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,
the bridge-building asshole