Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Using “Fast Offerings” to Fight Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day. The topic this year is poverty.

While my little blog is hardly a world player in the blogosphere, I like thinking about these kinds of questions, and trying to see what I can come with and what thoughts I might be able to provide to the discussion. Indulge me for a bit :).

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like most active members, I participate in two areas of financial responsibility and management as relates to my life in the church. All active members in good standing are expected to pay a full and honest tithe. There are many different interpretations regarding this, but for the sake of this discussion, I will just use my definitions and leave the debating as to their merits out of it. A full and honest tithe, in my world view, is based on my “increase”. When I realize an increase on something, whether that be the receiving of a paycheck, the selling of an asset with appreciation, or some aspect of my life where I receive something of monetary value that can be tangibly quantified as an increase, I pay 10% of the gross of that increase as a tithing. Since I became active again as an adult in the church (back in 1993) I have made this a priority in my life. In addition to this, there is also another aspect that I participate in, as do most members. Once a month, Latter-day Saints hold a fast, usually on the first Sunday of the month, and that fast is effectively the giving up of two meals for that day, and then donating the money that would have been used for those meals as a “Fast Offering” to the church.

I have a strong testimony of the value of both financial obligations, and I participate in both of them them willingly. While I think that tithing is a wonderful program, one that gives me a direct financial stake in the progress and mission of my church, it’s the idea of Fast Offerings that I want to suggest to the world at large as a concept to apply to the topic of “Blog Action Day” and addressing poverty.

Let me pitch this idea out to everyone, whatever your religious denomination or financial situation might be. Could you set aside a day each month, where you are able to agree that you will do without two meals? If the answer is yes, then think about what you would eat for those two meals. If you are naturally frugal and eat very inexpensive options at home, go ahead and add up what it takes to make those meals. If you like to eat out or have a zen for exotic or more gourmet style and priced foods, use that as your criteria. When you have done so and you have a dollar amount, commit to take the money you would have spent on those meals and donate it as a Fast Offering. LDS members already make this contribution each month directly to our church, and I personally feel really good about doing this, because I know that Fast Offering money is specifically set aside to help families in the church who are in need, whether it be to buy food, help pay rent due to a temporary crisis, or get much needed health care when those in need are unable to take care of it themselves.

For those reading this blog who are not LDS, could you do something like this? Absolutely! Even if you don’t want to donate the money to a church, consider donating it to a local homeless shelter or a food bank, or perhaps to another organization that you believe in that has made a stated goal of helping to fight poverty.

The beauty of the Fast Offering is that, with the exception of small children or those with medical conditions that would proscribe such a course of action, anyone can do it! It doesn’t matter if you are wealthy, decidedly middle class, or perhaps struggling to make ends meet; if you are one who can routinely guarantee three meals a day, every day, and a roof over your head, you are one who can participate in this effort. If you are one who cannot do that, or your situation is that you are *not* able to regularly guarantee three meals a day or a roof over your head, this is an example of a concrete action others can do that can directly help you!

I hear those who say “charity starts at home, and when I can take care of myself, then I can start worrying about other people”. While I understand the sentiment, I feel it puts the emphasis in the wrong place. When we approach the idea of charitable giving as something we will eventually get to when we can “take care of ourselves”, we ultimately find reasons to push out the day that we can actually give to others. When we make the point to give from the outset, even if we do not entirely know that we can cover ourselves, somehow the change in attitude towards giving to others first allows us to be better stewards of our own resources. Another way to put your own circumstances into stark relief… if you are curious to see where you stand statistically with the rest of the world, have a look at the Global Rich List. I found this to be *very* sobering... I put in my base salary, and discovered that, out of the 6 billion people on this planet, approx. 49 million people living today make more money than I do. Sound like a big number? It’s not… it translates to less than 1% of the world's population earning more than me. More than 99% of the world’s population earn less than I do!

To bring this into even sharper focus, how's this for consideration (also from the Global Rich List):

$8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market.

$30 could buy you an ER DVD Box set OR a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.

$73 could buy you a new mobile phone OR a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

$2400 could buy you a second generation High Definition TV OR schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.

For some, it’s not necessarily that they don’t want to give, or that they aren’t willing to give, but they don’t quite know how to do it. I’ll be frank, if you are part of a church group, I would suggest making a point in your life to commit to paying tithing, even if you are a member of a church that does not actively do such a thing (I highly doubt a pastor or priest would turn down your desire to contribute :) ). If you are not actively involved in a church, take a look at the charities that matter to you, or find those organizations where you feel your dollars can make a difference.

If you do not feel comfortable with that type of amount up front, or you are unsure where to get those first dollars to contribute, I strongly suggest doing a “Fast Offering” as your first experience. Whatever denomination or lack thereof, whatever cause or goal you would like to associate with, this is an easy way that just about everyone can do something to make their stand and play a part. Seems like such a small thing, I know, but what if everyone did it? Do you think there'd be any real economic power in doing such a thing? Using the United States as an example... imagine if 300 million people, once a month, decided to forego eating two meals for one day, and then took the proceeds from that day of sacrifice and used that money with the express purpose of helping the poor, needy and most vulnerable. For the sake of argument, let’s just say that two meals was the equivalent of a breakfast plate and a happy meal at McDonalds (not recommending McDonalds for this exercise per se, but I can do quick math with those examples). In my area, the cost of those two meals turns out to be about $8.00 when all is said and done. That’s the equivalent of every person in America contributing $96.00 per year towards helping those who are hungry and in need. In raw dollars, 28 BILLION of them. Every year. Now that’s some power!!!

Will we ever see a day when poverty is not with us? Sadly, human nature is such that I would have to say no. At least not in the world we currently inhabit. My theology teaches of a time where Christ shall come to the earth and rule for 1,000 years, and during that time there will be no war and no poverty, and all will be whole. It’s a wonderful thought, but it’s not here today. My suggestion is that a Fast Offering is something everyone can do today, and they can make a habit of it that could profoundly affect the lives of millions. If you already do it, keep doing it. If you don’t, consider doing it. It could help draw us closer to that ideal of the millenium reign, and we can all say we had a hand in bringing it to pass :).

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