Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A fission of givin'

A church raises $21 million within a 24-hour period. It's big news because of the recent public discussions over the amassed riches of organized religion, raising suspicion and alleging impropriety in the raising and disbursement of such monies by what are ostensibly non-profit organizations.

This story reminds me of the miracle of the five loaves and two fish recorded in the Gospels (Jn 6:5-6:15, etc.). The mystery of this miracle is in how limited quantities of matter (bread and fish) can be multiplied several times over to feed 5000 people, while leaving behind significant excess, without breaking the laws of Newtonain physics.

If that is the question, we are looking at the miracle in the wrong way. In a crowd of 5000, it is quite inconceivable that the only food resource among them is five loaves and two fish that only one boy had the presence of mind to take with him that day. If one boy could have packed a meal with him there'd be many others who'd have brought food along too. This boy, however, gets his place in canonical history because his offer to share his resources catalysed a mass movement of the "haves" to share their resources with the "have-nots". The miracle isn't about the violation of the laws of physics but in getting people to share what they have willingly with others, and that is no mean feat.

We can account for the excess gathered at the end of the feeding frenzy by the Principle of the Buffet Table. Because everyone has some they become polite and will settle for a little less just in case someone ends up with none. We can count this effect as either altruism or a sensitivity to "good form". Either way, the buffet table will always have left-overs. This effect is all the more likely to occur if the environment or event itself encourages civic consciousness or at least consideration for others.

Such an environment is palpable in CHC in which communal involvement is strongly emphasized among a very large and inclusive population base representing a wide range of mixed incomes. With the environment primed for placing others before self, it only takes a small catalyst to ignite a fission of givin'. $21 million in 24 hours? Is that all?

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