Anna Kurzweil, center. Image via Sally Morrow/RNS

Even people who knew Anna Kurzweil well wouldn’t have guessed she was a millionaire. She grew up on a farm outside of Kansas City, the youngest of eight children, and entered the convent for a few years but spent most of her life as a schoolteacher. She earned less than $20,000 a year, cared for her elderly mother, and eventually retired — on a pension of less than $1,000 a month. She died in 2012, just shy of her 101st birthday.

Abby Olcese 12-01-2014
Pile of gifts. Image courtesy Crepesoles/

Pile of gifts. Image courtesy Crepesoles/

Like a lot of people, I love giving presents almost as much as receiving them. And the best gifts of all are ones that come with a clear understanding of the recipient in mind — ones that involve thought and care. Maybe a weird record with cover art only your best friend would love, or a necklace that goes perfectly with your mom’s favorite dress.

But spending that much effort on gifts for every single person on your list can be exhausting. Handmade gifts sometimes take weeks to plan and make in advance, and you don’t always have the time (or gas money, for that matter) to spend an entire day driving all over town searching for the perfect present, as romantic as that sounds.

Luckily, there are plenty of great resources out there to provide you with excellent gifts that give back. You can find some of them listed in Sojourners’ Just Giving Guide, which offers options ranging from clothes and jewelry to coffee and pecans (yes, pecans!). And if you just can’t find that special something, there are also plenty of choices for giving a donation in honor of a friend or loved one.

Joe Kay 11-25-2014
Candy canes on a table. Image courtesy Wilson Araujo/

Candy canes on a table. Image courtesy Wilson Araujo/

James was playing cards with several other nursing home residents in a room that doubles as their dining area. The “stakes” for their game was a stash of candy from a Christmas party earlier in the day. He saw me and waved me over. James grabbed one of the candy canes in his pile and offered it with his right hand, the one that had L-O-V-E spelled out on the backs of his four fingers with a self-applied tattoo.

“Would you like some candy?” he said.

James was short, thin, in his 40s. His most distinctive features were those homemade tattoos on his fingers, hands and forearms. And the outline of a metal plate protruding from his lower right leg.

An auto accident left the leg mangled. He didn’t have medical insurance to cover the enormous hospital bills. He couldn’t stand on the leg as it healed, so he lost his job as a cook. And soon, his apartment. He was living on the streets, sharing needles and drugs to deaden the pain in his leg. He wound up sharing someone’s AIDS as well.

But that’s not why he was dying. He’d developed cancer. There was nothing they could do.

I got to know James as part of my work as a hospice volunteer. He only slowly warmed to me — all that time on the streets made him wary of people and their motives. He didn‘t trust very much. 

But now he was offering me a candy cane.

Min-Ah Cho 07-09-2014

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle A

Trevor Barton 06-10-2013

Giving hands support a tree. Photo courtesy art4all/

If I were a tree

     I would like to be

          A giving tree.

Leaves a peaceful green,

     Birds could sit and sing,

          Children laugh and swing

                Upon my branches.

Martin L. Smith 11-27-2012

Reflections on the Common Lectionary, Cycle C

Giving money photo, Konstantinos Kokkinis /

Giving money photo, Konstantinos Kokkinis /

Atheists and others who don’t adhere to a religion often say they can be good without God. Now, three new studies appear to back them up.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley conducted three experiments that show less religious people perform acts of generosity more from feelings of compassion than do more religious people. The findings were published in the current issue of the online journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Their results challenge traditional thinking about what drives religious people to perform acts of kindness for others.

“The main take-away from the research is that there may be very different reasons why more and less religious people behave generously, when they do,” said Robb Willer, an assistant professor of sociology at Berkeley and a co-author of the studies.

Derek Flood 12-12-2011
Office Grinch peppersprays the Whos of Whoville. Image via officer-grinch-21501-

Office Grinch peppersprays the Whos of Whoville. Image via officer-grinch-21501-1321977693-24.jpg

Pepper spray.

Those two words bring to mind two very contrasting images from recent headline news: One is the shocking image of University of California at Davis students seated on a pathway, arms linked in peaceful protest, as they are repeatedly doused with pepper spray by a zealous campus police officer. The other is of the equally zealous shopper on Black Friday who sprayed her fellow Walmart customers so she could buy a discounted X-Box.

On the one hand we have an image of the power of nonviolent protest to expose injustice, and on the other an appalling image of consumer greed.

These are the signs of our times.

Cathleen Falsani 11-23-2011
"Mi Famiglia." The author's family gathered for her son's baptism.

"Mi Famiglia." The author's family gathered for her son's baptism in Laguna Beach, Calif.

To me, "unexpected" is at the heart of how I understand grace. It is the unearnable gift, the divine reversal and sacred surprise, the still small voice that drowns out the din of the maddening crowd, the little bit extra that my Cajun friends call lagniappe, the very thing we "deserve" the least but get anyway. From God. From the One who created the world and the audacious, indescribably power of love.

Taking a cue from Nell, here are just a few of the unexpected blessings I am grateful for today:

For God's fingerprints that cover every inch of our world, seen and unseen. And for the moments where I can almost make out the holy whirls imprinted in the sky, the ocean, the sunlight, and on the faces and stories of each of us.

For the generosity and selflessness I see so vividly — all around me, all the time — even in these lean, nervous days. I saw it in Zuccotti Park, where strangers prepared and served food to other strangers. I saw it in the sober faces and strong arms of the men who helped 84-year-old Dorli Rainey to safety after she was pepper-sprayed at an Occupy rally in Seattle. I heard it in the prayers lifted at the White House, at North Park University in Chicago, and in the basement of a church in Spanish Harlem where kind, mighty souls formed Human Circles of Protection last week and stood in solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable, and the least of those among us. I watched it on display at border crossings, immigration rallies, refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, and at a glass blower's studio in my hometown of Laguna Beach where strangers arrived with shovels and wheelbarrows to help dig out an artist and his artwork from the muddy ravages of a flash flood. I saw it in the fresh coat of paint on the front steps of my elderly parents' home in Connecticut that my cousins had applied for them with great care and kindness when my brother and I couldn't be there to do it.

the Web Editors 11-04-2011

knotted celt

When the injustices of this world seems too much for us to handle, help us to remember that you fed 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish

Chris LaTondresse 03-01-2011

"Farewell Rob Bell." With this three word tweet John Piper -- senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and elder statesman of the neo-reform stream of American Christianity -- triggered an online firestorm over the weekend.

Debra Dean Murphy 02-24-2011
One of the steadfast realities of following the lectionary is the predictable rhythm of its three-year cycle of readings. Preparing a sermon for Baptism of the Lord Sunday in 2011?
Shane Claiborne 12-07-2010
Critiquing the thick irony of the Christmas season is fair.
Jeannie Choi 11-12-2010

Natural Birth. Pedicures. Detroit. Here's a little round up of links from around the web you may have missed this week:

Jeannie Choi 10-22-2010
The Simpsons. Ethnic Studies. Walter Brueggemann. Here's a little round up of links from around the web you may have missed this week:

Glenn Beck is wrong on so much: wrong on social justice and liberation theology. His logic is often flawed. He is much too prone to use Nazism as an inappropriate analogy for what happens in contemporary America. He is one of the most divisive voices speaking in the United States today.

A few summers ago, my son brought a little white plastic birdbath to my dad's house and set it up in the back yard. Dad kept the birdbath clean and filled with water.

This Memorial Day, let us see and believe the just peace vision and give the full measure of our living devotion to bring into being a world where war is no more.