Sunday, December 19, 2010

This Year, Give Social Justice!

If you're a gift giving person, I'm assuming that your shopping is done. Perhaps you do your shopping throughout the year, choosing the perfect gift for each person on your list and putting it in your special closet, and entering the information into your spreadsheet so that you always know what you've bought and where it's going.

O.K. that should be about 5 of you.

For the rest of us, the gift giving occasions give no end of grief. What do we give to those people in our lives who are trying to scale down? Or to the people on our list who already have everything? What about those on our list who have tastes that are so expensive that we can't afford a gift? How can we know that our gifts won't just duplicate what our recipients have already bought for themselves?

In short, we want to know: how can we be sure that our gifts will be appreciated?

The always wonderful Nicholas Kristof has a New York Times article today that makes suggestions. He ends his piece by making his strongest argument: "One of the paradoxes of living in a wealthy country is that we accumulate tremendous purchasing power, yet it’s harder and harder for us to give friends and family presents that are meaningful. In this holiday season, sometimes a scarf from a prostituted Cambodian girl, or a scholarship for a Zambian child, is the most heartwarming gift of all."

But the real beauty of his article comes from the suggestions that he makes. He says that he's not going to talk about the organizations that we already know about, the Oxfams, the Heifer Internationals. Instead, he gives us groups we've never heard of, groups that are doing sound work. Kristof is one of those experts whom I trust implicitly. I know he's investigated these groups before he suggests we send them our hard earned money.

I like these groups because they can make a small amount of money go a long way. We don't have to come up with the $500 it takes to buy a needy person a cow. The First Book organization will take any amount through the mail; $2 buys a new book for a needy child.

I've written before here and here about Peter Singer's convincing argument that our dollars go further in the 3rd world than they do here. Kristof gives us a wide range of choices, both in the U.S. and abroad, to choose from, and all of them seem to be making donations go a very long way.

Many of us who celebrate Christmas, in and out of church, have lost sight of some of the social justice elements of the Nativity story, which is easy to do in a story overshadowed with angel visitors and visions of all kinds. We forget that the oppressive governmental machine which was Rome (and all of its local incarnations) had compelled everyone to report for census and taxation purposes--no exceptions for hugely pregnant women. We see a couple of modest means and few resources turned out into the night to endure birth in a barn.

What better way to remember this event than by donating money to modern organizations who help the Josephs and Marys of this world? Most of us have more stuff than we can ever use. Many of the people on your list would likely prefer that you give your gift dollars to a group that will put it to good use. And Kristof has some excellent suggestions.

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