Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Charity

McCain has found one last thread to cling to - proclaiming over the pulpit to the Joe Plumbers of the world “Obama wants to spread YOUR wealth!” I’ve heard others refer to Obama as a modern day Robin Hood in this regard, robbing the rich to feed the poor, but that it’s not as good of an idea as it seems.

And the conservatives eat it up.

The idea that Obama could be socialist is used as a scare tactic. We were all brought up to abhor socialism and communism and lovelovelove capitalism. To not love it is almost traitorous to many. Therefore Obama = Socialist = Traitor. Goes along nicely with the inferred terrorist label as well, doesn't it?

As members of the LDS church, however, we are also taught and learn (a little) about the United Order and the Law of Consecration. In essence, we are told that the highest form of charity is...well, socialism in its purest form.

This is something we're asked to work for. Anyone who's been to the temple should consider their time and the lessons taught there as well. While the human race is rather hard-wired to be selfish - and this not a stab to anyone out there, we are expected to work against it. As baptized individuals we’re not exempt from the command to at least try. I will go so far as to say as human beings we’re not exempt.

We are our brother’s keepers.

If we see a man on the street with a Styrofoam cup beside him, we shouldn’t pat our pockets, count our blessings, pass our judgments and turn a blind eye. We shouldn’t assume that if we give someone on the street cash that he or she will just take it to their local dealer for their next hit, or visit the local liquor store to get trashed.

People, it’s not the money that is the issue – it’s the hope it gives, the testimony in humankind. Will some people abuse your kindness by getting drunk or high off of it? Yes. But some will be lifted by it, will feed their children with it, will find just the sliver of hope they’ve needed so badly.

The end to our means should be compassion, hope, and charity. Not blind assumptions.

About seven or eight years ago I went to a Giants game in San Francisco. The stadium was brand new and it was “LDS day” or something like that. I had my best friend with me and her fiancé. She’d never been to a baseball game and it was her birthday. She was also quite unacquainted in the ways of baseball, which made it fun for her fiancé and me.

She is also hypoglycemic. While, with diabetes a person’s blood sugar is in danger of surging to dangerous levels, my friend’s condition is such that her blood sugar is in danger of plummeting to dangerous levels. It’s frightening when she has a spell. I’ve watched her face drain of color, her legs give out from beneath her. She’s gone into spasms before, shaking so bad you’d think it was twenty below. It causes blackouts - it also causes some rather unattractive mood swings. To avoid these things, she has to be sure to eat every few hours, and to limit her consumption of refined sugars. This isn’t easy, and though you can try, sometimes you just forget to eat. It’s an annoying condition.

“Sarah,” though, tried her best to keep up with her sugar levels. On this particular day, she had a stash in the car of “illegal contraband” – candy just in case (regular candy is good to get a person’s sugar levels up, but you must give them something more nutritious such as peanuts ASAP or the levels will plunge again).

We left the stash in the car after parking, and started walking toward the stadium. Along the way, we noticed a man rummaging through the parking lot dumpster. Though I wasn’t taught that such people are bad, I did fear them and I did think that they somehow deserved to be in their position. I also had been taught to give them no money as you just don’t want others to take your hard earned cash just to get a high.

Not only that, though, but among my first fleeting thoughts were of equating this person to an animal.

What the hell gave me that right?

I’d venture to say it’s a prevalent attitude. These people, we believe more often than not, got themselves into the situation they’re in. If only they had been smarter, saved more, made better decisions they wouldn’t be homeless. Maybe they didn’t go to school. Either way, they’re sleeping on the streets for a reason and we figure they deserve it somehow, so we stick our noses up in the air and walk past them.

I was going to do this. Sarah, however, had no intention of doing this. She stopped us in our tracks and ran back to the car. Her hands were full of her illegal contraband when she returned. She didn’t leave anything for herself – this man obviously needed it more than she did. Her act humbled me and right then I decided that I would follow her example the next chance I was given (unfortunately callous attitudes are difficult to overcome).

Later, Sarah would need that food. Badly. Sufficiently unfamiliar with the city, we had difficulty in finding a place to eat. She never complained or expressed regret, though. I imagine she knew that she’d be okay and that the man needed to know others cared more.

Even after this, I still believed in not giving the homeless cash. That didn’t change until I met my husband, Eric. I shared with him my philosophy, figuring he’d agree since, after all, we were both conservatives and this was taught to me by a conservative. I also found great comfort in the fact that I had found a compromise, a way to give to the poor while also “protecting” them – and myself. It felt rational.

He surprised me, though.

“I tend to think you should give them the money.”

“What? Why? They’ll just use it to get drunk or something.”

“You don’t know that. So what if they do, anyway?”

“Because…um, that’s my money. I didn’t give it to them to get cigarettes or a hit.”

“It’s not up to you to decide how people in need use your charity. That’s their responsibility. Yours is to take care of them when you can.”

Ouch.

But it made sense. The truth often does.

If there’s anything that Eric has taught me – and being with him has taught me a few amazing things that I’ll forever be grateful for – but this is the one that has changed me the most:

Give people the benefit of the doubt.

Here are a few quotes I’d like to leave you with today:

“Suppose that in this community there are ten beggars who beg from door to door for something to eat, and that nine of them are imposters who beg to escape work, and with an evil heart practice imposition upon the generous and sympathetic, and that only one of the ten who visit your doors is worthy of your bounty; which is best, to give food to the ten, to make sure of helping the truly needy one, or to repulse the ten because you do not know which is the worthy one? You will say, administer charitable gifts to the ten, rather than turn away the only truly worthy and truly needy person among them. If you do this, it will make no difference in your blessings, whether you administer to worthy or unworthy persons, inasmuch as you give alms with a single eye to assist the truly needy.”- Brigham Young

And this, taken from the fourth chapter of the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon:

17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.

21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.

23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are arich as pertaining to the things of this world."

We like to speak of our freedom to spread the wealth all on our own, as we see fit, rather than have the government do it for us.

But do we do it?

You may tell yourself and others that while you may not give directly to the poor, you are charitable – you contribute to fast offerings. But let me tell you this: placing a couple bucks (be it a couple tens or twenties, even hundreds) in a little gray envelope doesn’t necessarily equate charity. Not entirely, at least.

It’s all about motivation. Charity is pure – it’s not based on guilt, obligation, or as a means to make ourselves look better. We could all, myself included, use a bit of help in this area. I’m not sure fast offerings are enough.

The problem I have with fast offering is that it serves to distance us from those who receive and need this the most. We don't get to hear the stories or really get to know those who have had life deal them an ugly hand. We don't understand that "but by the grace of God go I" and that we all screw up. We forget too easily that it's just not our place to judge. Compassion comes from contact and interaction, of really getting to know someone. It comes from being raked over the coals ourselves and being misunderstood or misjudged.

This isn't about money.

Of course there are times when perhaps we don’t feel comfortable giving – and we should trust our gut, trust the Spirit. That is okay. I just wonder if we too often search for a reason, any reason, to keep what we have instead of sharing it with someone who could use it just as much if not more. Let the reason be because we really cannot. Nobody expects you to give to everyone or everything.

And if you find yourself chanting “I would if I could,” ask yourself if you really can’t. While we shouldn’t be expected to care for all those we come in contact with, there’s always something we can do. Always. Every little bit helps, and it is our duty as human beings to give our fellow man the benefit of the doubt. We can’t know anyone’s entire situation. Only God knows the hearts of men. Let’s assume the best of one another and try to not think we are suffering enough that we cannot help a stranger.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

We had an entire Sunday School lesson diverted by this very topic. There were a number of people who shared your initial opinion of homeless people being less than human (although I think there is more of a "law of the jungle" amongst the homeless community).

I work in San Francisco and I see quite the collection of homeless people on my way to work. Were I to give them money every time they asked, I would definitely be endangering my own family's livelihood, and that is my first priority.

My personal decision has been to help homeless people by giving money to organizations whose mission it is to help the homeless. I rarely carry cash on me, so any donation I give to a homeless person these days would not mean much to them anyway.

Based solely on reading your posts, I assume that you are well off enough for this discussion to be somewhat academic as you have the means to give to those who ask. I'm finally reaching that point in my life and it has become a much scarier endeavor to think about the "I would if I could" issue.

Lisa said...

Ah, if only.

No. My family is still on the "getting there" end of the financial spectrum.

My point is mostly this: give what you can when you can, and don't kid yourself into thinking you can't when you can.

I would never say you should give to everyone that crosses your path. I'm more about the attitude that accompanies the giving or not giving. Giving for the obligation or blessings you'll be given for your charity isn't good enough. It's better than nothing, absolutely, but love should be our main motivation. Some of us need to stop thinking we're better than any one else. I think it's a sin we're *all* guilty of.

I rarely carry cash, too. But if I have some food or a couple coins, I want to give.

Your family should absolutely be your first priority. It would do nobody any good to put yourself onto the streets in your efforts to help someone else.

In the end, we need to remember that people are human. Unless you know for a fact otherwise, treat them like it.

It's a lesson I'm trying to learn and incorporate into my life as well.

carl said...

Hi!

I loved your post and thanks for that quote from Brigham Young.

- Marcus

Natalie said...

Ah! I have a really hard time with this issue.

My dilemma is, I'm a little bit obsessed with solving all the social problems in the world...... I was also an aspiring social worker for a while, and met some brilliant people who have dedicated their whole lives to eradicating homelessness. And the conclusion most of them come to is.... don't give money. Hygiene kits are the best thing to give, along with a list of shelters. Arguments like yours are very compelling. And every time I see a panhandler (which is about 25 times a day in Philly), I have a little mini-crisis about what I should do, with all sorts of scriptures and quotes flashing through my mind.

In the end, I usually decide not to give (unless I get a really strong prompting otherwise). This is because, from everything I've studied, giving cash tends to do very little to help the problem, and sometimes perpetuates it.

But that said, this is a very, very hard issue, and I seriously commend you for your charitable spirit.

I also sincerely enjoy that you frequently call all us "Saints" out on these issues. :) Reminders are good.

Oh, and your word verification thing below says "crope". Just thought you should know. :)

Lisa said...

ack! I'm not getting notificatiosn of my comments. Weird!

Marcus: Glad to have you along! Thank you.

Natalie: I agree. I just hate the attitude behind people's neglect to give - it taught me to view the homeless in a really bad light. I'm certainly not advocating giving to everyone you meet, but if you feel so inclined, you should. Hygiene kits and whatnot would be great, too.

I'm more writing this for me. Some of the Saints I know are far more charitable than I am, but yes: too many of us tend to turn a blind eye and consider fast offering plenty enough. While it's great, it's certainly not enough to substitute for a bad attitude. The heart of charity isn't money.

Though there aren't near the amount of homeless in my hometown as there are in places like Philly and San Francisco, I do run into them periodically and I have my own crisis of conscience. Most times I'm caught off guard and know later what I should've done. Mostly I'm just trying to change my attitude.

As for "crope" I'm going to have to claim ignorance here lol :)

Natalie said...

Oh, there's nothing special about crope.

Unless its how a frog gropes.... or a creaky rope.... or any other number of fun sound combinations.

:) Most of the randomly generated letter sequences just aren't so pronouncable and "word-sounding" so I thought it deserved mention. :D