Monday, January 19, 2009

A Plate of Cookies

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.


Amanda said...

Here are my thoughts. If all the money that got donated to the Prop 8 campaign had been donated, instead, to humanitarian efforts, a lot of people would be a little better off in the world today. There's something to be said about priorities. When members are asked to donate to humanitarian causes, they often donate, but only a bit. When asked to donate towards discrimination, they jump in head first and donate their life savings. Now I know this isn't true of everyone, but I just couldn't help but think of everyone who donated thousands of dollars to the Yes campaign when there was worldwide food shortage, tons of damage from a massive hurricane season, and several countries suffering from terrible wars. Why is it that our biggest help goes towards negative causes? Would anyone donate their life savings to help, say, the Haitians who lost everything this summer, or the people suffering in Darfur? Would they do it BEFORE contributing to the war against gay marriage? Which is more important, humanitarian aid or religious-political discrimination? That answer is obvious, and it really shows WHY humanitarian aid isn't really a concern for most.

Katie said...

The church as a group does a lot of humanitarian efforts, and we as individuals are encouraged to be "actively engaged" in our communities and in good causes. I think that the RS handbook of instruction has something in it too about incorporating community service into planning enrichment activities. That said, I don't think its so much an issue of whether or not an individual ward/RS does service, but more one of whether we as individuals have an attitude of service/charity.

Do LDS members have a tendency to be inclusive within their own sphere? I think so, somewhat; people often use the excuse that they don't want their kids to learn X, Y, or Z or whatever. But I think that with most social "groups", you tend to care for/think about those that you see routinuely more than others.

The question is whether individuals actually AVOID interactions with others BECAUSE they are different from them. If we are doing that (on an individual basis), its usually out of fear, but its something that everyone, everywhere, has to deal with at some point or another in their lives,regardless of religion. People in rural USA were afraid of voting for Obama b/c he's black. Folks are afraid of gay people b/c their different. Mormons are afraid of people who drink or smoke b/c they aren't used to them. It just happens that there are a whole lot of people who are different from Mormons :-) and it makes it so that their "fears" seem downright ridiculous.

Cindy said...

At you can find service events in your area by typing in your zip code. It's the service website set up by the Obama campaign. A lot of it looks like it is still geared toward the inauguration but it looks like it will be getting more and more service opportunities up as it gets going more. I'm hoping this may become a source for finding service opportunities for me and my kids.

I'm very introverted but I'm trying to get more out of my box and get to know non member neighbors. I know I still have a lot of work to do there. I also think there is ample opportunity for parents at school. Kids love to see the parents there, even when they aren't their own. I think it helps the kids who come from more troubled homes to see the community of caring adults surrounding them, and of course it's always helpful to the overburdened teacher to help out in whatever ways they need.

Cindy said...

I just printed out our family's first project from children's care packages for soldiers. I'm liking this thing already. Hopefully soon I'll be able to find more local opportunities. It will be good to have a source besides what I hear about in R.S.

Lisa said...

Amanda: I believe most of us have thought of that, and it is sad. While I wholeheartedly disagree with it, I understand why the church felt the money was better spent there. They believe family to be the foundation of all things. Their definition of family is rather exclusive, though, and served to hurt rather than help.

Imagine all that money toward something of universal, indiscriminate good. Would those families have been so generous, with or without the Prophet's call (which, come on. We need to be asked?)? Good question.

Katie: " I don't think its so much an issue of whether or not an individual ward/RS does service, but more one of whether we as individuals have an attitude of service/charity."

Excellent point. Time to focus more on our own efforts than that of others. That is one sure way to ensure something is done :) Thank you.

Cindy: AGH! You know, I discovered this amazing bookstore in my town I hadn't known existed until I visited that site. Apparently they do a lot of community service projects - and I was going to do a town cleanup with them, but I misread the date and time :(

But I have signed up for the updates on that website and I frequent it regularly now. I'll have to get hubby and see what we think we can do. Care packages sounds like a great idea :)