This is a long post, please stick with it as I put a bit of effort into writing it :( There are multiple things I refer to in this post, I will post all the links via hyperlink and I HIGHLY recommend you reference them. I will post Dr. Ray’s sermon right here since it would be pointless to read this without watching it first:
First off I would like to thank Dr. Ray for that sermon. It really helped me connect some dots. But I would also like to add my part in for him and others to consider and to emphasize some things he said.
Before I start my bit on this sermon I would like to start with what my goal is, which I believe is Dr. Ray’s goal as well. I would just like to add to extend the act of loving in every day life and how we can do it, that way doing acts of charity is not the only area people can find solace in loving, but so that they can love in every day situations because on the whole as much as charity is spiritually effective it is as economically and socially ineffective and gives rise to the Conservative mindset that prevents social welfare programs, which are more effective economically and socially, from happening in legislation. I will let my conclusion be quite a bit of a quote from David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” (part 2) :
“But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.
Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.
You get the idea.
If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.
The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.
Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.
Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.
But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.”
Now my thoughts on the whole charity aspect and why we shouldn’t find it as our only place to love:
A couple days ago I was thinking about charity. I was linking it to Nietzsche’s Master-Slave Morality and how many religious groups are subject to it and thus do acts of charity as a way to
1. Some honestly do it as a spiritual teaching tool, and this I am perfectly fine with as long as it’s not the only tool used.
2. Many religious organizations use it as a tax-evasion loophole to earn millions of dollars. They get away with it because religious organizations are tax-exempt because they are supposed to be “Charitable” by nature.
Realistically, many are not and the money that gets through this loophole could go to social welfare programs and safety nets that more effectively help the people on an unbiased basis. I was also reading about how ineffective charity is on the whole in terms of helping the people you intend to help (no offense) and how it is instead used to as a political tool in forming legislation in this article on Patheos. The article states:
One of the arguments conservatives often make against relying on state-mediated generosity in the form of welfare programs of various stripes is that this depersonalizes charity and either hinders or fails to cultivate personal charitableness and to foster interpersonal connections through personal charitable interactions. Another argument conservatives make is that state-mediated giving is a form of unjust coerced giving, rather than a morally noble voluntary giving.
And since conservatives seem to reflexively assume a significant proportion of the recipients of state-mediated charity are gaming the system, presumably they have more confidence that the church-based and other voluntary giving that they trumpet in its place is less subject to scamming. Presumably this might be because of an assumption that private individuals and organizations would be in a better position to hold other individuals accountable than impersonal and systematic bureaucracies are.
Or possibly the conservative does not assume private individuals and organizations are better at holding their charity’s recipients more accountable but because they reason that getting screwed over on some occasions as a private giver is a morally acceptable risk for someone already getting the intrinsic reward of doing a properly motivated, generous deed, whereas ripoffs of the government just compound the existing injustice in the seizure of property in the form of taxes in the first place.
Or, finally, maybe conservatives assume that the advantage of private charity efforts is not that the charities can hold recipients accountable but individuals can hold bad charities accountable better than they can fix a systematically broken bureaucracy. Further, conservatives see all bureaucracies as self-perpetuating such that they do not contract when need diminishes but inefficiently expand under all circumstances, they see them as inherently less flexible than private ventures, and at their most conspiratorial, they may see welfare bureaucracies as having a greater interest in perpetuating the need which keeps them in power than in reducing dependency.
And conservatives seem to worry that the government will show poorer judgment (or at least judgment contrary to their own) in discerning who is deserving of what kind of aid and how it is best delivered. In such cases, they find it morally objectionable that the government would seize people’s property to give it out in a way contrary to what their own discretion would.
Now bringing it together, I would like to address that we need to see a shift in religious mentality in this particular area as it has vast socio-economic consequences that are holding our country back. Evangelical Christians that run mult-imillion dollar mega-churches do not need rockstages and television broadcasts advertising their religion and asserting their theologically-immature doctrines that prevent their attendees from accepting theologically-mature ones. They do not need to be tax-exempt from that.
What makes this worse that this tax exemption makes us all part of what they donate to and fund. Did you know we are all funding the Ugandan Anti-Gay Bill? The fact that there is no way to, yes I’ll say it, “regulate” this is simply disgusting. I did not have any say in this. Yet because they are using money that is in our system and is tax exempt it prevents money from going back to the public for redistribution via social welfare programs, safety nets, tax-returns, new roads, better education, more funding for science and all the other good stuff that we actually do have a democratic process and say in.
So as obvious as I’ve made it that religious organizations shouldn’t be tax exempt I am also emphasizing to the sane individual that is using charity to love to not make it the only area of your life that you allow yourself to love in. You can love by understanding eachother more. By letting go of petty, momentary, emotions that cause us to create a viscous, perpetuating cycle where we constantly moan and bitch at eachother for small, inconsequential things. “Love” is indeed a verb, but I would also like to add that it is like meditation. It is not easy to do. In meditation you are constantly in an inner-turmoil against yourself, but at the same time it requires that you let go of that turmoil, and in doing so you get tumultuous over the fear of not meeting an idealized projection being “Good” at meditating. But how do we let go? We learn to breathe, we take it in, we accept the turmoil and in doing so we let it go. This is a concept that is much easier understood with yoga as yoga is action-meditation and requires that you be able to relax while in pain, so it is meditation for your body and therefore your mind, so it’s easier to learn meditation through yoga than it is through simply sitting down and staring at a blank wall for hours.
It is a perplexing paradox, but one that really has to be experienced in order to fully and truly understand rather than something that can be explained since meditation is a constant action of awareness, not merely a philosophy, and in that sense life becomes a sort of meditation where we are constantly fighting to be aware, to be in the present moment. Likewise the same goes for love. We must all let go of the inner-turmoil within ourselves that distracts us from being aware and from loving, here and now. Love requires a lot of sacrifice. But in that sacrifice you achieve understanding. Let love be an every moment meditation, an every moment charity. As in Corinthians 13:4-7 (Young’s literal translation):
The love is long-suffering, it is kind, the love doth not envy, the love doth not vaunt itself, is not puffed up, doth not act unseemly, doth not seek its own things, is not provoked, doth not impute evil, rejoiceth not over the unrighteousness, and rejoiceth with the truth; all things it beareth, all it believeth, all it hopeth, all it endureth.