Mark Hansen, a friend and fellow blogger, challenged me to write a piece on service. I had been invited to do something like this before, by another blogging friend, but I didn't feel like I had the time. In a bout of repentance, I offer the following:
(WARNING: Soap Box Alert!)
When my wife and I were young and newly married (about 1991), we lived in downtown Salt Lake City. Most LDS wards have church service projects like working at Welfare Square, at the cannery, or at one of the LDS Church's farms, growing and processing food for the Church's welfare program. This ward had an interesting assignment, though. It wasn't working for the LDS Church. In fact, I was working for the Catholics.
At the time, there was a “soup kitchen” being run downtown by the Salt Lake City diocese. My wife and I, eager to serve, went there one Saturday morning, working the breakfast service. While my wife worked behind the counter, dishing up food to those who came, I worked the garbage cans, making sure they got emptied and that the dirty trays and dishes were accounted for. I was younger, and in better shape, then. I think they wanted me visible. If anyone came in looking for trouble, they'd think twice with a former Marine hanging around.
Afterwards, the Priest in charge gave a tour of the facility. Not only could people get food here, but twice a week doctors and dentists came in to give of their time. Clothing of all kinds, sizes, and shapes, could be picked up if needed, or disposed of if beyond wearing. There was no test to get in. You didn't have to show any financial records, or lack thereof. You just had to show up.
Don't get me wrong. This padre wasn't a push over. He could tell when people were trouble. He warned us to watch out for certain signs of potential trouble, though I never saw any. His concern seemed underpinned with a sense of worry, that he didn't explain, and I couldn't pin down. He thanked us for our service, and we were happy to serve. Years later, I learned that the “soup kitchen” had been closed down sometime afterwards due to financial concerns.
Although a leader within my own religion, his connection to the Spirit of Christ was unmistakable. He gave, he loved, and he did it with full knowledge of the state and character of the people he served, as much as anyone can know, anyway.
Next to the example of this good Priest, was my experience with the people. Here were people who, for whatever reason, needed a free meal. Some were homeless, some were just down on their luck. Some, undoubtedly, were addicted to various drugs or alcohol. If so, I'm sure it played a role in getting them to where they were. But they were no different from most of the affluent people I've met. Their characters ran the same range. Some were humble, and grateful. Others were ornery and ungrateful, even while eating the food proffered. Others were embarrassed by their need. They weren't evil. They weren't good. They were just people. They were my brothers, sisters, parents, uncles, family, friends.
Later, after my wife and I moved to other cities, and other wards, we met more people in various financial circumstances. Some were humble, and grateful. Others were ornery and ungrateful, even while driving their large SUVs home to roast meats and warm beds. Some were embarrassed by their wealth. Again, they were just people.
Unlike those in the soup kitchen, some of them made me angry. They told me things like, “Homeless people are just lazy. If they'd just go get a job they'd be fine. Giving to charity or the homeless is just throwing your money away. They'll just spend it on beer and cigarettes.”
In some cases they may be right. Some people are lazy. In most, though, I think they are dead wrong. Some have just given in to despair. In all of their railings against the poor and destitute, I think they forgot one thing: how can you tell those who are “deserving” of our help from those who are not? The question itself is ridiculous.
When God blesses us, does he ask if we're “deserving” or not? When Christ cleansed the lepers, did He ask if they were “deserving?” When he made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the dumb to talk, did He ask if they were “deserving?” No. He healed them. He asked them to forsake their sins, and frankly forgave them when they did not. He sent them on their way. He loved them.
It is at this time of year that we celebrate His coming to the world. There is no test to get His help. You don't have to show any financial records, or lack thereof. You just have to ask in faith.
(New Testament | Matthew 7:7 - 8)
7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Are we not called to do the same?
What stories and lessons of service do you have? Feel free to share them, or leave links to them, in the comments.
Picture by Damion Miller