Monday, December 19, 2011

Charitable Giving and Dead Dictators

When the former dictator of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, died,  Donna Vorreyer wrote this post, where she mentions that Brent Mesick created this line as a Facebook status post: "All the dictators of my youth are dying."

I thought of that line again this morning, upon the news of the death of Kim Jong Il, of "apparent heart failure" (NPR update).  Heart failure?  The man who left so many of his people (over 2 million dying) to starve, literally, in the cold?  Did the man really have a heart?

Well, there I go, mixing the metaphor with the literal.  This morning, I'm thinking of the loss of Vaclav Havel and contrasting his life with that of Kim Jong Il, and thinking of all the dictators of my youth who are gone.  My cynical brain says, "And so many, still left to die."  I can think of some African dictators who deserve a long, cruel death.  But that's not very charitable of me.

If you're one of the people planning to do some year-end charitable giving, Dale Favier has some great tips in this post.  Here's my favorite:  "If you're moved to put a smiley face on the envelope you send back? Or a note saying “keep up the good work!” or “thank you!” – it will be read and it will set a little glow in the heart of the person who opens it. Probably they won't have time to make any special answer, but believe me, it makes a huge difference. It doesn't get tossed unread. It registers."

Why have I never thought of doing that?  Probably because I've set up most of my charitable giving to happen on a monthly basis, without my having to do a thing. 

I'd add a tip from Peter Singer, who reminds us that our first world currency buys more in the third world (or developing nations, if you want to use a more optimistic term) than it does in the first world.  He encourages us to give 1% of our charitable giving to the third world.  Go here for more information.

In this post, Jim Wallis reminds us:  "Last year, Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas. Clean water for the whole world, including every poor person on the planet, would cost about $20 billion. Let’s just call that what it is: A material blasphemy of the Christmas season."

Clean water for Christmas!  Let's start working now for next year; plant the seeds for next year's charitable giving this year, as you unwrap presents.

If you're in the mood for a wonderful poem that talks about gingerbread houses and real houses and Nativity scenes, go here for Mary Jo Salter's poem, "Advent."  Go here for my poem about nativity scenes and the strange creatures that find their way into them.

I'd rather be baking than heading off to work, but it should be a quiet work week, with students and faculty on vacation, and lots of staff people on vacation too.  But if you're lucky enough to have festive baking on your to-do list, enjoy some dough for me.  In the spirit of holiday baking, here's an unpublished poem, which I'd give a different title if I revisit it ever:

Advent Calendar

Orion, that winter visitor, reminds us of our frosty
obligations. Now is the time to prepare.
We dig in the cupboards for the cookie cutters,
creatures enough to create a healthy genetic
mix for the holiday planet we will create.

We remember anew the joy of the well-seasoned
skillet, so versatile as we fry the meat
and cook a well-crusted cornbread.
We strive for abundance, to be prepared
for the unexpected visitor, the waylaid
traveler who might arrive without gifts.

We rediscover the joy of bread baked
fresh in the morning. We afford
the extra splurges that festivity demands:
exotic nuts, dense pastes, sweet icings,
breads heavy with butter and spices.

We could not maintain this pace
all year, but for a month, we pretend
we can handle the additional load.
We try to ignore the yearnings from the stomach’s
pit, the one that wonders why every day
can’t be filled with goodies cooling on the hearth,
a household bathed in the fragrance of baking bread,
the comfort of cake.

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