Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Crumbs or Justice?

"Charity provides crumbs from the table;
justice offers a place at the table." 
Bill Moyers

Ouch. Something about this resonates too deeply,… but what is it? Surely it is not that charity is wrong and to be discouraged. Scripture lauds charity as a great virtue. God is a God of Charity, (…and he is also a God of Justice).

The point might be that we give meager amounts and usually only from our great excess. Can justice be found in our crumbs? Is there such a thing as "a little justice?" Or "somewhat just?" Or somewhat unjust? Or is a little injustice still categorically unjust? 

Whatever else it may mean, this observation touches upon the reason and attitude by which we give. Do I give for the personal rush of feeling good (or better) about myself? Do I give as if a demonstration of my imagined superiority, and power, and domination,… feeding pigeons bread crumbs in the park,… and enjoying the swell of self-aggrandizement? Do I give in a manner likely to make the recipient feel inferior, dependent, indebted, and extremely grateful to ME?

Or do I give to others as co-equals, as intended joint heirs in the sight of our common Creator, knowing that I give from that which was given to me, and that it is simply the right thing to do? (No recognition or gratitude is required or expected, not for merely doing the right thing.)

Every virtue, including truth, love and charity, is corruptible. What matters most is the condition of the heart from which it springs.

Imagine the richness of experience, indeed the Justice, of offering a place at the table to the marginalized, with honor and dignity for all,…  a gathering of people who we might view as so different and diverse, but who are in fact so similar in everything that really matters. Who might learn what from whom? How might each be blessed? What might each discover within him/herself? What about God might become manifest?

It is predictable and fair to voice the challenge: “O.K.,… nice thought, but just what does that look like in actual practice in the work-a-day reality of both the materially rich and the marginalized?” I cannot say, for there is no clear, simple rule,... just a condition of the heart, as will be manifested in attitudes, as will be manifested in actions (or inaction).