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September 7, 2005

Today’s lesson (2)
Posted by Teresa at 03:40 AM *

Anyone who thinks this has nothing to do with current politics is invited to think again.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

(Matthew 25:31-46)
Comments on Today's lesson (2):
#1 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:07 AM:

There's Clarence Johnson's Cotton Patch version:

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Get away from me, you fallen skunks, and in the flaming hell reserved for the Confuser and his crowd. For I was hungry and you shared nothing with me; I was thirsty and you gave me no water; I was a stranger and you didn't welcome me, ragged and you didn't clothe me, sick and in jail and you didn't stand by me.' Then these too will ask, 'Sir, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or ragged or sick or in jail, and do nothing about your needs?' Then he'll answer, 'When you failed one of these humblest people you failed me.' These will take an awful beating, while the just ones will have the joy of living."

#2 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:12 AM:

Clarence Jordan. Damn insomnia.

#3 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:25 AM:

And from the Old Saxon Heliand, ca. 825, translated by G. Ronald Murphy, S.J.:

"The Ruler will then turn to the ones on the left, the wrongdoers, and the Chieftain will tell them that they will have to pay for their deeds, their wicked behavior. 'You will now have to leave Me,' He says, 'and you accursed must go to the eternal fire which was made for God's opponents, the enemy horde, because of your wicked behavior. You did not help Me when I was being tortured terribly by hunger and thirst, or when I had no cloths and went about in a state of misery. I had great need -- but I never received any help -- when I was put in irons, chained and locked up, or when the sickbed held Me captive with serious illness. You never thought it was important to visit me when I was sick. It was of no worth at all to you to think of Me. Because of this you will now suffer from darkness in Hel.'

"Then these people will speak to Him in reply. 'But ruling God,' they say, 'why do you wish to speak like this against these people, talking against so many? When did you ever need human beings or their goods? Why, all the wealth they have in this world You gave them!' Then God the Ruler answers, 'When you have looked down on the poorest of the sons of men, the lowest of warrior-heroes in your feelings, and let them be loathsome to you in your mind, refusing them your respect, you were doing the same to your Chieftain, you were refusing Him your wealth. Because of this, God the Ruler, your Father, does not wish to receive you. You shall go instead to the fire, to the deep death, where you shall serve the devils, the vicious enemies, since you were doing so before.'

"After those words He divides the people in two, the good and the bad. The damned, the warped human beings go off in a state of grief to hot Hel to receive their punishment: unending evil. The high King of Heaven then leads the pure people up from there to the long-lasting light, where there is life forever, God's kingdom, made ready for the people who are good."

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:27 AM:

Or:

If ivver thoo gav owther hosen or shoon,
Ivvery neet an' all,
Clap thee doon an' put 'em on,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
Bud if hosen an' shoon thoo nivver gav neean,
Ivvery neet an' all,
T'whinnies'll prick thee sair ti t'beean,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
(It's the Cleveland Lyke Wake Dirge: much like the more commonly known version, but in broad Yorkshire dialect.)

#5 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:51 AM:

Or the David Horsey version.

#7 ::: Susan Palwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:17 AM:

This is one of my very favorite Gospel passages. I think a lot of people are acting on it right now (individuals, not agencies; nothing I'm about to say is in any way meant to exonerate FEMA from their scandalous incompetence). I'd also like to issue a caveat, though, by way of some personal examples.

I do a fair amount of feeding the hungry; for instance, I help coordinate a homeless-outreach program at our church. I visit the sick: I serve four hours a week as a volunteer hospital chaplain. I've donated clothing to hurricane survivors, which means I've covered the ragged.

But I don't visit people in prison, because -- although I have lots of friends who've been doing prison ministry for years and love it -- it scares me silly. So am I a sheep, or a goat? Is the glass half empty, or half full?

I saw a book once that suggested that the answer to this question might be that I'm a "good goat," and that in fact most of us (not all) are good goats. We do the best we can. There are places where we fall short. We've both fed some of the hungry we've met and walked past others. If we're Christian, we rely on the fact that we worship a God who'll forgive us for not being perfect.

There's a lot of blame circulating right now, and also a lot of guilt. I've been telling people that any of us who aren't feeling inadequate after Katrina aren't paying attention. I think it's very important to recognize that none of us can do everything: nor do we have to, because so many other people are chipping in a little bit too. We'll all do what we can, but all of us have things we can't do or don't want to do -- and that's FINE. It doesn't mean we're going to burn in eternal hellfire.

I'm not suggesting that people minimize their efforts. We all need to do as much as we can. But we also need to recognize our limits and honor them, because we can't help anybody if we're burned out ourselves.

One of my parish priests once said, "None of us can carry every cross, nor are we called to do that." The Body of Christ has many members with varying gifts: if we all do what we can, and what we're good at and feel comfortable doing, an amazing amount will get done, and it will all be good. But I've been having a tendency to beat myself up this past week for not being Mother Theresa, and maybe some of you are doing that too, and if so, I hope this has helped.

Katrina relief is going to be a marathon. These poor will be with us for a very long time. There won't be any shortage of opportunities to help.

Susan

#8 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:18 AM:

Indeed, Teresa. It's always stuck me that the difference between getting to heaven or being abandoned to hell is simply the difference between three words...and four.

"I know you."

"I know you not."

#9 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:39 AM:

So...we're now thinking it's the End Times? Sheesh. What drivel.

#10 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:46 AM:

So...we're now thinking it's the End Times? Sheesh. What drivel.

Oh come now, being prepared to do the right thing does not mean you are seeing the end times. Besides which, the end times comes to some people sooner than others. All it takes is for your eyes to close and your breath to stop and your own end time is upon you. In the meantime, you do the best you can and help others out.

#11 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:56 AM:

So...we're now thinking it's the End Times? Sheesh. What drivel.

If that's all people think of when someone says "Hey, do the right thing," it might as well be.

#12 ::: Lizzy Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:56 AM:

The Red Cross always needs $$ but you can go to other sites. Catholic Charities (the domestic arm of Catholic Relief Services)has an online form, an 800 number, and a snail mail address to which you can mail a check, also links to other places including FEMA's donation box (cough, choke, gasp - don't go there) Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. for those of you who really want to donate old shoes... By the way, the Times-Picayune had a ridiculously comforting story Sunday or Monday about a Catholic church in one of the dry sections of NO whose pastor had opened its doors to people who had refused to be rescued w/o their cats, dogs, gerbils, pot-bellied pigs (well, one, anyway) and had even found some vets to care for the animals at no charge. Not so comforting -- now they all have to leave anyway. No idea what will happen to the animals.

Tim: This is not about the End Times. Christ was using a powerful story to make a point about what is required of us as human beings. As for what will actually happen when each of us is judged -- who knows? Not all Christians are literalists. The requirements stand. Rabbi Hillel said, "In a place where there are no human beings, try to be one." Jesus tells us what that looks like. But you know this, right; you were just yanking my chain, right? Of course you were.

#13 ::: dargie ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:07 AM:

Thank you! I've been trying to recall where this passage was for several days now.

#14 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:09 AM:

It's always the End Times.

For someone is always dying, and for them, is not this same hour the end of all days?

The hour is not far off; the hour is this very hour, world without end, amen.

Unto no man is it given, to know the hour of his death nor the means of his ending, nor can the ill deed be taken back from the web of days. The thing done endures in its doing unto all days to come.

Nor unto any is it given to be ever victorious; death will claim all who live, and that defeat will have them, and hold them, and bind them fast. So go thou, not in the hope of victory, but in the certainty of defeat, and do what may be done, for the thing done endures.

There will be one to come after, and strive in their turn; as ye have striven, so shall their striving be in greater need, or in less.

As ye have striven, so shall be your name and memory among the children of men.

#15 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:17 AM:

Tim Kyger: taken purely as poetry (I'm an atheist) the quoted passage is apt, instructive and beautiful.

You're an idiot. Every time I see your name on the web, I am going to remember this and simply pass you by, as having demonstrated that it's not worth my time to listen to you.

#16 ::: Marina Muilwijk ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:21 AM:

Susan:
But I don't visit people in prison, because -- although I have lots of friends who've been doing prison ministry for years and love it -- it scares me silly.

Personally, I take it as meaning "help people who are in prison". That would include things like volunteering for Amnesty International or writing to prisoners.

In the meantime, all I can do for Katrina victims is donate money, which I think I'll do right now.

#17 ::: Susan Palwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:35 AM:

Lizzy: Hurrah for Catholic Charities! Let me put in a plug for Episcopal Relief and Development, and also for animal-rescue organizations. (My husband and I have donated to the Red Cross, to ERD, and to a group called Noah's Wish that specializes in disaster recovery for animals.)

Sennoma: The Gospel passage is about NOT passing people by. As I read it, the minute you class anybody as someone you'll automatically pass by, you're in with the goats. The passage doesn't say "You fed the Christian hungry, the tactful hungry, the politically correct or socially acceptable hungry, the hungry who vote the same way you do, the hungry of whose fashion sense you approve." It's "the hungry," period. No adjectives, no qualifiers. So if you pass Tim by and don't listen to him, how will you know that he isn't saying, "Hey, I'm hungry, does anyone have a sandwich?"

Marina: I've always heard this translated as "visited me in prison," which is pretty specific. Do we have any NT Greek scholars here? Can it be translated as "helped"?

Susan

#18 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:45 AM:

Don't forget the part, earlier on, in which Jesus talks about the likes of Robertson, Dobson, and Fallwell (Matthew 7:21-23)

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

#19 ::: Fred A Levy Haskell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:26 PM:

Me, I've been quoting Isaiah 1:23 frequently for the past few years:

Your rulers are rogues
And cronies of thieves,
Every one avid for presents
And greedy for gifts;
They do not judge the case of the orphan,
And the widow's cause never reaches them.

#20 ::: Jennifer Pelland ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:32 PM:

Aha! And now I know the source material for Cake's "Sheep Go to Heaven, Goats Go to Hell."

#21 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:33 PM:

Robert Scheer: The real costs of a culture of greed

I'll grant he's liberal, but he's saying the same thing.

#22 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:00 PM:

And this kind of charity also (boy, will it go a long way!)

Katrina Victims To Get $2K Debit Cards

#23 ::: Karl Kindred ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:08 PM:

I am not a koine (biblical) Greek scholar, nor have I ever played one on TV. AND I failed to stay at a Holliday Inn Express last night, so take the following with a grain of salt:

The illustration of the dividing of the sheep and the goats is tied to the same teaching as the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Christian ideal is the indwelling of compassion, not the specific external actions used to demonstrate that compassion.

In fact, Christ had specific things to say about people who followed prescribed actions vs. those who held the ideals in their hearts. (Mark 12:42 And Luke 21:2) Two mites from your heart will serve better than greats gifts from a boastful pride. Which is a big words version of "compassion in any form that is from the heart is more valuable than doing something compassionate because someone told you to or because you will look good doing it."

Personally, I don't feel that a diligent observance of Christ's message hinges on the difference in translation between "visited" and "helped"; it rests in the difference between a heart that asks "could I do more?" rather than "have I done enough?"

I truly believe that for the Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist or any other descriptive group or combination thereof; the warmth the you feel in your chest as you write the check, deliver the food, box the clothes, or whatever method of compassion you are compelled to perform, that warmth is the still small voice that says "I know you".

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Sennoma, Tim Kyger occasionally gets his head stuck where it shouldn't ought to be, but he generally gets it unstuck again.

Tim, do you suppose you could credit me with not saying something as stupid as what you're imagining? Sheesh.

The message isn't that we're in End Times. (We always are, and never are. That's not the point.) What the passage says, clearly and emphatically, is that you're going to call yourself a Christian, you're absolutely required to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, and comfort the sick and afflicted.

Notice that when the goats are being goated, they don't get to protest that they donated to missionary funds, sang in the choir, put in fifteen years as the parish secretary/treasurer, or helped organize prayer retreat weekends. Helping others is being identified as a core belief. Failure to do so puts you outside the fold.

Do I need to go on, or do you see the applicability?

#25 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:52 PM:

T'whinnies'll prick thee sair ti t'beean,

I get this, but what are whinnies?

#26 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:56 PM:

I get this, but what are whinnies?

I have a vague memory of them being some kind of thornbush, but could be extremely wrong on this.

#27 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:00 PM:

Do moneys you've paid in taxes "which" were used to help the poor and the hungry count? Islamic government (I believe) is supposed to help fulfill the obligation to be charitable by levying taxes and using the proceeds for the poor.

But I want to be devil's advocate here: the respectable conservative argument is that one's tax money used for these purposes does not count, and that the moeny's being taken away reduces the opportunity for individuals to do charity. Governments cannot be depended on to act decently or well.

(Me, I don't care: I want people fed because of an orientation toward charity, but also because I am capable of starving, or of being clouted on the head by a man who is starving.)

#28 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:00 PM:

if you pass Tim by and don't listen to him, how will you know that he isn't saying, "Hey, I'm hungry, does anyone have a sandwich?

Your point is well made, and my comment was in any case an over-reaction.

My apologies, Tim. (You're still wrong to sneer at the post that way, mind.)

#29 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:05 PM:

Tim Kyger occasionally gets his head stuck...

Heh, didn't see this before I posted my 2:00pm comment. My apology stands, but: unstick, Tim, unstick!

#30 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:09 PM:

Lizzy Lynn: By the way, the Times-Picayune had a ridiculously comforting story Sunday or Monday about a Catholic church in one of the dry sections of NO whose pastor had opened its doors to people who had refused to be rescued w/o their cats, dogs, gerbils, pot-bellied pigs (well, one, anyway)

Everybody, please spread the word that Red Cross shelters are now accepting animals. (That stupid holdover rule about not accepting women past their seventh month of pregnancy has been thrown out, too.) This by decree of RC president Marti Evans.

#31 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:23 PM:

I'm feeling seriously Old Testament:

Amos 4: 1 "Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that [are] in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink."

#32 ::: Susan Palwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:28 PM:

Teresa said:

"Notice that when the goats are being goated, they don't get to protest that they donated to missionary funds, sang in the choir, put in fifteen years as the parish secretary/treasurer, or helped organize prayer retreat weekends. Helping others is being identified as a core belief. Failure to do so puts you outside the fold."

Maybe I'm being dense, but I don't follow this. Donating to missionary funds isn't helping? Doing thankless administrative tasks isn't helping? Does that mean that if I donate to relief agencies (which I've done) but don't fly down to New Orleans to help dig out bodies (which I'm not going to do) I'm not helping?

Many relief agencies have asked for money rather than volunteers. Are we being goatified?

I prefer a model in which there are many kinds of help and they all count -- as long as they're consciously intended as help, and not as a strategic retreat from involvement. (But who among us hasn't strategically retreated sometimes? This gets us back into Good Goat territory.)

I wonder if part of the issue here, too, is whether we're helping to acknowledge relationship -- "I could be there too, and I'm treating my neighbor as myself" -- or to emphasize superiority ("I have more than you do because I'm better than you are, so I'm going to give you some to make myself feel better yet").

Susan

#33 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:37 PM:

"I was in prison, and ye came unto me."

That does seem to specifically enjoin prison visiting.

I can see all sorts of specific benefits for everyone that a community would get out of having good people visit random people who were incarcerated -- not least, it would act as a sort of inspection preventing the worst kind of prison abuses. It might also help in cases where the government were imprisoning people they shouldn't be, concentration camps, the "disappeared" of Argentina, Guatanamo. If it were a Christian duty to visit places where people are imprisoned, you wouldn't get a free pass for genuinely not knowing it was going on, you'd be obliged to go and see.

I haven't heard much about people actually doing it though -- I mean I know some people do it regularly, but I doubt most Christians visit prisons as often as most Muslims visit Mecca.

If there was a general Christian obligation to visit a prison once a year, say, I suppose most people would just go in and sing a hymn, rather than, say, developing a relationship with a prisoner that might help them avoid recidivism on release. But even just going in and singing a hymn might help with the awful conditions, you wouldn't get people gloating over prison rape and so on. Though this gives me a terrible picture of a Salvation Army Band standing blowing away "When the Saints" in the middle of Belsen.

#34 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:50 PM:

One of the best "end times" passages, is from Luke 12:

Then he told them a parable. "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?' And he said, 'This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!" But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?' Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God."

The end times are always at hand -- your own. It's good to live that way.

Susan: But I don't visit people in prison, because -- although I have lots of friends who've been doing prison ministry for years and love it -- it scares me silly.

It scared me silly, too, the first time I went inside. Now it's routine. Other people are afraid to be around sick people. You do what you can, and try to grow. Don't worry about it. If you ever get a chance to do some visiting with someone you know and trust, take it. It is not important that you as an individual are managing to check off all the boxes on a list -- it is important that you are doing what you know how to do, and doing it from your heart as best you can.

It is important, though, that the Christian community as a whole is doing all these things that it is called to do. We have gotten a deserved bad name for failing at it in the past.

The point is that the external act is important, but it is not enough alone. If you give a million dollars to impress other people, it is worse for you than if you had given nothing at all. But nice thoughts are not enough either, as St. James wrote:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works." Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
#35 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:56 PM:

"Maybe I'm being dense, but I don't follow this. Donating to missionary funds isn't helping? Doing thankless administrative tasks isn't helping? Does that mean that if I donate to relief agencies (which I've done) but don't fly down to New Orleans to help dig out bodies (which I'm not going to do) I'm not helping?"

Ditto that. My argument would be that, as Teresa said, it's not what you do as much as the spirit in which you do it. I have more respect for the guy who gives a hundred bucks to the Red Cross because he feels helpless, isn't in a position to leave town to go down and help, but wants to do something, than I do for the guy who goes down to help personally because he wants to brag abou it later and impress people with how selfless he is, when really, he lived right near there and had plenty of vacation time.

(And I believe that Teresa was bringing those things up as common ways that people who didn't otherwise do anything to help the poor and afflicted convince themselves that they're not scum. I've seen church administrators who are wonderful people using their logical skills to help stretch dollars and keep things running and help as many people as posssible, and I've seen church administrators who were involved with their own petty politics and were clinging to their position as the little bit of power they had in the world.)

The problem with putting up all these justifications and exceptions, though, is that it invites quibbling by which crapweasels can convince themselves that they've already done enough. The crapweasels, those lovely people who never pitch in quite enough when it's time to pass the bill around the table after a big group dinner in a restaurant but have a totally rational reason for putting in exactly as much as they did, are going to use "but really, I'm already helping by doing ____" as their excuse, letting themselves off the hook, while other folks are going to beat themselves up for not doing more than the very helpful things they are already doing.

It's one of those unfortunate deals where the people who are most likely to be motivated by a speech like that are the people who are already doing the most, and the people most likely to rationalize their way into ignoring the speech are the ones who are already not doing anything.

I don't think there's any way to really convince the crapweasels to pitch in, honestly. And at this stage in my life, I'm no longer interested in trying. You can't force somebody to care about other people.

#36 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:14 PM:

Susan Palwick said But I don't visit people in prison, because -- although I have lots of friends who've been doing prison ministry for years and love it -- it scares me silly. So am I a sheep, or a goat? Is the glass half empty, or half full?
The Pirke Avot also says (2:21, paraphrased): "You can't do everything. You gotta do something."

#37 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:22 PM:

I think the thought about indirect help, whether missionary funds or taxes, needs to be taken in combination with such elements as Matthew 7:21-23, quoted above.

It seems pretty clear to me that the people who pay their taxes and oppose Social Security will meet a different doom to those, otherwise the same, who strive to ensure that Social Security works to help those in need.

"And the greatest of these is Charity." Not just the charity of goods, but the charity of heart. Neither faith nor works alone is a sure path to salvation.

"By their fruits shall ye know them." (I think I have that line correct; I'm working from memory.)

It is a repeated theme that it is consequences which will distinquish the saved from the damned; what they have become at harvest-time. But the standard is not some arbitrary limit, it is to do your best for those in need, and to do it because they are in need.

#38 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:22 PM:

Neil, excellent point ("You can't do everything. You gotta do something.").

Graydon, excellent point ("It's always somebody's end times...")

Since we're due to get some Katrina survivors in Pittsburgh in the next few days, I drove some clothes and books to the place where they'll be housed and volunteered to work. I was told I might get called on Friday to work, and that I needed to drop my stuff off at Goodwill because they could not longer process it at the shelter.

So, I did that.

I'm a little worried about having my name and phone number in the database of a "faith based" charity. But it would be nice to help with my time (since I'm currently unemployed) than with a little money.

#39 ::: LeeAnn ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:07 PM:

Something I haven't seen mentioned here - sacrifice. Charity should pinch a little. Instead of the family movie and dinner night, stay home, read a book, and donate $50-$75 to a charity. It's not the amount given or the details such as prison visits- it's the giving of your own comforts to another. Speaking of prison visits - I wouldn't worry so much about literally visiting prisons. Try anywhere that people are lonely and in need of a friend - like a nursing home.

#40 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:22 PM:

About having to feed the poor yourself, visit the imprisoned yourself, and so on -- much of the point is that you aren't allowed to socially exclude the outcasts of society from Christian fellowship, which means, for the individual believer, your personal company. Everybody is to be admitted to Christian fellowship.

This was an extremely radical idea in the ancient world when Christianity came up with it, and though it has not been evenly applied since, it's been much of the basis of the religion's power when it has been applied.

#41 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:40 PM:

Some random responses to various things above:

Whins or whinnies are thistles, presumably the big mean kind.

Susan: I think that Teresa is distinguishing between "missionary" funds as opposed to relief funds. There are a fair number of churches (and Christians) who think it's more important to go out and convert people to Christianity or to their particular sect than to actually take care of their well-being. If that idea is so foreign to you that it didn't occur to you, good.

Last, I wanted to mention that most of the time I am pretty down on Christianity - and most religions - and I often question whether it's done more good than harm in the world given the evils it's countenanced over its history.

It is folks like you, Teresa, and Jim Macdonald, and the other Christians posting here who remind me that there is a great deal worthwhile in Christianity itself, no matter how badly it gets applied. You also reminded me that most of the Gospels are purely beautiful, and worth reading again.

#42 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:48 PM:

Karl: Those two mites, he demanded the equivalent from a rich man.

Luke 18: 18-22
And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.
Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.
And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.

Not that I think this is incumbent on all of us, because I don't think people can do that. But if we can give, of ourselves, until it hurts; even just a little, then we have fulfilled the command.

TK

#43 ::: David All ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 05:18 PM:

Thanks, Teresa, this is a powerful reminder of what our duties and responsibilities are to those in need, especially now with Katrina and for months, perhaps years to come given the scale of both Katrina and the Christmas Tsunami along with other disasters around the world, both natural and man-made.

#44 ::: Karl Kindred ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 05:40 PM:

Terry: The instructions to the rich man are pretty much my basis for defining the Christian spirit by the line between the "could I do more" and "have I done enough" mindsets. The rich man had a mindset and Christ called him on it. His "faith" was demonstration driven not an internal desire.

The woman who gave two mites gave them because she had them. When she examined her coin purse that morning her heart called out "can I do more" and she answered that call.

When the rich man came to Jesus his heart was crying out "have I done enough" and Jesus heard that cry and answered it.

It's one of those sticky points that are probably just personal interpretation. I don't believe that Christ has called all people to be penniless, homeless, poverty stricken wards of society...I believe that he was trying to help people understand the difference between fulfilling a compulsory duty and fulfilling a calling to a life of compassion.

A heart that always asks, "could I do more" will always dig into the coin purse "until it hurts". But I don't think the hurting is the point, I think the heart for compassion is the point.

As with anything that cuts this close to deeply held personal beliefs, your mileage may vary and that’s all good. These are, of course, just my beliefs.

#45 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 06:22 PM:

Of course, one of the several problems with "it's not what you do as much as the spirit in which you do it" is that it presents a moral hazard of its own. Sometimes, it really is what you do.

#46 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 06:33 PM:

Karl: If all the rich were to share, then there might be a dearth of poverty.

The question, as Patrick points out, indirectly, is how much is enough, what spirit moves one.

I know people, people with money, who give a fair bit. They never have any real difficulty from that giving, and they do it because it's expected. I don't know if this is all form, or if if they do it out of love of fellow man.

I do know it doesn't look, from where I sit, as though they are digging into their pockets all that much.

Which means I think it is something where Jesus might say it isn't really enough.

But I don't know.

TK

#47 ::: tom s ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 06:36 PM:

Karl said:

"Personally, I don't feel that a diligent observance of Christ's message hinges on the difference in translation between "visited" and "helped"; it rests in the difference between a heart that asks "could I do more?" rather than "have I done enough?""

Wow. That's beautiful. Nicely said.

#48 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 06:38 PM:

Of course, there might be a few goats with a more interesting defense: we tried to give you meat and drink when you were hungry and thirsty, we tried to give you clothing when you were naked, we tried to visit you in prison, we tried, we really did, but men and women with guns and tanks and bombs, weapons we all helped build, sheep and goat alike, those men and women prevented us from reaching you.

I know. I'm damned to an eternal punishment. Me and a whole lot of people I know. But those people, the ones with the weapons who actively denied you aid? Will they meet a fate in the Afterlife no worse than mine? And what about their fate here on Earth, in this life? Oh that's right— judgment is yours, and you take your sweet time. Well, we'll see how that all works out in the End for us sheep and goats, won't we?

#49 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 06:59 PM:

Slightly off-topic, but I've been thinking for the last few days about whether Jesus would have countenanced basic-survival looting in New Orleans. I think he would have; the text is from Mark 2:

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

25 He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions."

27 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

It all goes back to the letter of the law killing and the spirit of the law giving life. People living in the spirit of the law will act like sheep without thinking about it. People living in the letter of the law will act like goats. You might say they will fail to act like sheep; the truth is that the goats wouldn't try if they noticed. The good Samaritan parable is about this too.

So I think of Jesus coming to New Orleans. He would break down pharmacy doors and put a crate of anti-inflammatories on his shoulder, loot Evian and Doritos from a convenience store, and then slog back up the street through the diseased water, to someone who would die without his help. Then he'd probably go do it again.

Shorter me: if Jesus were President of the United States, he'd give a sh*t about people in trouble.

#50 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:17 PM:

A friend of mine goes regularly in prison. He's an actor and he and a group of friends go there to teach acting. He told me that the desperate hunger of people inside for anything that might take them out of their situation is frequently downright upsetting.

Once, one of his students was called away from the theatre lesson because he had requested a visit with the dentist. Dental care in prison is irregular and erratic and people with toothache can easily go three months waiting for a dentist to show up, because all dentists working for prisons do it pro bono.

The guy refused the visit to the dentist to attend the theatre lesson. My friend told me that this really drove it home for him how vital what he was providing was.

And yes - I agree with Patrick. Sometimes it's not a question of the spirit, it's a question of what you do. A friend of mine used to say, about clairvoyants, spiritual healers and the like, that most of them are in good faith, but there are times when good faith is really irrelevant and it's the results that count. I'd say it's much of the same here.

Of course, it's also a question of what you can rationally do. People can't give up jobs without becoming themselves a burden to the society. And it helps if help is organized, too.

My parents (both, incidentally, lifelong atheists) took up and went to the disaster areas after the quake we had in my home area (Friuli) in 1976 (flattened three towns and killed 2,000 people). Today my mother was telling me that they got there in a bus organized by our municipality, and found the army in place to give them gloves and clear directions about what to do. This was the day after the quake. In that shining example of govenramental efficiency and organization, Italy.

It's easier to give help when you're not positively discouraged to do it. And it's easier to do it when there is a general movement towards doing it. You can do smaller things - my parents saved the town hall archives of Osoppo, which also needed doing, while people with better training were picking people out of the rubble - if you know that you are taking part in a collective effort and it's not up to you to move mountains.

I feel a lot of collective helplessness and guilt when it is pretty obvious that being on the other side of the Atlantic there's nothing I can do apart from shelling out money, which I've done, and jumping up and down pointing out things to other people and telling them to shell out money too, which I've also done.

I think for a lot of us, I even venture to say for the majority of us human beings, the impulse towards helping out our fellow man is intrinsic and strong. I think a great part of the stress we're feeling is the collective helplessness we feel because this impulse goes frustrated on a large scale.

A lot of people are furiously rationalizing this frustration away, mostly by placing the suffering in the "them" category. Which brings us back to the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan, I guess.

#51 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:18 PM:

This comes from just before the bit Terry Karney quoted. From Luke 18:9-14:

9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

This parable always seems to turn the whole idea of Being Righteous -- keeping the laws and commandments, etc. -- on its head. It's not that which makes one "justified." The "publican" (a tax collector, a minor and presumed-to-be-dishonest bureaucrat, with a reputation of taking a lot more in "taxes" than the people actually owed, as well as a collaborator with the Romans) who is aware of having done too many wrong things but is humble and contrite, is much more pleasing to God that the ostentatiously devout guy who is all proud of having lived a holy life, "not like that [sneer implied] publican."

So it's not even "'could I do more' and 'have I done enough.'" It's "Could I have done more, and why didn't I?" vs. "Did I do what I did because I really wanted to help others, or to praise God, or did I do it out of pride, to look good in public, just for my own selfish reasons?" Jesus is on the side of the guy being sneered at, because he's sorry for the things he did to be sneerworthy, not the guy doing the sneering, because he's above being sorry for anything.

#52 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:38 PM:

Looking at recent posts (especially the last one), it occurs to me to wonder whether the obsession with image -- the parading, the speechmaking, the refugee-hugging -- should be directly condemned by Christians as wrong in itself (e.g., not because it's a distraction or even an outright lie). I'm no Bible expert, but I'm reasonably sure I recall multiple direct slams at the people who pray noisily in public, and at least one order to go into a private place to pray. It baffles me that the reactionary noisemakers (political or religious) can still claim to be Christians with all their public noise.

#53 ::: Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:38 PM:

Terry,

If all the rich were to share, then there might be a dearth of poverty.

Well said!

Perhaps the sort of Christian that most annoys me is the one who merrily disregards that piece of Christ's advice. Yes, I agree that Jesus doesn't expect everyone to leap straight to perfection. But I kind of think he'd appreciate it if people would at least walk in that direction.

Here's one of my favorite political bits for Christians. From Luke 6:

24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.
26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
27 "But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
29 To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.
30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you like older books:

Micah 6:6-8: what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

How anyone can love kindness and hoard wealth while people suffer is beyond me.

#54 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:57 PM:

Such an amazing passage. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a President -- a leadership -- hell, a citizenry -- devoted to the person portrayed in this passage, believed fervently in the importance of his teachings, instead of whoever they seem to follow who cares only about helping the rich, starting random wars and persecuting gays....

Which is just to say: the fact that the Republican party, devoted to helping the rich and perpetuating military might, can pass itself off as the Christian party, seems like yet another one of those aspects of our current life that an editor would reject as too ridiculous to be credible if encountered in fiction...

#55 ::: Vito Excalibur ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 08:04 PM:

From this atheist's point of view it definitely is what you do, not why you do it, or even, really, whether you could have done more. If I need money it will do me more good for someone who could have spared $100 to give me $50 than it will for someone who can only spare $10 to give me $10, won't it? As for the hypothetical "guy who goes down to help personally because he wants to brag about it later and impress people with how selfless he is, when really, he lived right near there and had plenty of vacation time;" really, I'm just pleased and grateful for the continued existence of people who think that selflessness and generosity are things that people will value and admire. And for people who value and admire them, and reinforce this behavior.

#56 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 08:11 PM:

Susan, I pulled out my NT interlinear bible* and the Greek in vs. 36 is translated as:

[and you took in Me; naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me in prison I was, and you came to Me.]

So it does seem to mean actually visting in prison, however, I suspect doing the best you can with a true heart is good enough.

Teresa, and surely if we "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, and comfort the sick and afflicted" we don't have to be Christians.

*I've never been a Christian, but I played one for about 22 years. My father was an abuser and he would have hurt me more than he did if I didn't make him look good at church. What's startled me is that all these years I've kept the three bibles I had (KJV, Berkeley, NIV) plus some of my more-used reference works. They've been in my hands so often that I can't let them go.

#57 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:07 PM:

The Greek is "elthomen pros me", "came to me".

It's possible to be finicky and point out that this sort of "prison visiting" was rather different from today's form -- it would have involved bringing better food and other resources to the prisoner, not just support and comfort (one can think of the way Newgate is shown in the Baroque Cycle as a closer match than today's penitentiaries and jails) -- but it shouldn't obscure the firm link forged here between charitable intent and eleemosynary acts: this is a core text for the importance of works.

The early Church allowed for a large set between the pure sheep and the pure goats -- the "not entirely good" and the "not entirely bad". There were various views about what would happen to them, which eventually became one of the streams of thought which developed into the doctrine of Purgatory: if we aren't among the sheep we may have to "burn in frigid purgatorial fires", but we may also not be cast off with the goats. This is of some comfort for those of us who suspect that we manage to attain to charity and full generosity far less frequently than we should.

One of the ways in which our modern world has fallen away from the ancient and mediaeval worlds is that the virtue of generosity for the powerful and rich -- Aristotle's "magnificence" -- is no longer even given lip service, but rather meanness in the form of preaching self-reliance to the poor.

#58 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:41 PM:

Generosity as a virtue requires courage.

The fearful are simply not generous; they cannot imagine facing the future without all that they now have, and they cannot imagine facing the less fortunate without being robbed.

(Those who need all they now have to face the future are not properly expected to be generous.)

The rich who aren't cowards go right on being generous, and often effectively generous, in this day, but the expectation has become one that presumes fear and insecurity.

#59 ::: Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 02:06 AM:

CHip, you wrote, "Looking at recent posts (especially the last one), it occurs to me to wonder whether the obsession with image -- the parading, the speechmaking, the refugee-hugging -- should be directly condemned by Christians as wrong in itself (e.g., not because it's a distraction or even an outright lie). I'm no Bible expert, but I'm reasonably sure I recall multiple direct slams at the people who pray noisily in public, and at least one order to go into a private place to pray."

Two of my favorite verses of the Quran are about this issue. one goes like this:
(sura #107 "small kindnesses")
Seest thou one who denies the Judgment (to come)?
Then such is the (man) who repulses the orphan (with harshness),
And encourages not the feeding of the indigent.
So woe to the worshippers
Who are neglectful of their prayers,
Who would be seen (at worship)
Yet refuse small kindnesses

And the other, Sura Tin (the fig)
By the Fig and the Olive,
And the Mount of Sinai,
And this city made secure,
We have indeed created man in the best of moulds,
Then do We abase him (to be) the lowest of the low,-
Save those who believe and do good works, and theirs is a reward unfailing.
Then what can, after this, contradict thee, as to the judgment (to come).

Like the verses in Teresa's bigle lesson they can be read as talking about the "end times" but really, they are talking about how religious people should act in day-to-day life and mentioning the judgement day as an added incentive. Like you state, the concept of religion is not about boasting how religious you are or showing off, it's doing day to day good things and keeping your religious observances in a non-ostentatious way.

#60 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 08:03 AM:

In another variation on the theme - this one from Sydney Carter:

"When I needed a neighbour, were you there, were you there?
When I needed a neighbour were you there?
And the creed and the colour and the name won't matter
Were you there?

I was hungry and thirsty, were you there, were you there?
I was hungry and thirsty. Were you there?
And the creed and the colour and the name won't matter.
Were you there?"

(I'm afraid you only get the two verses I can remember - but there's at least four more.)

#61 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 10:04 AM:
I'm no Bible expert, but I'm reasonably sure I recall multiple direct slams at the people who pray noisily in public, and at least one order to go into a private place to pray. It baffles me that the reactionary noisemakers (political or religious) can still claim to be Christians with all their public noise.
I don't know about "multiple", but I think it's pretty clear that you're referring to the sixth chapter of Matthew, which contains several variations on that theme, (you were probably remember verses 5 and 6) including this bit which is always read in at Ash Wednesday services in the Episcopal church: (vs. 16-18)
"And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Proudly wearing the ashes all day as a visible sign that you went to Ash Wednesday services is something you just don't do. (Among Episcopalians; I'll note that R.C. churches read a different gospel selection on this day)
#62 ::: Fred A Levy Haskell ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 11:35 AM:

Heh. After I posted my quotation from Isaiah, I realized it's almost emblematic of much that I say: it's more meaningful if you know the context whence it comes. I don't mean to be obscure, really I don't. It's probably that I assume everybody certainly knows more than I, and will understand all the meaning to which I'm alluding and more.

Neil: The Pirke Avot also says … "You can't do everything. You gotta do something." Just so.

#63 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 11:36 AM:

It baffles me that the reactionary noisemakers (political or religious) can still claim to be Christians with all their public noise.

Me too. The distance between what I know of Christian teachings and the behaviour of prominent (well, loud) Christians in the US never ceases to astonish me. I don't understand why their congregations don't simply turn away from the Falwells and the Phelpses, or why Bush's public piety, so at odds with his actions, is still a selling point.

#64 ::: Karl Kindred ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 12:45 PM:

Wow, I have not articulated my position very well at all.

For starters, I was trying to address a specific point of translation as it relates to personal intent and a specific commission from Christ (i.e. visited vs. helped) in the light of the Final Judgment (the dividing of goats from sheep).

When we’re talking about the final judgment the crux of the questions rests not on the measure of your results, but on the question of wither God the Father says “I Know You” or if he says “I Know You Not”. Here we are talking about the moral hazards that surround salvation.

The moral hazards that surround society are different and I believe they require a different framework of evaluation. I believe that one’s state of “salvation” is personal and can only be judged by one’s savior. I may look at a rich friend and suspect that he doesn’t give enough; but I have no role in his judgment and as such there is a significant moral hazard for me in “going there”.

But our society is a different matter. I can look at the man with the extra hundred dollars and know that his fifty-buck contribution counts for more than when I give all five bucks I have on me. In any situation where we are evaluating the moral responsibilities we have to our society I completely agree with Patrick, Terry Karney, Vito Excalibur and anyone who holds the position that results count for more than intent.

The man who lived close, had free time and wants to look good is still there, still helping, still making a difference. Why he’s there won’t matter to the people he helps. The fact that he was there will be enough. Charity in society functions in part on this principle. Wal-Mart, Target, Pepsi, Coke, Dinty More, Campbell’s Soups…they all donated items with their labels plastered all over them. In part this might have been altruistic, but really it was a savvy business move and everyone knows it.

Big businesses have press releases when they give large charitable donations because the free advertising and positive market buzz is worth the donation. This is a good thing. Our charity systems are dependant on it; we all know it’s the principle motivating-factor in corporate giving; and we pass laws to make it more convenient and financially rewarding to companies to do so. Because society is dependant on the results not the reasoning.

As I understand Christ’s message, salvation is determined by a different measuring stick.

Having reread my post I just don’t feel like I’ve explained what I mean any better, so here’s the short version:

“God cares why we do something, our fellow citizens just want something done. These positions are not at odds, they just reflect different responsibilities we have to ourselves, to others, and to whatever higher power we may (or may not) believe in.”

And:

“Using the Bible to explain or justify societal morality scares the Bajezuz out of me.”

#65 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:45 PM:

Thank you for the reminders, this one and the one from earlier.

I would speak to the forms of charity.

My mother taught me that, when you have as much as we do, giving more than that 10% that is required of us is necessary. Our extra comes from our talents. You give until it hurts, until you can give no more, until you say "can I do more?" and the answer is "only at the cost of myself". And it doesn't matter how you help, only that you do it to the best of your God-given ability.

My mother doesn't go serve food in the shelters, or visit prisoners. Her talents and position mean that she works with the directors of such institutions and with corporate and political leaders. She uses the things God has given her to convince people that these causes are legitimate, and that this is where money and effort and visibility should go. She finds a small, worthwhile group that she feels passionate about, spends 2-3 years supporting that group and their cause and brings their visibility up within the community. Once other people have taken up the banner, she moves onward, to another group, another cause. And while corporate donations give them good publicity, someone has to convince the corporation that this is something that needs their money and their products.

I...have a talent for finding things. I supply agencies with the things they need for distribution from garage sales and store closings. My mother can part people from money, I part them from stuff. It costs me a little bit of money, a lot of time, and every saturday morning.

For us, the highest and best use of our gifts is not in direct contact with those in need. It's supplying the agencies who are helping those in need. With direct contact, I have the...unfortunate habit of taking up the burdens of every person who needs my help, making their cause my own, and burning myself out in record time. From what I can tell, God views repetitive burnout as wasteful of what He's seen fit to give me.

It hurts that I can't do anything to directly help the southlands, the people scattered all over who have nothing left. But I can do what I do best, find things, buy things, and send them south. And it's not enough. Because we can never do enough.

So yes, I believe it is your intentions more than your actions which determine your status as sheep or goat.

And I'm not sure I made my point...

#66 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 07:44 PM:

Will: Thanks, I try.

Micah 6:6-8 is probably my favorite verse in the whole of the Bible (and I get to use the Apocrypha).

It's the row I try to hoe.

Karl: I see better your point, though I aver the five dollars you can spare is as valuable as that of the richer man's 50, because the sense of being in this thing together is as important as the sum of giving.

And, as I said, the rich ought to give more, because they have more to give. You are right, however, that; to some degree, I conflate my religious salvation with social justice.

This is probably a failing on my part, but I like to think I don't try to make policy with it, just use the message (which is both powerful, in its own right, and resonant for its associations) to further my secular agenda.

My personally, "faith-based initiative."

#67 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 10:06 PM:

Susan Palwick -- Waaay back you talked about visiting prisons. A lot of prisons have some kind of Artists or Writers in the Prisons program (though there are fewer of these programs all the time -- this is one of the things that keeps getting cut at budget time). Anyway, you might check into this. People in prisons spend a lot of time being bored, and the ones who are interested in writing are thrilled to talk to someone about what they're working on, especially if that person is an actual writer. (Do not expect brilliant prose, however.)

#68 ::: Susan Palwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 01:04 AM:

Hello! I'm weighing in late on all of this and will undoubtedly miss lots. I tried to post this morning and the site froze up on me, so I'd lost what I'd written. Very annoying!

Lisa Goldstein: Thanks for the suggestion. If I were going to do prison work, that's probably the kind I'd do, except that actually, it would be a bit too much like a busman's holiday. (I'm a college creative-writing teacher.)

Jo Walton: I love your idea about Christians having to visit prisons once a year. (And, on a totally different note, I loved FARTHING.)

I agree with what appears to be the general consensus that intentions may determine status as sheep or goat, but that it matters to hungry people not a whit why the people who are feeding them are doing so. I've met people who actually REFRAIN from helping others because they're afraid that their motivations may not be pure enough: this strikes me as the purest form of self-serving rationalization, and I think these folks need to remove their heads from their lower digestive tracts, get over themselves, and go do some work.

Re missionaries: I wouldn't condemn all of them, since a lot do medical, educational and agricultural work that makes a huge difference. (I don't like the ones who are only there to convert people.) My favorite missionary story comes from a friend (white and from Pennsylvania) who discerned his call to the Episcopal priesthood, fifteen or twenty years ago, by working in Navaholand for a few years. His friends back East, when they learned that he was going to do this, were disgusted and horrified that he was heading off to a reservation to try to convert Native Americans. "They had it backwards," he told me. "I was the new convert, and the Navajos were fifth-generation Episcopalians who were up in arms that we were no longer using the 1928 Prayer Book."

But yes, I know the horror stories about missionaries (especially the 19th-century ones) too.

Susan

#69 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2008, 02:33 AM:

Hi, I'm a Koine Greek scholar, and although it isn't really the main point of this discussion I'd like to put my two cents' worth into the "visiting" question. The interesting thing in the passage is that Jesus uses two different verbs - when he says to the sheep that they visited him, it would translate as "came to me." But to the goats he says that they did not "take care of me." So it seems that either might be important!

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