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Faith Exchange: Season’s meanings
Faith Exchange: Season’s meanings


Season’s meanings: the spiritual side of the holidays Add to ...

Peter Stockland: Lorna, in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict talks about charity as being the “good for all of us” and links it unbreakably to truth. Charity – meaning love as giving for its own sake – is essential to living true lives as God’s children.

Sheema Khan: I think a wonderful example of giving is the recent example of the New York police officer who was photographed giving boots to a man on the street. The overwhelming response on the Web indicated that the story struck a chord with the wider public, as it resonated with the goodness that resides within the human spirit. Contrast this with the man pushed in front of an oncoming subway car, and the ensuing anger. In the latter, there seemed to be no charity whatsoever – in fact, the opposite, as a debate erupted about the photographer who took pictures and the newspaper that chose to run them.

I forgot to mention that, in Islam, there are two types of charity: obligatory (zakat) and voluntary (sadaqa). The former is one of the pillars of Islam, and is required of adult Muslims who have a base wealth beyond a certain minimal amount. Zakat is usually 2.5 per cent of one’s net earnings in a one-year period, and is directed toward the welfare of the poor, orphans and others. Sadaqa, on the other hand, includes all types of charity – money, goods, even a smile. We should not expect thanks or a reward from others, but understand that such acts, if done with the proper intention, help to purify our souls.

Guy Nicholson: I’m intrigued by the contrast between the implications of a couple of these answers – on one side, that giving is an obligation, and on the other, that giving involves no particular return beyond the act. I’ve always felt conditioned toward the latter explanation, but I have come to feel that there must be a reason to give.

Howard Voss-Altman: Guy, a point of clarification. The obligation to give does not imply receiving anything in return. The obligation to give is a way to honour God’s command, and to live in accordance with God’s law. In Judaism, this is simply the affirmation of the covenant relationship. If we were not obliged to give – or if we only gave when we were well off and it required nothing of us – what would our giving really mean?

Peter Stockland: Wonderfully said. I wish I’d said that.

Guy Nicholson: Hmm. I still see fulfilling an obligation as a return, or at least a pretty strong incentive. But perhaps that’s a matter for another debate.


Thousands continue to die in Syria and in Mexico’s drug war. The Arab Spring risks becoming a winter of bloodshed. Closer to home, we’re challenged by the communities and relationships in conflict around us. What should be our tools for peacemaking?

Sheema Khan: Why look elsewhere, when our own House of Commons has descended into partisan verbal brawling?

Peter Stockland: More and more, I think it’s the words that come out of our mouths and off our keyboards, the tone in which they come out – the meaning we intend them to have, and making as sure as possible they do have. Jesus called peacemakers “blessed” and, as I get older, I get more uncomfortable with my younger self’s love of sarcasm (I’m not quitting cold turkey, I’m afraid) and more diligent about asking myself whether what I’m about to say fits under the heading of “peacemaker” rather than the opposite. Words to my family, to my co-workers, to someone who holds a door open for me, to the world at large. What else is more basic?

Howard Voss-Altman: As the Jewish community is confronted with yet another iteration of the seemingly never-ending conflict between Israel and its neighbours, we must not only work for peace, we must be pursuers of peace. One does not need to seek peace with one’s friends or colleagues (family is a different story). But when it comes to people with whom we fundamentally disagree, we must recognize that pursuing peace demands that we sit down and begin to share our concerns. When have the National Hockey League talks made progress? When the owners finally sat down with the players. When people talk directly to each other, they find out that they have much more in common than they realized. Peacemaking is about seeing that the person across the table was created in the image of God, and working from there.

Peter Stockland: So true, Rabbi Voss-Altman. My understanding of Judaism (limited as it is) is that hospitality is central to the faith. So when we see Israel put in a position where its peace, and in return the peace of its neighbours, is routinely violated, making the even greater good of hospitality virtually impossible, it does seem crucial that everyone involved begin to see the person across the table (or the border) as a child of God. Indeed, that they see the willingness to even sit down at the table is the least God demands.

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