Monday, April 17, 2006

Victory day

I would have blogged this yesterday morning, but I woke up late and had to rush for the train. I would have blogged this after I came home, but it was so late and I had to sleep.

Christians yesterday celebrated the resurrected of our Lord Jesus Christ, commonly known as Easter. Some of my friends prefer to call it "Resurrection Day" and avoid any pagan associations. I myself consider it a day of victory for Christians:

Why seek ye the living among the dead? (Luke 24:5)

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 15:55-58)

I surprised two of my friends yesterday morning by unexpectedly joining them in worship at their home church, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, located at 53rd Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan. It was a very long service, nearly two hours, far longer than anything I'm used to. Though I'm a Baptist and prefer our informal style of worship, and Anglican services' origins in Catholicism can overwhelm me, it was still a very grand and moving service. The sermon was excellent, too, pointing to the empty grave as evidence of our hope.

Afterward, we had a quick lunch and returned for the musical recital and evensong. The organists were nothing short of excellent. After that, several of us went to Faces & Names, near the corner of 54th and 7th Avenue. It's a nice little bar, even if some of its celebrity caricature paintings are a bit...grotesque. We wound up staying for quite a while, talking about all kinds of things, from theology to illegal immigration. I was especially pleased to renew my acquaintance with Miss Caroline, a good friend of my two friends.

By the time I returned to Grand Central, I had missed my train by literally just a minute or two. So I had to wait until the 11:08, and it was well past midnight by the time I got home. I was the first to board the train and had to change seats twice. The first time, two young girls sat near me and were chattering incessantly. I moved to the other end of the car, where I was later joined by a couple in their 20s. It was bad enough that they were talking so loudly to each other -- in fact, why do people bother to sit across from each other when they intend to talk? Don't they have the common sense, let alone courtesy, to realize they must raise their voices and therefore disturb others? But what made it even worse: they were talking in French. European French accents, not Quebecois. After a few minutes, I'd had enough. I grabbed my things, glared, and said coldly, "Excuse me" before moving to the next car.

We had an interesting encounter outside the bar. As my two friends and I prepared to part ways with Miss Caroline, a 30-something black male approached and asked if we could spare any money so he could buy himself a leg of lamb. "Come on, it's Easter!" He told us that he's originally from Virginia, is currently homeless, but has a job in construction. One of my friends is a very tender-hearted Christian and gave him a few dollars. I, on the other hand, gave him nothing and doubt I ever would have, especially since he said he has a job.

Should I feel any guilt, considering I had just spent $80 at the bar? (Which was not bad, really. I treated everyone to the first round of drinks and two platters of very delicious mini-cheeseburgers.) Though I had the means, I feel no guilt at all, considering that if I worked strictly to keep myself in poverty and give the rest to the poor, I would be far less driven to earn my present income. The economy would therefore be reduced by the amount I no longer produced, prompting others to produce less because I am not buying as much, so now multiply that by tens of millions of Americans. Such is the logic of my Christian capitalism. After all, we must live too, don't we? It all depends on how we use our income.

Both the Old and New Testaments teach that it is wrong to trust in riches, in which I include wealth for its own sake. However, I believe there is nothing wrong with acquiring savings and useful things, and especially nothing wrong with working more so we can invest in new technology, thus improving our standard of living. Remember that it is "the love of money that is the root of all evil," not money itself (a big detail Ayn Rand misunderstood). Now let us consider when Christ told the young man to give away all his riches and follow Him, and the young man's reluctance that prompted Christ to say, "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were very rich men, weren't they, with all their flocks, herds and servants? But Christ clarified who the "rich man" is: he who trusts in his riches, and not in God. The living God was right in his face, yet the young man did not want to give up his other master. Christians can use money so long as they keep it a tool, not elevating it to an object of worship.

Returning to the panhandler, he was not only able-bodied but apparently employed too, so even with Christ's admonitions in Matthew 25, I feel no obligation to help someone who certainly can help himself. My friend who gave him money even suggested buying brass polish, then going to St. Thomas and offering to clean the candlesticks for a little money. The reply, and I kid you not: "Man, that's hard." How could it be any harder than the construction work he claimed to do?

And then there was the fellow sitting on the Fifth Avenue bench. I passed by him in the morning, on my walk from Grand Central to St. Thomas. He was calling out over and over, "Can someone give me ten dollars? I would like to buy a lunch." At his feet were a couple of Duane Reade bags, whose contents I couldn't see, but still, ten dollars! He was Caucasian with an accent I couldn't place.

It's a sad situation that, not just in New York City, you should not give handouts to street beggars. When my friend Jackie was in town, we were waiting for her boyfriend Terrence outside Madison Square Garden. Someone approached us, asking if we could spare any money. Neither of us gave him anything, and we both agreed it's far better to give money to trustworthy organizations that help the poor. I like the Salvation Army best.


Blogger Steven Tomer said...

I'm willing to help anyone in need, I just want to make sure that my support goes to someone who is truly in need.

My policy is this: If they ask me for money, I won't give any. (Besides, I refuse to carry cash, since I'm more inclined to spend it, can't keep track of it in my finances, and it's a security risk.) If they ask me for food, I say, "Let's go find a grocery store and I'll get you some food." If they ask me for bus fare, I'll walk them to the bus and pay the driver.

Only twice out of many times have I had someone accept my offer of food. Most of the time, they become frustrated with me and walk away. Obviously they really weren't interested in food. I refuse to give money to those who would waste my money on alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs.

I think that this type of support is in line with Matthew 25.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 3:30:00 PM  

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