Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: charity

Thich Nhat Hanh on Generosity

When you hammer a nail into a board and accidentally strike your finger, you take care of it immediately. The right hand never says to the left hand, “I am doing charitable work for you.” It just does whatever it can to help – giving first aid, compassion, and concern. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the practice of dana is like this. We do whatever we can to benefit others without seeing ourselves as helpers and the others as the helped. This is the spirit of non-self.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

Balancing It All

I had a thought about a month ago. I think it’ll be a quick one.

Balance. It’s important, right? It keeps us from being extreme. Balance allows us to moderately benefit from competing ideas. We are forced to create a balance between a lot of things:

The time we spend working and the time we spend with out families.
The money we give and the money we keep.
The time we spend awake and the time we spend asleep.
The time we spend creating and the time we spend consuming.
The time we spend in leisure and the time we spend in productivity.
The time we spend talking and the time we spend listening.
The meat we eat and the vegetables we eat.

You know what struck me about this list? All these things are mutually exclusive. You cannot devote yourself to one without detriment to its opposite. You cannot spend all your time working and still spend all your time with your family. So there must be balance. Right? Of course right.

Now, take that list and mix things up. Would you say that there needs to be a balance between eating vegetables and spending time with family?

That question doesn’t make sense, does it? Those two things aren’t opposites. They aren’t mutually exclusive. The one is not the antithesis of the other. Heck, they aren’t even related to each other. So why even bring that question up? It’s like trying to find a balance between leisure time and charity. Or between climbing trees and thinking about ducks. Or between laughing and scratching. It’s just plain silly.

So why, oh why, do we talk about finding an elusive balance between doing spiritual good and social good?

Easy Growin’

Dane Ortlund of Crossway Books recently asked 26 evangelical leaders what each thought the key to growth in godliness was. Read them over, if you’re at all interested, and see if you can tell what is similar about nearly all of them.

Did you catch it? Did you see it there?

Nearly each one is abstract, intellectual and conceptual. They are focused on a certain point of view or a point of fact or belief. Generally they are things you can do in bed. Read this book. Think these thoughts. Take this view.

Not all of them, of course. Carl Trueman says the key is going to church. Some of them say it’s reading the Bible. A few, like Steve Nichols’, are just plain confusing.

I don’t mean to nitpick, of course. They only had a sentence or so to respond and I’m sure they’d elaborate if they had the chance. But isn’t it telling that the first thing to come to mind, for these leaders of the evangelical movement, are things we do in our head or things that involve benefitting ourselves? Is there something wrong with that?

Didn’t God say that in helping the helpless we will find spiritual health (Is. 58)?
Didn’t Jesus say that in helping the helpless we will find spiritual cleansing (Luke 11:41; 14:12-14)?
Didn’t Paul say that in helping the helpless we will find spiritual treasure (1 Tim. 6:17-19)?

Maybe I’m being a little jaded. Maybe I’m blowing this horn again because it’s trendy or because I’ve been disillusioned by my upbringing or because I have a bit of a malicious streak and I like to imagine fundamentalists squirming in their seats. Maybe I’m preaching a social gospel and since I am for helping people on earth I don’t care about their souls. Maybe.

I have never understood why folks perceive a conflict between social justice and spiritual welfare. In fact, doesn’t Jesus seem to suggest that the two dance together? Wherever he went he helped bodies and helped souls. So when a group of evangelicals can all give different answers on the ‘key’ to spiritual growth and not a single one mentions anything that has to do with our relationship with our fellow man and the way we treat them, I think it’s a symptom of something yucky.

Am I saying there is no mysticism with Jesus? Am I saying that a metaphysical view of Christ does not change us for the better? Nope. In fact, most of those keys seem useful. But not as keys. Not as the deep secret to spiritual growth. If they were, we might as well become hermits. A spiritual life that is not holistic, I think, is not spiritual at all.