For many Calgarians, the collapse in oil prices has led to tough times.
Thousands have lost their jobs. Many have seen cuts to their salaries. But despite economic challenges, many Calgarians are still finding ways to help those less fortunate than themselves.
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Calgary Herald Christmas Fund, Mario Toneguzzi asked five of the city’s faith leaders to speak about the importance of giving and charity during this particularly challenging period of Calgary’s history.
James Martin, Sensei (teacher), Calgary Buddhist Temple
“It’s pretty central to us. We talk about giving as one of the six virtues. Generosity. Giving. We’re supposed to be trying to cultivate that or practice that all the time. That’s . . . the fundamental teaching. Practice that year-round if we can. You try to give without any expectation of return as well,” says Martin, adding that ideally one gives because other people are having difficulty.
“Ideally from a Buddhist perspective, we would like to say . . . that you try to give without expecting anything in return. It’s . . . selfless giving. In the Buddhism idea of self, it’s kind of a fundamental core teaching there to look at the idea of what is the self . . . Essentially what Buddhism tries to make you aware of is that the more selfish you are, probably the less happy you will be.
“Through the act of giving, you’re kind of giving away of yourself in some aspects. Ideally, if we wanted to be the perfection that we’re sort of trying to achieve, at some point (we need) to be selfless. Let go. (If) I go through most of my life . . . looking at the world (and asking) what’s in it for me . . . then you’re essentially creating your own unhappiness. One way to counter that is to give and give without expecting anything.”
Fred Henry, Bishop, Calgary Roman Catholic Diocese
“For us, the cause of any gift-giving at the Christmas season or associated with it . . . is the great gift of Jesus himself as God’s gift to us — the Son of God. That just automatically kind of spills over . . . Once one has been so gifted, the only appropriate response is to give to others. So right from the get go, that’s our foundation that we kind of build on,” says Henry.
“One of the great things here in Calgary with the Christmas Fund is . . . it (is) the 25th year . . . I just thought, ‘Wow. Twenty-five years. And, you think about all of the charities that have benefited. The gift-giving and the hospitality of this community. This is remarkable . . . Before I came here I always was told one of things you’ll find out about Calgary when you get there is the hospitality and the generosity of the people and I think the Christmas Fund is one of the reasons for that kind of culture that we have here.”
“Whether or not you are a faith-filled person or if the birth of Christ means anything to you or not, there is such a local culture built up here that it just kind of sweeps you along and gets people . . . in that generous mindset of trying to look after one’s neighbour, or those in need around you, whoever that might be. This is something we should be proud of and celebrate,” says Henry, adding that it’s even more important to give during these tough economic times.
Syed Soharwardy, Imam, Al Madinah Islamic Centre
“First of all the Muslim faith, Islam, has five pillars — this is the foundation of Islam. One of the pillars is called zakat and it is the charity. So, it is mandatory in Islam that every person who has a certain amount of investments or savings must give out a certain amount of his or her wealth to the needy and the poor. It is compulsory. It’s not an option and you have to give. So you can see it’s a part of faith. It is a critical part of faith in the holy Qur’an. The most mentioned action after five prayers is the charity,” says Soharwardy.
“It’s basically one of the most fundamental beliefs of Islam to give.”
He says Allah has given much to people and commands them to give to others. People are asked to share their good fortune with people of faith, family and in the community, who are in need of help, particularly for basic needs.
“Especially in these days when people have lost their jobs and people have lost their business and they are struggling in their survival, it’s more of an obligation upon those who can provide certain help or certain money or food, shelter, clothes, whatever they can, to those people who are in need,” he says. “I think it becomes more critical and more obligatory to help out those people who have lost their jobs and who are in need of help. I think this is the time to prove yourself that what we believe we practice.”
Shaul Osadchey, Rabbi, Beth Tzedec Congregation
“From a Jewish perspective, the act of giving of one’s resources is a fundamental reflection of two significant values. One is the value of humility, which is to say that one understands that one is not the source of receiving but also to appreciate our humanity we have to give to others as well,” he says. “The second value is the idea of gratitude. Giving is a reflection of gratitude for the blessings that we enjoy in life and the realization that those blessings are to be shared and to strengthen not only ourselves, but the people around us.
“It’s especially significant to act in a charitable manner when society as a whole is suffering in an economic downturn. When there is more people with a greater need, there should be a greater resolve on the part of people who have to help ameliorate people’s distress.
“In tough times people sort of assess what they have and if they’re truly reflective of their blessings, they’ll realize that they can get by with less and actually getting by with less will then refocus people on the more important things in life which are people’s relationships, the institutions that they derive benefit from and just a greater spiritual awareness. Sometimes having more than we need clogs our perspective on those fundamental priorities in life.”
James Paton, senior lead pastor, First Alliance Church
“It (giving) is absolutely essential as far as I’m concerned. An understanding of what that means is a basic understanding of a God who in his generosity gave his son Jesus for us. The New Testament when you read it keeps working on that. And God’s generosity ought to be reflected in our lives, which is a call to extravagant almost irrational, generosity. Jesus himself talks about that,” says Paton.
“So, Christian faith at its heart has a call to living a generous life that replicates God’s heart as we understand him. He’s a generous God who gave everything for us. And we have to learn how to live generous lifestyles in response to that.”
“From a faith perspective there’s a freedom that comes from it because we read in the Bible where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is as well. Jesus told us you can’t serve two masters. You can serve God or serve money. But you can’t serve both. One of the things I find (is) a lot of people discover that money is a good servant, but it’s a terrible master. Most of us are controlled by money rather than having it as a resource . . . Learning to give it away blesses the other person, but it brings real freedom because we break the power of money in our lives . . . . We break the power that money has over us when we learn to have generous lifestyles.”
These interviews have been edited and condensed.