Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Giving Back"

I wonder what the implication is when someone says they are doing volunteer work or donating money or helping someone directly because they want to "give back." 

Is the implication that they have taken something and want to give back some of it or all of it or is it that they have been given something and now want to give some or all of it back? 

Is "giving back" different from giving forward to someone never before encountered? 

Is there some suggestion in a person's declaration of intent to begin "giving back" that nothing much has been given in the past but that a point in life has been reached at which "giving back" is appropriate and affordable and not too disruptive or maybe even fun or ego building or image enhancing? 

I think it is the simple word "back" that bothers me about this popular phrase probably because of the suggestion of reciprocity.  After all, Jesus is not reported in Acts 20:35 to have said, "It is more blessed to give (back) than to receive," and while there may be some suggestion of reciprocity in Matthew 10:8, "Freely you have received, freely give," the word "freely" seems to take away the selfishness.

Of course we know that Jesus gave everything so the standard has been established.  If only I...
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. - John 19:30

Sorry for the rant about a pet peeve.  But it is food for thought.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Faith, Doubt, and Certainty

Famous and not so famous quotes about faith, doubt, and certainty abound, but I believe this phrase which came to my mind while I was on a bicycle ride last evening may be original.

Faith and doubt walk hand in hand.  Faith and certainty are perfect strangers and have no need of each other.

If not, I apologize to whoever first composed it and anxiously await their identification so I can thank and acknowledge him or her.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Random Acts of Selfishness

I often recall seemingly random acts of selfishness when I reflect back on my life. It’s unfortunate, but true. Oh, there is much to rejoice about and be thankful for and I’ve been a good guy from time to time, but there are those troublesome bad things, the unkind word, the ethical mistake, the moment of thoughtlessness, the feeling of self righteousness, the disrespect of someone, the submission to greed or lust or ego, etc., that often pop into my mind when I have time on my hands and am in a reflective mood. Those are the things people would be trying to dig up and reveal if I were ever to threaten anybody in power with a run for political office.

The truth is that there’s no good reason to expect anything other than selfishness from our natural selves since we begin life as totally self-absorbed infants and hopefully spend the rest of our lives in recovery from it. The objective, as Augustine wrote, is that “…as we grow we root out and cast from us such habits.” (Augustine’s Confessions VII:11). So there is good reason for regret, not just for the things we have done, for which we can obtain forgiveness, but also for lack of progress in growing and rooting out. Or, to put it another way, we, or at least I, have a lot of trouble with this challenge from St. Paul, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect…” – Romans 12:2

One good way to root out the undesirable and work on that transformation is replacement of it with something desirable. There is a foundation called the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation which is dedicated to getting people to plan and organize acts of kindness. I think that is a good thing, but such acts wouldn’t really be random, would they? I guess they might seem so to the recipients. I have frequently been involved in planning and carrying out acts of kindness. Even the Boy Scouts emphasized doing a good deed daily, and my parents and grandparents always set good examples of kindness and helpfulness but still there are those selfish things that pop up randomly. And, to further complicate matters, we can, of course, do “kind” things for selfish reasons. The bottom line is that I need to keep planning those intentional acts of kindness to keep growing and rooting out the bad stuff and keep it from taking over while working on a slow renewing of the mind.

There is an advantage to those memories of selfishness. They help stifle pride when I think of a good education, a successful career, a wonderful family, and a happy retirement, or when people talk about good stuff I do from time to time. Those acts remind me that I need confession and forgiveness and that my approach to Heaven will not be with pride saying, “Here am I, the good guy you have been waiting for. Open the gates!” but on my knees praying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” (The Jesus Prayer)

And speaking of pride, which happens to be one of the seven deadly sins and is being actively promoted in American culture today, check out the posting below.