Friends, I have a dilemma. It has come to my attention that the working title for Chapter 16 of Finding God in Ordinary Time is problematic. To those who get it, it makes perfect sense. To those who do not, it’s baffling. (This is not what I’m shooting for.)
Here’s the chapter, which I originally intended to share on this last Sunday of Winter Ordinary Time simply as a nice segue to Lent, with its invitation to almsgiving. At the end I will tell you what I called it, and ask for your suggestion. Obviously, a free signed copy is yours if you come up with the winning chapter title!
Chapter 16: Finding God in . . . ?
How do we decide what to give?
In my years as a campus minister I’ve been fortunate to travel to Mexico City with students many times. One of the problems for the tourist there (as for urban pedestrians just about anywhere) is how to respond to people who are begging. So often in Mexico City I encountered tiny crones sitting on the sidewalk, wrapped in dirty blankets, heads down in sleep or shame, one calloused hand extended for passersby to see. They gave no accusing stare to those who passed them by; they didn’t confront us with a fast-talking pitch or a conscience-prodding sign. They simply sat immobile for hours, murmuring heart-wrenching blessings to strangers who paused to press a coin into their palm.
On my first visit I often found myself unprepared to give: the airport currency exchange had doled out maddeningly large bills, difficult to break even at small local shops. And so, the next time, I secured a supply of ten-peso coins. Each was worth about a dollar; they were easy to carry in my pocket (unlike bills that had to be fished from my travel wallet) and satisfying to bestow. A nice solid coin. I roamed about the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe like a trippy fairy godmother, never passing one of those dear old souls without giving a coin and receiving a blessing in return.
But was that praiseworthy? If I compare giving to not giving, sure. But if I compare what I had, even on my person, to what those ladies needed . . . ugh. The logical part of me protests that even had I emptied my bank account to help those women (that is, sold everything I had and given to the poor), I might have had treasure in heaven, but there would still be an awful lot of poor widows in Mexico City. Yet that observation, however true, does nothing to uncomplicate my feelings about my peso-giving choices.
Nor should it.
Whenever students and I talk about this, I first make sure they understand that the systemic and sociological factors at work in poverty are vast and complicated, but can be addressed. (Perhaps one of them will graduate and do just that.) Then I explain the concept of tithing, and encourage them to commit to supporting charities that address underlying causes as well as immediate needs. I let them know that, whatever they decide, the important thing is that they respond thoughtfully.
And finally I take away any tidy bow they were hoping to tie on the lesson by telling them this: From a spiritual perspective, we should never grow comfortable with the discomfort of others—even when we feel like we’re down to our last two coins.
Well there you have it. My original title? Finding God in the Widow’s Mite.
It you can think of a title that captures the message of this chapter more clearly, please leave it in the comment section below. The only “rule” is that it has to start with the words “Finding God” and then the preposition of your choice.
That’s the end of my sneak peeks for a while; liturgical Ordinary Time returns in fifteen weeks. I am going to try to keep up with the Sunday blog posts, though; this has been fun! I anticipate some significant book announcements in the next few weeks, so stay tuned, and do follow this site if you’re not already.
May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!