Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how to re-cover of my bases so to speak. When I was a junior in high school I played Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. While most of the lines are long lost to my memory, I still remember the prologue. Tevye explains “in Anatvka we have traditions for everything! How to eat. How to sleep. How to wear clothes… Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” (Aside: If that sounds familiar it is because Elder Holland used those same lines in a talk many years ago as a way to describe a Mormon’s relationship to God and the church, seemingly unaware of either the theme of that musical or how it ends. Anywho.)
When I was active LDS I didn’t worry about which charity to donate to, how many or how much. That base was covered. I didn’t worry about the best way to give service to others. Covered. But now I have to worry about these things. I still love the stories and teachings of Jesus and I think he is right that it is up to us to take care of each other.* Where to start?
Fortunately for me, since I sit on the board of the local branch of a national charity, I don’t have to look far for ideas. Part of what I do every year is help allocate funding to various organizations who have applied for funding, meeting with many of them to see what they do. There is battered women’s shelter, an adult literacy organization and numerous after school programs. Free medical and dental clinics in five counties as well as a charity that provides hospice care. Giving my time to any of these organizations would easily fill my desire to do good works the way I used to at church when I…. Hmm. What did I ever do at church that resembled any of these things?
Well certainly I helped people move many times. I did some home teaching. Taught Sunday School and even seminary. I ever remember once helping a widow clean out her house; that was a good turn. I know my parents have done a lot of nice things for members of the wards they have lived in. They have taken meals to the sick, and just generally helped people navigate life who were not high enough functioning to do it on their own. Even made limb coverings for amputees. So I can’t fairly say that there is not service going on in the church. Still, when people talk about the great service opportunities the church provides it is not the feed the hungry/clothe the naked kind of service they are talking about. It is the teach the class, keep the records, reactivate the lost kind. What they would call spiritual nourishment. Fair enough, but not the kind of service I care about. And what service is directed to helping people in the here and now is directed to ward members almost exclusively.
How about charitable giving? Again, the possibilities are nearly endless just here in my community and because I see the numbers at the charity I work with, I know what a difference even that little bit can make. But as much difference in my community as my tithing and fast offering money was making? I ask facetiously, of course, because the church is not spending a penny in my community outside the ward (and not much more in it). A huge sum leaves here every year, and a tiny amount comes back for the ward budget. So all by myself I can make a much bigger impact than the church does.
The world is bigger than just my community, however. What about the assistance the church provides in dollars and in kind to disaster relief efforts around the globe? When I recently looked into this I found, sincerely to my surprise, that the church has given and astonishing $1,300,000,000.00 to humanitarian aid over the last 25 years. That is $52,000,00.00 per year. Divided by 13,000,000 members, that’s $4 per member per year. Of course, 25 years ago there weren’t that many members. Fine. Double or triple that number and you are still talking about a tiny, tiny number for an organization that was estimated in 1997 to have annual revenues of $5,900,000,000 (yup, billion).
Having learned all this, I’m glad for the chance to allocate my own time and money now. If you are faithful member and reading this, as a thought exercise, ask yourself how you would spend your time and money if it were up to you (because, of course, it is.)
*My wife rightly points out that following these admonitions is not my long suit. Fair enough.