Some thoughts at 3:00AM on charity, beggars and tipping….

Some thoughts at 3:00AM on charity, beggars and tipping….

I occasionally find myself confronted or solicited by a beggar in the street. I only rarely give them something, even though in other situations I feel that I am generous. For instance, having been a waiter for nearly ten years, dependent on tips for a living, I have always tipped very generously, even when the service may have seemed slow or inattentive, and have done so without regard to whether I will ever be back again or even see that server again. I give the additional above the payment for service not out of obligation, but in the spirit of charity, the greek χαριτος, love. If the service was indeed less than adequate through the waiter’s inattention or lack of care, then I hope the generosity may perhaps surprise them into wondering why they received it and cause them to reflect. If the less than adequate service was due to something out of their control, then I hope they may perhaps see in it a sign from the universe that someone understood what they were going through that day, the problems they faced in the kitchen or in their own life, that frustrated their service or robbed their attention.

But I think it a personal shortcoming when I turn down the beggar in the street regularly, not always because I do not have a dollar or a couple of coins in my pocket, but because I may conclude at a glance, without thought, that they are not trying hard enough, that they are lazy, or working a scam. What I overlook when I jump to that reflexive judgement is the very fact that they are in this humiliating position. They need and can see no other way than begging of a stranger. And the fault is not that I have misjudged them. They may indeed have any or all of the faults that I have judged in them. But that is my judgement, not my knowledge. What I know is what is presented to me, their need. And that is presented to me by God in their face. My fault is to pass over what the Universe presents directly to my knowledge, and to act on what I do not know in my judgement.

some post 9/11 thoughts

some post 9/11 thoughts

The attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 often comes to my mind in the following circumstance. Driving on the interstate, heading for a destination several hours or days away, looking at the endless hills and fields and forests, the big rigs carrying goods and materials, the cars from every state, the police patrolling, the work crews, even the highway itself, which speaks of a national resolve for both growth and defense … I could go on. And my thoughts often arrive in a form similar to this:

“What can these people have possibly been thinking, that they supposed that they could “destroy America”? Did they have any idea how vast this country is? How immense in so many ways, population, geography, resources, history, culture, wealth? Is this not a measure of how incalculably small their understanding and their vision was?”

Or sometimes it comes like this:

“To destroy the buildings themselves, buildings contructed by men and women, bolt by bolt, brick by brick, whose every surface inside and out has been blessed by the working hands who designed, constructed, raised, maintained, repaired, cleaned and served other men and women within … To destroy what human hands built – even apart from the terrible destruction of the thousands of lives within them – is itself a supreme blasphemy, an expression of hatred directed not at America, but at God, Yahweh, Allah, Brahman, Tao, the universe, human existence itself.”

And I find these two thoughts combine in this one thought, the utter weakness of hatred. Hatred, which arises out of weakness, out of fear and anger, never out of strength, or confidence and joy.

So now, two days after the anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers, I sift through the rubble of thoughts, expressions and commentary that have exploded once more in this latest aftershock of remembrance, and again this hatred comes to mind. Not just the hatred of the twenty or so men who planned and carried out the attack. They are dead. They hate no more. No, I ponder the hatred which continues in the living, even which arises in myself.

Hatred narrows one’s view so that a small number of actors come to represent an entire nation, an entire religious community, an entire ethnic community. The violent retribution which the hater feels is just is then visited upon all. An example is the response which I have heard over the years in various forms but recently saw again. It goes like this:

… after 9/11 we should have left only a huge radioactive crater, Lake Afghanistan….

Or this one:

When attacked by a troublesome state or people from a state which harbors them, we go in and break all the furniture and crockery and kill as many of their leaders and defenders as possible and then withdraw with the understanding that if we are troubled by them again, we will be back and do the same again. Rinse and repeat as necessary….

Or this one which dates back to the Vietnam War era but is probably still for sale on a t-shirt somewhere:

Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out!

You get the drift. Reason tells me that responses like these are fundamentally wrong, and will also not accomplish what they intend, the elimination of terrorism and attacks. Religion tells me this also, though in a different way, and you can take your pick or listen to both. I do not find religion and reason incompatible in any way; faith and reason are two sides of the same coin, the human mind.

Let me close with this last thought. War is death and destruction, nothing else. “War is hell”, as General Sherman once said. If reason and religion cannot help us arrive at a better response to terrorism than waging war, then both reason and religion are mere sham. But I believe that they can help us do better, if we can let go of the fear and anger from which hatred grows.