“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” ― Jack London
A few weeks ago, I was invited for a cup of coffee by a rather generous and charitable man. He told me that he was in the library and heard me play piano. He said it was rather enjoyable and wanted to pay me back.
Never to be one to turn down a cup of coffee and a new friendship, I graciously agreed.
Kindly, he asked me if I had a car, or did we need to take his.
I told him, “Yes, I have a car. It’s the Ford Fusion with the license plate with the word “FUSION.”
He told me to meet him at the Rock City Cafe.
It really was a pleasant conversation. He told me about how he is a “Believer in Christ.” How he makes his “rather comfortable living” writing for various magazine and websites. He told me how he is strong in faith and donates a bit of his income to charities. He told me of individuals and families that he has helped. He told me how he sponsors youth mission trips, soup kitchens, and even an animal shelter.
He spoke of sympathy for those less fortunate than himself. People who do not have the ability, intellect, or financial means to be “as successful as himself.”
This conversation trailed on like a catalog of good deeds that has been carefully recorded for “Judgement Day.” If there was one word I could confidently use for this man is “Helpful.”
Then, he told me about his net worth and why he donates every year, because he hates how the world is.
I do not know if he needed a confidence boost, or if he was just relaying information for the sake of conversation, but I could not control myself. My reaction was not about pride, nor was it about judgement. I laughed a loud, obnoxious, and infections laugh.
My host, others sitting adjacent to our table, and even an employee began to laugh, as well.
After the laughter died down, this gentleman asked me what I found so comical.
“Please do not take this wrong. It’s because of everything you had listed to me, from your religious beliefs to your income level and tax credits, you never mentioned the most important thing of all, LOVE.”
“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” -Elie Wiesel
Love, a word that has been marketed “ad Nauseum.”
In the secular world, it is spoken of in the physicality of humanity. It often involves things that makes us specifically comfortable, regardless if it is the enjoyment of a “potential mate,” the anticipation of an occupation that increases our financial abilities, or the social gratification of our charitable work.
In the religious world, our “Love” is specifically called into question by GOD. Many religious texts warn about the dangers of religiosity and selfishness. It appears, in our humanity, we lost the concept of what love truly is:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
When reading this passage, there is one thing that speaks most greatly in my heart. From the story of “Creation” to the “Jesus Example”, the Bible repeatedly brings to the forefront what the ultimate nature of love is;
LOVE IS EQUALITY
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV)
Even GOD addresses that fact during sacrificial offerings. The purpose of “sacrifice” appears to be the desire for GOD to have every man approach him in “equality,” with no sin, no guilt, no suspicions, no resentments. A relationship that GOD can have with the purest part of man.
The interesting thing is, in all my experience working with charitable organizations, I rarely find any whose goal is to bring equality to those of those classes of people whom we have diminished opinions of. Homelessness, Mental Illness, Food Insecurity, the Under-Educated, it appears that the Charity System that we have developed, seeks only to keep those “in search of help” on the verge of success.
One such example I have is with a Church that I would volunteer with. While there, I saw a church on the verge of failure be caught up with the politics of despotism. This church had lost its older members over time, and the pews were not being refilled. A sanctuary that was designed for over 200 people regularly had less than 20.
The finances for this church were working in a deficit. Without tithes and offerings, there was little money for operating expenses or even the pastor’s salary. For all intents and purposes, the church was on the verge of failure.
That is, until the pastor claimed inspiration of using his “Church” for a homeless shelter. It may have started with just one act of charity for a homeless person, but what the pastor found is a way to keep his church open.
He started by allowing more and more homeless stay in his church. The more homeless he had, the more money he would receive in contributions. The more homeless he had stay in HIS Church, the more participants he forced into his congregation. The larger his congregation, the more successful his church looked.
Not everyone that was a member of his church agreed with this. Questions were brought up about how the “Homeless Donations” were being filtered into church operating expenses. Questions about how there were occupancy statues and laws that were being ignored. Questions about building codes that were being flaunted, so the basement of the church could be remodeled to hold even more homeless individuals.
The pastor spoke of success and God’s will. How none of this would have been possible unless God desired it to be. He flaunted his ability as a pastor and even “his homeless men” whenever he could. His quest for glory and taste for power grew at an astounding rate.
What is worse, any questioning of his policies were claimed to be “attacks by Satan on his Godly enterprise.”
This homeless shelter, that I had whole heartedly participated in, did not do the most important thing that a “homeless shelter” should do, stop people from being homeless. There were rules in place that kept people “actively homeless.”
“The Rules” prevented the homeless from finding work outside of normal business hours. “The Rules” enforced the participation in church services, regardless of religion, work, or illness. “The Rules” could not criticized in a public or private way, without risking expulsion from the shelter. “The Rules” became a means of keeping people debilitated, even when facing illness.
In this shelter, there have been quite a few deaths, and little medical oversight. In one instance, a man who had been severely ill was threatened with expulsion went to the hospital. The pastor of this church went into his sleeping area and called him derogatory names like “P***y, Lazy A**h**e,” and many others which I would never have expected a pastor to say.
It was at that point that the man forced himself to get medical care, regardless of losing his place to sleep at night.
The man had acute appendicitis, and would have died if he had pushed himself and gave in to the Pastors whim. The same day he was admitted, he had his surgery. In fact, his Appendix was so enlarged that they had to make an additional incision in order to remove it.
This is just one example of the “Dangers of being Charitable.” I have seen people and families kept in an economically debilitating state. I have seen men die due to the need to "keep numbers up" and not alleviate the reason for the need. Too often, I have seen charities devolve into being about the good that is being done, not about the people they are helping.
Charity is supposed to be about bringing equal footing amongst all people, regardless of race, creed, economic or other sociological factors. Not just Christianity, but many religions teach without “Love, Humility, and Respect” to those who are in need, charity becomes a tool in which grows the “Green eyed Monster” of Pride.
"It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels."-Saint Augustine