The Trick, and the Treat: To Keep Giving and Receiving

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I've had the privilege of participating in a church’s Trunk-or-Treat program for kids in a low-income neighborhood in Cincinnati. Folks bring their cars and vans to the church’s parking lot and decorate them. They hand out candy to the kids, who come dressed in their costumes. There’s food and hot chocolate and books, all for free.

One regular attendee is a little boy who has no legs, so his mom pushes him around the parking lot in a wheelchair. He loves to dress like a ninja and if you ask why, he’ll go on and on about how much he loves ninjas and his costume. And how much he loves Halloween.

The kids make the route around the parking lot a few times with their bags open, getting another piece of candy and a little bit of love at each stop. Everyone enjoys the giving and the getting.

Maybe that’s what I love most about Halloween.

The Biblical Case for Limiting Money in Politics

Sean Locke Photography & Svetlana Lukienko/

Sean Locke Photography & Svetlana Lukienko/

While there are no biblical texts speaking directly to the issue of money in politics, biblical principles are still relevant, and people of faith have an important role to play in the emerging debate about the future of our democracy. Before exploring those principles, however, it is important to understand the serious issues of inequality currently present in our system, and the correlation between inequality and the money flooding our political system.

The richest 1 percent own more of the nation’s wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The richest one-tenth of one percent have as much pre-tax income as the bottom 120 million Americans.

In Affluence and Influence, political scientist Martin Gilens concludes that, “The preferences of the vast majority of Americans appear to have essentially no impact on which politics the government does or does not adapt.” He details the data throughout his book that clearly demonstrates policy makers are only listening to the wealthy donor class. This situation has been made even worse by the Supreme Court’sCitizens United in 2010, which allowed a huge influx of money to flood our political system after declaring the personhood of corporations. 

The Court’s more recent decision in McCutcheon v FEC made matters even worse. Before McCutcheon, one person was able to contribute up to $123,000 to political candidates and parties. In striking down this aggregate limit, the Court paved the way for individuals to contribute more than $3.5 million directly to candidates and party committees. In a report detailing the potential impact of McCutcheon, Demos predicts the decision could result in more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions by 2020.

Christmas in America: Belief in the Virgin Birth and Visits from Santa

Cookies and milk left for Santa. Photo courtesy Shutterstock / via RNS

Nearly one in three Americans, including many with no little children at home and those with no religious identity, say they pretend Santa will visit their house on Christmas Eve.

Overall, 31 percent of  U.S. adults play up the Santa role in their holiday season, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

Jesus, however, is still the star of Christmas.

Give Like God -- or More Like Santa?

Sebastian Duda/Shutterstock

Do you give with no strings attached? Sebastian Duda/Shutterstock

Have you ever given someone a gift knowing that person probably wasn’t going to keep it? You had no idea what to give, so you gave something — a sweater, let’s say, even though you knew the recipient had more than enough sweaters — along with a gift return receipt.

That’s kind of how God gives, isn’t it? No, no, not the sweater part. The part about giving and then letting the others choose what they’ll do with the gifts.

Isn’t that how God gives to us?

And if we’re to be like God, shouldn’t we be giving the same way?

This is a challenging question, but one that’s relevant at this season of giving. Do we give with no strings attached? Or do we give with conditions? Do we give only to those we deem worthy?

#GivingTuesday -- A Day to Give Back

#GivingTuesday: a day to give instead of consume. Photo courtesy of

“Gray” Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday — and Giving Tuesday? For the second year in a row, nonprofits, businesses, and individuals are coming together to create a national day of giving on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. 

Why a national day of giving? Last year, New York’s 92nd Street Y, with the support of the United Nations Foundation, catalyzed the idea of adding a national day of giving to kick off the holiday giving season. The goal was to drive donations of time, money, or services to charities with the same enthusiasm that shoppers have on the shopping days surrounding Thanksgiving. 

Church Giving Reaches Depression-Era Record Lows

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Offering plates passed at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

WASHINGTON — Collection plates are growing even lighter as Protestant church member giving reached new lows in 2011, and tithing probably will not recover from the recession, according to a new report by Empty Tomb, a Christian research group.

“Is the issue that the church is not providing an authentic alternative to the consumer mindset?” said Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of Empty Tomb. “Over a period of time, if the church isn’t providing more of an authentic alternative, the church will lose.”

The percentage of a church member’s income given to the church dropped to 2.3 percent in 2011 (the latest year for which numbers are available), down from 2.4 percent in 2010, according to the Empty Tomb study.

How Will I Know I Have Given Enough?

Man asking for help, Africa Studio /

Man asking for help, Africa Studio /

As has happened many times after I have given a talk about the Body of Christ’s responsibility to care for their brothers and sisters experiencing impoverished and dehumanizing conditions, I was asked to answerthose questions — the ones in my experience that are always the first to be asked the moment I stop speaking.

“How will I know I have given enough? How does the church balance financial responsibility with service to the poor? Where do we draw the line?”

These questions always come, sometimes spoken in a curious tone by a person whose heart is being convicted, sometimes in an angry accusing tone insinuating I must hate prosperity, sometimes privately as a whisper in my ear or in a personal email filled with insinuations about my sanity. What a preposterous proposal, that the Body of Christ in any particular location should be the first resource to its own community for spiritual, physical, and emotional well being! Don’t I know that such a mission is naïve and impossible to achieve? Most recently it was phrased like this: “I love this idea, but it is difficult to see benevolence funds go towards someone's electric bill when they smell like they smoked five packs of cigs before meeting with us; what do we do?”

Drinking Deeply

vividvic / Shutterstock

Bottles On Shelf. vividvic / Shutterstock

One morning, I walked out the front doors of the center and turned down Jefferson Street toward the Ohio River. There, huddled in a circle beside the wall of our building, was a group of worn, ragged homeless men. I knelt down with them and said, "Hello."

One of the men smiled a toothless smile at me, reached into his coat, pulled out a bottle of Wild Irish Rose, took a swig, and passed it to me. "Here," he said. "Have a drink."

It was truly a John Irving moment. Here I was offering my alcoholic friend a “hello” and he offering his ministerial friend a drink. He was offering me the thing that was most important to him.

Starting the 'Christmas Tithe'

Religion is far too judgmental. Surveys show that many people think that, especially a new generation of young people who — more than ever before — are checking the “none of the above” religious affiliation box. 

I get it. But religious leaders tend to be judgmental about many of the wrong things; they are not making moral judgments on the important questions. So I am going to be judgmental, as a religious leader, about something I just read.

A recent Harris International and World Vision poll showed that Americans plan to spend more this Christmas season on consumer gifts than they did last year, but give less to charities and ministries that help the poor. Many say they are less likely to give a charitable gift as a holiday present — a drop from 51 percent to 45 percent.

So we will have more Christmas presents this year, but less help for the poor. While retailers, economists, and politicians may rejoice at the news about higher consumer spending this year, the lower levels of support for the ones Jesus called “the least of these” should legitimately bring some moral judgments from the faith community. 

Indeed, the Matthew 25 scripture that this text is taken from is one of the few and most judgmental passages in all the New Testament. About some things, Jesus was judgmental. The Gospel clearly says that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner, is how we treat Jesus. That’s is pretty judgmental, especially when you go on to read what will happen to those who ignore Jesus in this way. 

But rather than just being judgmental, let’s do something about it. Let’s start “A Christmas Tithe.”