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When Prosperity Becomes the Enemy of Charity

She didn't sign up for the farm life, milking cows at 4 a.m. She fell in love with her husband when he was young, dashing and rich, before the Crash of '29. Their courtship was exciting. When all that went to hell, she wasn't happy about it, but she stayed. She stuck it out.

Second character: Preacher's wife. Young woman, new to the community, raising two small children of her own.

The preacher's wife had spent the day meeting parishioners, running errands, helping her husband plan the Sunday schedule, cooking, cleaning, washing, wrestling the kids into their best behaviors, meals, clothes and finally to bed -- it was late evening by now and she was dog-tired.

At that moment, the older woman, the farmer's wife, shows up at the door with buckets and mops. Mind you, she's been up working since 4 a.m. The Andersons down the street have water in their basement, she says. Put on your boots. You're coming with me. We have to go help.

And she went. She didn't want to, didn't even feel physically up to it. But she went.

Many years later, the preacher's wife counted that moment as one of the most important lessons of her adult life: Everybody has a burden, everyone is tired. When someone else is in need, you put your fatigue aside and you help. Not helping is inconceivable.

One of those women is your grandmother, your great-grandmother. Am I right?

So let's revisit the equation I mentioned above, shall we? When hard times hit everyone, when investments and costs are ranged against us and the future is uncertain, charitable donations should drop...? Would those women have agreed?

Absolutely not. When times are hard, charitable donations go up.

Why? Because everyone hurts. If you have strength to spare -- in money or whatever form -- you help.

Charitable donations are dropping right now because of a misplaced sense of entitlement, a nonpartisan mistake reflecting our complete faith in the machinery of society, a worship of efficient systems that do the heavy lifting for us.

For Republicans, it's the free market, which renders more cheaply and more available those products that can best serve the neediest and lifts the incomes of the lowest wage earner and the poorest church. It's automatic. What the free market can't solve, doesn't get solved.

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