The Best Time to Give

Carson-Newman College

Life-giving leadership is not being in control so much as persuasion of others to offer their best selves to that which matters the most.

I got an email from former classmate, Vicki Butler, now in the Advancement Office of my old college, Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee.  She was in town and wanted to visit with us.  I do this  in my work as a Pastor, so I know that institutions need money.  I have moved from being a disdainful idealist as a teen to a reluctant fundraiser to a committed realist.

So my wife Vickie and I met Vickie in the lobby of her hotel.  She told us what Carson-Newman College is facing and how they hoped alumni would help out.  I was preparing my protests:  (“Do you know how much I gave last year?  The TaxCut preparer always flags my giving.  Americans don’t give this much!”)  But our conversation moved on to how things are going, how the school has adjusted to hard times, and to what a great mission it has.

We were at Carson Newman from 1972-1976.  Vickie and I married early—Christmas of our sophomore year.  I was 19, she 18, and in love.  That this did not pay bills had not yet occurred to us.  We lived in the little house right behind the infirmary in 1973 Continue reading “The Best Time to Give”

A Case for Thanksgiving Eve

So it is Thanksgiving Eve.  If Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) can be an elaborate anticipation of the solemnity of All Saints’ Day and Fat Tuesday a wild and wooly welcome to the austerity of Lent, there should be a similar welcome mat to Turkey Day, something to usher it in, not stomp it out a la “Black Friday.”

 Thanksgiving Eve should be something of an antonym to carry true to “Eve-ness” (Christmas Eve, naturally, being the all-time great, with it’s dark sense of Herodian murder plots, shivering shepherds, and wandering wise men).  It should be a day of shameful reminders of ingratitude, self-absorption and congratulations that can be followed with humble rejoicing and remembering the next day that nothing was deserved in the first place.

Any holiday that began with Europeans almost starving to death and depending on the kindness of the poor natives they would eventually wipe out or addict to alcohol on reservations should not be one in which the self-congratulating is mixed with feasts and football.  It just doesn’t seem right.  Better to blow out the egotism and delusions on the eve and then wake up to something like, “My gosh, we don’t have anything to eat.  How will we make it?”  Then have your neighbors bring something over and re-enact the whole helplessness.  How did it get to be, “Boy, are we ever BLESSED.”

There is something about powerlessness, helplessness, vulnerability and fear that drive you to important truths.  I think about the Greatest Generation of Tom Brokaw’s book, having endured a childhood in the Great Depression and Coming of Age on Iwo Jima or Omaha Beach.  No wonder they came home and were glad just to have a little house in a new suburb and work the same job for 45 years and retire still married to the same woman.  And maybe this same absence of profound deprivation has left us unable to genuinely “feel” Thanksgiving as it is meant to be.

Could be, of course, that the past few years are getting us a little closer to the truth.  9% unemployment has unleashed predictable politics–all we need is a new president, throw the bums out of congress, shoot lobbyists, and so on.  What I never hear is, “Life is hard.  We better pull together and help one another.  Hey, I don’t have to have my whole bonus this year.  Let’s figure out how to keep Jim employed–he’s got three kids at home.”

We’ve got a grand opportunity to remember something that we seem determined to forget. I think about this while I hold my nine-month-old granddaughter.  She is so precious and full of life, and I am terrified for the world she is growing up into, terrified into prayers and more prayers.  I am helpless to prevent that world or fix it, so I am humbled terribly on this day.  I won’t be here for her whole life, God willing, so it will go beyond me.  You love a grandbaby this much, and suddenly you feel this helplessness again, like you haven’t felt in forever.  It drives you to a different gratitude, one not rooted in your importance or competence or being the World’s Latest Big Deal.  It is purely, powerfully helplessness that does it.

So let’s consider the Wednesday Before Thanksgiving as Self-Reliance Day.  We can wear giant inflated heads and have Big Shot Parades, football games and overeating as though it was our destiny.  Then, as is appropriate, consider a day of forgiveness, humble gratitude, reconciliation and remembering that without the rest of us, none of us is worth a dime, and don’t forget it.  So while there are some hours left in Wednesday, put on you Big Head.  Thanksgiving is coming.  Act like a selfish jerk for a few more hours.  Then come to yourself and remember what your life is really about.