Sunday, January 16, 2011

Give back to the community?

It's the latest buzz phrase for urging civic responsibility: Giving back to the community.

It sounds good. After all, who is opposed to building a Habitat for Humanity house or volunteering at a shelter? Nobody would knock someone for helping teach an adult struggling with illiteracy to read. Still, something about the phrase has rubbed me the wrong way -- and I couldn't put my finger on why.

There's the shaming aspect of it: The community has given to you; it's you're responsibility to give back, and how dare you not do so? But that's not what bothered me. It was something else, and it was not until I was in church this morning that I figured it out.

"Now let us give back to God our tithes and offerings," the minister said as the collection plate was about to be passed.

And that was it: I wasn't offended to be told to "give back to God," but I was offended at "give back to the community."

It's not that I don't think "the community" has given me anything and that I don't want to give anything to it. Rather, it's the mindset. I like doing things to help others. I covet opportunities to do so. But I don't do it because I feel the community has done something for me and I, therefore, owe the community something back. I do it because God has given me everything I have -- loaned it to me, really -- and I want to use what he has given me to show his love and his face to others.

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Photo: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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