Sunday, December 13, 2009

About short-term vs. long-term

It's Sunday morning, and even before I'm out of bed I'm thinking. Maybe that's a great time to let your mind work on the big questions of life—before the immediate issues of the day come to the forefront.
And that is kind of what I'm thinking about. Should we (I) be putting time, energy, money into things that only bring momentary relief, or should all of my attention go to long-term solutions?

As I said, it's Sunday. A day of the week when (dare I say it) all of the Pharisees are too intent on attending church to attend to those around them who could really benefit from their time and help. Around here, at least, Sunday is the day there aren't many programs available for people on the street. Monday to Friday there are several meal programs and other services available. Saturday morning some of the downtown churches take turns hosting a nice breakfast. Sunday, almost nothing.

As I said, all the Pharisees Christians are too busy getting together to worship. Really reminds me about the poor fellow that the good Samaritan helped out in Jesus' story. The religious folk were much too busy keeping the system alive to actually notice (or help) someone who really NEEDED a bit of their energy.

But that also brings us back to the question: 'Which deserves our attention? Short-term or long-term?'
Or do we somehow need to juggle both?

The common wisdom often says: 'Give a hand up instead of a hand out.' 'Teach a man to fish for a life time instead of just giving him a fish today.' The principles make sense except for one thing: If it takes more than a few minutes for the guy to figure out how to catch a fish, he may starve before the long-term benefits kick in.

I'm sure we recognize the folly in telling the person who is on the street panhandling: “Get a job, go find a place to live, get over your addictions, get over your mental illness.” It just isn't that simple. But spending $1 million on low-cost housing and 0$ on emergency shelters won't keep the guy alive tonight in order for him to be able to move into that apartment next month or next year. Setting up that community garden will be a wonderful thing once it is happening, but that single mom needs a food hamper today to survive until the garden is producing.
Here in British Columbia there are rumors and grumblings about the government cutbacks of essential services (health, education, housing, etc.) and extravagance on the Olympics. So in many people's minds it looks like we are losing ground on both the immediate and long-term solutions to some prevalent issues.
Priorities, priorities, priorities.

But it isn't only the government's responsibility to look after people in need.
I am my brother's keeper.

Back to the question at hand (again): How to balance short and long-term needs and solutions.
I think Jesus (as usual) gives us a good example. He fed the hungry multitudes. He provided wine for the wedding party. He healed people from their diseases. Even though tomorrow they would be hungry again, the party would be over, and they would all die anyway. And He taught that the Kingdom of God was here. A kingdom that affects life today. A kingdom of justice and affirmation. A kingdom of love and compassion.

He also taught about life beyond today. An eternal home. 'I go to prepare a place for you.'

But it seems to me that most of His attention was focused on those around Him. He didn't tell people to suck it up and wait for a better life in heaven. He let them know He cared about them right at that instant. Calming the storm on the sea. An immediate large catch of fish. Healing blindness, deafness, leprosy, hemorrhaging, death.

For sure, it makes sense to build affordable housing, community gardens, drug rehab facilities. It makes sense to provide medical diagnosis and medication for the mentally ill.

But it's not a waste of money to give a guy some lunch. (Although it's a bit tougher to consider the panhandler who may well be making enough change so he can get his next bottle or bag of weed (or worse)).

Sitting here typing isn't helping anyone who is hungry and cold. But maybe tomorrow or next week there will be one more of us out there giving a cup of water on behalf of Jesus.

And that will be a good thing for both the short-term and long-term.


Luke said...

i can't say either way.. i'm all about balance, so doing things in the short-term with an eye on the long-term is beneficial. worshipping together is beneficial both in the short-term and long-term but maybe not in how many churches are used to doing it.


i just had a dude come into the ER and demand that I, the christian chaplain, give him $2 to cover his co-pay for his prescription. i instead gave him a list of charities and support groups that could help but he wasn't having that. he was about bending the system to his will. it's not all about the individual, it's about the inter-vidual.. we're individuals INTERCONNECTED in community. that gentlemen wanted all freedom and no responsibility and i can't enable that.

could i be passing by my brother on the way to something i think is bigger... i could be, but maybe not in that situation.

good reflection.. made me think!

Mark (under construction) said...

Good thoughts .....sort of the questions I am asking myself of late - the Kingdom among us.

Al said...

I agree, Luke, balance is usually the key. I think my heart in posting this is to upset people a bit, so that the imbalance they are probably living in gets shaken up.

As is often the case, there are no hard-and-fast rules. giving someone a couple bucks when you know it's gonna become a bit of self-medication is always a tough one for me--but sometimes I have done it.

Being 'expected' to fork over something just because you are the closest Christian is rather presumptuous. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do (whatever that is).

Mark--it's amazing how similar the questions are, once you start taking the freedom to ask them. When you find the answers, let me know--I'm too lazy to spend the time and heart-searching necessary myself! (Kidding!!)

Some of the hardest questions don't have answers. Hmmm.

ron cole said...

It is a wrestling match. The temptation is to do nothing, the reality that the future Kingdom will come into being in its fully Glory...maybe today, tomorrow, the next day. So we can sit in the pews like at a bus stop, and wait for Jesus to fulfill what he said he would. So we wait, and we wait...maybe a new program now then to keep people's interest, distract them while they wait.
But I'm trying to learn that the Kingdom is here...Now. And to try and live in that moment. Doing what I can do in those moments to reveal and build the kingdom...even if I'm only adding a splinter, or a grain of sand to it;s building. I think yo live in the Kingdom is to always default to Love. In hospitality, compassion, in humility...if I error. My prayer is,that I've done it Love. So I guess live the short term to the fullest...and with hope, the long term on the horizon.


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