Orson Scott Card offers some wise thoughts on helping others with our financial resources over at the Nauvoo Times in his essay, “The King Benjamin Society.” This King Benjamin Society concept is beautiful–and it’s one of those rare secret societies that we don’t need to stamp out. I especially like his perspective on our stewardship over rather than ownership of material goods. It’s not our money we are working with: it’s God, and we are temporary stewards. That knowledge can guide us when others need help and we have means to help.
I feel that dealing fairly and properly with the needy can be one of the most vexing challenges in life for those who have enough. Some of the internal conflicts I face are treated in my first post at the Nauvoo Times, “Finding Moses” (I’m still looking, by the way). It’s a constant struggle, and Brother Card really lays out some crisp and compassionate thinking that I hope will help me do better as I struggle with these issues and the sons and daughters of God involved in these situations and transactions.
I had a bizarre event this week with a completely different flavor where I learned the hard way that trying to play Santa Claus can get out of hand and create unintended consequences and frustrations. In a nutshell, I was mobbed by shoe-shine ladies at the train station in the city of Dan Yang who knew I was eager to help by paying a lot more than they normally charge. They all wanted to be my shoe-shine lady, so I told all three, no, four of them to share the cash equally and just have one of them shine my shoes. And then another three or four came led by a woman saying that I was her customer before and that she had approached me first today (true) and they should get do my shoes, so I gave them the same amount of cash and told them to split that. Santa Claus! Then I was surrounded–mobbed–by this big group all thanking me profusely as one woman shined my shoes and as I tried to sort of shrink and just get this embarrassing shoe shine service project over so I could go catch my train.
Moments later, my shoes were shined and I stood up, ready to leave, but the woman who had just polished my shoes said she hadn’t been paid. The cash I had handed out to be evenly split had split with her partners/competitors, and the few still nearby didn’t seem keen on departing with any of their bounty to help the one who had actually done all the work. My shoe shine lady held out her empty hands. Was I going to walk away and cheat her? I was being cheated, I felt–was this whole scene a scripted scam? Perhaps, but I was the lead author of the script and it’s one I doubt they had rehearsed before. The cheating, if that’s what it was, was probably not coming from the one who had diligently provided the service, and so for the 3rd time I had to bring out cash to make sure she got a little more than the others. It was a very costly shoe shine and one that I don’t think engendered the right values and attitudes among the people I wanted to help nor in my own heart. I still haven’t had the courage to tell my wife about it because I’ll feel too foolish. Hush!
A cabby watching the whole ordeal shook his head and told me that I shouldn’t have done that. (“Buxing, buxing.”) I think he’s right. A pretty clumsy Santa Claus routine. One that falls far short of the majestic example of a compassionate Christian friend of mine that I share in yet another Nauvoo Times post, “Notes from the Ministry of Shoes.” What a difference! And what a reminder of the complexities involved in dealing with those in need–a state we are all in, one way or the other. After all, as King Benjamin so wisely said, we are all beggars before God. Our needs are complex and unable to be handled by any one algorithm or piece of legislation, which is why we need the Spirit, and creative, loving people willing to make time and resources available for for flexible, individual solutions to individual needs. The King Benjamin Society is part of the inspired approach to dealing with this ever-present problem.