Two great events are going to happen to most of us in the next few months. Both warrant some planning. The first great event is the check most taxpayers will be getting from Washington as part of the massive federal tax cut passed by the Congress and signed by the President - up to $300 for single people and $600 for couples. The second great event is the permanent fund dividend, probably more than $1,000 for every Alaska resident - child, woman and man.
I watched the movie "Pay it Forward" on video the other night. Although the ending was a little too Hollywood, it's a great story and worth seeing. It's about a teacher who challenges his sixth grade class to think of an idea that could change the world. One little guy conceives of doing a very hard good deed to three other people, with the rule that the good deed could not be paid back - only forward, on to three other people. The movie is about how the idea fails, and how it succeeds.
It's a great idea. Jesus said it this way: The next time you put on a dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be - and experience - a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned.
How will you spend the money? Decide now, or soon. The tax-cut checks will show up in late August or early September; the PFD checks probably sometime in October. Are you going to save it, use it for paying off credit card debt, dedicate it to a special account like college tuition, or buy a new television set or plan a great vacation?
Consider a different option - pay it forward. When you receive something you didn't expect, do something unexpected with it. The tax rebate is free money, and nobody really expected it. The PFD is also free money. And even though we have come to expect it, it strains logic to claim that it's ours and we are entitled to it.
So give it away. Pledge your tax rebates to a specific nonprofit institution or program. Give it to a church, an environmental group, Fireweed Place, the Glory Hole, Habitat for Humanity, the Food Bank, to name just a few possibilities. Give some money to send a kid to camp. Take one PFD from your family, or a substantial chunk of your own, and give it away. The result will be a massive outpouring of funds to serve others.
Do the math: If 500 families in Juneau would combine their tax rebate checks and one PFD check from each family, and pay them forward, they would immediately add in the range of $800,000 to the Juneau economy through the budgets of the groups or projects of their choice. Think what this would do for those great organizations that spend way too much energy trying to stay afloat. Think what a burst of energy this kind of generosity will create in this community!
This is money you didn't expect. Do something unexpected with it. Don't spend it on yourself. Don't keep it. Give it away. Pay it forward. "They won't be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned ...."
Thomas Dahl is Pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.