Monday, December 10, 2018

The Fear of Giving

On November 30 a couple in their fifties was returning home after celebrating their daughter’s 28th birthday at a restaurant. As they drove through East Baltimore they saw a panhandler standing in the rain. It appeared to be a mother holding an infant asking for money to feed her child. What does any person with a heart do? They stopped to give her some money.

In return they found themselves the victims of robbery. A male accomplice suddenly appeared and stabbed 52 year-old Jacquelyn Smith with a knife through the rolled down car window and stole her purse and necklace. She died a few hours later in a hospital. Good Samaritans beware.

My wife and I often give money to panhandlers when we see them. Although admittedly we don’t see too many in rural New Hampshire. But whenever we leave our country cocoon to visit Boston, Pittsburgh or Daytona we give cash through open car windows. We don’t know how they will use the money, but we give anyway.

I also pick up hitchhikers, despite warnings from everyone I know. I often give them money as well. I have learned more about homelessness and poverty in New Hampshire from talking to hitchhikers than any news source. My wife and I gave a ride to a pregnant hitchhiker in the rain one evening, while returning from North Conway. I guess we could have been robbed and murdered, but we weren’t.

I give money because I remember times when I had no money. I remember when I dropped out of school and shoplifted food from a grocery store to eat. I remember hitchhiking across the country and being picked up by truckers. Often they handed me cash upon parting. Now I pay it forward. 

I know the world has changed from the halcyon years of my youth. The world is a dangerous place, or so the newscasters tell me. So I have made allowances. I now only pick up hitchhikers when I am driving alone. No need to risk my wife’s safety. Except for one couple who hitchhikes to the grocery store regularly. We have gotten to know them, and we both pick them up when together or alone.

When I read beyond the headlines, I learn that the world is actually much safer than it used to be. Psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard has a book entitled The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, which traces the history of violence. He makes a strong case that violence has been decreasing, and we are living in the most peaceful time in human history.

You wouldn’t know it by watching the evening news. We are warned of danger everywhere. A terrorist or child kidnapper lurking around every corner! If they don’t get you, then an earthquake, wildfire, or hurricane will. Rogue cops will kill you in your home or an illegal immigrant will get you.

It is a good thing that ABC News wasn’t around when the Good Samaritan stopped to aid the man on the road to Jericho. He might have kept walking. Jesus would have had to look elsewhere for an inspirational sermon illustration. It’s a good thing Jesus did not listen to Fox News. He would have been too afraid to do or say anything, lest he be crucified.

Yes, the world is a dangerous place, but it is no more dangerous than any other time in human history, and probably safer. Sure, we have to be sensible and discerning in how we help people. But it is still important to help, even when it involves some risk to ourselves. If we let fear keep us from aiding people in need, then the fearmongers have won.

On the other hand, if you read in the paper someday that a certain retired pastor in central New Hampshire was murdered by a panhandler or a hitchhiker, then I will be proven wrong. Until then I will live dangerously. I will think twice before aiding a homeless woman standing in the rain holding an infant. Then I will help her anyway. It is worth the risk. I would rather die expressing a little love than live in fear.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I no longer watch the news reguarly for that reason. I have found that my annxiety levels go down and the world seems to go on without me! When we travel to Baltimore, there are often homeless at the intersections. We cant give money to all of them. We started making Ziploc bags filled with snacks, apples, water etc...and give those out. People always seem to appreciate it. Sometimes they open it up and start eating-some of these people really are homeless & hungry-you cant tell. All you can do is to do what is right and trust God.