“That’s the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me” – Jerry Seinfeld
A few months back I wrote “‘Don’t Touch Your Brother’ … and Other Things Fathers Say” – a compilation of things parents routinely say to their children which have significant implications for how we relate to each other as Christians (and in particular through public policy) given that we too have a Father. A few more points came up recently, the first of which isn’t exactly something parents say, but something children understand that adults seem not to.
Neighborhood Watch and Something for Nothing …
A few weeks ago I was taking my boys for a walk to tire them out before bedtime (they have LOTS of energy). As we were dragging back to the house we passed a neighborhood watch sign and my oldest (seven) asked me what it was. Of course he knows how to read so I had him work through the text of the sign. He got to the end with a “yeah, but what does that mean?” So I explained that the people of the neighborhood got together and patrolled the streets to make sure no criminals were around stealing from people in the neighborhood.
This first led to a discussion of whether thieves prefer stealing in the night versus the day and the relative merits of each. But then he made a simple, child-like statement that was beautiful in its expression:
“Daddy, I wish there weren’t any thieves.” [me too] “But why are there?”
Why are there? Why are there bad things in the world? Why is there evil?
I pulled him through the first-order explanation of how God gives each man free will and wants them to choose good, but some choose evil instead. Then, on stealing in particular, we discussed how some people want to have good things without having to work for them – so they take them from other people who have worked for them.
At this a light bulb went off and he explained the situation back to me (that’s when you know it’s worked, by the way). He explained that even though it is nice to get something you want without paying for it (he’s seven – that happens a lot when you’re seven) it’s still not right to take it from somebody else.
Amazing. Absolutely amazing. A seven-year-old gets it, and a nation of adults does not.
It’s great to get something for nothing, and if somebody decides to give you something for nothing then good for you (and good for them). But for you to take it from them is just wrong. And yet this is the basis of many of our public policy debates – who will get what benefits and who we will take the money from in order to pay for them.
Oh … for a nation that had the wisdom of a seven-year-old.
Cleaning is Everybody’s Job – and Everybody Includes You …
As you can imagine, it happens quite frequently that my wife and I will send the children downstairs to clean up the mess that they’ve made. This never works out efficiently. There are multiple reminders and a litany of complaints about which child is or isn’t helping.
The most frequent is my oldest (he of the wisdom above) refusing to clean until his younger brother helps. It’s frustrating and comical to hear. He goes on and on: “Daddy [younger brother] isn’t helping me! I’m not cleaning until he helps.”
At this I bristle on two fronts. First, I told each of them to clean, and “each of them” certainly includes my oldest. Therefore, he has a responsibility to clean because that’s what I told him to do. Just because his brother is refusing to help does not obviate his responsibility to obey his father. (ahem)
Secondly, he is saying these things not from the standpoint of “I’m cleaning but he’s not” – but rather “I know my brother well enough to know that he won’t clean, so I’m not even going to start until he does.”
At this one I push back harder. “Son, it is the height of hypocrisy [I had to explain that word] for you to complain about your brother not doing something when you aren’t doing it either!” I don’t think the ramifications of my statement quite settled in. He was stuck in some logical loop with infinitesimal time steps (“As soon as I pick one thing up my complaint will be valid, since [younger brother] won’t help because he never does at the start, so why do I have to get started before I complain?”).
Yet and still, I repeated the statement for him to hold on to, even if he doesn’t yet understand, and I maintain my position. It is hypocrisy to complain about what someone else isn’t doing to help, when I am also not helping.
It seems in our body politic, you can count on a very simple correlation: the one who complains the loudest about what other people should do to help the needy is the one who is himself doing nothing. It’s a correlation, not a rule. There are obviously exceptions. Yet we certainly know from publicly released tax records [insert joke about IRS leaking information on Tea Party groups] that those who most vociferously demand that “the government” (which means, “the people, just not me”) do something for the needy are the ones who give the least to charity and who engage in the most aggressive (and even illegal) tax avoidance.
In a nation of Christians this ought not be true. We ought not compel the service of others. And even if we voice complaint about their lack of service (particularly when they have means) it should only come after we ourselves have shown a commitment to the cause.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” – Matt 23:1-4