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Guest column | Jerry Cowling

Humility can restore charity's good name

Sometimes I wonder why charity has become a four-letter word.

This isn't anything new. My mother-in-law and her brother used to tell a story about their widowed mother, who was pretty much an invalid because of her heart condition and had six children still living at home. A neighbor came home from a day on the river and offered freshly caught fish. Some would have taken that as a mighty friendly gesture in the middle of the Great Depression.

"We don't take charity," they related what she pronounced with her head held high.

"I don't know," my mother-in-law's brother said, 70 years after the fact. "I still think that fish would have tasted mighty good."

They probably had beans, onions and corn bread instead, but at least it was theirs and not a handout from the neighbor. Even today, we treat charity like it was a loathsome rash. We don't want to give poor people charity. We definitely never want to get charity.

Down deep inside we're afraid people who need charity aren't deserving of it. Or too much charity will cripple a person for life, ridding them of the character-building urge to work. Like too many drugs are bad for you. It does you good to suffer. Of course, when we help people build character by not giving charity we also help ourselves by not giving up any of our money and time. And anyone who regularly doles out charity has the secret agenda of setting himself up as the superior being bending down to help the inferior being.

This is where the person on the receiving end, like my mother-in-law's mother, feels insulted when someone wants to impose the inferior position upon them. I'm sure she was willing to be charitable to those she felt were beneath her, but her kids went without a tasty fish dinner one night before she'd let herself feel inferior.

Charity's bad name comes about because of another characteristic from the Bible: pride, which has gone from one of the most prominent sins to being a virtue. Nowadays everybody's pushing pride as something good: pride in our country, pride in our high school football team and pride in our children. We want our children to be proud and loud.

We have forgotten about humility and meekness. The meek shall inherit the Earth. After the people with pride have ravaged the Earth for its riches, only the meek would take it. I like being humble. If you acknowledge all your faults, then no one can insult you because you know all the bad stuff being said is true anyway.

Personally, I'm proud to be the humblest person I know. I have so much to be humble about. Maybe that's why I feel obligated to stand up and defend charity. You have to be humble to give it and to receive it.

Jerry Cowling of Brooksville is a free-lance writer and story teller.

Humility can restore charity's good name 01/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011 5:40pm]
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