The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘charity’ Category

ON TRUE CHARITY

When I first met Br. Thomas, OSF I was struck by the fact that he spoke infrequently and then only softly, but he listened avidly to each person who spoke and with a great intensity – as though that person’s words had the import of a final earthly utterance.  Perhaps that was natural for him or perhaps it was an acquired skill he had developed.  He had spent over twenty years ministering to those who came to the hospice that his Franciscan priory maintained for those who were dying.

I couldn’t imagine the strength of his and his brothers’ faith to be able to deal on a daily basis with those who came to that hospice – knowing that none of them had long to live and none would leave on their own.  Perhaps that is less a testament to his view of life than it is a statement about my shallowness of spirit.  This reverent man made me feel vey humble by his gentle, taciturn demeanor.

Those who minister without fanfare to the sick, the poor and the dying must hold a very special place in God’s love.  That the mendicant orders have been with us for centuries demonstrates that despite the contentious nature of so many of us, there are at least some who are willing to contribute to them so that they can carry out their much needed, good works.

Another order, The Little Sisters of the Poor which also maintains hospices, has been in the news lately because of their position regarding provisions of the ACA and their refusal to compromise their religious principles.  Like their brother Franciscans, their charity and care is not reserved to those who are Roman Catholic.  Their compassion is open to all those who are at their final moments, irrespective of creed or lack of one.

 

 

Deo gracias! Deo gracias!
Adam lay ibouden,
Bouden in a bond;
For thousand winter
Thought he not too long.
Deo gracias! Deo gracias!

And all was for an appil,
An appil that he tok,
As clerkès finden
Written in their book.
Deo gracias! Deo gracias!

Ne had the appil takè ben,
The appil takè ben,
Ne haddè never our lady
A ben hevenè quene.

Blessèd be the time
That appil takè was.
Therefore we moun singen.
Deo gracias! Deo gracias!

(Anonymous, 15th century)

At this time of year, most of us feel obligated (or if you prefer, inspired) to go out and buy presents for friends, loved ones, or ourselves.  I’ve tried to reign in the temptation to spend, spend and spend more by enacting a simple rule.  For every dollar that I spend on gifts (and I mostly now make my own rather than finding them on store shelves) I donate an equal amount to charities which truly represent the spirit of Christmas, not just at this season but throughout the year.  Nevertheless, there are some people for whom a store bought purchase seems most appropriate.

One of the sites which offers the shopper an opportunity to reduce her or his out of pocket costs is eBates.  The site allows a person to link through their site to over five hundred well known and more obscure internet retailers and earn rebates on their purchases which range between two percent and as much as fifty percent.  They also offer a program for members who refer new members in the amount of five dollars per referral.   My referral link is listed below:

http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=4cwCeH%2FFsKXfalPzt9zdgA%3D%3D&eeid=26471

If you are not familiar with the program, I encourage you to take a moment and review its features and benefits.

The reason for my making what is my first “commercial” appeal in nearly 900 posts is simple.  I will take any referral bonuses and combine them with my own contribution and donate those to The Little Sisters of the Poor – this being my designated charity for the year.  I hope you will contribute to that effort.  Or, if you’re already an eBates member, I’ve attached a link to their website so that you might read more about their good work and perhaps consider making a donation to them directly.

http://www.littlesistersofthepoor.org/

I wish all of my readers a blessed remainder of Advent and the joy of a wonderful Christmas.

THE ATHEIST CASE FOR NIXMAS

Have you ever noticed that in the season prior to Christmas, people seem to be just a little bit nicer to each other than usual?  It’s something I’ve observed year after year – and I wistfully hope that the spirit of the season would continue throughout the entire year.  Sadly, it seems to evaporate as soon as the party noisemakers are blown and the last glass of champagne is consumed.

On a fundamental level, the story of Jesus’ birth should stir at least a twinge of emotion in all of us, whether or not you believe that He was born as Savior to redeem mankind from the sins with which we bind ourselves.  After all, here is a humble family who find refuge for the Nativity in a barn, surrounded by farm animals.  Nothing fancy, nothing splashy, nothing that would portend any great events yet to come.  Perhaps that, if nothing more, is the reason that many of us take the time to reflect on the beauty and mystery that is life – and causes us to be a little more generous, a bit more compassionate and just a smidgen more caring for our fellow men – at least for a few weeks.

Then, of course, those of us who are fortunate enough to have a roof over our head can enjoy the camaraderie of sharing meals with family and friends.  The smells of the season, whether those come from the cookies baking in the oven or the incense of the Midnight Vigil and celebration of the Liturgy of the Nativity, appeal to our sense of smell and the decorations and light displays excite our vision.  At least that is the case for some of us.

Then there are those who profess atheism as their religion of choice, while denying that they have any religious convictions.  Not to engage in a debate on the subject which might embroil us in little more than a semantic conversation, let’s stipulate that an atheist, at least in America, is entitled to hold and express her convictions just as are Jews, Muslims, Baha’i’s, Buddhists, Christians or anyone of any other religious conviction.  If an atheist wants her position to be respected, it seems natural that they would respect the positions of others whose views might differ from their own.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the following billboards demonstrate:

 

 

 

American atheists generally direct their anti-religious message towards those of the their fellow citizens who are Christians, reserving their antipathy to members of other faiths with generalized derision in the belief in any God.  So why do those who believe that Jesus is Lord deserve their special attention?  This has puzzled me for many years so I thought that I would do a little research into the subject.

Samaritans Purse is a name with which you might have recently become familiar because of the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  They have sent and paid for the cost of providing medical practitioners to the area to help those who were ravaged by the disease – all because of the contributions they received from those who support their work.  Perhaps our atheist friends believe that they have simply not done enough.

We are all familiar with the bell ringer volunteers that the Salvation Army puts in front of our stores during the Christmas season.  During the Great Depression, the Salvation Army was the only charitable organization that freely gave out food to those in need.  In 2013, the Salvation Army provided assistance to 30 million Americans with services that ranged from providing food to individuals and families in need, veterans services, half-way houses, prison ministries and services to the elderly and shut ins.  Although my atheist friends must think I’m crazy, I never hesitate to drop a few dollars in those red kettles every time I pass by one.

I grew up with “Make Room For Daddy” and adored Danny Thomas who founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Thomas loved kids and showed this by establishing this incredible hospital which is totally dependent on donations for its continued works as it does not charge any family for any of the services it provides to the children who come there to be treated for their complex and costly medical conditions.  Although Danny Thomas was a Maronite Catholic, St. Jude does not restrict its practice of free treatment to Catholic children in need but accepts all children as patients irrespective or religion or race.

Catholic Charities is probably the largest and best funded of all Christian charitable services.  It provides assistance by operating shelters for the homeless and abused women, services to immigrants including teaching English, nutrition through the Meals on Wheels program, companion programs for the elderly, just to name some of their activities.  Catholic Charities provides assistance to over 40 million Americans per year.

Despite these obvious good works, the atheists in American society continue their campaign to turn Christmas into Nixmas and spend their money putting up billboards and filing lawsuits, demanding that symbols of Christianity be removed from public display.  Personally, I think the money could be better spent – but that’s just one person’s opinion.

As I try to keep an open mind, should any of my readers who holds an atheist view of life be kind enough to provide me with the name of an atheist organization that actually spends its donations helping children, providing housing for the homeless, feeds the hungry or offers free medical treatment for those in need, I will be happy to make a contribution to their good work.  But irrespective of whether I hear from anyone with that information, let me take a moment to wish all readers, religious or otherwise, a Merry and Blessed Christmas, and a heart filled with charity.

A PAEAN TO THE PENNY

There are many of us who think of the lowly penny as more of an inconvenience than a means of exchange.  We receive them in change and they fill our pockets making holes unless we decide to put them in jars and save them – just to get them out of our hair.  But the penny has a fine pedigree and of all American coins, the Lincoln cent has been a part of our lives longer than any other coin as it is now in its 105th year of production.

It’s true that there isn’t much you can do you with a single penny.  Time was when you could buy candy or you could find out your weight and get a printed fortune all at the same time.  But other than inspiring such sayings as, “A penny for your thoughts,” or, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” the penny hasn’t gotten much attention – although it has gotten some Congressional protection.  The smelt value of the old pure copper cents is greater than their face value and thus Congress has made it illegal to melt pennies – putting them on the endangered species list.

As it happened, I was moved to think about Ben Franklin’s sage advice on frugality as I was driving the other day.  I normally listen to the local classical radio station, KCNV which is a part of the National Public Radio system.  As I turned on the radio I winced for a moment.  It was time for that semi-annual fundraising event in which the station makes a drive for contributions and new “members.”  I have always been confused by the term “member” as all taxpayers are de facto members since some portion of our income taxes go to fund this station and all others that are part of NPR.  Nevertheless, I was somewhat inured to this as my last classical radio station in Chicago, WFMT also conducted this sort of fundraiser – although that station was privately owned.

Part of being a member of society is to be charitable – at least that is the way I was raised – so I considered making a contribution to the station.  However, whenever I donate to an organization I like to see how my money is going to be spent.  Does most of my contribution go to support the charity’s cause – or is most of it going to administration?  So I spent some time to get the station’s financial statements.  This proved a bit more daunting than I anticipated – but I finally was able to review their 2012 tax return.  The returns of all “Not for Profit” corporations happen to be a matter of public record.

What I found was that the station had revenues of about $5.5 million for the fiscal year and ran a small deficit.  The CEO, a woman, earned a not unreasonable amount of $125,000 including deferred compensation.  That doesn’t seem like an excessive amount for being in charge of such an enterprise.  Of course, that means that her compensation consumed approximately .23% of the station’s total revenues.  On that same basis, the CEO of Apple, Inc. would have received $425 MM instead of the paltry $74 MM he was paid.

Nevertheless, I didn’t think that the CEO’s compensation was out of line – and frankly it wouldn’t really have been my business other than for the fact that I knew that a part of my prospective donation would go to pay for it.  So I had pretty much decided to donate when I heard an ad on the station.  That ad prompted me to do a bit more thinking.

The ad was for a local LGBT and Q group (after thinking about the “Q” I realized that meant “Questioning”) which was sponsoring a Passover Seder for Jewish members in Las Vegas.  I had no problem with this being a “gay” sponsored ad, nor did I have a problem with the fact that the ad was to inform people about a religious event.  But I was surprised that a National Public Radio station would broadcast an ad for a religious group considering all the controversy regarding various Christian symbols, many of which have been in place for decades, which somehow are supposed to infringe on the rights of others under the First Amendment.

I was impressed with the station’s willingness to broadcast the ad and it stirred my curiosity to see how truly inclusive they were.  So I called and asked to speak with the advertising department.  I wanted to see if they would accept an ad which informed the public about an upcoming local NRA event – a symposium on responsible gun ownership and responsibilities.

I was connected to the department and chatted briefly with one of the station’s ad reps.  After I explained the nature of my ad and asking for their rates to air it during various broadcast hours there was a pause on the other end of the phone.  The rep told me, “Frankly, I don’t think we would be the best venue for your ad.  I mean, (pause) most of our listeners would probably not be the people you’re trying to reach.”

After pushing back, mentioning the fact that he might be correct but that ultimately it was my decision whether to spend my money with the station or not, I asked bluntly, “Would you be willing to accept the ad should I decide to allocate a portion of our advertising budget to your station?”  Much hemming and hawing ensued and finally he informed me that, “He would have to speak with management before giving me a definite yes or no.”

I thanked him for his time, left my number and, two days later am still waiting to hear back on whether this ad meets their “advertising criteria..”  Meanwhile, I have put my potential donation on hold – although the fund raising effort goes on unabated on the station.

You can’t buy much for a penny these days.  But apparently, having an opinion or taking a position that doesn’t comply with current liberal thinking isn’t worth a plugged nickel.

SENSITIVITY AND COMMON SENSE

Whether you feel a lot safer because we are now requiring rodeo clowns to attend “sensitivity training,” I want to admit that when I heard this I breathed a sign of relief. Of course, I first thought this applied to all clowns – so I thought that when Congress and the president returned from their vacations, this included them as well.  Well, one small step for America – but it could have been much greater.  By the way, I understand that the instructor is going to be Bill Maher with Vice President Joe Biden on standby as a sub.

I do not disagree with the premise that there is a lot of sensitivity training that needs to be done in America.  Little things like helping an elderly person with her groceries or actually allowing pedestrians the right of way used to be things that we did regularly.  We didn’t need to go to a special classroom for this training – because our classrooms were to be found all throughout the country.  We called them our homes.

Not every home had the perfect environment and our parents didn’t always make the best decisions.  But if I had to choose between having mom and dad tell me what to do or having government do that, I would opt for listening to my parents.  I think most people would.

So now we come to the state of California and its recent provision that will allow transgendered students, beginning in kindergarten through high school, the ability to use either the boys or girls bathrooms; to play sports on either the boys or girls teams; and to use either the boys or girls locker rooms – depending on which side of their personality they felt was dominant – irrespective of their genitalia.

When I was a kid, the assistant superintendent in our apartment building was a man by the name of Willie.  He was a really nice guy – but there was something about him it was hard not to notice.  He had a condition which caused large growths that literally covered his entire face and were also visible on large portions of his arms.

I remember trying very hard not to notice this “deformity” but it was pretty tough.  On more than one occasion I remember reprimanding several of the other kids in the building after they made a disparaging remark about Willie’s condition.  It just wasn’t acceptable behavior to make fun of him – at least it wasn’t to my mind because of the way my parents raised me.

And as a kid, I thought to myself how lucky I was that I didn’t have Willie’s condition.  I could only imagine how he was treated by people who met him.  I could picture that he must have endured thousands of involuntary stares and each one of those must have hurt.  And there was nothing that he could do other than to go on with his life in the best way he could.

I’ve never met another person with Willie’s condition – and I’m not even sure that it has a medical name – although I suspect it does.  There were no special accommodations made by our society for Willie – no special programs and no special assistance.   Like all of us, he had to make his way just as those of us who did not have his condition.  Perhaps we should have done something more for him.

But on the other hand, I also wonder how Willie would have reacted had he received some special “consideration.”  I say that because a black friend who got a promotion in his Fortune 500 company confided that he wasn’t sure whether he got that out of merit or because his company needed to have more minorities in mid-level management positions.

But back to California.  I have to admit that I don’t know anyone who identifies him/herself as transgendered.  I can only imagine how confusing that must be.  Nor do I know the approximate percentage of our population who view themselves that way.  But I suspect that the number must be nearly miniscule – perhaps a fraction of one percent of our population.  That doesn’t mean that we should disregard that small segment of our population.

But in creating legislation which attempts to assist transgendered students, we should also be cognizant of the fact that we are infringing on the rights and sensibilities of the 99% of students who are clear on their sexual identity.  A reasonable person has to question whether this is a productive way to try to address this question.

Common sense would suggest otherwise.

HELPING THE HOMELESS

Every so often we all need a break from the assaults of selfish behavior and a reminder that there are at least a few people left in the world who are caring human beings.

The following story, unedited, appeared today on Yahoo News.  I know that it made me tear up and feel grateful for the NY Police Officer in the story and for all others who have the spirit of trying to help those of us who are far less fortunate than anyone reading this post – or writing it.

A photo of a New York City police officer kneeling down to give a barefoot homeless man in Times Square a pair of boots on a cold November night is melting even the iciest New Yorkers’ hearts online.

On Nov. 14, NYPD officer Lawrence DePrimo, who was on counterterrorism duty in Times Square, saw the older homeless man without shoes sitting on 42nd Street. DePrimo, 25, left and then returned with a pair of $100 boots he bought at a nearby Skechers store.

“It was freezing out, and you could see the blisters on the man’s feet,” DePrimo, a three-year veteran of the department who lives with his parents on Long Island, told the New York Times. “I had two pairs of socks, and I was still cold.”

The random act of kindness was captured by Jennifer Foster, a tourist from Florence, Ariz., who was visiting the city. Foster, communications director for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona, emailed the photo to the NYPD with a note commending DePrimo.

“The officer said, ‘I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let’s put them on and take care of you,'” Foster wrote. “The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man.

“I have been in law enforcement for 17 years,” she continued. “I was never so impressed in my life. … It is important, I think, for all of us to remember the real reason we are in this line of work. The reminder this officer gave to our profession in his presentation of human kindness has not been lost.”

Foster’s photo was posted on the NYPD’s Facebook page on Tuesday, where it received more than 320,000 “likes,” 77,000 “shares” and 20,000 comments—most of them praising DePrimo, who seems to have restored Facebook’s faith in humanity.

“This is one hell of a police officer,” Desiree Wright-Borden wrote.

“Wow,” Jack Horton wrote. “It’s nice to know there are still good people out there.”

“Angels truly do walk on earth!!!” Charlene Hoffman-Pestell wrote.

Some commenters, though, were skeptical, saying the photo could have been staged.

“Clever stunt!” Louis Zehmke wrote. “The hobo is ‘parked’ at the entrance of a shoe shop.”

But Foster claims DePrimo had no idea he was being photographed: “The officer expected NOTHING in return and did not know I was watching.”

ON VOLUNTEERS AND COERCION

Until 1973, the United States relied on conscription to staff its armed forces.  We have since moved to an all volunteer military and there are apparently a sufficient number of Americans who feel that serving their country in this way is their calling.  We have not had a problem staffing the various branches of our military service.

This serves to illustrate my point that there are many of us who are motivated not so much by coercion as we are by generosity and a sense of responsibility.  I would like to offer some specific examples of the kind of outreach which Americans exhibit.

In less than a week after the death spree occurred in Aurora, CO, there has been more than $2 million raised to benefit the families of the victims and the survivors.  No one held a gun to the head of these contributors.  They made these donations out of love and because they wanted to help the victims and their families.

This spirit of generosity, compassion and concern for our fellows is the premise on which the Founding Fathers drew the faith to believe that our grand experiment in democracy would persevere.

This is the spirit that guided us in establishing the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe after World War II through our gifts and loans and led us to assist Japan in rebuilding their nation.

This is a spirit that has set the world on fire – a shining beacon of what people, if allowed, can become and will do.  This is a spirit which those in Washington would do well to recognize because, if they do not, enough of us will one day reject their petty notion that only through coercion can they achieve their goals.  Following their present path will ultimately strike the death knell for their agenda of self-aggrandizement and we will no longer tolerate their abdication of their solemn and sworn duties.

Symbols are important things in our lives.  With the constant blather about who should pay more and who should pay less, I call on those leaders whom we have favored with our votes and who represent us to show some backbone and be the first in line to set an example.  Vote yourselves a pay cut – even if it is a symbolically small one – to let us know that you are serious about finding solutions instead of talking with the sole purpose of getting yourselves re-elected.

And then, offer us ordinary citizens the privilege of following your example.  Change the title of the box which allows us to contribute one or two dollars toward the Presidential Election Fund on our tax returns to one that allows us to contribute that amount or more to help reduce the national debt.  Of course, we expect that if you do that you will already have gotten serious about balancing the budget and this money will not simply fall into the trough of additional wasteful spending.

Apparently, our politicians have a very self-centered view of life as this concept of generosity seems to be alien to them.  They produce laws based on what they know and who they are.

But the American people do have a greater spirit than those whom they elect to serve.  And the example of generosity following the Colorado shootings should be a wake up call for them.

LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT

There are few of us who will, through some specific action, have the power to change the world in a dramatic way.  Considering the manner in which many of us approach life, that is probably a good thing.

But each of us does change the world every day – either by what we do or fail to do when we interact with other people.  I have written about this in several posts.

We can change the world through exercising courtesy, thoughtfulness and respect for those we meet along the way, lightening their day and their load.  Or we can change the world by interacting with our fellow human beings with rudeness, selfishness and disregard for their needs and add to their burden and to the storm clouds overhead.

Courtesy costs so little yet brings so much both to the donor and the recipient.  Selfishness costs so much, robbing us and those on whom we inflict it of a personal sense of self-worth.  Courtesy is its own reward and selfishness its own punishment.

A simple warm glance;  a touch extended in consolation or encouragement; a kind word.  These are little things.  But they truly do mean a lot.

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