A Life of Service, Giving Back, Yada Yada Yada

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I think the worst pop culture nightmare of our age is Oprah.  I don’t say this lightly and it has nothing to do with politics.  It is more about the fact that she is constantly pushing her version of what a life should be.  Because her audience is so huge, it is manipulated into these great ideals and almost demands/requirements for society.  The worst is her ‘gratitude’ concept.  Another, almost as annoying is her demands for people to have a life of service.  She, along with others who have made a tremendous amount of money, keep constantly preaching the idea of giving back.  For some, including Oprah, it is about doing what they think is right.  But, I suspect it is also tainted by guilt.

This idea of a life of service she is constantly hawking is annoying.  Now, it is though, if you don’t ‘dedicate’ your life to service, if  you don’t make massive donations to charity – if you are wealthy- you are some sort of an ogre. A person’s life, according to her, must have some sort of service to others in it, in order to be meaningful.

Don’t ever think I’m criticizing service to others.  I’m not.  But, the way she and her ilk now demand service has transformed it from something freely given into a demand.  It is no longer service.  It is window dressing, public relations, or resume stuffing.  When that happens, it is no longer service.

There’s another problem here.  Oprah is not a Christian.  She is constantly looking to fill a spiritual void in her own life, and in doing so, has caused a tremendous amount of damage to those, especially woman, who may be Christians, who follow Christ, but now have their faith screwed up because of her New Age adventures.  Once again, I go back to her demands that a person show ‘Gratitude’ in life.

She took the idea from a couple of psychologists who wrote an article about people and gratitude.  Their study had nothing to do with Christianity other than to lump it in with all other religions stating that people who expressed gratitude via their faith were happier, and so forth and so on. Oprah adopted the idea of a gratitude journal.  Pop-culture Christian popularizes took the idea and ran with it.  Suddenly, ‘gratitude’ is this massive theological requirement.

Well, it’s like this.  I like using the New Revised Standard Version and do so for my studies.  When one does a word search, for gratitude, it pops up in only 5 places: Acts 24:3, Colossians 3:26, and 1 Timothy 1:21 with the other two being non canonical books.  It isn’t in the Old Testament.  It isn’t in the Gospels.  In contrast, the word “thanksgiving” is used 69 times; “thanks” is  used 169 times,  and “praise” is used 393 times.  “Grateful” is used only 3 times.

The primary uses is:

1 Timothy 1:12  I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service
2 Timothy 1:3  I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

That’s it.  I think it is enough to stress the fact that there is a difference.  We are required to offer a ‘sacrifice’ of thanks and praise.  There is absolutely nothing about ‘gratitude’ unless it deals with what I call a ‘manners’ moment.  This takes us back to the concept of service to others.  As Christians, we know the concept involves ‘good works’.  The only real Biblical discussion about faith and works (what Oprah defines as service to others) is in the book of James.  Our Salvation comes from Faith.  Good deeds – helping others – works – are or can be an outwardly show of that faith – the love that Christ instills in us.

There is a song we once sang in youth choir that had a line:  They will know we are Christians by our love.  Love can be defined in many ways.  Service to others should be out of love, not the New Age requirement that it defines who we are.  Our Love defines who we are.  Those with the greatest love for others might never lift a finger in service.  As Christians, we are told to perform our charity, our good deeds in private, never letting the right hand know what the left is doing.  We are not to brag about what we do in service for others.  If we make that service a defining part of our lives, then we are performing service not because of love, but because we want to look good.

My grandfather Froehlich was and still is the greatest person I have known in this life.  I’ve never known anyone to equal his faith, wisdom, or understanding of the love of Christ.  Yet, I don’t ever remember seeing him do anything out of altruistic service to others.  I never saw him make a big show about how much money he donated to charity.  I know that he and my grandmother did make charitable donations, but nothing was ever said.  I don’t think anyone else ever knew.  It wasn’t advertised.  In fact, their generation did not advertise their charitable giving.  They did not advertise the things they did for others, and they certainly did not go around making a show about service.  Did their lives have less meaning because they were not advertising all the things that they did?  He made a fortune.  I never knew him to have this blinding ambition to give back to the community.  He was working too hard, making everyone’s life better.  I guess that doesn’t count.

Yet – by today’s pop culture, New Age tainted version of what a Christian should be, he would be a failure.  I gather, according to Oprah, and her New Age soul searching, one must make a big show of their public service, in order to prove how successful their lives truly are.  I don’t like that.  I also don’t like organized charitable giving.  It only helps your bottom line tax write-off and a deduction.  I like being able to slip a tired, pregnant server a twenty dollar tip.  A few days before Christmas, I was in a restaurant, listening to a young server tell a friend that her job was full-time, but she still needed help.  I left her a fifty dollar tip.  I’m only mentioning this, now, because I think that is true charity.  My Christmas donations went to people I would encounter, in the form of tips.  They were people I did not know and who did not know me.  I knew what I was doing.  No one else did.  There was no way I could brag about it.  And, I’m still not bragging, but using it as an example.

I like those red pots for the Salvation Army.  They require anonymity, unless one uses a check, not for giving, but for the tax deduction.  Those red pots are very real charity.  You can’t brag.  You just give.  But – that is not considered service.  It isn’t grand enough and doesn’t make a big show.

Am I deriding public service?  You know, I think I am.  There is nothing more disgusting than watching a politician show up, cameras in tow, as they serve Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless kitchen.  Where are they the other 364 days of the year?  When you think about people like Oprah, who are worth billions, their charitable giving, their demands are a joke.  The traditional Jewish tithe, which was adopted by we Christians, is 10%.  If you only live on $10,000, that 10% is impossible.  It hurts.  If someone has billions, 10% would be remarkable – a true service to others.  But, forget that.  Instead, someone like Oprah talks about serving others.

Do you realize what a person could do if they had her money?  Her net worth is nearly $3 billion.  Do you know what would happen if she gave a billion of that directly to helping others?  I’m not going to hold my breath.  With the exception of Bill Gates, most of the giving of the ultra wealthy is a joke. They make a big show, and give away a heck of a lot of money, but go look at the bottom line.  And then there is John Huntsman, Sr.  and Chub Feeney.  The list of big-hearted billionaires includes the Koch Brothers, but not Oprah!  It’s a great show, right?  But, not a single donation from the big shots went to nitty-gritty charities that truly help others. In fact, the truly important make a big show about how they enter into service for others,  yet we the little people are the ones who truly help others.

Getting back to Oprah. Apparently, she has given approximately $40 million, and considered the most charitable celebrity.  Um… She’s worth nearly $3 billion. If she were giving her 10% we’d be talking close to $300 million. Instead, she tells others what to do.  Can you use the word ‘crock’? At least Bill Gates has given away about half of what he has made.  So has Warren Buffett, and John Huntsman, Sr.

Wow!

Instead, we are to render service, our time, blood, sweat, and tears.  Funny, I don’t see important people like Oprah or her arm-chair New Age philosophical gurus out there in the trenches, doing anything other than signing books, and totally screwing up how we the little people should think and act.  In other words, it is more about them selling books, DVDs, and podcasts than truly helping others.

Sorry, but I’m not interested in a life of service.  I could care less.  It does not define me as a person.  It should not define anyone or who they are.  I’m not dedicating my life to ‘service’.  My life is dedicated to Christ.  I like helping people.  I don’t do it for a sense of ‘giving back to the community’.  I do it because, as a Christian, I must reflect the love of Christ.  I don’t owe the ‘community’ anything. Neither do you.

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