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The Reality of Giving – Is Oprah Right?

Forgive me for being somewhat confused. Oprah’s “The Big Give” TV show debuted on Sunday night to huge ratings – 15.6 million viewers – a huge hit for the ABC suits [3].

The show bases its obvious popularity on the benefits found in giving to the less fortunate, the causes of the broken and down-trodden. The reality of a nation in love with some one else’s reality, are we now minimizing the beauty of giving by watching philanthropy become the latest opportunity/victim to claim fame over?

In the series opener, Oprah meets the ten contestants and gives each an envelope with only the name and picture of a stranger whose lives they must forever change. Each contestant must use the resources awarded to them to drastically improve the life of their assigned person within five days, making the participant cope with the stress by using strategy and creativity.

As a professional whose work is involved in the cultivation of hearts that choose to give, I am torn between rejoicing at this opportunity to promote altruism and frustration that we have somehow made the sacred art of giving the impetus of yet another reality show.

Are we trivializing giving or promoting it? Are we advancing a cause or witnessing the thrill of someone fortunate enough to win their opportunity at personal wealth? I place myself in the homes of countless donors who have sacrificed their time and energy to bless the causes dear to their heart and wonder if somehow we have made their desire to give less impactful and certainly less noble. But why should I even worry?

I am reminded of Paul in his letter to the Philippians who when asked if it was right for others in the jail to promote the cause of Christ said flatly – as long as Christ is preached I rejoice [4].

By no means am I comparing Paul’s ministry to the modern reality show based on the hope of Oprah, but my confusion becomes more an opportunity to rejoice and reconsider. If my vocation requires me to hold in high esteem the end result of gifts given to benefit others, then shows that promote the same should have my support and not my condemnation. Like Paul demonstrated, I can not be the ultimate jury on someone’s motivation and heart — even if a million dollar prize lies on the other side of their motivation. My professional covenant to honor Christ and enhance relationships to the causes of His kingdom are not license to be critical of another’s rationale for serving, helping and loving.

I think I will reconsider what I view next Sunday. Perhaps less judgemental  and suspicious, I will pause to rejoice at what is being said to millions of people who may not have realized that the sacred art of giving comes not in the promotion of self but in loving our neighbor well. In stooping to provide a hand even when the cameras have all been turned off.