Active Compassion, Need and Lessons Learned

September 16, 2012
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A couple of weeks ago I ran across something online that really bothered me. At the time I didn’t feel up to tackling the ways in which it was wrong. But it won’t go away. Keeps haunting me. So, as with all such things? I will write about it to exorcise the ghost of it.

The story/joke is this (and many of you may have already seen it):

The $50 Lesson

Recently, while I was working in the flower beds in the front yard, my neighbors stopped to chat as they returned home from walking their dog.

During our friendly conversation, I asked their little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day.

Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, “If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?” She replied… “I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people.” Her parents beamed with pride!

“Wow…what a worthy goal!” I said. “But you don’t have to wait until you’re President to do that!” I told her. “What do you mean?” she replied.

So I told her, “You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and trim my hedge, and I’ll pay you $50. Then you can go over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out and give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.”

She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?” I said, “Welcome to the Republican Party.” Her parents aren’t speaking to me anymore.

On the surface this is just a rather trite, not quite funny, bit of conservative humor. Well, I don’t find it funny. The conservatives I saw commenting on it thought it was just hysterical. I don’t find it funny because the underlying message in it showcases a certain meanness of spirit and assumption of superiority to those less fortunate.

I doubt the story is an actual occurrence. Although, I am sure that similar things have happened.  That doesn’t matter as much as the lesson that is in it. If I had been asked that question by that little girl? I would have explained to her that sometimes people can’t work. Sometimes they are too wounded in body or mind.  That homelessness and hunger did not necessarily happen because of laziness. That most of this country is about 30 days from the street and has been for a long time. That compassion and giving were good things.

But that isn’t what this story illustrates. What it implies is that all the homeless need to do is get off their butts and work. Never mind that some simply cannot. Never mind the hurdles that are placed in front of someone who lacks something so simple as a way to clean their clothes and bathe. Never mind that there aren’t herds of Republicans offering jobs to the homeless. Honestly, it makes my heart hurt that anyone could find that story at all funny.

This past week I heard a different story. A friend of mine, who has a heart as big as the world, received  a slip of lunch credits for about $26. The story is this:

I paid cash daily so I was confused. Come to find out, a little girl in her class had no lunch money, ever. G. gave the girl her own lunch money and charged hers. I asked her about it and she said “We always have enough to eat, Mom. She doesn’t.” I settled the bill and made sure to add double lunch money pretty often (daily). My 6 year old knew enough to feed someone in need.

The interesting thing about this is that this friend also happens to be somewhat politically conservative. But she does not lack compassion. And because she does not? Neither does her daughter. There was no question of why the girl lacked lunch money.  They just saw the need and met it. Because why? Isn’t important in a situation like that. Feeding the hungry? Is.

Because the religious right is so intertwined with the political conservatives? This kind of thing always brings me back to the religion of my childhood. I have such a hard time fathoming how someone who purports to be Christian can find it virtuous to deny the needy what they need. They talk about welfare reform and people who abuse the system as if this somehow justifies allowing people to go hungry. I am not going to get political here except to say that yes, there are some people that are societal parasites, but the vast majority? Are in need because of something beyond their control. They lost a job and can’t find another. They are broken in body, mind or spirit. They are, in fact, the very people that the Christ of the Bible reached out to and helped.

Not once in the story did Christ require anything from someone to help them. He just saw the need and met it. It was only after he had helped that he told them “Now, go and do thus and such.”  But the compassionate help always came first. This is because Christ knew the truth of the saying “People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

And while I cannot really claim at this point to practice any kind of Christianity that anyone in an orthodox religion would recognize? In this one thing I strive to emulate Christ. Because it matters. Because if I have ever been convicted about anything in my life it is that compassion and help without strings is the right way to live.  If you claim Christianity? You really should think about this. The people that claim to speak for you and your values? Pay lip service to them only. Because if they lack active compassion? They lack the central tenant of what Christ was all about.

“He was moved with compassion.”—Matthew 9:36

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