Sunday, November 2, 2014

Getting My Fair Share

I am just starting to read Lawrence Lovasik’s book The Hidden Power of Kindness.  I had only read its opening words about love of God and neighbor and a giving of self, when my thoughts turned to opposite feelings:  the desires for getting things for myself.
We seem to be witnessing a world in which there is a growing desire to “get things for myself,” often justified by “I deserve it” or “it is my right.”  It used to be a problem in our culture when people worked hard and profited by their efforts, that they sometimes thought the fruits received were totally of their efforts, and not a blessing from God.  In our culture, pride used to be a worrisome sin; we sometimes thought we were alone in our efforts, even when we knew in our hearts that we were not.  And even if we saw God’s hand in our blessings, we often felt they were deserved, rather than a gift, given in His love.  We knew these feelings were wrong.  Pride was once considered the root of all evils, as witnessed by Lucifer’s revolt against God, and Adam and Eve’s fall from the Garden.  But the Christian witness against individual pride has more recently changed to a witness against the new prevailing cultural value of pride:  Pride is changing from a vice to a virtue in our society, and where Christians once stood against a bad thing, they now find themselves standing against what is perceived as a good.
The Great Commandment to love God and neighbor has changed in our culture to a command to love yourself.  It is taught to our children in schools, where everyone is said to be equal, not matter what they say, do or think, and where (feeding their pride) people are never to be criticized.  No one is to ever be considered wrong in what they believe or do; no one may claim he has the truth.  There is no God but the individual, no truth but his self-defined truth.  And despite what you may privately believe, you and your religion are wrong to publically disagree with someone else’s truth.  And from what is taught in our schools grow adults who spread the rule of pride into our laws and culture, and who spread our worldwide message:  it is wrong to expect anyone to work to get ahead, no, everyone deserves to be given what he wants.  Love of neighbor?  No, he must love you first, and give you your fair share.  It is the Christian thing for him to do, the culture says.
With my finance background, my mind goes to the economic illogic (and proven impossibility) of communism, the taking from the rich to give to the poor “their fair share.”  It doesn’t work; soon there will be no more rich to take from, and all will be poorer than they’ve ever been, and even worse:  they won’t have a God to console them.  Financially and then emotionally, mandatory sharing leads to disaster.
What I fear, however, is not the financial collapse which arises from acceding to those demanding a fair sharing.  No, what I fear is the possible despair of those who today willingly give their fair share, Christians who believe and practice their faith.  Who I fear for is the one who kind of acts like the generous giver at Halloween.  The word of his generosity quickly spreads:  “Hey, he’s giving out big candy bars,” or “He’s giving out dollar bills.”  Suddenly the generous person is overwhelmed by way more people than expected at his Halloween door.  He doesn’t have sufficient candy or money to meet those asking for “trick or treat,” and worse, he finds those coming to his door are not asking for his candy or money, but demanding it.  How does this good Christian react in such a culture?  I fear for some, perhaps many, it is to give up, to turn out the porch light and say to the crowd:  “I’m done for tonight” --- and perhaps to be done with his generosity for all future Halloween nights also.
When pride and narcissism are virtues in a society, Christians begin to feel not part of that society.  They begin to feel and voice their own new set of “rights:” the right to not be taxed excessively, to not be harassed, to not have their religion questioned, and the right to be left alone.  And many Christians feel a pressure to “tweak” the commandment to love their neighbor, by seeing it as a rule “to agree” with their neighbor, to join the culture, and to also get their fair share, their share of feeling loved.
But that’s the rub of the matter:  You can’t command someone to love you.  Love is a gift freely given, not demanded, just as sharing must be.  Love can’t be forced by a neighbor or by a government.  Christ told us that God loves us freely, and in freedom that is what He asks us to do.  He doesn’t force us to love another.  That is today’s challenge for Christianity, to continue to give our love freely, to God and neighbor --- and to not want nor expect “my fair share” in return.
It is a great challenge today but I ask you to try to look back, if you can, to the time of Christ.  It is no greater challenge today than it was then.  The play running on the cultural stage then is the same as now, only the characters have changed.  Christ and His apostles are gone; now we are the Christian performers on the stage of our non-Christian culture.
Will we earn applause for our efforts?  Will we give up if we don’t receive it?  Will we seek converts to our loving efforts?  Are we willing to die to ourselves for the truth of our beliefs, to “love without counting the cost?”


  1. "Who I fear for is the one who kind of acts like the generous giver at Halloween. The word of his generosity quickly spreads: “Hey, he’s giving out big candy bars,” or “He’s giving out dollar bills.” Suddenly the generous person is overwhelmed by way more people than expected at his Halloween door."

    And so it was with Jesus on earth. He healed, and the crowds came, not to repent and find God, but to get a healing. He multiplied bread and fish, and the crowds came, not to be converted and find God, but because He was giving out free food. He actually complains to them about it, 'you are not looking for Me because you saw signs, but because you ate the food and were filled."

    So the question is not so much how we as Christians can be generous without being taken advantage of. The question should be how are WE acting like the kids mobbing the generous Halloween treat giver? How are WE acting like the unappreciative crowds who ate the loaves and fishes?

    When we live on this abundant earth, and pick fruit from a tree, do we appreciate the God who made and supports the biological system that gives the hundreds of pieces of fruit on that tree, or do we just take for granted trees produce lots of fruit, no big deal? That's what you are talking about in your reflection. Yes, God created the environmental systems that gives us all the food we eat, the air we breathe, the sunshine that makes the crops grow, but how many just take the gift and don't acknowledge the giver? And does He stop giving? Does He stop abundance? No. Because He's God, and because He's infinite. But your insight into the generous Halloween candy giver is God's complaint against us. WE are like the kids who mob and take the candy, and don't care much about the guy who is handing it out. WE do that. Every day.

    And God, who loves each and every one of us, sees our selfishness, and won't act like us humans with our small hearts who resent not being appreciated for our generosity. No. He's patient. He keeps trying to get us to see. He waits for us to get it. Some people never do. They are usually end up somewhat miserable, because the material world that should point to God for them and evoke love and gratitude is just something to exploit, and will never satisfy their deepest longings.

    So, when we see the example of Jesus, who didn't just make it His mission to hand out meals to the crowds, but did it to show them something, we need to imitate Him in what He was after. God knows just handing us everything we need without us having to work for it leads to dissipation and destruction. So what does God really want? He wants us. He has a generous loving heart, much bigger than our own. We need to expand our hearts too, to desire souls; to desire salvation for our fellow man.
    Why do we give to the poor? So they have something materially? Yes, charity. But our charity is a demonstration of our love of neighbor and ultimately our love of God. But we are finite. We will run out of Halloween candy if word gets around. Jesus made His miracle, not only because He had compassion on the crowd, but to get them to see Him, to get them to move closer to Him, to puzzle about Him and the person who made the miracle. To stop and think, 'how did He do that?'

    Giving material things to others in need is very easy, if that’s as far as it goes. You give what you can, and stop when you think you’ve done enough. Giving it in such a way that people are converted to God, well, that is a bit more difficult. And that’s our true mission as Christians.

    1. Well put, Fran, better than my ramblings. Did you ever consider starting a blog?

  2. "Did you ever consider starting a blog?"
    Oh, my goodness, no. It seems when I would need to think of something to write, I'm sure I'd be stumped. But other people's writings sometimes spark something in me, something I often can't resist sharing with them, because I wish I could be having a spiritual conversation with them, instead of just posting my own reflections.
    Also, sometimes I'm quite shy about sharing something that I might feel is an important epiphany given to me from God for my own benefit. I am mindful perhaps He expects some things to be private between Him and I. I would be afraid of blabbing too much, and getting off the narrow road.
    I love St. Francis of Assisi, and love how he balanced his contemplative/hermit side with his mission to preach in towns. Maybe I see my activity in comments sections of being like St. Francis who visited towns to speak to people, but didn't live there.