A lot us atheists love Jesus too. I mean what's not to love, right?
|Spritz Britney Spears Perfume |
I have been thinking of giving and charity a lot lately. I don’t really want anything. The things I have are enough. My apartment, my car, my phone, and my computer are all the things I really need. I’m poor, yet I find that I am giving away every spare dollar I have. I don’t even know why really. All I know is that I get a kick out of it.
However, as far as generosity goes, my ex-wife puts me to shame. Here's an example; we are standing in a parking lot at noon. She is frazzled and needs to get back to work, yet she also needs to run an errand. She’s supposed to drop off some Christmas presents she bought for needy children at a homeless shelter. I have some time, so I tell her I will take them. It is raining, so I grab the bags and rush them to my car without looking at them.
The address she gave me is on Sheridan Street. I know that street. It’s in the bad part of town - no surprise there. I arrive at the shelter and as I reach for the bags I notice two name tags on the presents poking out of the top of one of the bags. One says “Brianna” and the other says “Cheyenne.” I freeze and a small smile crosses my face as thoughts clang about my brain.
I have such a stereotyping mind. I just assumed that these presents were going mostly to boys, specifically black boys. Loud, uncivilized, rambunctious, black boys. The idea that some of the presents were going to girls didn’t enter my head.
And the names – Brianna and Cheyenne. To me they are “white girl” names. It is a mixed neighborhood down here, but I didn’t envision these presents going to poor white people either. Then I think that just because these are “whites girl" names doesn’t mean they are white. You can be named Brianna and be black? There’s no law against that, right?
So anyway, as I am bringing in the presents into the shelter my stereotypical thoughts are dissolving and I am now realizing (as anyone with half a brain would already have known) that these presents are going to boys and girls alike, to black and white alike. Two people there greet me to receive the presents. They’re both very effusive in their thanks. They look at me curiously, wondering who I am. I say, “I’m Amy’s personal assistant.” They look at me funny and then I say, “I’m just kidding. I’m her ex husband.” They nod at me knowing. This makes sense. An ex-husband running an errand for his ex. - in this day-and-age such a thing is commonplace.
I think about those presents all day. I think that it is a shame that Amy won’t be able to see the kids’ faces as they open their presents. I wonder where they will open their presents. Will it be at the shelter or in their homes on Christmas day? I wonder what she bought them. I am proud of my wife. I remember why I fell in love with her. I know why I still love her.
Later that night I am talking to her on the phone and I ask her what she bought for them. She says, “They had a list with each kid's name on it and a few things they wanted. So I got them a bunch of different stuff. I don’t remember them all, but let’s see…I bought a radio that plays CDs for one kid, and ummm…a bottle of Britney Spears perfume for another…and ahhhh….”
She sounds tired and is straining to remember. I don’t want to tax her brain this late at night so instead I ask, “Where did you get them, Toys-R-Us?”
“No, I never go shopping outside anymore. I do all of my shopping on-line now.”
My ex-wife has become agoraphobic.
We finish talking and I hang up the phone. I think about the gifts. Naturally in my mind, it is Brianna and Cheyenne who receive the radio/cd player and the perfume. I think that the cd/player is cool and I hope that kid likes that. But Britney Spears perfume? I am perplexed by this on many levels. I find it sad that even inner city kids are so under the sway of commercialism. I am also surprised Britney Spears is still popular. And perfume for Christmas for a kid?
Then I have a change of thinking. I imagine a girl (white or black), a poor girl, waking up every day and cheerfully giving herself a spritz of her Britney Spear’s perfume. I imagine the little droplets descending upon her. I imagine her liking the smell. I am now more behind her choice of present.
Lastly, I again wish my wife could see the children opening, and using, and playing with their presents; regardless of whether he is a small, loud, hyper active black boy, or a girl named Cheyenne who wants some Britney Spear’s perfume.
Another thing I been thinking about charity-wise is what Jesus said on the subject. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here) When you are giving to the poor (or the needy or giving alms), your left hand should never know what your right hand is doing. That’s Jesus for you, right? Always saying cryptic stuff like that. There are many different interpretations of this axiom. Here’s some I’ve heard.
One interpretation is when you give, the reason for your giving should not be to gain the respect, or to curry favor with, or gain the admiration of other people. In fact, to try to avoid this, you should always try, as best you can, to give in secret, so that you know that no one is noticing your “good deed.” This will assure you that the real reason you are giving is not gain the admiration of other people. The only one who should see your good deed(s) is God.
Your left hand shouldn’t know what your right hand is doing – meaning as your right hand gives your left hand (other people) shouldn’t know it.
Another interpretation takes this concept even further. It says that when you give, it shouldn’t be to try to please yourself, or even God for that matter. If you are giving because it makes you think you are a good person or because it is God’s desire, then once again, you are giving for the wrong reason.
Your left hand shouldn’t know what your right hand is doing. If this case your left hand is your own sense of pride, or pride in yourself for doing God’s will.
Which brings up one more interpretation. Some suggest that what Jesus meant by this is that when you give it should be such a reflexive action, it should be so unconscious that even you yourself are not aware of it. You yourself shouldn’t even be aware that you are giving.
Think about it. That is a very literal interpretation of the Jesus’s axiom. How can your left hand (which is really your mind) not know that your right hand is giving? How can you not know that you are giving? The closest thing to that is when you give without even really thinking about it yourself.
So this Christmas that is what I am going to strive to do. I am going to try to give as much as possible. I am going to try to be like my wife, who buys things for poor children, yet doesn’t seem to need to see their faces as they open their presents to know she has done a good thing. I am going to try to live up to Jesus’s giving axiom. I am going to try to give so reflexively and so unconsciously I am barely aware, or thinking about, what I’m doing.
Which to me is a bonus because in addition to being the right thing to do, it’s also just one less thing I have to think about.
Author's note. Many of you may think me racist or sexiest for some of things I wrote in this piece. So be it, but I would like to point out in my defense - did you automatically assume the Britney Spear's perfume was for a girl? Why couldn't it have been for a boy? Maybe you have a mind that stereotypes too?
Here's another thing Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
Two Very Small Copper Coins and Boy George
I want to add another thing to this piece. The following is my wife's review/comment on what I wrote. It is illustrative in showing how her charitable mind works. She wrote it without any intention of me attaching it to this piece, of course - although I did get her permission to add it. She is a superlative writer, but this is written in quick and semi-lazy type most of us use when we review, so the text is sans commas, proper capitalization, etc...It is as follows.
I also was wondering about these kids. Brianna, they said, was 8, and Cheyenne was 14. I assumed they were poor and white. I had just written an article for the Capital District Parent Pages about the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, and they had told me about the adopt a family thing, and because of the article, they got 4 or 5 calls to adopt 4 or 5 more families, and i thought that was really cool.
i didn't want to buy the stupid britney spears perfume either and it was expensive so i asked them to share it. but you are right, the way you try to see it differently, and besides, i certainly have no right to cast the proverbial stone since i used to kiss my culture club cassette tapes.
thank you for saying so many nice things about me. you are actually giving far more than i, though. also in the Bible:
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.
You are like the widow.
A Baby in a Toolbox
I want to add (yet another) thing to this piece. It is something that happened not long after I wrote the original “article.” The short version is that I witnessed an act of kindness that someone else did, that I knew I would not have had the balls to do myself. It was a good thing for me to see. Just when I was feeling all proud of myself because I donate some of my time volunteering and give a small fraction of my money to causes, I saw an act of true generosity that (like I said), I wouldn’t have had the balls to grant. It shamed me, as it should have. Here’s the long version.
I’m standing at the desk at my gym (gym as in fitness facility) talking to the manager who is working the front desk. Her name is Jessica. I only recently just met her, so I don’t know her extremely well, but she seems nice. Little do I know just know nice.
This older man walks in who is obviously not a member. How do I know her isn’t a member? Well, the gym is somewhat ritzy. The membership is expensive and the facility is hospital clean and semi-posh. The members are, for the most part, affluent although the atmosphere is, despite this, not elitist.
He doesn't fit in at all. His gray long hair is uncombed and a mess. He is filthy. He looks like a farmer, and a poor one at that. His clothes have rips in them and he looks liked he has worked in them for a week without washing them - before he decided to roll his way on over here on the ground. I notice his finger. He has a large amount of gauze wrapped around it. Dried blood has seeped through and stained the gauze. The gauze, of course, is filthy too. I instinctually want to change his dressing.
He starts to say to Jess that someone had given him permission, a week or so ago, to use the men's locker room take a shower for a few months. I’m not sure if I believe him. I can’t imagine anyone gave him permission to do that.
And honestly, I find myself turning my nose up at him for some reason. This is a rarity for me. In fact at the soup kitchen where I volunteer, just about everyone who works or volunteers there gets more intolerant of the people who come in than I do. For example, some of the people who come in to eat are very rude and ungrateful, and even go so far as to demean the people who serve them their food. I never let this bother me, and I always treat them as a waiter treats a paying customer. My point, it is really hard to get me in a spot where I’m looking down my nose at someone, but I get there with this guy who wants to use the shower. I think it is because he so inappropriate (pathetic, pitiful…) to the environment, especially with his request.
Jess, however, is looking at him with a perfectly normal expression on her face. She listens to him babble on for a while and when he is done, she tells him he can go ahead. She tells him where the locker room is. She hands him a towel. She tells him all this respectfully, as if he were a member. Off he goes, walking past all of the “beautiful people” working out, sticking out like…well like his sore thumb.
“I can’t believe you just did that,” is what I say.
She says a bunch of stuff like how she feels sorry for him, and how it doesn’t cost them anything but one towel and a little hot water.
My mind is going; I don’t know where to begin. “Would Jason (that’s her husband who works there too), would he have let him in?”
Jess thinks. “He’s a non-member, so it’s an insurance issue; we are liable if he gets hurt. Jason might think he is going to try and steal from the lockers too.”
“Would Monica have let him in?”
“Absolutely not, Monica is a bear about the rules.” (Monica is another manager, and super nice too, despite her bearishness about rules.)
“Can you think of anyone who works here who would have let him in?”
Jess thinks for a moment, “No, not really. I think they all would have been afraid they’d get in trouble.”
“I certainly wouldn’t have let him in. I’d be worried that the members in the locker room would be complaining there’s this weird, filthy guy, who obviously isn’t a member, using the showers.”
I ask her if she’s ever done anything like that before. She tells me a story about this homeless woman she found one morning in the parking lot asleep - and this becomes, of course, a whole other story she tells me. That story ends when Jess says that after letting her shower there numerous times, one evening, when Jess was at home, she received a phone call from gym staff about a homeless woman who was there at the gym, at the desk, saying Jess had given her permission to take a shower there. Jess had to tell the woman she couldn’t shower there anymore.
“And you aren’t afraid of getting in trouble or reprimanded for letting this guy use the showers/men's locker room.”
Jess replies with a whole little philosophy spiel about faith in humanity, and if you do the right thing most of the time everything ends up OK, and not being afraid to do the right thing…and a bunch of heart-warming stuff like that.
And that’s when I am shamed, because that’s really giving, because when you might get in trouble for doing something charitable, that’s a whole different ball game. That’s a ballgame I don’t play.
I ask Jess if she knows how many Jews were killed by the Nazis during WWII. She doesn’t, so I tell her the “accepted” number is about six million. I ask, "Do you think you would have been able to hide Jews from the Nazis’ holocaust, like in your attic, like they did with Anne Frank and her family?"
She says, “Yes.”
Her answer comes quickly, so I don’t necessarily believe her. I test her on this. “Even if you had the family you have now, your two kids and Jason, and by hiding Jews you would be putting your own family in danger?”
She really thinks, but eventually comes up with the same answer. Her children are very young, like around three and one. She tells me that she just read about how sympathetic Poles smuggled Jewish babies out of danger to safety in different containers, including a mechanic who hid a baby in his toolbox. She says, “I would have done that.” She says something along the lines of, “How could I have not done that?”
And with that I’m convinced about her answer. Jess is nuts over babies. She wants to have another in a bad way. She wouldn’t have let babies be killed.
It’s funny how men and women have different perspectives on history. I knew (approximately) how many Jews were exterminated by the Nazis, Jess didn’t know that. She knew that kindhearted people snuck Jewish babies out of danger in toolboxes and such, and that was news to me.
One more thing I know. I wouldn’t have had the cajones to sneak a baby out in a toolbox, even though it’s obviously the right thing, not to mention the only thing to do.
Isn’t that a shame?