Our year starts in January, a month named for Janus, the Roman god of doorways. Janus had two faces, one looked right and one looked left. He reminded Romans that doors — as well as opportunities — offered two choices. One could come in or leave through doors, just as we can choose or decline opportunities.
When thinking of a door, one can reflect that there are two sides to many things. While Lent is still six weeks off, this brings to mind a quote from “A Lenten Hobo Honeymoon” by the late Fr. Edward Hays. In it, he wrote that a keystone of Lent — almsgiving — is like a two-sided coin: one side is charity and the other justice. “To the decree that God has gifted you with money,” Fr. Hayes wrote, “you are obligated in justice to share that gift with those who don’t have basic necessities.”
In other words, it isn’t just an act of charity to give alms; it’s a choice of justice.
Jan. 18 starts the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The 2019 theme is “Justice, only justice you shall pursue.”
January is a tough month for charities, especially for those that support basic needs: food, shelter, clothing and emergency funds. Charitable giving is high during the holidays. Nonprofitsource.com reported that, in 2017, 30 percent of annual giving occurred in December, with 10 percent happening in the last three days of the year.
Then, donations drop off sharply.
Craig Robbins, executive director of Paul’s Pantry in Green Bay, noted that “our donations of non-perishable food items taper off in January and February. November and December are our two biggest months of the year for non-perishable food donations.”
Since donations drop in the new year, Robbins added, “most of the food collected during November and December is actually spread out and distributed over the spring and summer months.”
Much the same happens at LEAVEN, a limited assistance ecumenical network in the Fox Valley. Mary Parsons, executive director, said they also see “a surge in giving at the end of the year” — and a drop after Christmas. LEAVEN provides rent assistance, grocery vouchers, emergency utilities payments and even clothing vouchers.
“Because donations drop off,” Parsons said, “we budget (for) a deficit for several months of the year, hoping to recoup with a healthy Christmas season the following year.”
Charities had a new concern this year: the 2017 tax law. In 2017, nearly 75 percent of all charitable giving came from individuals, not foundations or corporations. Under the new tax law, in effect in 2018, the standard personal deduction doubled — from $6,000 to $12,000 for individuals and to $24,000 for couples. Charities have feared that — with donations no longer being a separate deduction for many — people might not give as much. So far, whether that has happened is unclear for most charities. At least, at Paul’s Pantry, things seem on track. Robbins said there was “no decrease in donations during our annual campaign which just wrapped up Dec. 31.”
So January presents a door into the new year and new choices. Will we choose to use our coins (and dollars) on donations all through the year, the way we did in November and December? And, even though we may not get any tax benefit, will we choose to keep giving with generosity — or even greater generosity?
The benefits go far beyond finances. In the Book of Revelation, John heard one “like a son of man” say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”
As we stand at the door of a new year, deciding which way to turn — and how to act — keep that promise in mind.