateful that my small contribution to the Canadian conference helps advance the hope of the gospel in Canada, develops leaders and plants churches. These are things I couldn’t do on my own and I’m happy to support charities on the front lines of service.

Stumbling blocks to giving

It’s not surprising to see charities ramp up requests for money. In 2012, Canadian charitable giving fell 1.9 percent, and the number of people reporting charitable donations on their tax return decreased by 1.4 percent. These aren’t huge percentages, but they do indicate a negative trend.

Aside from these statistics, there are other, less tangible changes. From what I’ve seen, charitable giving has become more complicated, less joyful. We tend to talk more about the tax benefits we’ll receive rather than the compassion we feel or the help we can provide.

We’ve also been taught to watch for charity fraud, to ask lots of questions: Does this charity engage in activities that matter to me? How much does the charity spend on administration and how many dollars does it actually use for charitable activity? Can this charity show positive results linked to their mission statement? Does this charity put undue pressure on me to give?

Accountability is critical. But it can put a damper on our zeal for donating. Have we become overly jaded and cynical about charitable giving – asking so many questions that we actually stop sending money? Have we developed an unhealthy possessiveness about charitable giving, feeling the need to control every detail of how our money is used because we don’t trust charities to be good stewards?

Scripture instructs us to “give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). It’s clear that the manner and spirit of our giving matters.

While it’s essential to ask questions, it’s also important to cultivate joy, gratitude and trust through our giving – to recognize we’re blessing others, supporting our communities and joining God in the work of his kingdom through our donations.

Ultimately, we ought to ask ourselves if we’re allowing any personal conflict to affect our charitable giving, particularly to our local church. As part of God’s family, we’re instructed to contribute financially. This isn’t a matter of strict obligation but of participation – and of anticipation: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’” (Malachi 3:10).

Just like my daughter was certain she had too much money (even $5 can seem like a royal treasure when you know someone is taking care of all your needs!), we can be certain our Heavenly Father has more than enough for all of us. In that ultimate knowledge and anticipation, we can give with absolute freedom and joy.

About this issue

Last month, the world reeled when terrorists attacked Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly magazine, leaving 17 dead in Paris.

Beyond the violence and free speech rhetoric, beyond the nasty cartoon jabs, was a devastating current of fear. We watched the Charlie Hebdo tragedy become even more tragic as anti-Muslim sentiments increased in ensuing weeks, with people throwing firebombs and pig heads into French mosques. The media readily used the Charlie Hebdo event to celebrate free speech, but did little to stop the rise of Islamophobia.

As Christians, we cannot possibly witness to the peace of Christ until its fruit is evident in our lives and we learn to know and love others, including Muslims. Our own peace and development agency Mennonite Central Committee actively promotes the pursuit of peace through “facilitating interfaith dialogue and relationship-building across cultural, racial and ethnic divides.” And MB Mission helps its missionaries understand the tenets of other faiths as the missionaries live and serve internationally.

Of course, understanding doesn’t always mean agreement. Dialogue requires listening and asking questions – and it sometimes means addressing disagreements. But this must always be done in love – without fear, animosity or violence.

In the end, true dialogue requires us to be firmly rooted in the hope we ourselves profess. As Islam scholar Gordon Nickel says, the gospel message in 1 Corinthians 15, “is a verbal message that has spiritual power to save. Why would we not articulate the message that saves?” (See “Five Mennonite Brethren gifts for our Muslim friends,”)

As we dialogue with our Muslim neighbours, may we be quick to listen, keen to understand and always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15).

—Laura Kalmar

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