Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What Price, Charity?

Recently my friend Mark Hansen blogged a bit about service

'Twice, now, in as many weeks, I've been face-to face with beggars. For some reason, I always feel funny. A big part of me always wants to go over and give some money. I usually do. At the same time, a big part of me is conscious of a lot of social pressure not to.

'We're not really helping them, we're told. We should give to organizations and shelters, not to beggars. They'll just use the money unwisely. And this is not just the external society I'm hearing. These are people in the church talking this way.

'But the scriptures continuously tell us to "turn not the beggar away", and Mosiah tells us "we are all beggars" before God.

'So, why am I embarrassed to walk over and hand them my spare change?'

It's a good question. When and where is giving appropriate? There are various organizations and shelters. Some of them are better than others. Some are down right awful.

Some people are afraid of the shelters or can't get help because they didn't show up early enough to get anything, before the supplies ran out. Others simply don't know where they are.

What I always remember when considering when to give is Acts 3:6

"Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: ..."

I don't carry a lot of cash. I don't always have spare change. I don't always approach. But I will never shy away. A handshake and a friendly word may not be much, but if it is "such as I have to give" I will give it.

Here's the deal. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I've been taught some important truths, not the least of which is that we are all brothers and sisters. We are all the spirit children of God. These are not lazy bums that we need to turn away from. These are our brothers and sisters. They are destitute. They have been wounded, emotionally and spiritually, not just financially. I've even helped some who were physically wounded because others chose to try and steal from them, as if they had anything to steal!

I don't know what got the people to the point they are. I'm ashamed to admit that there have been times in my life when I've wondered how much more it would take for me and my family to join their ranks. The only person who does know is God, and he's not given me the insight to judge whether or not they are 'worthy' of my help. He's just commanded me to help. He's commanded me to show charity.

In light of that, all the other social arguments can go to hell.

1 comment:

Claudia Davila (Fran) said...

Thanks for a lovely post, John. There certainly does arrise an inner conflict when deciding if and how to help panhandlers on the street. I find most of the discomfort comes from being faced with our own affluence, and the societal differences in classes and privilege which we might get protective about.

Your conclusion is sound and beautiful. One doesn't even have to be Christian to know all the truths you mentioned, about being beggars before god, of our duty to help those in need, and that all people are our brothers and sisters. (It's just harder to keep this in mind with people who do horrible things and lead nations into deplorable wars, in essence stealing from their brothers and sisters.)