Among Friends: Giving Light in the Darkness

In the northern hemisphere, the twelfth month is a time of abiding darkness. Sometimes, we feel this darkness not just as an absence of physical light, but as a time of despair, a trough of sorrow and grief. In the story of the birth of Jesus, the portents of a better era were literal lights in the darkness, seen by humble working folk in a time when coercive government mandates forced the migration of many people, including an improbably pregnant young woman and her husband, seeking charity in a time of need. Does this sound familiar?

I’m typically an optimistic person, but I can’t pretend that I know better times are ahead soon. But I do know that as a group, we Friends are not powerless. Let’s consider why charities exist, why they occupy a special place in our society, and how we, as followers of the Spirit, might see our duties and opportunities as givers illuminated.

As the recent U.S. presidential election should remind us, the responsibilities of a government to its people are by no means set in stone or guaranteed, however deeply we may feel they ought to be. Luckily, in today’s world, charitable organizations occupy a special status because of the widely held recognition that our government cannot and will not provide for everything our society needs. As the role of a new government shifts, we may well be called upon to provide more for the less fortunate among us, without help from Washington. I pray we are up to the task.

A New Testament episode recounts the story of agents of government trying to ensnare Jesus in a trick question about whether his followers should pay taxes. Jesus responded, noting that it was Caesar’s image that appeared on the money: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.” It’s our right to be conflicted about what our modern-day emperors do with what is rendered to them. And it is our responsibility, as people of truth, to stand up and speak with the power that comes from God.

Ideally, when we engage in philanthropy, we give as led by the Spirit. When we support our meetings and churches with our time and money, we provide for the spiritual nourishment of our neighbors. When we support organizations that protect and provide for the least of us—whom government neglects or persecutes—we give to God the things that are God’s.

This magazine is a product of a nonprofit charitable organization. Our mission is to communicate Quaker experience in order to connect and deepen spiritual lives. I believe this is part of God’s work for us as Friends, and this is why I have no compunction about asking for generous gifts from you and our whole community to support the work we do. Let’s put it this way: the emperor is not going to print Friends Journal on his own.

This issue of Friends Journal looks at philanthropy. Our contributors approach the subject from many angles, for example Henry B. Freeman as a fundraising consultant, Lisa Smith and Jay W. Marshall as nonprofit leaders and fundraisers, Kathleen Costello Malin as a donor and a parent, and Mariellen Gilpin as an author of some of the most remarkable thank-you notes I have ever read. There is more, so much more, and I hope you will keep this issue around to inspire you in being generous for the right reasons.

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