The Southeast Missourian is kind enough to offer me a small stipend for every column written -- the proceeds of which I am deeply grateful to receive. I consider this source of revenue "mad money," meaning I do not feel compelled to account for its expenditure in a way that others might find rational and useful. (The preceding two sentences are meant as a "hook" to you, dear reader, in the hopes that you will be intrigued enough to read further.)
I have used my mad money in a way even I find a bit odd. Several weeks ago, I read that the Green Bay Packers franchise in the National Football League was launching a stock offering. As the league's only community-owned team, the Packers raise capital by issuing more stock. Capital is needed to make improvements at Lambeau Field, where the Packers play.
I printed off the Packers' stock prospectus, a 20-page document full of legalese. I skimmed it quickly, focusing my attention on the cover letter, a part of which reads: "I encourage you to buy shares of stock in the Packers. We need your help. As an owner, you will be invited to shareholder meetings and have voting privileges. Ownership will also provide you with significant bragging rights."
What the prospectus makes clear is that no dividends will ever be paid on the stock, a stock owner will have no discounts on anything -- including tickets to games or team merchandise, and, aside from the annual meeting, will have no role in the direction of the team. But I will get a stock certificate to hang on my wall.
So my wife, after learning of this purchase, said, "Why is this attractive to you, honey? You get virtually nothing for it -- and besides, your favorite team is the Pittsburgh Steelers!"
I suppose you could say buying a single share of stock in the Packers is a Christmas gift to myself. I just wanted to do it. I like small towns. I like the idea of a community owning a team -- not wealthy oligarchs sitting in skyboxes. I wish there were more teams that did business this way -- but there is only one that does.
Truth be told, I also like to be able to say that I own part of an NFL team, even if it's not my favorite team.
No, it's not terribly rational nor useful. I simply liked the idea of it. Maybe that's at the heart of what a gift is. It starts with liking the idea.
The most meaningful Christmas gifts we give to others -- meaningful to us, the giver, that is -- begins with this notion. If we like the idea, gift-giving becomes not a chore, a burden, an obligation -- but a desire.
The greatest gift we'll ever get began in a stable and ended on a cross.
God, I am persuaded, liked the idea of sharing our lot on earth as he planned our salvation. He desired to do it. Oh, and it helped mightily that God loved us perfectly -- and still does.
Not every gift has to make complete and rational sense. But any gift worth giving or receiving should have love behind it. I hope yours did this year.
The Rev. Dr. Jeff Long is senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.