Christian Communism

“And all who believed were together and had all things in Common.  And they were selling their possessions and  belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  (Acts 2:44-47).

There it is; the best expression of what I call Christian communism that I find in the Bible.  Of course, it is easy to take one or two verses of Scripture and build a theology around it.  I remember well that several years ago the ‘Prayer of Jabez’ was very popular with a set of Christian folk.  That prayer took place in ancient times, whether in Judah or Israel, during the unified kingdom or even before the kingdom founded by Saul I don’t know.  Suffice it to say that Jabez lived a long time ago.  Jabez is famous for the following prayer:  “Jabez called upon the Lord of Israel, saying ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked.”  (I Chron. 4:10).  “Name it and claim it” became a big player in Christian circles when that verse was found and, in my opinion, sold as a magical incantation used for the purpose of manipulating God into playing the role of celestial sugar daddy.  It is with that episode in mind that I venture into this topic with caution, stating up front that my thoughts are incomplete and I am open to considerable input from people better versed in the Bible than I am.

Acts 2 is a lot closer to Jesus than is I Chronicles, but regardless of that, Christians will by and large agree that the whole story told in both the Old Testament and the New point to Jesus as the apex and culmination of God’s plan to straighten out the unholy mess that humankind, God’s peak of creation, has made of things.  The people leading that band of early Christians (they weren’t called that yet) were eleven of the twelve who had spent three continuous years with Jesus, learning day and night by word and deed what Jesus was about, and while they still didn’t get all of it right, they certainly had more insight into the mind of God than I do, and they report the utopian situation in Acts 2 and the effect that it had on the greater community

OK, so Jabez was a long time before Jesus and Acts was after Jesus’ death and ascension into heaven.  What then did Jesus Himself have to say about this, if anything?  There are two things that stand out to me in the Gospels that address this topic; one is found in Luke 3:10-14, and the other is in three of the four gospels.  I will look at those two sources as they appear in the Gospel of Luke, one of which is actually a quote of John the Baptist, whom Jesus referred to as the greatest of all the prophets, and the other a teaching of Jesus Himself, and explore what these might mean to me.

In Luke 3:10-14 a bunch of the One Percenters in Jerusalem came to John, whom they distrusted in the first place, and asked him what they should do to live in accordance with God’s will.  I’ll let John answer in his own words.  “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”  Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him “Teacher, what shall we do?  And he said to them ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’”  “Soldiers also asked him ‘And we, what shall we do?’  And he said to them ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusations, and be content with your wages.”

Now tax collectors made their living by collecting taxes for the Roman occupiers, and they grew fat by using the might of Rome to scare citizens into paying whatever they demanded and keeping whatever was above the Roman requirement for themselves.  Most Jews in Palestine had no idea what the real tax for them was because they would rather be dead than caught speaking with a gentile; especially a Roman.  John told the tax collectors to do their job, be fair, and live on what they rightfully earned.

Soldiers were a different breed of cat.  Temple police were allowed to exist by the occupying force but the only real soldiers allowed in the Empire were Roman soldiers and Judah, like it or not, was in the Empire.  It is therefore interesting that soldiers were speaking to a Jewish prophet at all, and especially one wearing coarse clothes and eating grasshoppers in the desert.  Nevertheless, there they were, and they asked John what they should do.  John, with a truly Christian concern for all humanity, replied to these unclean, uncircumcised gentiles who had shields and Roman short swords and said “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusations, and be content with your wages.”

The threat part is easy to figure out.  Roman soldiers had spread the borders of the Empire from the Atlantic to east of Mesopotamia and from the border with Pictland (Scotland) to the Sahara Desert.  These guys could threaten, and then carry out their threats!  God, through John, said “Stop it!”  “Do what is right and be content with your wage” is how I read it.

Finally, in Luke 18:18-30, a good Jewish boy who happened to be very rich came to Jesus and asked what he must do to be saved.  Jesus told him to obey all sorts of laws and the guy said “Yeah, I’ve done all of that,” or words to that effect.  Then Jesus dropped the hammer on him.  “One thing you still lack.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Shazzam!  That ain’t gonna happen.  The rich Jew couldn’t pull the trigger on that deal and even Jesus’ disciples were blown away by His statement.  Jesus was making a point – and again this is in my own opinion – that if you are tied more tightly to your ‘stuff’, your material things, than you are to God, you are not fully getting the picture.  And that leads me into the body of my thoughts on all of this.

Jesus does not seem to be very impressed with people’s stuff.  People in general He cares about; you know, dying for us and all of that.  But our stuff?  Not so much.  Jesus had no home (today this is called being homeless).  He gave most of what He had to the poor (that, today, is called being stupid).  His early followers did the same, selling off their possessions and giving the funds to “all that had need.  Jesus did not seem to be opposed to working and earning a living.  To tax collectors John said “Collect”, and to soldiers John said “Soldier”, and Jesus seemed to agree, since He went to John for his own baptism.

So what does all of this mean to me in the twenty-first century?  Well, I don’t really know.   That is why I am writing this and asking for input from any who read it and feel moved to share their opinions.  The upshot to me, however, is that Jesus would rather than I live in a small house, take short, local vacations, eat humble meals, wear clothes until they wear out rather than go out of style, and in general ‘live simply so that others might simply live.’

Let me state up front that this model does not describe me very well.  I have enjoyed two vacations in Europe and three in Hawaii.  My house is nearly 1,400 square feet, I love to eat out and do so often, and if I want a book, a bottle of wine, a new garden tool or a cup of coffee at the coffee shop where I sit at the moment of this writing I indulge myself, so I am a far cry from the Christian communist that I am speaking of in this essay.  At least my clothes are old!  I am therefore not throwing out judgements that do not equally apply to me.  In fact, I am not throwing out judgements at all.  I am asking questions.

Simply put, I am asking whether or not the role of a Christ follower in the twenty-first century is to radically share his or her money, or stuff, with those who have need, to the Church first and then to the world.  Instead of clawing to get and keep our share of the pie and then voting for somebody who promises to keep our nation a Christian country, if we Christians poured ourselves into the needs of the community, feeding all who are hungry and clothing all who are cold regardless of how they came to be in their condition, I believe that the surrounding culture would look at us first as if we’ve lost our minds, but in time as people who believe what they say and say something worth believing.  Soon, I suspect, the Lord would be adding to our number daily those who believe, and that is what I call a ‘church growth plan.’

In my community our local public utility runs what they call “Operation Warm Heart.”  This charity provides funds to keep on the water and electricity when a resident is not able to pay for it.  Imagine if the Church in my community lived simply and gave its surplus to the charity.  Put simply, no poor senior citizen would ever have to decide whether to be able to flush their toilet or keep their medications cold in the refrigerator.

At a high school nearby, where something like 60% or more of the student body is receiving free or reduced lunches, there is a Family Resource Center where food and clothing and bus passes and so forth are dispensed as such items are donated, and one paid staff member and volunteers will sit and talk with the kids and, more important, listen to them.  Imagine a frugal Church pouring material resources and, more important, their time and their lives into the lives of these kids!  What would this say about the Church and the God Whom we say that we worship?  Probably more than planning my next trip to Hawaii while I say “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” does.

Examples abound but I believe that I’ve made my point as well as I can.  The resources which have been given by God to His Church in my community are enough to make a tremendous dent in the mountain of pain and want that afflicts many people here, each one of them loved by God and created in His image no matter what they have done or how they have repaid God for His love.  A giving, serving Church would soon shed the negative image that it has earned in the minds of many and create an environment where the Church, as a messenger of God’s love and desire to reconcile heaven and earth, might once again be listened to and believed.

As I wrote earlier I am not a theologian, and do not know if the Bible supports this interpretation.  I certainly do know that the American economic structure and what our society calls “common sense” do not, and I confess that I am as attached to my stuff as is the next person.  It just seems to me that the Bible speaks of a greater concern with people than with things, and this essay is my poor and imperfect expression of that view.

A Word About The Poor

I recently saw a post on Facebook that caught my attention in a special way.  I don’t recall who posted it and I don’t know anything about anybody who had anything to do with producing it.  The post in question appeared to be British, and was a video.  In this video a young man was wearing a sandwich board with a very offensive message written on it, and there is no way to sugar coat that message and still convey the power of the overall post.  I could report that the sandwich board said “SCREW THE POOR”, or I could write that the message was “F___ THE POOR”.  I could say it in Spanish too:  “CHINGA LOS POBRES”, or Latin; “PEDICABO EGO AUTEM POIR”, and if I really want to be obtuse in Chinese; “TA MA DE QUONGREN”.  In this manner I could tell you what the board said but that would not tell you what the video meant to expose, which is entirely wrapped up in exactly what was written on that board, and that message was “FUCK THE POOR”.

The person wearing the sign was a young white guy.  He was walking around at what appeared to be a bus station or some other sort of node of public transportation.  People were walking by and some of them were profoundly upset by his message.  I couldn’t really hear their comments, but by the expressions on their faces and the few words that I could read on their lips the passersby were telling the young man that, among other things, he could go f___ himself.  The clip went on for one or two minutes, which seemed like a very long time if you were watching it.  Finally the scene faded to black while a well-dressed young woman was jawing away in the man’s face.

The scene faded back in a few seconds but it was instantly clear that things had dramatically changed.  The same young man was now wearing what was very nearly the same sandwich board but with one very big difference.  Now the sign shouted out in big capital letters “HELP THE POOR”.  Same location, perhaps the same people, but clearly a different response.  No anger, no outrage, no getting into the young man’s face.  In fact, the young man might as well have not been there.  Eye contact was assiduously avoided.  People flowed around the young man like the water of a river flowing around the concrete base of a great bridge.  The young man couldn’t have found more solitude if he had scaled a Himalayan peak and found a vacant cave up there.

Now comes the hard part.  What does all of this mean?  Clearly, when the sign just came out and said “F— THE POOR”, people were stung by that harsh message and were moved to seriously reprimand the bearer of that same harsh message, but when the sign called out to help the poor, the obvious message sent by the passing throng was “F— THE POOR”.

Is it that we don’t really care about the real poor people in our midst and around the globe?  Maybe we love the poor when they are an abstraction; two urchins under the cloak of the Ghost of Christmas Present, or a family fleeing the Oklahoma dust to find their fortune in the golden fields of the Golden State.  “Wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there—” says Tom Joad while relatively well-off moviegoers munch popcorn in comfortable theater seats and Henry Fonda, a great and deserving actor, deposits very nice checks for his work on Steinbeck’s classic story,

Somehow, when the reality of poverty confronts us real-time and in the flesh it is less glamorous and less likely to start a crusade.  The bum holding a sign at the freeway offramp is smoking, which is an expensive habit, no doubt drinks too much alcohol, and smells bad in the bargain.  The couple on the bus, him scrawny and shaggy and her overweight, wearing her pajamas and sporting a poorly done tattoo of a red rose on the top of her right boob, using “colorful” language as they ride to within walking distance of wherever they are going.  The old guy sitting on the porch of a house on the “poor side of town” while a profanity-laced argument is heard coming out of the open windows.  The poor can be a much more uncomfortable commodity in the flesh than they are in the abstract, and perhaps that’s why our charity for them usually stops just before we actually meet them.

Oh, what a radical step it would be to actually make myself vulnerable and available to the poor!  The “needy” is one of the names that we give the poor and a good name for them it is.  The poor really do need.  They need resources, and if I engage the poor those resources, or at least some of them, must come directly from me.  The poor need to be acknowledged as having value, and I may not be able honestly to see any value in them if I only see them through my comfortable, material, middle class eyes.  It won’t take them long to know if i am faking it either.

The poor need governments that will help them rather than warehouse them in prisons, control them so that they don’t pester “good folks”, or divert effort, time and money to enrich patrons of government.  A person uncomfortable with too close a proximity to the real poor may at least demand that government tailor its delivery of services more towards those who really need them the most and away from those who are doing just fine already.  I am not writing about soaking the rich; only about not deferring to them first, and all American governments do that to one degree or another

So how do we move beyond this state of loving and defending the poor in the abstract and ignoring them in the flesh and blood?  I do not know the answer to that question, or should I say that I don’t know the millions of answers to that question, as the answer is undeniably complex.  When does help lead to dependency?  When does helping hurt?  How do you know that your help is genuinely needed and when you are being scammed?  Is your help being appreciated?  Does that matter?  The list of questions is a very long one and I can’t answer any one of them for you.  Hell, I can’t even answer most of them for myself.

But nobody should be avoiding those questions, and Christians frankly are commanded by God not to avoid them.  I will not bother you with the Bible verses that refer to this but if you are a Christian you know them, or you should.  If you are not a Christian, something in your heart tells you that it is wrong to ignore the poor.  Even if your rational mind says that their poverty is their problem, you still would hesitate before verbalizing what was written all over the signboard in the first scene of the video mentioned above.

Helping the poor will be an endless and oftentimes thankless endeavor.  That cannot prevent us from trying however.  The solution to the problem of the poor begins with me, and you, and you over there, and there is no hope if I/we check out of the game without ever even getting into it.

A Modest Proposal

It has been many months since the American people saw a wave of youthful illegal immigrants break upon our southern border.  Thousands upon thousands of children were swept up in the near vicinity of our borders and were warehoused in whatever large buildings were available to lay down a steel bed, a cot, or a pad on the floor.  There they passed their time, with virtually nothing to do as they sat idly biding their time while politicians fought over why they were here and what to do with them.  These children may still be in those soulless warehouses but we have moved our national attention on to weightier issues; ISIS, the midterm elections, the four-team NCAA football playoffs to name a few, so I don’t really know.

This status somewhere between life and death comes after a nearly two thousand mile trek in which rape is guaranteed, exploitation in all conceivable ways is assured, hunger, thirst, physical abuse and sometimes death are common.  The level of despair endured by parents that would induce them to entrust their precious children to the tender mercies of demonic ‘coyotes’ who run the immigrant railway from Central and South America through Mexico, and who then throw their children at the border like shooting a shotgun, figuring that a few might get through to burnish their coyote credibility, is a level of despair which I cannot even begin to assess.  I would do anything I could to alleviate this level of suffering, and I believe that there is a way that I can suggest to at least try to help some of the sufferers.  I can do that by making the following proposal.

The nation which consistently holds second place for sending immigrants towards ‘El Norte’ is El Salvador.  The reason is easy to see.  Crime and violence and hopelessness are the very bread that Salvadorans eat.  The power of violent street gangs, known as ‘Maras’, is far greater than that of the police and other government agencies which are tasked with ensuring tranquility and an environment in which a parent might raise his or her children and hope to enjoy their children’s families in their old age.  Sudden and purposeless death are regular visitors to Salvadoran households and cleaver and creative ways of dealing out public and painful deaths are common and even recreational activities for the Maras.  The government treats with the gangs in the same manner in which governments normally treat with other governments, and the police and law enforcement establishment are thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by the Maras.

This is couples with a government which discourages any foreign investors who might be foolish enough to try to engage in honest business (if there is such a thing) in El Salvador.  International business has virtually ceased trying to invest there, and take their business and their money elsewhere.  If I lived in El Salvador, I would try to make it to El Norte too.

My proposal is to examine whether or not it would make sense to offer to the people of El Salvador the opportunity to become an unincorporated territory of the United States in the same manner as Puerto Rico.  Under the U.S. legal system, even with it’s flaws, crime would be challenged head-on and an effective counter to the power of the Maras would at last be visible on the streets.  Realizing that the Maras are attractive to young people because opportunities for advancement are not available in other areas, a revamp of openness to foreign investment, plus investment from a Unites States which would no longer be foreign, would expand job opportunities and give young people jobs which do not include the possibility, nay probability, of dying a violent and premature death.  The infusion of input into the education system to train young people to fill the new jobs would also result in the production of Salvadoran jurists, educators, writers and scientists; people who would use their skills to benefit their people and, beyond them the world.

Is my idea sheer madness?  Possibly.  It is the result however of my revulsion that I feel when I consider the pain which Salvadoran parents must feel when they kiss their children goodbye and send them to hell in order to escape the even greater hell of remaining in El Salvador.  If I have the ability to help somebody and do not help them, I bring judgement upon my own head and richly deserve it.  What do you think?

For the Love of Emma

It’s been about fifteen years or more since the last time that I saw Emma.  I work at a hospital, and although I was usually there in the daytime I was frequently willing to put in overtime to garner a larger paycheck. That usually involved working into the night, and Emma was a housekeeper who worked the evening shift. Emma was older than me and I was older than most of the others there. She was small of stature but was a hard worker. It was evident that Emma had never in her life imagined that anything less was expected of her than that she pulled her own weight.  Emma was efficient and very organized; we knew exactly when to expect her to come through our department and we knew that it would be clean when she was finished.

But there was more to Emma than her efficiency and punctuality.  Emma was the sweetest lady whom I have ever known. The adjective ‘sweet’ is one that gets overused in my opinion  A well-thrown forward pass may be described by the color commentator as ‘sweet’, or a shady business deal conducted behind closed doors may be called a ‘sweet deal’, but those usages of the word sell short it’s true meaning and impact. Emma did not have a mean or angry bone in her body, and treated everyone in our department as if they were a friend or even a child of hers; a beloved child at that. Yes, Emma was a sweet woman.

At quarter ’till ten o’clock her husband, who was already retired, would faithfully show up in the lobby of the hospital to wait for her shift to end.  Unlike Emma, Don was a quiet person who waited patiently for his bride to come to him ready to return to their home after a long shift.  Don never shared much of his life with us but it was clear that he shared all of it with Emma. When Emma walked down the hall carrying her little lunch bag at the end of her shift Don’s eyes would twinkle just a little and his shoulders would straighten a bit. Don would put his hand on Emma’s shoulder and say something into her left ear, low and inaudible to the rest of us, and they would walk out side-by-side to go home.

We all spoke with Emma often because she felt so much like an old friend, but my partner Becky spoke with her more than most. Becky had risen through a difficult early life to carve out a niche for herself in the middle class, and she felt a kinship with Emma that the rest of us who had no such background could not have access to. Emma told Becky that she grew up on a farm/ranch on the edge of a small town in Texas. Some of her family remained on the farm and some made a living in town, but she didn’t really know much about their lives because she hadn’t visited home in thirty years.

Thirty years! Think of how long thirty years is. As of the moment that I write this tale Ronald Reagan was president thirty years ago. The Soviet Union still existed and threatened the U.S. with destruction (and the U.S. returned the favor). Linebackers in the NFL could still sack a quarterback without receiving a penalty. Thirty years is a long time for anything, and it had been thirty long years since Emma had visited her family in Texas.  Emma shared that fact with Becky with an air of acceptance. Poor people don’t get to take vacations and visit family who live over 1,000 miles away.  That’s just how the world works.

Becky shared this news with me and I felt a great sadness; not pity, but sadness for Emma. My family was and still is very important in my life and I couldn’t imagine being without them. Becky and I discussed what a not-sweet deal this was for Emma and we began to cook up a scheme to correct the situation. We would ask everyone in our department; X-Ray. CT, MRI, Ultrasound and Nuclear Medicine, plus the radiologists who read our images, to donate to a fund to send Emma on vacation. We began that very moment by whipping twenty dollar bills out of our wallets and putting them into an envelope in a drawer in our exam room.

It was late in the evening when we began this crusade, and so there were only a few people to whom we could appeal with our plan. The response was reassuring however and we raised nearly one hundred dollars in cash and pledges that first night. Over the next month we approached everyone in the department with our plan and soon we had a bag bulging with fives and tens and twenties, and even more gratifying than that was the fact that we had an entire department that was united in the thrill of doing this act for our Emma.

I can’t remember a time when we were more united as a department. People were talking together in corners, giggling in the halls, and kidding with Emma even more than they usually did. I spoke with Don when we were nearing the number that we felt would be adequate to make our plan work and at first he was reluctant to go along with it, mistaking love for pity. I assured him that we all felt like our lives were made better by Emma’s kind spirit and we simply wanted to repay kindness with kindness and he relented. Don eventually became an active co-conspirator in our project.

Sometimes I was begging for contributions, but most of the time people were tracking me down so that they could throw money at me. The pot grew; three hundred, four hundred, five hundred, up it went. We asked Don when she would be able to take a vacation and he gave us a date.  Becky took a chunk of our bundle and bought two round trip tickets to Dallas-Fort Worth. The money continued to trickle in after that, and when the night came that we were going to spring the surprise we had two tickets and three hundred dollars for spending money amassed in the bag.

The file room was festooned with balloons and ribbons when Emma came to clean that night. Everyone was laying low and watching from behind nearly-closed doors and dark corners when Emma made her appearance.  As usual, she cleaned a few bathrooms first and then angled her cart out of the main hall and into the narrow passage leading to the file room.  Seeing the decorations she exclaimed softly to herself ‘I wonder who all of this was for.”  At that moment Lois, one of our support staff, couldn’t stand it any more and stepped out from behind a long cabinet of medical records and said ‘It’s for you.”

The cat was out of the bag, and so we all came out of our hiding places and stepped noisily into the file room, laughing and smiling and saying ‘Surprise’ and things like that. A moment later Don stepped out from behind a tall bank of fluorescent lights holding medical images and gave Emma’s dumbfounded cheek a kiss. Becky stepped forward and gave Emma the envelope with the tickets and money and said ‘You need a vacation’.

Emma was floored! At first she was uncomfortable; Emma had never taken a handout in her life. Don spoke quietly into her ear, telling her that this wasn’t a handout; this was a gift from people who loved her. Emma teared up a little and wrestled with her emotions as we wrestled with our own, and then found a place of peace with the situation. She began to banter with all of us and accepted, finally, that she was the star of the show. We were not about to allow it to be any other way.

Emma and Don took their vacation, and soon after their return she retired. Emma never said a lot about her trip and we didn’t ask her. The vacation was hers, not ours, and we were happy to let her enjoy her vacation on her own terms. I think it’s possible that we enjoyed her vacation as much as she did. I cannot remember a time when our department more enjoyed each other than when we were focused not on ourselves but instead were focused on doing one good thing for one good woman. I will always remember that as one of the very best times of my life.

To Give or Not To Give

Today as I exited a building in downtown Portland, Oregon, I was confronted by a young woman sitting cross-legged on a street corner holding a sign.  Well, I shouldn’t say “confronted”, perhaps, because she never said a word to me.  In fact, our eyes never really met.  She just sat there, staring at the concrete sidewalk, holding a sign which said “Please help. Evicted from my apartment. Need someplace to stay with my cat”.  After glancing at her sign I walked away, going about my business.  I couldn’t quit thinking about her though, and it is that conflict which I propose to share with you, dear reader.

I do not know this woman from Eve.  I have no idea if she has in fact been evicted from her residence.  I don’t know if she even has a cat.  If she does, the cat was mercifully not with her to be used as a prop.  If I or anyone else was to give her money there is no guarantee whatsoever that it would be used to correct the misfortune which she claimed to have suffered.  There was no rational reason at all why i should give that woman a second thought.

Which is why it makes it strange that she was all that I could think about for the next several minutes.  To begin with, I thought that if she really was in tight financial straights she should call upon her family for relief, as I would do.  I then remembered that many people do not have even remotely functional families, and that this is not an option for everyone.  I also thought that this woman had arrived at her situation by making bad choices and that the answer, instead of sitting on a street corner begging, is to start making good choices.  In that context, giving her money only put a band aid on her wound and enabled her to continue making bad choices.  The full weight of how dreadfully judgemental that thought was had me cringing within a moment and lamenting that I had ever thought it.  I can decide whether or not to give a beggar a few bucks without loading shame on them and guilt on myself.

I then thought about my Christian duty to care for the poor.  Jesus spent a great deal more of His time with the poor than with any other group according to the gospels, and I want to act like Jesus as much as my bent, fallen self can.  In the first century however the people of the town and even in Jerusalem knew the beggars personally and could vouch for their stories, and so guesswork was removed as to who was truly needy and who was a slacker.  We have no teaching from Jesus which says ‘render unto the beggar whether she is a slacker or not”, but we do have Paul writing “If he shall not work, he shall not eat”.  In a small community a person would know into which category a person fell.  In my large urban setting I have not that luxury.

Ultimately the image of a cat in need caused me to decide to give the woman a few bucks, and I know that this end to my story reflects no credit upon me, and I make no attempt to claim any.  The image of a cat (which I never even saw) in need was more compelling to me than the image of that woman, not much more than a girl really, in need.  I know that my sins are forgiven but that doesn’t make them any more palatable, to God or to me.