I grew up reading Peanuts™. In fact, I learned to read with Peanuts™. They may have used Dick and Jane in school, but at home, I read the delightful work of Charles M. Schulz. I even remember encoutering the strip below, and thinking about it at a tender age.
Schulz had a habit of working a bit of theology into his strips, especially with Linus, and especially around Christmastime, but later in life as I became more acquainted with Scripture, I immediately thought of this strip when I read:
“And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (James 2:16. King James Version)
In modern English, that translates as:
“If you say to that person, “God be with you! I hope you stay warm and get plenty to eat,” but you do not give what that person needs, your words are worth nothing.” (New Century Version)
Pat Bagley is a cartoonist for the Deseret News, and he has done much humor orbiting around the faith of his fathers, specifically the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have this program called “Home Teaching,” in which members of the congregation visit others to make sure all is well, to bring words of comfort and inspiration, and to take care of needs that are not being met.
The cartoon below echoes the same sentiment expressed in the work by Schulz above:
The sad part is, I’ve seen this happen. When you’re in charge of a family’s welfare, it behooves you to find out if there is anything amiss that the community can help with. But when needs are screaming at you with the force of a turbocharged bugle, and you “make that visit” to check off your list and bump your statistics, brother or sister, you’re missing the point.
We’re supposed to help one another. In fact, that help is often coming and going.
In 1980, my young family moved to Olympia, Washington to take a job after my research staff position at a university was eliminated due to lack of funding. Shame, too, because it was a wonderful project. But at the time, IT jobs were hot in the Pacific northwest, so up we went to work for the State of Washington. The money was good, but only just barely – we had bought a home and were renting it to university students, and had to find a place to rent while we were there. The student’s rent didn’t cover the mortgage, so in effect we were paying two house payments, and things were tight, I mean, tight. We wuz po‘.
We knew we were stretched, but we didn’t feel poor – we had our year’s supply of food with us (that’s one of the self-reliance programs of the Church), and by scrimping here and there – mixing milk half and half with powdered, walking the two miles to work to save the quarter for bus fare, making pies out of the blackberries that grew abundantly in our backyard and everywhere else, we made it through. And when two years later we moved back home and were able to move into our house, things got a lot better.
But in the meantime, we were very tight on cash.
Around Thanksgiving time, it’s common for congregations to pitch in together and pool food for gift boxes for needy families. We raided our abundant food storage and took a box over to the chapel to add to the effort; and the day before Thanksgiving, we returned from doing errands to find a box on our own doorstep. It was an odd feeling; we were almost insulted, as we didn’t consider ourselves “needy;” but in retrospect, we were – and once we had gotten over the initial discomfort, the gift was most welcome. A turkey with all the trimmings, which is something we might have done without.
I’ve learned along the way that it’s often much harder to receive than to give. But it gets easier, especially when I think about the fact that someone (like myself) who receives help today might just be giving it tomorrow, or next year.,
The painting by David Linn, “The Ascent,” is a marvelous metaphor for life:
There’s no getting around it: Life is tough. It’s a lot less tough for the 1%, but even having more money than God is no guarantee that things might not go sideways in other areas of one’s life, as many a celebrity, politician, or CEO have shown us in recent years. When we band together as a team, as communities, as nations, as a species, and reach out to those struggling – only to have those people pass us on the way and offer us a helping hand further along the path – we all win. We all rise. We all walk into the light of a better world, a world that works for everyone, with no one left out.
I’ve been able to help a lot of folks along the way, and I’ve been the recipient of a lot of help as well. There’s no shame in it. It adds to our humanity, which – in the end – is all we come with , and all we can really call our own.
Reach and take my hand, and pull me up – so that I can do the same for others. In the meantime, be of good cheer.
The Old Wolf has spoken.