Lately I've wondered much about the Church's humanitarian efforts.
It's true, we're there when the hurricanes hit, the tsunamis flood, and the earthquakes roar; it's true we have a fast offering fund for those in need (though it bothers me some that we're quicker to help fellow ward members than those outside the church). If there's any question as to the Church's humanitarian efforts, all one must do is visit the Church's newsroom. We like to talk about it.
But what about locally? In all the time I've been in the Church, local community efforts are wanting. I do want to recognize my old Institute for adopting a highway (but how does that work? do the people who adopt do the work or merely pay for someone to do the work?), and my last ward did make blankets for pre-term babies. It does happen and now that I'm forced to think about it, I'm grateful and slightly humbled.
But do we try to reach beyond our walls more than we stay within? And while it's a nice thought to make cookies for the local firemen, does that really help? It's nice, but does it help?
I suppose another question could be, does it matter?
Perhaps I'm projecting (oh I'll admit it, I am), but I wonder how much easier it is to make cookies than it is for us to get to know people we're uncomfortable around.
We'd rather make cookies than hang out with our coarse neighbor while he smokes and has a beer. I know some members who would rather hang out with this guy than their EQ president, and I have to say I admire them. I have found that showing our neighbor that he is more important than his vices will impact him more than cookies ever will, I don't care how good they are. And these are oft the most interesting people.
Sometimes I think we need to dismount our high horse, our rameumptum, even. I'm tired of telling others that we're fighting against them because we love them. That doesn't work. First we must show love - really show it, to the specific people - and then they will be more apt to love us. That doesn't mean there will ever be an agreement, but compassion can change even our Church (gasp at the suggestion, I know). I fear we're not nearly as compassionate as we like to think.
And yes, I'm talking about the gay community but this could really be for anyone. Would an actively gay couple feel comfortable in our wards? Do you ever see any? I haven't (that said, I live in a conservative community and rarely see gay couples). They don't feel welcome, and if this is about Christ than it should be about Christ first and sexuality last. Christ first, cigarette breath last.
We have a president now (er, tomorrow!) whose entire campaign was based on change and doing something. It's not just up to him or other people. This was a grassroots campaign and so it must remain. No matter who you voted for or how much you can't stand that President-Elect Obama won, we have to start serving each other.
President Hinckley once said that all converts need three things: A friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with the good word of God. I propose that everyone, regardless of who they are or where they are need these three things...and not to get them to become converts, either.
I hate how we perform service in the hopes that those will see our light and come running to the baptismal font. Service should not be a means to an end.
Forgive me if I've said this before, but I was told once that we should only pray for that which we're willing to do ourselves. "Heavenly Father, please feed those in need" = We should donate some food to a local shelter, give something to the guy on the corner. "Please bless that those who are sick will get better" = stopping by with some chicken soup and to do a load of dishes (or whatever they need). Going by the store to grab some meds, etc.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves...Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:22, 26)
I'm going to refrain from interpreting that last bit.
Just because we're Latter-day Saints doesn't mean jack. Just because someone else may be Buddhist or holy-roller Protestant, Catholic or Atheist doesn't and shouldn't mean jack. In the end we're all children of God - and if you don't subscribe to that, in the end we're all human and we're all doing the very best we know how. That's all that matters. Blankets don't. Cookies don't. Real interest in each other matters because sincerity breeds hope, and hope is everything.
I want to start putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and help out my community. I've been complaining loads about it, which means I should probably do something. I'm going to start looking for opportunity. This is not an aspect of life I'm comfortable with or fluent in, so it will take some effort, but I feel I must try.
Let's do something for our local communities. If anyone knows a good way to discover how to do this, please leave a comment. There's always something we can do, but often we don't know how. We trust in our local Relief Society to come up with something, but other organizations and churches perform good works and I'm sure we'd be invited to help.
And if it would make us feel better, we can always bring cookies to the event.
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