Crisis of Conscience

Disclaimer right off the bat: I’m not anti-lottery nor am I anti-gambling.

It seems like the Powerball jackpot is the big thing in the news (read: pop culture) right now. I’m going to buy a Powerball ticket. I’ve never bought one before and I have no real expectation of winning but I mean, come on, $800 million (after taxes) is a lot of money and the ticket is only $2. Why not?

Over the last week I’ve had a couple conversations with people about what I would do with that much money. I said the first thing I would do is pay off my student loans which isn’t an uncommon answer for many people. I would pay off all my family’s debts; mortgages, car loans, student loans, I’d take care of all of it because I would want my family to live a comfortable lifestyle. I was told my answers were boring.

I told them the first non-debt related, slightly impractical thing I would do is buy this house. I love Fort Morgan and I have always loved this house, both its beauty and its seclusion. Then I’d get really impractical and build a long private pier at which I would dock my private yacht. Then I would need an airstrip right by my house so my private plane could fly me to Auburn during the fall to enjoy all the games in my 50-yard line private suite. Oh, I have plans for that money…

I once read an interview with Bill Gates where he was asked if he had any real concept of the sheer amount of his wealth. He responded, “the only (he) could really grasp it was thinking that there was nothing in the world that (he couldn’t) buy.” After the interview, I thought for a few minutes about what that might be like. What would it be like if there was not a thing on Earth that I simply could not afford?

A few months ago, I wrote about an experience I had with a man named George. When I met George at a RaceTrac gas station, he hadn’t eaten and was hungry so I bought him some food. What I didn’t write about then was my desire to spend my money elsewhere.

For several years, I owned a beloved pair of polarized Rayban Wayfarer sunglasses. I’m notorious about losing sunglasses so for the longest time, I wouldn’t spend more than $15 on sunglasses. One day I decided that I really wanted those sunglasses so I would buy them and take extra precaution. I owned them for 4 years before I finally lost them one day by leaving them at the tennis court after a couple long matches. I was upset but proud of myself for owning them as long as I did.

I decided to reward myself for the longevity of my ownership by purchasing myself a new pair. I spent about a week shopping around, deciding if I wanted to stick with my tried and true Wayfarers or give something else a try. Once I made the decision to stick with those, I wanted the best deal, of course, so I looked a little longer. I met George the day before I was going to buy the sunglasses. The aftermath of my interaction with him left me feeling helpless and ashamed. In the midst of this man being unable to afford food, I was filled with excitement at the idea of owning my second pair of $200 sunglasses. I didn’t buy the glasses. I couldn’t buy the glasses.

I found myself feeling the same way in the aftermath of my lottery conversation. I first felt convicted upon realizing that none of my initial thoughts about spending the money involved giving money to the church. Tithe is important and I know some pretty awesome churches (namely the two I work with) and ministries out there that could do a lot of really great things with $80 million. That wasn’t even on my initial radar.

The conviction grew when I realized I hadn’t thought anything about helping people who needed it most…”most” being the essential word. Would my family benefit greatly from my paying off all their debts? Sure. Are any of them in danger of facing homelessness or starvation if I don’t? Not of which I am aware. But there are people who already face homelessness and starvation and they had nothing to do with my first thoughts on what I would do with all that money.

The conviction intensified to it’s maximum when this question popped in my head: “Why do I need $800 million to help people?” I didn’t have millions of dollars when I bought George food and I don’t tithe and give to certain charities each month out of some million-dollar paycheck I assure you. Why do I need to daydream about winning the Powerball to help people? The answer is I don’t.

I’m still going to spend my $2 on a ticket because how cool would it be if I got to write a check to feed every single homeless person in DFW. I think it would be way cooler than buying that beach house (which I would still buy). But I’m not going to sit around thinking about what I could buy with that money, I’m not going to sit around thinking about the ways I could help people with that kind of money. I’m not going to sit around thinking about what it would be like to literally be able to afford anything on planet Earth. I’m not going to sit around thinking about what I could buy with the money I have now and I’m not going to sit around thinking about the ways I could help people with the money I have now. I want to actually get out and help people. I think I will. I don’t need $800 million to help someone and you don’t either. Let’s do it.

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I’m So Very Hungry

I was ready to be home. I’d been in my office all morning and afternoon and I followed that with a long band practice that night. As I left the church, I debated making my customary stop at the nearby RaceTrac to take advantage of my free Sodapalooza refill. I decided to splurge and get a Dr. Pepper. As I walked out of the gas station indulging in my favorite soda, I caught sight of a disheveled man looking at the ATM. He was just standing there looking at it…no attempt to grab a wallet or reach into his pockets.

He noticed that I had noticed him and began patting the outsides of his pants and jacket as if he was searching for something. I immediately recognized it for the act that it was. I walked past him toward my car when I heard him speak up from behind me.

“Excuse me, sir.”

I stopped.

“Excuse me.”

I turned around. He stumbled over his words as he began informing me he had forgotten his wallet at his house down the street. He spoke of his embarrassment. I mentally prepared myself to inform him that I didn’t carry cash.

“Sir, I’m so very hungry. I haven’t been able to find any food today. Would you mind if I asked you to buy me a sandwich?”

I was pretty shocked. I have a standing rule that I don’t give cash to strangers approaching me in parking lots. Both because I have no idea what their real intent is for the cash and also because it is genuinely a rare occurrence that I carry cash. I typically offer to purchase them some food, something to drink, put gas in their car…help them in the way they say they need help. Sometimes, people accept. Sometimes, people decline. Sometimes, people get angry. This was the first time someone had just asked me for food.

His eyes were sunken. He look tired and hungry. I couldn’t tell if he was as old as he looked or if a rough life had just taken its toll on his physical body. I asked him his name.

“George, sir.”

I laughed a little on the inside at his insistence on calling me, someone so very much younger, “sir”.

I took George inside. We stopped at the sandwiches in the cooler and I told him to pick one. He asked which one he could have and I told him whichever one he wanted. He looked for a second before settling on a simple ham and cheese on wheat.

“George, I don’t know about you but I don’t like sandwiches without chips. Why don’t you pick out a bag?”

He looked surprised but didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity. He talked about his love of BBQ chips as he grabbed a bag.

“You’re going to need to wash that down with something. Let’s grab you a drink.”

We walked over to the fountain drinks and I grabbed the biggest cup they had. “What’s your favorite?”

He looked at me and hesitantly responded, “Coke, no ice please, sir.” I filled his cup up and we walked to the counter.

“What’s your favorite candy bar?”

He stood for a moment staring at me like I was about to drop everything and walk out on him. He didn’t respond.

“Do you have a favorite candy bar? I can recommend a couple if you don’t.”

“It’s been an awful long time since I had a candy bar. I do like a Hershey Bar.”

I walked over to grab a Hershey bar.

“With almonds.”

I grabbed the Hershey bar and put it on the counter with everything else we had accumulated. I paid the cashier and asked her for a pen and a slip of paper. I wrote my name and number on the paper, handed it to George, and told him about the church right up the road that had breakfast on Sunday mornings and dinner on Wednesday nights. I told him to call me if he was hungry or if he needed a ride. He promised he would as he thanked me.

I didn’t buy that food for George because I’m a Christian. I didn’t buy that food for George because I consider myself to be morally superior. I didn’t buy that food because of any inherent “goodness” I have. I bought that food for George because he was a human being who approached me broken and hungry.

I didn’t ask George his thoughts on gay marriage. I didn’t ask George what his opinions were concerning the Confederate flag. I didn’t ask him how he intended to pay me back. I didn’t ask him his thoughts on the welfare system. I didn’t ask him when was the last time he held a job. I didn’t ask him if he was or ever was on drugs, when was the last time he possibly used drugs, or if he planned to use them in the future. I didn’t ask him who he voted for or if he could vote at all based on any criminal record. I didn’t ask him about any of his political or religious views. He didn’t seem concerned with mine either.

You see, while we were arguing about who has the right to marry who or which flag should be flown where…while we argued about whether or not a baker should be forced to make a cake for a wedding they don’t support, George wasn’t eating. I’m sure George would have eaten any cake he was offered.

I would give up my right to marry if it meant George didn’t have to go hungry again. I would stop flying any flag if it meant that everyone would not have to experience the deep pain of malnourishment. I have a feeling there are a lot of people who wouldn’t. The sense of selfish entitlement in this country, both amongst liberals and conservatives alike, is deeply embarrassing. It’s shameful.

Conservative Christians, you keep arguing that a man shouldn’t be allowed to marry another man. LGBTQ people, you keep suing those bakers who won’t bake you a cake. Northern liberals, you keep trying to outlaw a flag and southern conservatives, you keep daring to defend your right to fly it.

You do you. I’m going to go buy George a sandwich.