Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Refiner's Fire

Previously: How Mormons Should Think About The Presidential Election

I don't mind admitting that the first time I met the scary looking guy you see in this picture, I was repulsed by him.

"Horrified" might be the more accurate word.  In my defense, he had caught me by surprise, though he hadn't meant to. I was visibly taken aback.

I had been driving around Sacramento doing some errands, and now that I was headed home I was lost in thought, my mind on autopilot.  I knew where I was; I just wasn't paying attention to my surroundings. So as I pulled into the left turn lane at Howe Avenue and waited for the light to change, I hadn't noticed the figure standing on the traffic island on my left as I pulled up to a stop just ahead of where he was standing.

My car window was down, and at some point through the fog of my thoughts I half-heard a gravelly voice coming from somewhere to my left.  The voice sounded like Louis Armstrong, but whatever Louis was saying, I couldn't make out his words. I snapped out of my trance just long enough to look to my left and straight into the face of a monster.

In the second or two it took me to shake the surprise from my face, I saw I was actually looking at a tragic human being; a man who at one time must have been in a terrible accident. I hoped the poor man had not noticed my reaction upon seeing him, while at the same time it struck me he probably saw that look on other people's faces all the time.

The poor creature's eyes seemed to bug out of the sockets of his skull. What there was of his face was all scars and patchwork.  His mouth was misshapen, teeth were missing, and there was nothing but a small hole on the side of his head where an ear should have been.  The stub of one wrist -which I imagined was nothing but bare bone- was covered with a white sock, presumably because a glove would have just slipped off it. The sad deformity that passed for his other hand was tentatively grasping an empty coffee can. I still had trouble understanding the actual words this miserable person was trying to say to me, but it was clear he was asking for money.  I put a few dollars in the can he was holding. He thanked me, and as the light changed, I drove off.

I've had the opportunity to lend a bit of assistance to this man many times since, but because my interactions with him are necessarily brief, I never knew anything about him.  Eventually I learned his name is Reggie, and whenever I see him I slip him a few bucks. Reggie responds with a "God bless you" as he extends what's left of his right hand for a friendly fist bump. Once I saw him walking across the parking lot of a store as I was exiting, so I waved him over to my car where we engaged in a longer conversation than was allowable when I would be stopped at the stoplight.  As always, I gave him something to put in the coffee can.

How Should Mormons React To Panhandlers?
I often hear otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints being dismissive of homeless people on the street, refusing to help out those in need under the theory that "they could get themselves out of that life if they wanted to" or "they just brought this situation on themselves."

Yet our own scriptures forbid us from taking that attitude:
Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— 
But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.  (Mosiah 4:17-18)
Whoa. So if that's the way we look at the panhandler and don't repent of that view, we'll perish forever and have no interest in the kingdom of God?  They really ought to teach us this in church.

Maybe they have, but I've never heard it, and I attended faithfully my whole life. On the other hand, I have been present many times in Sunday School classes and Priesthood quorums where the question has come up regarding our obligations to those who ask for money on the street.  It's clear from these discussions that members struggle for answers.  There are plenty of opinions to go around, but I've never heard anyone cite Mosiah 5. I never cited it either, because in those days I was an average member of the church, and like every other average member of the church I didn't really read the scriptures all that much.  Only the verses that were assigned in class, and somehow Mosiah 5:16-18 never seemed to get any airplay.

In these classroom discussions, I've heard members offer suggestions such as "the best thing we can do to help the homeless is pay our tithing and fast offerings to the Church, and let the Church take care of them." Or "We should print up business cards containing the locations of local resources and charities, so when a homeless person comes up to you, you just give him one of those cards."

It seems as though every suggestion is offered except the one the Lord commands us to adhere to in Mosiah 4:16: Do not suffer the beggar to put up his petition to you in vain.

Let's not forget that the things King Benjamin told the people that day were messages that had been made known to him by an angel from God (Mosiah 3:2). That means the commandments the angel conveyed through King Benjamin were commandments from God.  We should not take them lightly, nor should we substitute our personal opinions in place of God's word, for there are negative consequences for us if we do. "Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor," we read in Proverbs 21, "he shall also cry himself, and shall not be heard."

It would seem that God holds us individually responsible for every individual who approaches us in need of succor.  You can give as much or as little as you can afford, and if you have nothing, at least say so in your heart (verse 24) and put up a prayer for that person to God. But what you cannot do is wish these people would just disappear.

Neither can you outsource your responsibility either to the government or the Church. Stay home and wear blinders if you don't want any part of that responsibility, because if you go out in public and turn away someone asking you for a handout, it's on you if you refuse. If you've been baptized and taken upon yourself the name of Christ, you'd damn well better start acting like a Christian.

It's true you cannot single-handedly eradicate poverty in your city. But you can buy somebody a hamburger or a taco now and then.  By all means, pay a generous fast offering so those in your ward do not go wanting  But your monthly donation to the ward does not relieve you of the obligation you have to help alleviate one person's immediate suffering when you are personally asked. Most importantly of all, you are not permitted to judge or second-guess whether or not the person asking for help has a legitimate need.

I've taken the opportunity to get to know a number of the familiar street people in my neighborhood, and their stories have always surprised me. I used to have the impression that homeless people were always that way, somehow born shiftless and down and out. But I know better now.  Almost to a person, the people I've gotten to know were at one time living normal middle class lives. "I used to have a house. I used to have a family. I used to have a career," a tired older woman once told me when I bought her lunch at Jack-in-the Box. "I never in my life imagined I'd ever be standing on the corner holding a cardboard sign. But here I am."

She sighed, then added "You never get over the humiliation."

When I'm able, I occasionally help out with feeding the homeless at Pioneer church in downtown Sacramento. I'm ashamed to say it now, but the first time I did this and got to know some of the people there, I was actually surprised to find how "normal" these homeless people were.  I once sat down at the table across from a scraggly older man who looked like he had lived on the street all his life. I struck up a conversation with him.

It turned out he had once been a research scientist for a major corporation, but an accident put him out of commission. Because of the enduring pain from the accident, he became dependent on prescription pain medications. In time his entire life spiraled down. Eventually he lost his job. Then he lost his home. Then he lost his wife. To look at him today you would never know he was capable of the kind of intelligent conversation he had with me.  "But you're clean now," I observed, "Couldn't you go back to work as a research scientist?"

"Once you fall so far you've got nothing left, you can't even get a job interview," he told me.  "What address do I put on my resume?  Hell, where do I type my resume at? I have no phone, so how can they call me back? How do I account for the decades-long gaps in my work experience? Where do I go to shave and shower and clean up? Where do I get a suit for the interview, let alone clothes to wear on the job?"

"Besides," he shrugged, "the industry has passed me by. My knowledge is obsolete now."

Had I encountered this scraggly old loser on the street, I never would have guessed he had once been clean-cut and successful, that he once lived in an upscale neighborhood, a life of ease, respectable friends, and a job that paid more money in a year than I've probably made in a dozen.  Nope. Ten years ago I would have thought this guy -if I bothered to think about him at all- had never been anything but a bum.

His story is not that unusual. It turns out that many of these people are victims of circumstance. Very few people who find themselves hungry and homeless really saw it coming. One thing after another happens, and next thing you know all hope is lost.

Ironically though, my friend Reggie actually had brought upon himself his own misery. For that reason alone it would be very easy for some to dismiss him as beneath their concern.  But they would be missing out on the blessing of being in the presence of a person whose experience brought him closer to God.  I feel a surge in my heart every time I'm near Reggie, as though my soul is in the proximity of someone very special; almost a divine presence.

A fellow Sacramentan by the name of Sasha Leahovcenco tells about his first meeting with Reggie, a meeting that was similar to my own:
One thing I learned from sitting in traffic is that nothing ever happens. Yup, exactly. Hours of 'nothing ever happens.' Thousands of people staring into their phones, waiting for the lights to change. On this particular day, however, God prepared something very special for me. I met Reggie. 
You know that awkward moment at the stoplight when a man or woman in need walks by your window asking for some pocket change and you start anxiously pretending to be looking at your phone? That’s how I met Reggie. 
He approached my car with his tiny jar looking for change. I reached into my wallet to see if I had any, and all I could find was a $20 bill. 'That’s too much for him', I thought. At this time, as he was close enough to me so that I could see his face. I was stunned! I have never seen anything like that before. His face was disfigured from burn marks and his speech was affected. 
I didn’t feel any fear or pity, I just remember having a very clear thought that this man needs the $20 bill in my wallet way more than I did. The man said ‘thank you’, and kept going. 
Have you ever met someone with a story? This man had a story, and I decided I wanted to learn it. 
As he was walking away, I said, 'What’s your name?' 
'Reggie,' he said. 
'What happened to you, Reggie?' Considering his looks, I thought that’s a questions he’s been asked many times before. 
'I was in a fire.' 
'Did your house catch on fire?' 
'No, I set myself on fire…' 
I was stunned. Why would anyone set themselves on fire? I couldn't squeeze a word out for some time. The light was about to change, but I was determined to find out more. I asked Reggie if I could come back to hear his story, and he kindly agreed.
Here is the video Sasha made of that interview. It's only eight minutes long, and well worth your time:

The Easiest Commandment To Keep
I fail at a lot of things.  Back when my allegiance was to the Church instead of to Christ and His gospel, I worried a lot over my inability to keep all of the commandments we were taught were required of us.  There were so many!

What I didn't realize then was that most of the "commandments" Church leaders were insisting I obey were often things the Lord never commanded of anyone.  As it turns out, the commandments of God are few, while the commandments of men are many. 

In February of 2007, a couple of years before I started this blog, I received the transforming baptism of fire described in scripture, the mighty change that inspires a person, as we read in Mosiah 5, to desire to do nothing but good continually. That experience motivated me, probably for the first time in my life, to truly want to obey God's will.  Just as the scriptures promised, my baptism of water was finally complete and I was a new creature in Christ.  How do I start fresh then?  If I could start by picking just one commandment and begin to act on it, what commandment would that be?

Well, of course we all know the answer Jesus gave when he was asked what was the greatest commandment.  He said there are two, actually: 1) Love the Lord your God, and 2) Love your fellow man.

Okay, fine, I told the Lord. I'm in.  I love you. And I love my fellow beings. But can you point me to something more specific?

That's when He led me to two particular places in scripture: Luke 6:30: "Give to everyone who asks of thee" and Mosiah 4:16: "ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain."

Yikes, really? I have to give money to beggars?


Dang. That was not quite the answer I was expecting. I was hoping for something along the lines of "Make sure you attend all your meetings."

I've often said that what motivated me to start this blog in the first place was a desire to document my own process of repentance since my awakening.  I realized I had spent my entire life in the Church following the unscriptural traditions of men, while remaining blissfully unaware of the things that were important to God.

I find it interesting that the one commandment the Lord felt most important for me was one I had never heard preached in general conference. But obeying that one essential commandment has done more to transform me and bring me personal joy than anything else I've attempted.  Doing my meager part to assist someone in having a bite to eat now and then turns out to be the one thing I can do that actually brings me closer to God.  Here's something I wrote in a post I titled The Opposite of Fear:
Most people think the opposite of love is hate. But it isn't. The opposite of love is indifference.

Think of the last time you saw a ragged homeless person on the corner holding a cardboard sign asking for help. Chances are pretty good you drove right past, not stopping to roll down your window to hand him a couple of bucks. Is it because you hate him? No, of course you don't hate him. You might even feel a little sorry for him. Just not sorry enough to reach out and help.

Even if you were disposed to help, maybe traffic is moving too fast, it isn't convenient to reach into your wallet or purse, traffic behind you wants you to keep moving, or the guy is simply on the wrong side of the street. Anyway, no need to worry about it. Surely someone else will come along and give him a handout. Besides, there's always the possibility that if you did give him money he might just spend it on drugs or booze, and then you would be guilty of some kind of sin or something for enabling him.
And a moment later, you've turned the corner and he's gone from your mind.
That's indifference. And so through indifference we fail the test of love. We might feel bad for that guy's plight, but feeling sorry for him didn't buy him lunch. Feeling sorry for someone is not an act of love. It's a dismissal.
When I first started obeying the commandment to give to everyone who asks of me, I limited my giving to those persons who specifically came up to me and asked.  But I soon realized that a needy person holding a cardboard sign is asking of me, even if he or she isn't even looking directly at me. I tell you this so that if the Lord prompts you also to obey this commandment, you don't wimp out and figure the commandment doesn't apply if the person doesn't see you.  You might have to circle around and make a U-turn, or even park and get out of your car and walk over, because that person is asking you for help. You. That's why God and angels made sure you didn't miss seeing that cardboard sign. Don't assume someone else is going to come along and fulfill your responsibility.  The good Lord placed you in your car on that road on that day and at that time because your help is needed.

There is an upside. In Hebrews 13:2 we are told "be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unaware."

I've had some interesting encounters since agreeing to obey this easiest and most rewarding of God's commandments.  There's been a time or two when I've actually wondered if the person I've encountered actually was an angel from heaven sent to test me.  But no matter.  Almost every time I leave the house I get to meet angels right here on earth.  Years ago my friend Reggie made it through the refiner's fire and came out the other end a true angel, a being of light currently dwelling inside an absolute wreck of a body, who somehow manages to spark something divine inside me every time I see him.

Related Posts:
Of Alms and Offerings

The Opposite Of Fear


heid2222 said...

I'm with you Rock I have heard so much judgemental crap at church on how to treat the homeless. I keep granola bars in my car for anyone I see because if I were their mother I would want them to have something good to eat and to be treated with kindness. Who am I to judge anyone who is homeless? I don't know their story. Love is more important than judgement.Always.

the Garden Mom said...

thank you for this.

Steak Presedent said...

I've thought about this topic a lot. There's a culture, in our society, of not giving to those in need and it's not just indifference, it's treated like it's a sin to help someone by giving money. My family wouldn't mind if I gave my friends dinner, or paid for their meal at a restaurant or paid their cinema ticket, but as soon as I give a little bit of money, even half the amount that the food would cost, I get chastised.

I was on holiday (or vacation) in Portugal recently and walking down a street with my dad and saw one of the most sorry looking homeless men I've ever come across. I only had 20 euros in my pocket, but I remember what you said in your Opposite of Fear post about giving whatever is in your pocket and not hold back because I think it's too much. So I blissfully handed him the 20, barely looking at him, you know I just did it as I was walking by. He snatched it up, which I would normally think to be rude, but I couldn't blame him. My dad saw how much I gave and said, "20! You're not rich!" I told him that was all I had in my pocket and that if I had 5, I would have given him 5. It would have been better if I had 4 lots of 5 euros because after this guy there were several other homeless people asking for money (though apparently they hadn't been doing it as long as the first one). My dad then said "okay then". He then told my relatives how much I gave to him, like it was such a strange thing to do. Who give that much to homeless person? Probably just Bill Gates and Carlos Slim because no one other than these two can afford it.

Anyway, he needed it more than me and I can survive without those 20 euros, even while on holiday. It's funny that I don't get criticised for blowing more than 20 on myself. My parents taught me growing up that I need to think about other people. But I have to think of some other way of doing that other than giving money.

I think you're right, Rock, God's commandments are easier than mens'.

Steak Presedent said...

Your quote of Hebrews 13:2 needs to say "angels unawares" not "strangers unawares".

Unknown said...

I agree whole heartedly! My husband learned early I have never met a stranger. Opportunities show up even more when you ask and prepare for them. Our family have experienced joy giving even our lunch and doing without until dinner, for we knew we would eat again when we got home.

When we moved up to Iowa, we stopped at a Wal-Mart. There was this man with a sign "car broke down, please help". We had been given help, by probably some of you, just to move up here. The man had 3 very hungry children, and his wife. We gave them some of our water bottles and a $20.00. We gave the kids an apple each, a banana to the wife and man split. Apologized it couldn't be more.

As we left went a couple of streets away. I had offered a prayer in their behalf.
The kids wanted to give them their large container of animal crackers. This was for them to munch on for a 18 he.trip. We explained they wouldn't get any other treat. We have a 11 and 2 yr. Old. They insisted they wanted to give the cookies.
My son-n-law wasn't too happy about going back. He did it for the kids though.
The whole trip not one peep from our grandchildren. They kept on rejoicing over how happy the little hungry children's faces were when they saw the large container. The mom cried. There was a language barrier so I hugged instead of words.

THIS IS WHERE JOY IS! This is our Lord's gospel!

Landon said...

Good post Rock. I was shock the first time I heard members debating this topic in Gospel Doctrine, I had no idea it could be debated given Mosiah 4 being so explicit on the matter.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Miguel, I'm so impressed with you for handing over the twenty euros. The first time I did it was really hard, but it got easier when I've done it since. I've had to give away more tens than twenties.)

Nowadays I keep a bunch of fives and ones in the side pocket of the car, where they are accessible. Also try to remember to put a few bills in my shirt pocket. That way I can't use the excuse that it's too hard to dig the money out of my pants pocket.

Thanks also for catching that typo. Someone else on Facebook brought it to my attention, so I've now fixed it.

Unknown said...

Caused my eyes to leak again after one of your blogs. Love to you and yours my brother.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Great story, Sister Teresa! My own children were raised during my stingy years, so it was a new thing for my daughter to see me sharing. I've given money to her kids, and they've been thrilled when we've come across people they can turn it over to. It's so important that our children see us being generous with those less fortunate. Makes a difference.

Andrew said...

The last talk I ever gave in sacrament meeting before leaving the church was about helping the poor. My assigned topic was "covenants", and the vast majority of my time was spent reading Mosiah 4, describing the covenant that King Benjamin's people wanted to make with God after hearing his address, and quoting two of Denver Snuffer's blog posts about that chapter (without giving him any credit - sorry Denver!). I don't remember the titles of the posts, but they were bold with regards to helping to poor. Real bold. I wasn't sure what to expect from the congregation afterwards, but I was surprised to find that I had more people come up to me with compliments and gratitude than I ever had with any other talk. One man commented that my wife and I served them all "some real meat and potatoes" with our words. Whether or not any of them walked away more eager and willing to help the poor among them I don't know, but the experience gave me a little bit more hope in people. Deep down, they must know that it's good doctrine. But, I think the allure of handing off a tithing check to a friendly bishop in a suit and calling it good rather than going out of your way to hand money to an awkward beggar in rags is just too great to resist.

Glenda said...

KSL in Salt Lake City did a news story recently where they interviewed many homeless individuals, and learned of their stories. All had been in and out of jail on drug charges, and were using at the time of interview. If you have ever had a family member with an addiction, you know that giving them money only enables them, and makes the problem worse. The people who administer homeless programs encourage citizens to not make donations directly to homeless, but rather support their programs. SLC has great programs where homeless are offered housing, food, etc of their own.

Here in Las Vegas, it is against the law for homeless to solicit money on the street/median/offramps. They are a danger to themselves and others. It is not uncommon that they die by being hit by a car. Many are under the influence of drugs/alcohol and walk right out into traffic.The panhandler can be fined as well as the person giving the money.

I like giving food and clothing to homeless, and have done so over the years. I have contributed to my local homeless shelter and food banks. As a family we have served in our food bank and soup kitchens. Purchasing food or beverage for someone in need is also a great thing to do. I think the SLC model is fantastic. Handing out cash is usually not a good idea.

Unknown said...

Totally agree!
Thank you for your example.

The Arkwelder said...

I think Glenda has a point here. I hand out change to homeless people if I have it, but I don't have any delusions about what the money's for, which is most likely alcohol, cigarettes, or some other addiction. My view is more cynical in that I believe the next fix is all that matters to most of these people, and that simply isn't ever going to change. There is an infrastructure set up to help those who can be helped (and merely keep alive those who can't), and so it really does make more sense to donate to or volunteer with a local charity if you really want to make a difference.

So what's to be done about that passage in Mosiah? The point is that we are all beggars in the eyes of God, and all of us are equally undeserving. And I think that is right on the mark. So we're not allowed to judge, and we're not allowed to hold ourselves in higher regard than others. To withhold is to put yourself on a higher level, and that is the sin in question right there. But I don't see why, as I mentioned before, volunteering or donating isn't far better, given that it holds the same symbolic meaning that we are all beggars, unprofitable servants after all we can do. Except the difference is that, in practical terms, it is more helpful to the person in need.

Benm said...

I am ashamed to admit that I used to be one of those who mostly talked badly about the homeless. In fact, I used to get angry at my own wife if she gave any money because they had brought it all on themselves.

Then one day I had a similar awakening as Rock and I realized what a sad and lowly person I had become (though to all in the church I looked like a prime candidate for leadership).

Now I am concerned with what the Lord has commanded me to do, and like Rock as part of this I have found myself in the company of these lowly people. I wanna be clear too, they are not all saintly, soft-spoken individuals. Some are straight-up dickheads. (Though to be fair, I am often a straight-up dickhead too).

I am no longer afraid of these people asking for things. I have talked with them, given them rides, bought them food, and given them money. It is true some are using my money for drugs, but it is also true that I use many of the Lord’s gifts to me for the equivalent of drugs.

Of all the things the Lord has asked me to do, helping the poor has changed me the most. I am so ashamed of how I looked at them and treated them only a couple years ago.

Karlyn said...

Rock, thank you so much for writing this out. I used to be torn about giving to individuals who might "misuse" the money given to them. I then realized that if I really wanted to honour God and His laws of agency it is not for me to judge this person and their needs. Also, if I give because Christ would give then it is Christ's money and I put Him over it and touching that person's heart in the best way for that person.

If people look at this topic and think it is about money they completely miss the mark. It is about hearts. Where is your heart. Will you allow your heart speak to their heart. And trying to align your heart with Christ's. We are so weak at judging like our Saviour so we are given this opportunity to impart to ALL who ask.

I also give my witness that this is a true teaching. Give of your substance FREELY to those who ask. Watch for the fruits. The fruits are delicious. The love the Spirit grants you is worth more than any money you could ever save from not sharing.

Anonymous said...

Good post Rock. I don't mind helping people who are truly in need, but I'm a bit troubled by those who lie to take advantage of others. Twice now I have had people approach me with empty plastic gas cans, telling me of their predicament, and asking for gas money. I tell them, forget the small gas can, lets go over to your car and I'll fill up the whole tank. It's at that moment they have been caught in their lie and come up with excuses as to why that is not necessary.

I will continue to help those who are truly down-trodden and need a hand, but I remain cautious and try to steer clear of those with ill intent.

EternalWarfare4Souls said...

I thought I would share an experience I had. One night I was driving home past the same intersection that I always pass by on my way home. That night I noticed a new homeless man sitting on a home depot bucket. My mind said, "Give him some money." I reached for my wallet and saw that I had no money. "Oh well", I thought. Then the thought came to me, "Your bank is right around the corner. Swing around and give him some money, it will only take 5 minutes out of your life." Ok. I drove to the bank and pulled out a twenty. Then I thought about where I could break the twenty and the thought came to me, "Just give him all of it." Ok.

The man was sitting on the freeway off ramp so I would have to park and walk up to him to give him the money. I wondered what I might say to this man when I handed him the money. The thought came to me, "Tell him God loves you and knows of your struggles." No way! That sounds completely wacko! Then the thought came again, "Tell him God loves you and knows of your struggles." Ok. This is going to be weird. I parked my car and walked to the intersection to find him gone. I looked all around and couldn't find him. I looked at my watch and it indeed had only been 5 minutes. Walking back to my car I couldn't help think, "What was that for?" Then the thought entered into my mind, "John, God loves you and knows of your struggles."

I have given money when I can to whomever I can. I have always felt it to be the right thing to do. Sometimes I get the feeling of the pure love of Christ surging through my soul when I do. Most times, I get no feeling, kind of like paying my tithing online. Every now and then, something truly special happens like the experience above.

David said...

I love the story, it made me weep to think that one of my brothers could have suffered so much pain and despair that he would set himself on fire to aleaviate the suffering. We read the scriptures as a people, and that's a good thing, but we rarely study them and that's not good. The story of the young rich man in the New Testament bears this out and warns us also of this very fact. I come across the attidute you allude to all to often in the church, yet laid out before us is a commandment and a warning in the story of the rich young man. He had obeyed all the commandments, all since his youth, and asked the saviour what more could he do. First, yes first, that is before you can follow the saviour, before you can call yourself a Christian, even if you live all the commandments ,before you can become a true Christian, sell all that thou hast and give it to the poor. Take care of the poor, no where does the saviour put a caviat on this that they must be deserving, or legitimate. After you have done this, after you have fostered charity within your soul, then and only then can you follow the saviour, not before. The young man went away sad, a plight I feel awaits many who consider themselves true Christians as they pride themselves on their own virtue for having followed the commandments from their youth. I sadly have been chastised and critisized for doing this very thing, and yet as is laid out in the scriptures it should be one of the first things i do, one of the easiest things to do, it is religion pure and undefiled, it is what sets Zion apart from the world, that there is no poor amongst them, and yet sadly it seems to be the last thing that happens in most cases. So I praise your efforts, my heart is with you, I commend your efforts and charity, I stand with you and with those that support you, may God bless you

Robert Horning said...

I've had dome very good experiences with some homeless guys and other folks that I've met over the years, and the stories I've heard from them actually seem to resemble to a large degree what you seem to be saying here. I met one guy who openly admitted he was a railroad bum of the classic kind that literally "road the rails" even in the 21st Century... and had to find ways to creatively avoid the Pinkerton Cops (they still exist) and knew just where you could get on freight trains to travel around the country.

A word of caution does need to be made though when trying to give Christian charity, and I don't know how to really protect yourself in this case. Two stories I can relate that definitely should show at least how you can't completely make yourself vulnerable to those who would abuse their position of seeking charity and then stab you in the back:

More publicly known is the example of Ed Smart who IMHO really did show the true spirit of Christ and really cared about people who were down on their luck. He regularly took several folks who needed this kind of help and personally fed them, clothed them, and even offered to have them help work around his house in exchange for a little extra money or whatever else they needed. And then one of those guys kidnapped his daughter, Elizabeth, and it turned into a major national media event. A cynic could say that it was stupid of Mr. Smart to open his family up to that kind of potential abuse and that it would have been better had he simply stayed at home and ignored those people down on their luck.

A little closer to myself is my wife's uncle who from what I've been told from everybody that knew him was similarly somebody full of the spirit of Christ and openly gave everything he had to those in need. One day while traveling across the country he saw a couple of people who simply needed a ride (aka a hitchhiker) and offered to help them out by letting them into his vehicle. They repaid him by murdering him, throwing his body on a snow covered back road that hardly anybody ever traveled down, and then taking all of rest of his possessions to a pawn shop and pocketing the money after ditching his truck. Again, the cynic would say he should have ignored those guys on the side of the highway and left them to their fate.

I know there are good people who are down on their luck and really need the help of of those of us who have a little bit more. Perhaps a little bit of help from God can assist in a little discernment between those who genuinely need help vs. those who would be predators and do you quite a bit of harm, but often that doesn't always work. I am saying that when you try to help folks like this, you do open yourself up to some potentially great harm, and that unfortunately is something that always sits in the back of my mind when dealing with these situations.

Jared Livesey said...

Well, Robert, I suppose you should be thanked for publicly making the opposition's case against the commandments of Christ, which boils down to fear of the consequences. Likewise the others who enjoined judging those who put up their petitions, lest the undeserving be benefitted by our generosity.

But here is what Christ has asked.

Give to everyone who asks. This is not limited to the poor.

Do not judge others.

Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, pray for them who persecute and spitefully use you.

Everything you wish others would do to you, do to others - in other words, treat all others as though they were you. If you would do a thing for you, you had ought to do that thing for others.

Do not break his commandments even to save your life, for he that seeks to save his life shall lose it eternally, and whoever loses his life for Christ's sake shall find his life eternally.

And so on. It's not much, but we must overcome fear to do it. We cannot be fearful of the consequences to ourselves of keeping the commandments of Jesus.

Unless we're not interested in eternal life, but instead interested in a pain- and fear-free existence in this world, in which case we are not worthy to participate in the heavenly society. Godhood is for the diligent, loving, and fearless. The fearful suffer the second death. (Rev 21:8)

The point of keeping the commandments isn't to change the world. The point of keeping the commandments is to show God that we ourselves wish to be changed into what he is - fearless, loving all equally. God's ways are not our ways, and when we say the commandments "don't work," meaning they don't change the beneficiary according to our will or expectations, or have unpleasant outcomes to ourselves, we're simply echoing the lies of the enemy in reaction to his power, which is fear; we're showing we're not very interested in what God is offering us, and that we have not got faith enough in him to do what he has asked.

Jared Livesey said...

Mosiah 3:19
19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

And the Lord might see fit to inflict all manner of tribulations, including death, upon us - but that's what it takes to become what he is. (Lectures on Faith 6)

Which reminds me. Rock, Mosiah 3 was the words of the angel. The other stuff was Benjamin's own. (Mosiah 4:1)

Jake said...

Nothing to do with anything, but...

This wiki on BH Roberts was an interesting short read, it's defiantly worth checking out the picture of his tombstone.

The cross has always seemed to be treated as some sort of Idol, which I guess anything can be, but it also is a fairly good reminder of Christ. Specifically fitting with Mormon tradition would be the cross without Christ on it, symbolic of the completion of the Atonement. He was put on the cross for us and then beat death for us. That's all.

Anonymous said...

Rock - Excellent post, as usual. I love when you're able to point out where we're missing some of the beautiful simple truths of the Gospel, while avoiding having too negative a tone towards the institutional Church. You did it just right here.

I so appreciate the example you put forward here... When I first read the post, I realized how much better I could do with this by planning ahead. I'm somebody who rarely makes a cash purchase, so rarely do I carry much. I try and remember to carry around a couple 20's for an emergency, but don't do very well with that. Because of that, so often when I'm leaving a store and run across someone asking for change, I'm forced to reply, "Sorry, I don't have any cash." I think I'm going to work on making sure I have a stack of $5's at home so I can grab a couple every day as I go out the door, just in case the Lord decides to send someone my way.

Fabio said...

I think that if the church actually used the money they receive in tithes and offerings to really help the poor and not just give a little bit as they do, there would be fewer poor among us. Throughout the scriptures the Lord is commanding us to care for the poor among us and yet the religious leaders continue to focus on other unimportant things. I agree with this post, we shouldn't ignore the poor and homeless around us, we tend to judge them and assume they will spend the money we gave on things they shouldn't but we have no problem in giving the money to the church which in turn spend the money on things they shouldn't anyways.

SB said...

Who carries cash anymore?

Ever request is ludicrous. There are infinite demands and finite resources. Remember, it is not meet that you should run faster than you have strength.

In Austin, where there is literally a person at each light, am I obliged to stop at fast food and buy each a hamburger? I'd literally never get to work or ever get home, thus neglecting my greatest duty, my family.

David said...

I'm not a one roader ( someone who thinks that their path is the only path to heaven and that everyone should follow them, that somehow they have earned the right to let others know what is the right thing to do in any given circumstance ) , I believe that the gospel, the scriptures and life was individually taylored by God to each individual. So I do not feel I have the right to tell someone else how they should live the commandments. I do not have the knowledge , the power , the authority or right to do this. That does not however change the commandments, how you live them, when you live them is up to you, not me. Asking someone else how you should live the gospel is a lying question, no one but you has the answer to the question. James 2 deals with this whole question. You should work out your own salvation the way you see fit.

Jared Livesey said...

The commandments are what they are.

"Every man" is what Christ said. That's Luke 6:30. It's repeated in Matthew 5:42 and 3 Nephi 12:42.

Repeated three times.

If you love Christ, you will keep his commandments. If you do not love Christ, you will not keep his commandments.

Christ says if you break his commandments, and teach others to likewise break them, you shall not be saved.

Strait is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it.

iterry said...

Point well taken that we should help the poor and needy. But we as members of the Church still accept abortion. Go read the policy on abortion that the Church accepts. It is okay to have an abortion for rape, incest, and life and health of the mother. This is outrageous. Just as this poor fellow is near helpless in his situation the unborn are even more so at the hands of the abortionists. 3,000 abortions a year are done in Salt Lake City - who will stick out their hand and say enough is enough to the leaders of this Church. Change the policy and stop the murder of the most innocent among us.

Good article and timely. I wish however that more members would wake up and see the deplorable policies of the Church.

mormons son said...

I have read some of these posts here and I agree, "YOU" must temper with righteous judgements what needs to be done,as we cannot do all things for all people,we may to an individual or two should it come across our paths. We are tried and tested in all things this is just the way the Father "tests" us. But also remember there are professional beggars out there in guise of the genuine petitioner? OUR first priorities is to ones own family etc etc. But mingled with compassion also.....I like SB&David's comments I do NOT say who and what and how much should be given or done, tis to one own conscience

Jared Livesey said...

Ecclesiastes 12:13 Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Everything is left to one's conscience.

All are free to choose to obey the commandments of Christ or not, as they will.

That's your agency.

You get to choose whose requests to grant: Christ's, or the adversary of your soul, who seeks only that you should not do what Christ has asked, and that you should do what Christ has asked you not to do.

But you can go your own way; many do.

You can substitute your judgements for God's; many do.

You can teach others to do like you do; many do.

It is given to you to do so.

Let me know how it works out for you in the end.

Malachi 3:18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.

Jared Livesey said...


It is not requisite - that is, required - to run faster than you have strength, or faith. But if you don't start with the light stuff - giving to every beggar - how can you progress in strength, or faith, to become a full-fledged disciple, a servant of all, able to run with infinite strength, granting all requests made in faith?

How can you attain to the fulness of the stature of Jesus Christ if you don't do what he does?

And, since we all are pretty damned sure we're all going to die, the issue isn't how to preserve our lives for as long as possible, in as much comfort and leisure time as possible - that's a losing game, on all observable evidence - the issue is how shall we spend our lives?

In service to money, security, popularity, lust, power, or self-esteem? Or in service to others? And, let us remember, we aren't serving others if we aren't fulfilling their requests. Hence, "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."

If you believe God is really there, that his word shall be fulfilled, why not grant his requests and see what happens? And if you don't believe God is really there, or that he's really a liar, why waste your time with any of this?

Rebecca said...

Love the post Rock.

Last Christmas a family in our ward decided their "charitable act" for the season was going to be backpacks for the homeless. They extended the invitation to others in our ward to join them. They committed to filling 20 backpacks to be handed out Christmas morning. The more who joined in, the more items we could add to the backpacks. We, as a family, decided to get on board with them. We even extended the invitation to our extended family. A couple members of my family really came through. We were able to help fill their 20 and add a couple more backpacks. Besides our family, I was a little saddened that only one other family joined in. However, I know not what other charitable endeavors the other families in our ward may have been involved in.

We filled these packs with small blankets, socks, hats, scarves, gloves, hygiene products (including a few packs with feminine products), snacks, Gatorade, water, cash/fast food gift cards, etc. The other family who joined in also brought a dozen or so gallon size ziplock bags filled with a few simple items like socks, a banana, water, everyday hygiene products, etc. Christmas morning we set out to downtown Phoenix, about an hour away, in hopes we would be able to hand them all out. The goal was not to go home until we handed them all out. As we neared the downtown area, we came across one or two who we gave packs to. To our surprise, one lady turned down the backpack because she said she could barely manage the stuff she was already trying to carry and asked that we give it to another who was more in need. Another gentleman was barefoot. You might think "no big deal in Arizona", but it gets close to freezing and sometimes below freezing in the winter months here. My thoughts flashed forward to how that poor man might suffer during the summer months when the pavement gets hot enough to cook an egg on. These people were genuinely appreciative! To see the smiles on their faces was warming. When we got into downtown, it only took the first block to hand them all out. There were so many of them coming to us. . . more than we had packs for! We were stunned to see so many children, too. We hadn't even thought about the children. Didn't think we'd see kids! It was the bitter to go with the sweet. Sweet to see the excitement on the faces who received a backpack, but bitter to see the disappointment on the faces who we had to tell we had no more. As we drove away, many of us had tears in our eyes because it felt like we hadn't done enough.

Rebecca said...


I have always been in the practice of giving money to those on corners with signs, or those who have walked up and asked for help, when I've had it. I learned something valuable from this experience though. . . people in need are equally grateful, maybe even more than money, for items of necessity. I thought the gallon sized bags were a great idea! There is a need to help year round, so I now keep 5 or 6 bags on hand at all times with water, non- parishable food, hygiene products, and some cash to hand out when I see someone in need. For those who live in or work in the metropolis area you might need to have more on hand, but I'm rarely ever in the big city so I don't see as many. But I sure had my eyes opened that Christmas morning to how many there are!

Each time I have handed out one of these bags I've gotten genuine appreciation. One guy even told me he was so grateful for it because it would help him get cleaned up so he could go look for a job. Maybe I'm naive, but I choose to believe in the good of people. My heart aches for those who have no roof over their head and don't know where they're going to get their next meal. . . no matter how their circumstances came about. Everyone deserves the chance to feel loved, even if it's only for a brief moment. For the junky whose just looking for his next fix, maybe your kind heartedness, the sincere look of concern for them without judgement, and the Christl-like love that is seen in your light will be the one thing that inspires them to get clean. We just never know what good can come from being charitable. Love is powerful. . . and it's healing. . . for both the giver and the receiver!

God bless,

Taylor said...

There was a guy on the off ramp of the freeway today, holding a sign. He needed to get to Idaho as his mother was not doing well. He was asking for money for a bus ticket. He was on the left side off ramp, whereas I was turning right. But the guy had that look that prompted me to make any amount of U turns needed to find a way to give him something.

Best damn money I've parted with in months. The guy was really grateful.

I don't get why more people don't just keep some money or a bag of useful items or whatever with them for such purposes. It's so much easier to just carry something to give rather than have internal debates about who and when to give to those asking or stare awkwardly at your phone or at the traffic light hoping to not make eye contact.

All the easier when you pay tithing to the poor. Then you realize you have all sorts of money that is far more fulling to give to the poor than put in a little grey envelop filling out a paper slip that is full of puke worthy legalese.

Serragon said...

I have become friends with numerous homeless around my place of work over the 15 years I have been working there. Some of these have developed into very close relationships. I'd like to share a bit about what I've learned.

Every case is different. I have only become friends with the truly homeless, but I have met many con artists. The con artists are far more numerous than the actual homeless. The homeless folks can't stand them.

Only 1 wanted to be off the streets. The others preferred that life, although there were aspects of it they didn't like so much. They would go through periods of staying with family or in assisted housing, but ultimately wanted the freedom of the street. Often, the restrictions placed on receiving the help seem worse to them then not accepting the help at all.

All have physical or mental issues they are dealing with.

All have been master manipulators, as this is how business gets done on the street.

The two that I have become close with are among the most loyal friends I have ever had.

Giving cash is usually not the best option. I usually ask what is needed and get them socks, vitamins, etc. Occasionally I'll get them a pack of smokes or something like that as that is usually the immediate desire. Food is readily available on the street. None are starving.

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Seeker said...

Thanks for this. Yesterday I commented on your excellent March 12th blog, but those detailed comments could apply here too. Do we really understand what Brother Joseph's favorite hymn, "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" is talking about? It seems that Mother Teresa understood:
"I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus." "Every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment. I see Christ in every person I meet, it is as simple as that." "Whenever I meet someone in need, it is really Jesus in his most distressing disguise.”
(Mother Teresa)

Seeker said...

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories that is worth reading again: Too Hurried to Serve

Marcelo Theodoro Moreira said...

I see how giving out money to homeless people can be both dangerous and uneffective. What if we reach out to the beggars that put out their petition clearly, like sheltered children and elderly citizens? My wife is a psychologist at a local rest home, and they need so much help! I disagree that the Church avoids teaching those principles taught by King Benjamin. The scriptures are plain before us, and it is not expedient that we should be commanded in all things. I also do not share the same view that those who go through a spiritual awakening should stop attending Church. The Welfare System, whenever applied correctly, pulls people out of obscurity and poverty. Rock surely had a transforming experience, but saying that giving money on stop lights to drug addicts is more enobling than giving an honest and generous fast offering just doesn't sound right. I have that problem at home, and they will come up with all sorts of lies to get what they want. And to me, some homeless people on stop lights are not putting forth their petition, but just deceiving others. Just my opinion.

iterry said...

Over the years the Church has replaced giving assistance to the poor of the Church to humanitarian aid to other countries. The Church only gives 0.7% to charity. The D&C says very clearly that the Church is NOT to give money to people outside the Church - yet it does. This is in violation of the commandment given in the D&C. So the claim that the Church is not helping the poor is valid. There are many poor in this Church while the Church seeks to help other nations with their natural disasters. That isn't what the Church should be doing with the money from fast offerings and one reason I no-longer give to the Church because they misuse the funds.

A recently published article co-written by Cragun estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent.

I see lots of people these days standing on the street corners in the SL valley begging for money. I wonder how many are Church members. It used to be that the Church had Church farms for the members to work at. No more - they are a thing of the past. I haven't worked on a Church farm for many years. Things have truly changed in the Church and there is only one term that fits what is happening. It's called apostasy.

Carolyn said...

Alan -- I just wanted to let you know that this post inspired me to be a lot more proactive in reaching out to others. So thank you. I made a new friend yesterday because of you. And the Spirit of course. But you taught me to listen to the Spirit better.

The Ignorant Sage said...

Thanks for linking to this in your recent post. I had missed this one.

I'm currently living in Mumbai, India, where the disparity is overwhelming and the beggars many. And sometimes your offering is met with derision, if they feel you should have given mores.

Yet the commandment is there, and being prepared with money or food handy makes a huge difference.

And it has trained us well. Back in Eagle, Idaho last month we met a woman with a sign as we drove out of the grocery store. Don't know how long she had been there, her head looking down at the ground, but when my wife gave her a twenty, her eyes swelled as she said, "Really? Thank you so much", as if she could not believe we were acknowledging her existence.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

So glad to hear of that experience, Sage. A twenty to someone on the street can be a small fortune. Good on you, my friend.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Thank you very much for that link to your story. I'm honored that I had some influence and was able to assist you in making that friendship. VERY touching!