Monday, December 10, 2007

Thoughts on Turning Sixty - Part II

I ended Part I several days ago thinking about discerning need. Since then I've started to revise my thoughts on seeking daily opportunities, giving to large charities, and what is actually beneficial giving.

Frida and Biene have both shown me two ways, too very different but compatible paths to follow. Sometimes the way to accomplish good can seem so complicated even when one starts from the basic message of Christianity - Love one another. So many conflicting messages and needs and directions on how to accomplish this simple act. So many who take this simple message and twist it into something ugly. Whether it's emails from Nigeria, phone calls, legitimate looking mail, or panhandlers - there is a lot out there to twist and corrupt simple acts of charity.

For a while now, I've turned my back on organized charities with their huge overhead. I asked myself - how much of what I give actually accomplishes its goal. Certainly, I know that charitable acts on a global scale do need the infrastructure to make it happen. But there is a part of me that responds most strongly to direct action. Simply put, I like the action of

Point A (me) -----> Point B (the need)
Frida talked to me recently about development and the need for sustainable resources and creating foundations for people to eventually sustain themselves. What I learned is often this means showing that simple respect between men and women plus education for boys and girls, is all that is needed for people to build their own strong communities. But what I've also learned is that this simple truism isn't so simple to teach or to learn. If it were, well - how different our world would be.
So, what can I do on a larger scale? What can I do on a small scale? The ways are filled with possibilities but there is one thing, on a small scale, that I won't feel badly about saying no to anymore and here is where Biene's words came into play.
We were talking over lunch recently and I recounted the story of being out with a group of women last month when two young men approached us. There were five of us seated around and outdoor cafe table and my back was turned so I did not see their approach. When this guy spoke, it startled me then it clicked what was happening. Here we were being hit up be two young men who definitely were capable of doing more with their lives than begging and in a flash I was just plain pissed. While everyone else was quiet and motionless, I just felt that anger come to life and I basically told them - No, God bless you, and get lost.
They left and I instantly felt guilty. You know the old adage about angels knocking and there might be Jesus? It didn't help either that I got teased about what I had done. So it was very on my mind. Biene's feedback was concise and to the point. Thank God for this hardheaded and wise woman. Her input was simply this -
Think of stewardship.
You are given gifts that are yours to do with as you chose.
You are responsible for discerning how to best spend those gifts.
Our gifts are infinite in number but so are the people out there who need. Some needs - many needs - are real and true. Many more are not. It is up to us to discern genuine need and in doing so we will more truly be able to love one another and more accurately recognize when angels are knocking at our doors.
And so, I have some answers now that make sense.
1. If you want to help globally, work with the big organizations.
2. If you want to work within your own community, find a group of like-minded people.
3. If you want to satisfy the desire for direct action - well, keep your eyes and ears open.
4. And always. ALWAYS, remember that our gifts are ours to spend as we choose.


DHLOL said...

I like the conclusions you came up with. I think that guilt comes from our giving the requestor a higher level of status over our own self, in the giving/receiving aspect of the situation. The natural attitude of a good, caring, outgoing, positive person is to automaticly think that they are guilty if they do not share with others. To them the requestor has a higher status by virtue of their need; be that need real or not. As the person who has what is required to filfull the need, one may feel guilty just because one does not filfull the need. One does not think of what they went through to get to that point of being a target of someone else's need. One reached that point by taking responsibility and working their behind off, to achive some degree of a decent life style. And that is why one should not let guilt reverse the true status of the situation. The target has the higher level by their own actions, but because of their own values they reverse the status. However one has responsibility for the distribution of their assects or the redistribution of wealth. Therefore it is up to the giver as to how they want to conduct that distribuition. The whole world is full of need. We must decide which need is important in our set of priorities and how much we can afford to give to each need chosen within those priorities. My other comment is that common sense and instint must have a role in any situation of giving/receiving. Common sense includes reading the situation and the requestor as in, "These guys are young and healthy." Instint is that little voice inside of one saying, "Just say no." And it is not the emotional voice saying, "Oh the poor person. They're in need." The emotional voice reads only the presentation. Instint reads the depth. And common sense reads the involved factors. And that is my two cents to give.

Annie said...

Dearest DHLOL - this is why I love you so much.

trailbee said...

Thank you, Don! We live in the most generous country in the world, and we pay, and pay, and pay. And we are made to feel guilty if we say no. We do not say no often enough! And that goes not only for money donations, but personal time and talent. Those also are precious gifts from God. Distribute with great care-we are not cloned, there is only one of each of us.

qualcosa di bello said...

what a great post...lots of food for thought. my one daughter had a theology professor last year who discussed the very issue of panhandlers & how we respond. Fr. Chris said that we have free will as do the panhandlers. we should respond to the situation as the Holy Spirit prompts us (in your example it was "no"). God does not always say "yes" & this is why we need to strive to be open to what God is asking of is easier to discern when His "yes" is our "yes" if we are in communion with Him...

so often you hear that if you give the person will only use it for alcohol or drugs. (a big point my girls & i were stuck on after a few years of working with the homeless & seeing this first hand.) his take on the receiver's free will not being part of the giver's burden helped me think more clearly. whether i am to give or not has no bearing on the receiver's use of what i give. we can never know when an odd & seemingly impossible "yes" may change the life of another. it may also be that it looks, on the guiltly surface, as though we should say "yes", but God needs our "no" at that moment to work more effectively in the life of the beggar. i think your "God bless" was essential no matter.

paris parfait said...

Very wise words about our gifts being ours to spend as we please. When I lived in San Francisco, I found the homeless problem depressing. No matter how much I gave, no matter what services were provided, the situation never varied. And it irritated me that some of the "homeless" just seemed like lazy young men, who were capable of working and earning a living like the rest of us. I, too often think about the "angels among us" story and try to give something to those who seem to genuinely need help (that I encounter around Paris, which by the way, has a homeless problem, like any big city). But I prefer working with organisations that are working in an organised manner to address not only the symptoms, but the root cause of the problems. xo