December 9, 2005

Christmas and inspired philanthropy

In recent years, I have considered how to approach the holidays. Each year I do a teeny bit better at letting go of expectations, laying aside the "need" for all the cookies, treats, and presents, and lessening the overall stress of the holidays.

There is one question, though, that visits me each year at this time:

What do contemporary Friends have to say about celebrating at this time of year?
I find that I long for some discussion and even a model of truly living as if each day is holy, but the pull of bringing family together in late December--between college semesters, taking a few extra days off at work, or traveling to see frail loved ones--clearly has a strong hold on even the most faithful of Quakers.

Like striving to sustain a personal discipline of daily worship without experiencing worship among a corporate body, it is hard for me to let go of the trappings of the holidays on my own. Maybe these days we're not meant to or not called to lay down the festivities, but I still want the discussion in order to discern if that's the case.

One topic I hear about at this time of year, almost as a surrogate for the larger topic, is that of simplifying. Simplifying is not the same as practicing simplicity, but it seems as if the former has also nearly become a surrogate for the latter.

Simplifying does not address the same question as What distractions might I remove, especially at this time of year, so that I might better hear God and God's guidance for me? For me, I'd like an adult education program, or an agenda item at a business session, to address the faith community's understanding of and commitment to how each day is sacred and how we are led to respond to the Christmases, Easters, and Thanksgivings of each year.

Of course, I have to acknowledge my own shortcomings with participating in the holidays. I have sought a balance, or more precisely, a "canceling out factor" that somehow would assuage my guilt for having held this holiday season as more special than other times of the year.

I recognize that lessening my guilt doesn't equate an increased faithfulness, but still I am drawn to share my experience:

One tradition that seems to have crept into this time of year for our household, by way of the "canceling out factor," is attending to our philanthropy, our charitable giving. My partner and I consider new non-profits that we've learned about and that do work that reflects our values and address our concerns. Every second or third year, we seem to engage in our own version of a "budget summit" to update our philanthropic plan. It's a way for us to connect as a couple and check that we are helping address the needs of the world in some small but hopefully significant way.

And just to reiterate--I absolutely LOVED the book Inspired Philanthropy. It helped me confirm that money can be an ally and not something to be ashamed of. This book helps remind me that when I identify my values and philanthropic concerns, I become a more effective philanthropist. I find that I look forward to making charitable gifts, and consequently, I seek out new non-profits to support. And the holidays become a time of focusing on what I can give rather than on what I can get.

Here's my short list of organizations I feel great about supporting:

  • American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam: a U.S. organization (not Quaker) that supports a peace-centered, multi-faith, Jewish-Arab village in Israel;

  • Women's Foundation of Minnesota: supports women and girls in Minnesota (check out the GirlsBEST work they are doing!); and currently seeks to address racial concerns among women of color in Minnesota;

  • District 202: an organization in Minnesota that provides a safe space for queer youth;

  • this year, I'll be adding Christian Peacemaker Teams. Their website now includes a photo gallery of some of their work.

  • I'm still awaiting that adult education program, though. Or that approved minute from Meeting for Worship with attention to Business...

    In the meantime, and while starting the early draft of this post, I came across a set of personal stories--four to five webpages of them--from Friends and from friends of Friends, about how they approach the holidays, namely Christmas. I thought the web-reference was worth sharing.

    I'm also wanting to find out what organizations you support, what groups inspire your own philanthropy. Please identify them in your comments, because each year, I feel I could be doing more, and maybe you can inspire me to do just that.

    And not just in December.



    QuakerDave said...

    We support The Smile Train, an organization that funds cleft palate surgeries for kids from all over the world. Our family got into this after the middle school where I teach sponsored a service project/fundraiser for them a few years back. They are an incredible organization, doing truly good work, without any political or social bias. Very "Quaker-like," I think.

    Paul L said...

    What a good question and topic (especially coming the day after our monthly meeting at which, among other things, we discussed what organizations our meeting would support, and in what proportions, during the next year).

    Our family makes substantial (for us) contributions to the three Friends organizations with which we are most personally involved:(Friends School of Minnesota; Twin Cities Friends Meeting; and Friends Journal) and two Minneapolis-based theater companies that we love (Ten Thousand Things and In the Heart of the Beast Puppet & Mask Theater). We make nominal contributions to many other Friends organizations a few other organizations.

    This giving reflects our lives as Friends and as believers in the power and of art to transform the culture by reflecting it back and showing the way.

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Liz,

    I like to support St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. I worked there, and I know that the money will go into a box to be used to help real women in concrete ways. Bus fare. Renting a storage unit for a couple of months while someone's trying to leave a violent home. Winter coats from a thrift shop. Etc.
    Elizabeth O.

    Anonymous said...

    I have been deeply impressed by the work done by the Women's Prison Book Project and I try to make sure that I donate something (time, an item for their yearly silent auction, a stack of composition notebooks, books, money for postage) to them once or twice a year. WPBP is one of those small grassroots organizations that was started by people with a passion for creating change in response to a very real need, and as sad as it's been to realize how real that need is (and how much it is growing every year) it has also been amazing to watch them (the organization and the organizers) grow in the process of creating a sustainable volunteer organization that meets a need that would otherwise be ignored.

    We all have something we can share--money, ideas, time, energy, experience--and there are so many ways we can use those gifts to create connections for positive change. It's so easy to let shame (for having excess or not having enough) keep us from seeing what we do have and using it for good, and/or working with others to combine our gifts/priveleges to create real improvement in individual lives and the world at large.


    Liz Opp said...

    Thanks for sharing those groups and organizations that seem to be doing important work, either in your local community or on a larger scale.

    I'm including links to those places (or groups of places) that are mentioned in your comments, if there are links to be had.

    The Smile Train for cleft palate surgery for kids
    Friends Schools in the U.S. under the care of Friends
    Friends Schools worldwide
    Friends Journal
    Ten Thousand Things, a theater group that performs at homeless shelters, prisons, and other places where this is little to no access to the arts
    In the Heart of the Beast, a unique puppet-and-mask theater
    various abuse intervention projects, with links to populations served; countries; and individual states within the U.S.
    Women's Prison Book Project (thanks, Lane, for providing a link within your comment!)

    Thanks again for stopping by!


    Anonymous said...

    If I'd known you'd do the hard work of finding the links, I'd have commented sooner. :)

    We have made or will make significant (for us) gifts over the course of this year to our religious community,
    San Francisco Friends Meeting,

    an international group working with very poor families that Chris and I used to work for,
    the Fourth World Movement,

    several Quaker related organizations: the international Nonviolent Peace Force,
    the Friends Committee on Legislation in California,
    the Alternatives to Violence Project in California,

    our current workplaces: the Lasallian Education Fund and the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County

    and the schools where our sons go, San Francisco Friends School and Playmates Cooperative Nursery School.

    Paul L said...

    Liz: Here's the link for Friends School of Minnesota. Your link to Friends Council on Education was to non-US affiliates of FCE.

    Nancy A said...

    Hi Liz

    Simple gifts is how we characterize our Christmas. My kids only get one gift from us, plus their stockings. We've never pushed the Santa thing, and they stopped believing in it at age 6. The tree goes up a few days before Dec. 25 and comes down Jan. 1 so that the season doesn't drag into other seasons. Most of the time, we just play out in the snow.

    I have most of my charities on automatic withdrawal because I've heard it saves them a lot of money in advertising. So they don't get much from me in December!

    My favourites (in no order, and I don't know how to make links):

    - Canadian Friends Service Committee
    - Mennonite Central Committee
    - Oxfam
    - Engineers Without Borders
    - Inter Pares (a Canadian development organization: name means "between equals")
    - Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

    Have a lovely Christmas and Hannukah, Liz.

    Peterson Toscano said...

    Liz, thank you for this post. I especially appreciate the distinction you draw between simplifying and simplicity.