I’ve just finished reading Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups by Andrew Fisher.
It wasn’t a fun read, but it raised some very important questions for me about charity and justice.
In my life, I spend a lot of time, money, and energy on charity, whether it is through work, community organizations, my children’s community organizations, or as a family or on my own. In December I had two dips into anti-hunger charity, as my family chose to do a Reverse Advent and collect food for donation in a gift box on our dining table all through the Advent season, and as I took the high school youth from my church to work in a community kitchen and serve dinner one evening. In contrast, the only work toward justice that I can think of in that month came in the form of lesson planning to teach kids at my church about justice, and in the form of a check written to an international organization that does some justice work.
Now, I don’t want to completely knock charity. It’s far better to be charitable and kind than it is to be selfish and mean. Charity and service is a good teaching tool for children and youth, building empathy and bringing them into contact with people they wouldn’t otherwise have met in our class-stratified society. Charity and kindness will always be needed to some degree, and softening life’s harsh edges with kindness is usually a good thing to do.
But it’s not enough, by itself, and it’s too easy to stop there.
Charity feels good. It is far too easy for me to amass charitable actions or acts of kindness and add some more sparkle to my halo, coming back home feeling good about myself. Justice work is hard. It often involves arguing and conflict, and taking actions that in some way put me or my status in the world at risk.
Charity is sweet, Justice is audacious. It’s a lot easier for me to be sweet, both based on personality and social-conditioning.
Today is Martin Luther King Day, a perfect day to reflect on this question. In recent years I have always participated in some kind of local MLK Day of Service event … usually planting trees in a local environmental restoration project. Planting trees is in no way a bad thing to do … but does it really honor the life of MLK?
Where would justice ask me to spend my day and my energy? I think it’s time for me to find a way to be more audacious with my work for justice!