Wow! The news today is that we Americans broke yet another record last year in charitable giving to disaster relief. I believe that such giving demonstrates that we are a compassionate and generous people. But charity alone will not enable us to reach our aspirations or achieve the society we all seek.And yet I fear that we are coming to believe that charity is enough.
My goal today is not to deride charity. So much good comes of it. But I do believe we can be lulled to sleep by our charitable giving and the messages that the come from charities. We can believe that our charitable efforts get us off the hook for further engagement in the world around us; for applying ourselves to situations that are hard to resolve; for giving of ourselves beyond our checkbook.
It is “change” – and not charity – which is fundamentally required in our communities and nation if we are to ensure, for instance, that all kids can get a good education or that people live in healthy neighborhoods. Merely think of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast for a clear picture of the difference between charity and change; consider such matters as the public schools, health care, poverty, infrastructure, and race and relations.
If we are to act on the real challenges before us, then we need change in our civic and public systems, in our relationships, and in our very notion of faith in one another. Make no mistake: Writing a check or going to a local soup kitchen are steps along the path of our engagement. But such steps must be viewed as initial ones along the way; we must not stop there. More is ultimately required of us.
I could write for some time about this topic. But I simply want to give voice to one simple message today. As you hear the great news about our charitable giving in America, use the occasion to consider the differences between and charity and change. Let’s keep giving; and let’s also start changing.