How should faith and holidaytime charity mix?

Judy Roitman, guiding teacher, Kansas Zen Center, 1423 N.Y.:

When you breathe, you take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, plants consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. We give to plants. Plants give to us. Over and over. Whether we want to or not, with every breath we’re already giving. And taking. It’s called reciprocity.

But it’s not one-on-one reciprocity. I send something out, something comes in. From who? From where? You can’t really trace it. This is called interdependence. Charity is simply an extension of this.

Every religion emphasizes charity. In Christianity, it is one of the three theological virtues. In Judaism, one of the major religious obligations. In Buddhism, the first of the six perfections. In Islam, one of the five major practices. In Hinduism, the third of the ten virtuous acts. And so on. Not optional. Not just for the rich. Everyone has something they can give.

Despite all the appeals coming to your mailbox right now, charity has no season. It may be convenient to save all of our check-writing until the end of the year, but that’s just convenience. The world is small and getting smaller. Nobody lives in a bubble. We can always be alert to need when it presents itself, and do a little more than we think we can.

Finally, forget the idea that the one who gives is better than the one who receives. We are all giving and we are all receiving, all of the time. The only question is: what.

— Send e-mail to Judy Roitman at

The Rev. Jill Jarvis, Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, 1263 N. 1100 Road:

Our religious and cultural holidays honor the most sacred and foundational stories of human communities. Told and re-told through the ages, these stories take on mythological significance as they uplift the wisdom and validate the lived experience of past and present generations. Celebrated as the beloved holidays of human history, they connect us to our past and remind us of our most cherished values.

Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Christmas are fast approaching, the predominate winter holidays in our American, Judeo-Christian culture. They remind us of our obligations as people of faith: to resist the voices of oppression that would demonize some among us; to bring our full humanity to create peace and build a fairer world for all our brothers, sisters, and friends; and to live always with a sense of gratitude. True gratitude is a profound awareness of our utter dependence on the people and world around us, and their utter dependence on us. We are called to co-create a world that will justify an increasing sense of gratitude for the generations that follow.

But there is a danger, an irony, in this annual celebration of our holidays. The extended period of feasting, partying, shopping, over-consumption, and yes, even charitable giving, has the effect of focusing our attention on ourselves, our friends and family, and our stuff. Reminded that there are others less fortunate, our holiday-inspired generosity is often expressed in charitable giving: the privileged donating to the poor. It's all too easy to forget that we're all members of one human family, of equal inherent worth, born into unequal and unmerited circumstances. Rather than being givers of charity, we are called to use the privileges we inherit to stand in solidarity with all people, throughout all the seasons of our lives.

— Send e-mail to Jill Jarvis at


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