Monday, November 28, 2011

I bought a kid some toys... I'm sorry. (A note about charities.)


This past week I went to Target and spent $20 on a set of 4 cars that are, according to the box, appropriate for 1-3 year olds. I took this set of cars to my grocery store’s customer service counter and handed it to the clerk. I also handed over the tag that indicated this was a gift for a 12-month-old boy who wanted cars for Christmas. The clerk thanked me, commented on how cute the cars were, and said “Happy Holidays!” I got warm fuzzies, knowing that - despite not really having a ton of extra cash this year - I was able to help make someone’s holiday a little brighter who might not otherwise have had it.

To the chagrin of many, the present was purchased as a part of the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. This program is designed to assist needy families in the local area anonymously by providing food, clothing, and presents for the children where the parents might not otherwise have been able to purchase such extravagancies. The problem, as I’ve come to learn, is that the Salvation Army is a Christian charity. As such, they actually have several ideologies and philosophical tenets to which they ascribe listed on their website. One in particular that seems to have a lot of people upset is this:


Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life.

Many people believe that this alone is cause not to support this charity, calling the Salvation Army “bigoted assholes” and more. There are petitions online that you can sign and blogs devoted to telling everyone that will read or listen not to support this charity. I get it. That’s fine. Donate to whatever charity floats your particular boat, or don’t. It’s really none of my business. Nor, naturally, is it - or should it be - anyone else’s.

My problem is this: every now and then we hear about a charity, or a business, or a fast food chain, or a whatever that is openly Christian, or gives money to a Christian/family/whatever group, or is somehow, someway not up to our standards of equal rights and civil liberties and all that. Then, naturally, we scream and holler and wave our flags and beat our drums and cry foul and call these people hateful names and do lots of finger pointing and self-congratulating and generally act a bit like intellectual snobs in our self-made ivory towers of modern thinking. But, we tend to not be so upset about every organization that has any practices that ignore civil liberties. Name a major brand, and not only have they probably had an egregious human rights issue or a financial indiscretion or a mistreatment of animals or the environment lawsuit or a number of other wrongs, but you probably own or purchase 10 of them. Why are we not losing our minds about them? I can think of few charitable organizations that have not had some type of public issue in these realms.

This actually happened earlier this year, in January, with Chik-Fil-A. Some gay news blog caught wind that the business donated food to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, and the GLBTQRSZVM blogosphere LOST. THEIR. COLLECTIVE. MINDS!!!! Boycott Chik-Fil-A! Guess what! They’re a hateful, terrible, Christian organization, hell bent on taking away your rights!

What I’m about to say is going to rub many of you the wrong way, and I respect that. This is just my opinion, mind you, and by reading this blog you are not in any way obligated to believe this to be true. But…

What if we looked at the world, just for a second, as though we were Christians from a mostly Christian community and a mostly Christian family and had been taught with Christian morals and Christian values and really believed that the Christian church is about love and spreading love and forgiveness and all that to everyone in the world? Are you with me? What if that was our worldview?

And what if you heard about someone that, say, wanted to take out the teaching of Creationism from schools, promoting Darwinian philosophy? What if you heard that your son or daughter worked with someone at their part-time job who wore all black, a large pentacle, and talked about nothing except how terrible the Christians are? What if your pastor and your news media and your friends and blogs that you read all told you that the gays wanted to get married, and, not only is this against the teachings of the Bible, but your children would be forced into being exposed to that lifestyle against your will?

I realize that many of us scoff at this as silly, as pretty pathetic, sheep-like thinking on the part of Christians the world over… But, I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t make it any less real in their minds. Many of us are from Christian families. While most folks that listen to my podcast or read this blog identify as Pagan and probably will raise their children in a religiously diverse and/or pagan environment, let us not forget that it is with the same fervor and love that we were once Christian.

Now, I don’t typically give my opinion in matters such as these, but there are times when I am defending a Christian (or other) organization, and I get the emails and comments about how I should just go back to church because I’m so obviously a closeted Christian. I’m not, just in case you were wondering. My opinion is that the Salvation Army is wrong in their ideology, that they are preaching from tired dogma and outdated beliefs that they have not put into historical context. If we look back in history, we see a Hebrew people that were afraid of anything that was ‘the other.’ If the tribe married outside of itself, the race of people would die out, in their minds. If two men were together, they could not procreate, and that was also something that was done by the Greeks and Romans - the enemies of the Hebrews. It does not work in the modern day, when we know so much more about the world and historical context. But, people have their faith, just as we have ours.

But, I’ll say again what I said in my article about Chik-Fil-A in January of this year:

It would be a different story if Chik-Fil-A was militant about their Christianity. It would be different if they were openly, blatantly, angrily against gay marriage, abortion, racial minorities, civil rights, pro-guns, etc. They're not. They're a business that makes good food, tries to give their employees good perks, and happens to be run by folks unwilling to compromise their Christian values. Hey, y'all... These are the 'GOOD' Christian values you hear about, but don't see very often. Build a bridge. Get over it. And enjoy the hell out of those waffle fries.

The Salvation Army has said time and again that they do not refuse service to anyone. I have since heard accounts to the contrary, saying that they do not allow gay or lesbian couples to board together in one of their shelters. Either way, I have actually helped out in their shelters when I was a teenager. I can tell you from personal experience that the people I was helping, and the staff at the shelter, couldn’t have cared if I was purple, pierced to high heaven, and wore plastic wrap, as long as I showed up on time and handed out food, clothing, and blankets to those that needed them. I suppose my point is that there is sometimes a greater need, a greater good, that can be served if we join forces with those we think are “the other.” And, possibly, that we jump to conclusions and to being overly defensive and pointing fingers and condemning an opposing view, that we forget to try and find a common ground.

Also, a good thing to keep in mind is this: if you see two people on television, and one is a well-dressed, well-spoken individual who is saying that they love all people and believe in their hearts that God wants the best for us, though we might not be living the life He wants us to...and you see another person screaming and calling them terrible names and waving signs and pointing fingers...

Who comes off looking like the lunatic? Like 'the Big Bad Other'? 

I'm going to get all nature-loving, hippy dippy, Gandhi-lover on you and remind us that 'an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind' and that we must 'be the change [we] wish to see in the world.' I recommended on Twitter a few days ago that if we are really of the belief that an organization is wrong or bigoted or whatever, we should work to put on a good face for our community and show them that not all gays/pagans/Democrats/Pastafarians/[insert lefty subgroup here] are bad. I said that we should build a bridge and work on open dialogue and communication with the other side. This was met with extreme ridicule, one person even said they wanted to build a bridge for the Christians just so they could burn it. How delightful. 

But, I stand by what I said. And, if I'm going to be ridiculed for saying we should work together to enact positive change in the world, with love for all on all sides, then I'm fine with that. 

I say time and again to do your research. Look things up. If, in your research, you come across something about a business, charity, etc. that you do not like, and you want to not donate or shop there anymore, you go right on ahead. Hell, write a letter to the organization, telling them why your business/donation was lost. But, be eloquent. Be smart. Be calm. Be rational. Be a good face for the other. Give - or don't - however your conscience sees fit. Either way, we are all giving in the spirit of charity. And, there are tons of charities out there! In addition to the Angel Tree children, I also give to the Human Rights Campaign. If you don't have money to spare, you can give your old clothes, toys, blankets, etc. to various charitable organizations. A great website is CharityNavigator.org. You can use some of their Top Ten lists to find the best charity for your buck. 

One last thing about organizations, and I swear I'll shut up: Michael Pollan has these Food Rules. One of his new ones is to test whether you're really hungry, or if you're just eating because you're bored. The rule is this: If you're not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you're not hungry. You're bored. If you're hungry enough to eat an apple, then you're actually hungry. Also, you should eat the apple instead of the junk food snack. Win/Win. You're nourishing your body, and training yourself not to eat out of boredom.

I am developing a similar rule for myself, and you've probably heard me talk about it before. If you're not made enough to fix the problem, then you're not mad. You're bitching. If you are mad enough to fix the problem, then you should go ahead and fix the problem. Win/Win. You've recognized that you're actually outraged, AND the problem gets fixed! 

Case in point: Pagan Charities/Churches/Organizations. Earlier this year there was that whole mess and stink about the new law in a town that said you could either go to jail or go to church for a year. Pagans. Lost. Their. MINDS!!!! It was mildly insane. I suggested that if people really were mad, and there were that many pagans in the area that were mad, why don't they just file the proper paperwork and pay the fee and form a legal church to solve the problem of no pagan alternative in the area? Why not work with the system to make it better? 

Here's a WONDERFUL example of working in a system. In 1907, the Scouting organization was formed. In 1912, the founder of the Girl Scouts met the founder of the Boy Scouts and decided this was a great idea, and she wanted it for girls too. So, she made one for girls. Here's the kicker: 87 years later, the Aquarian Tabernacle Church got the idea that, Hey! This is nice, but what about us? So, instead of bitching about the Christian principles of the Scouts, they MADE THE SPIRAL SCOUTS! (The neo-pagan version of the Scouts.) It's now a global organization with thousands of members. 

Make the next Spiral Scouts, Rioters, instead of griping about the ideologies of the other. Build a bridge. Find some common ground. Work to make the world a better place. Use the comments section below to list your favorite charities and organizations. What are some good Pagan or nature-oriented charities? I know the World Wildlife Foundation would be a good one for us earth-worshippers. Possibly, take the family and pick up a local park and recycle the paper, bottles, and cans you find. That's completely free, and it's definitely giving back in a positive, earth-friendly way.

I should probably go kick someone, because I might be in serious danger of losing my 'OMG, that Fire Lyte guy is a total asshole' cred. 

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte
the bridge-building asshole

19 comments:

  1. Be the change you want to see in the world.

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  2. I don't think about the religion, I think about the children and their families and bringing some joy to their lives. It's not about religion... it's about love and sharing.

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  3. Keltikmystique said: I don't think about the religion, I think about the children and their families and bringing some joy to their lives. It's not about religion... it's about love and sharing.

    -----------

    Sorry about the disappearing comment! Don't know why Blogger is being weird. Mercury Retro?

    FL

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  4. I think this was a wonderfully written and reasoned post. Thanks for sharing it, because it honestly helped me frame my own experiences differently. As a queer pagan as well, I run into a lot of holier-than-thou mentalities in both queer and pagan communities (the attitude of "I'm a better pagan than you because..." or "I'm more queer than you because...") and really it just gets us nowhere. NOWHERE. Puritanism of any form tends to leave us all feeling helpless (if I can't do it perfectly, why do it at all..? IE, if there is no perfect blameless charity to donate to, why donate to any one at all..?). This post planted some good seeds in my brain. Thanks.

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  5. You are my favorite person today. :3 Sometimes a few of my pagan friends will get a little bash-happy of Christian behaviors and people. Usually they're just venting about some stranger or another who made bad/ignorant comments about them being devil worshipers and what have you, but even my friends make generalizations to a point where it strikes a nerve. I remember coming across a site dedicated to the practice of Asateru, and despite the fact that it seemed hosted by a dedicated organization, a lot of the captions and historical commentary were full of biting remarks about Christianity and how it ruined the path of Asateru. It made me kind of sad, that some of us, despite wanting to say that we are enlightened, will say that we are MORE enlightened than they, and we insult them and blatantly disrespect them. Then we take a lofty stance and act surprised when other faiths retaliate and give reactionary responses. It's like a teenager who goads his mom until she gets angry, and then acts so calm and smug and asks her why she's so emotional.

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  6. Lovely post. Give as you see fit, and are able. The 8yo self-motivated on Thanksgiving weekend and went to pick up trash with her cousin,(about a small trash bag worth in a 1 1/2 blocks.) "to help the earth". Anything that makes the world brighter is lovely. If you really disagree send a letter, and a letter with $5 attached gets read by any charity recieving it. Tell them you support the charity but do not support exclusionary practices and wish that they would reconsider updating or moderating their stated views.
    Thank you.

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  7. I love waffle fries. I don't think I could truly boycott Chick-Fil-A. I was an Angel Child when I was little and they were the best Christmas presents and Christmases ever. I am donating toys to a little girl this year in hopes to bring the same happiness to her that I had. I could care less what the organization believes.

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  8. You are amazing and articulate and exactly what people need to hear and be challenged with! Rock on and Thank YOU!

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  9. This right here=lovely. But I will say that sometimes bitching is therapeutic and helps you realize you aren't actually angry. Also, I do wish there were more organizations that weren't religion or ethnicity based... just there to help PEOPLE who need to be helped.

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  10. Unfortunately (fortunately?) religious organizations often have the money and support to run large charities. It's a numbers game. Many secular or Pagan groups just don't have the number$.

    I give to organizations that help others. Period. I don't care what they believe. If these organizations are refusing help to certain members of society, I will give my donation to another charity. There are plenty out there.

    A couple favorites, aside from my local food bank, are Heifer International & Operation Christmas Child, which, GASP, I believe are Christian organizations. People get fed. Kids get toys. I will NOT feel bad for being a part of that.

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  11. Whatever. Why is it that u always have to take it to the christianity argument? I'm not donating to them because they are anti-gay bigots. I could give a flying fuck that they are a christian organization. You really should STOP putting people in boxes.

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  12. Hi Maria!

    I'm not trying to put people in boxes. Rather, I'm attempting to say that we should stop looking at who people are (their boxes) and see what it is they do. I also made sure to point out that you should give to whatever charity you see fit. If the Salvation Army isn't your charity of choice, by all means give what or how you can to whatever organization fits your ideology.

    Though, the reason I took it to the Christianity argument - to use your terms - is because that's where others took the argument first. I felt I should defend the balanced view, the 'seeing the other side' view.

    However, I completely respect your opinion. Issues like this are exceptionally divisive, and there is no 'right'. I just want to make sure we have looked at all the information - the means and the ends - before we make our judgments.

    Love and Lyte,

    Fire Lyte

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  13. Thank you for taking the time to share these thoughts and defend the balanced view. It can be so easy for us, as humans, to get up in arms about things, especially when they are as deeply personal as our beliefs. I do agree there are many times, though, when it's just throwing a hissy fit and no one is actually trying to change things. I like your reinterpretation of the "are you really hungry?... eat an apple" thought process.
    I feel a lot more would get done, or a lot less negative, pointless whining, would happen, if more people would think about that. If you are actually angry enough to change the situation that change it. If you aren't then reevaluate. Clearly it can't be THAT important to you, if you aren't ready to actually take action against it.

    Blessings and joy!

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  14. This is awesome. Thanks for writing/sharing it.

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  16. I agree Fire Lyte. If we want others to truly be accepting of us, we must be accepting of others. If we expect others to hold themselves accountable, we must also do the same for ourselves. Talking the talk is one thing, you must also walk the walk, as my grandfather used to say. Well said!

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  17. I am tired of the bash-happy among us....the same folk who will scream and rant as soon as someone else says something mean(sniffle) about Pagans.

    While I disagree with fundamentalist Christian theology and believe very strongly in the right to practice your own preferred religion, I don't see many Pagan-associated charities out there beyond Circle Sanctuary.

    The fact is most people in dire need don't ask where the help is coming from, they are just grateful for the help. I have been both homeless and hungry, and frankly, no one in my local Pagan community reached out to give me so much as that theoretical apple. Ditto the free thinkers and upholders of my Constitutional Rights at the UU Fellowship where I was chairing the Worship Committee...while living in a homeless shelter at the time. They knew where I was staying, because they took me back there after every meeting. They seemed to be okay with he fact that I was a full, contributing member of the Fellowship yet living in a homeless shelter while they happily contributed to the ACLU and Amnesty and criticized the local Catholic Charities organization, Salvation Army,etc., for being too, um.....religious.

    So you know what folks? Until we get our collective house in order,we don't get to bitch and rant about Christian run charities. Meanwhile, I'm going to continue to send out those periodic emails to others from Chik-Fil-A when they give away a free sandwich, because you know what? No one has offered me an apple, but I have been given a free chicken sandwich with no strings attached- and it was the only hot meal I had in days.

    Fire Lyte, the little kid you gave those cars to isn't going to care about the dogmas of the organization he got them from. He;s just going to know someone cared enough to make sure he had a toy. Bless you.

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  18. A very thoughtful post. I think it's wonderful to see people building bridges when there is so much hate in the world. I respect that!

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  19. Late to the party, but...

    Thank you for posting this. I was getting a bit of a guilt trip by some of my non-Pagan friends (most of them non-Christian as well) who refused to understand why I - in my liberal, Pagany, open minded ways - could support the (gasp) Salvation Army.

    When I was a child, I received Salvation Army gifts - my family couldn't afford gifts otherwise. My best Christmas was when I was 10; I wasn't expecting anything (I knew my mother didn't have any money), and when I woke up, there were a TON of presents under the tree. Those were from kind people that donated to Salvation Army and wanted to help us.

    While I do have some issue with their ideologies, I still donate, every year that I've been working, to the Angel Tree program, even in tight years like this one. I've been that kid who had nothing, and I don't want others to have a disappointing Christmas/Yule/etc.

    You're awesome, Fire Lyte. Keep on keepin' on. :D

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