Culture on My Mind
January 17, 2020
This week, the thing that I can’t let go of is a little lesson from RetroBlasting’s recent donation drive to combat the Australian wildfires. The RetroBlasting community did a good thing here. Michael mentioned that, while their effort is literally pennies in comparison to celebrity donations – Chris Hemsworth donated $1 million, Kylie Minogue donated $500k, and several others are chipping in – he referenced the lesson of the Widow’s Offering.
We have an idiom here in the United States: “My two cents.” Derived from the English version, it boils down to the speaker offering a personal opinion. The aim is to depreciate the opinion – it’s only worth two pennies, after all – in order to display politeness and humility while lessening any impacts.
In this day and age, there is often no politeness or humility involved. It’s on the same playing field as “southern hospitality.”
What I didn’t know if how this idiom had evolved from the writings of the Bible, specifically from the Synoptic Gospels.
The tellings from both Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4 are similar: In 20-30 AD, around the time that Jesus was teaching in Judea, the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation was the lepton, worth about six minutes of an average daily wage. Crowds were donating money to the offering box, and while the rich were doling out large sums of cash, a poor widow walked up and donated two lepta. The observation was that the poor widow put in more than all of the other contributors since she donated her entire livelihood rather than remaining comfortable in her charity.
In the era of the King James translation, a small coin was called a mite, thus leading to the colloquial update to the “Lesson of the Widow’s Mite.”
Historically, the temple that was the setting of this parable was destroyed in 70 AD. This has led to the cynical view that the gift was for nothing, but I believe that charity is the most important part. Donations of time and money – whether they be a single meal, a pouch for a displaced joey, or a grand million-dollar statement – all make an impact on those who receive them. Donations that come from the figurative widows, such as those from RetroBlasting’s community or the recent #TeamTrees campaign, mean a lot because of the sacrifice involved.
Never underestimate the power of grassroots organizing. Never underestimate your impact on the world. Even two pence means something to someone.
If you want to help Australia in this time of need, there are several ways to do so. PBS NewsHour has a list of places to start, and a Google search revealed several other links. There’s also the Rescue Craft Co on Facebook which has been making soft goods for displaced wildlife, although monetary donations are probably more versatile.
As always, be cautious and do your research when sending money to unknown entities.
My gratitude goes out to Michael French and the RetroBlasting community, not only for their contribution to our friends down under, but also for inadvertently teaching me something new in the process.
Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.
For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.