It is an interesting thing I have learned about myself the last few years: the needier I feel, the stingier I become. I wrote about this in one of my earlier blog entries, and as much as I have repented of this and prayed for a new heart in this area, I still struggle. Clearly, we as a family are currently in a time of maximum neediness (There is some irony that Doug’s first Fuller class in over two years that starts tomorrow night is Job and Human Suffering). And this weekend I found myself begrudging a gift to someone. My reason? I didn’t believe they really needed it, we had already helped this person with money recently, and I judged how they would use our gift. Thankfully Doug’s heart was a fleshy contrast to my stony one, and the gift was given.
As I thought about this today, I was reminded of a deeply troubling passage I read a while back from a book called The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City (by David Simon and Edward Burns). I quoted from this book for one of my Quotation of the Week posts, but I did not use what I find to be the most difficult parts of the passage. In examining my heart today, I was drawn again to read from this book, and it is the harder words that afflict me now:
“If it was our fathers firing dope and our mothers smoking coke, we’d pull ourselves past it. We’d raise ourselves, discipline ourselves, teach ourselves the essentials of self-denial and delayed gratification that no one in our universe ever demonstrated. And if home was the rear room of some rancid, three-story shooting gallery, we’d rise above that, too. We’d shuffle up the stairs past nodding fiends and sullen dealers, shut the bedroom door, turn off the television, and do our schoolwork. Algebra amid the stench of burning rock; American history between police raids…No matter. We’d persevere, right? We’d work that job by night and go to class by day, by some miracle squeezing a quality education from the disaster that is the Baltimore school system. We’d do all the work, we’d pay whatever the price…because we pulled self-esteem out of a dark hole somewhere and damned if our every desire isn’t absolutely in check…That’s the myth of it, the required lie that allows us to render our judgments.”
Whether it is the homeless man, the pregnant thirteen-year old or the thugged out gangbanger, I believe that these authors give some of the best insight into why our compassion so often chokes.
The chapter closes with this, and reading it today makes me cry:
“Yes, if we were down there, if we were the damned of the American cities, we would not fail. We would rise above the corner. And when we tell ourselves such things, we unthinkly assume that we would be consigned to places like Fayette Street fully equipped, with all the graces and disciplines, talents and training we now possess…Amid the stench of so much defeat and despair, we would kick fate in the teeth and claim our deserved victory. We would escape to live the life we were supposed to live, the life we are living now. We would be saved, and as it always is in matters of salvation, we know this as a matter of perfect, pristine faith.”