If you want to be impressed by how many Amerians do volunteer work and how much they contribute, have a look at this site, which tracks such stuff.
But it turns out that volunteer work may help not just those who receive the assistance that volunteers provide but also may help the volunteers themselves -- perhaps even help them live longer.
Over on the "Our Values" section of the great site maintained by my friends at ReadTheSpirit.com, you'll find this report about volunteers and how they themselves benefit from the work.
It's all intriguing stuff, but eventually it raises the question of why we volunteer. Is it for our own benefit, to soothe our own conscience, to look good in the eyes of others?
Well, those may not be deeply moral reasons for being a volunteer, but as Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I learned when writing our book about Jews in Poland who were saved from the Holocaust by non-Jewish volunteers, what matters is action.
At least some of the people who helped to save Jews were themselves morally repugnant people who were antisemitic. And yet they found themselves in circumstances in which they saved a life or two. Trust me: The people whose lives were saved did not care what the motivation was. All they cared about was that someone stepped up and helped.
In an ideal world, of course, all volunteers would have pure motives and their work would help people get to the point where they no longer needed help.
But perhaps, like me, you've noticed that this isn't an ideal world. It is, rather, full of fallible people who sometimes do the right thing, even if for questionable reasons. And perhaps the volunteer work they do is helping them live longer to do more of it. That ain't all bad.
(I borrowed the image here today from the Our Values site.)
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ANTI-GAY TEACHINGS HURT
A new survey suggests that one big reason young people are leaving faith communities is that they disagree with the anti-gay teachings of those communities. This is one more area in which religion should be a leading voice for liberation but, instead, often stands for prejudice. How sad.
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P.S.: Sad news on the front page of The Kansas City Star this morning. The previous bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Raymond Boland, has died. He was a good, caring man and a bishop who cared about his people. And he always made himself available to journalists like me when called upon to do so.