It’s so easy
I love a “feel good” story, don’t you? It’s great to hear of some good deed or act of kindness and even better when the person doing it is somehow rewarded. There was such a story on the news this week. Glen James, a homeless man in Boston, found a backpack containing over $40,000 in cash and travelers checks and promptly turned it over to the police where it eventually got to the rightful owner. I can only imagine what that much money might have meant to a homeless man.
Then the story got even better. As Mr. James received the rightful publicity and an award of citation for his selfless act the story went viral and soon another man in Virginia, Ethan Wittington, had started an online project to collect gifts for James. The last I heard more than $100,000 had been given to the project. The net result is that Mr. James will probably get way more than the amount he turned in. We can all feel good about that.
This story is the latest example of what I like to call virtual compassion. We are good at developing quick and easy, often online, ways to express compassion and appreciation. Sometimes, like here, they are spontaneous and personal but large non-profits have learned that creating quick and easy methods to give is a great idea. We see something on the news and quickly find that sending a one-word text to a certain number will donate $10 to the relief effort(s). I check out my groceries at the supermarket and am told that I can add a dollar, or five dollars, to my total to go to another worthwhile cause with just a cashier’s keystroke. It is easy, productive and relatively painless. I probably made more impulse purchases in that trip to the market than I donated.
We Americans have generous hearts; we give a lot to good causes. But more and more we want our “do-gooding” to be easy and to consume nearly none of our time. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with easy giving, I applaud these efforts. But, more and more, giving time is becoming more precious than giving gifts. I’ve got a friend who does his Christmas shopping in one trip to the supermarket about ten days before Christmas. He goes to the gift car rack, selects his 15-20, and encloses them in his Christmas cards. Shopping done, easy and quick.
We evangelicals have turned a lot of what we call evangelism or mission into quick and easy steps. It’s easier to hang 20 “invitation to church” flyers on nearby homes than develop one relationship in which we can invite someone personally. We can sponsor a child, distribute a Bible, dig a well, or give out food in a third world village with the click of a mouse. A second click lets us do it monthly on our credit card. But it is oh so hard for us to donate time.
As I said, there is nothing wrong with quick and easy but I do have to wonder how much of the time I am making myself feel good even more than helping another. Is sending the next $10 to the guy in Boston better than seeking out someone in need and helping them personally? In the end, Mr. James’ one act of honest compassion will prove to be life-changing for him and I wish him well. But I can’t help but think that we are missing something when we go the quick and easy route.
My concordance comes up with only four listings for the word “easy” in the Bible and none of them describe lifestyle choices. There is only one listing for the word “busy” and it is not an encouragement to us to cram more activity into our lives. We can excuse ourselves and say that the Bible was written in simpler times and that nowadays needing quick and being busy is the only way to go. I can’t help but think we are wrong about that however. I mean, do we really think times are tougher now than in the centuries when fighting just to survive was the norm?
I have to admit I do like easy giving opportunities and will do more of them. But I tend to think the sermon I need to preach to myself daily is about investing my time more than my money.