I just read Peter Singer’s essay, Famine, Affluence, and Morality. In it Singer quotes from the Decretum Gratiani: “The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.” Singer concludes that “we would not be sacrificing anything significant if we were to continue to wear our old clothes, and give the money to famine relief. By doing so, we would be preventing another person from starving.”
I have thought that just giving money, especially not at a sacrificial level, would not be making a difference. Singer suggests that is untrue. His message haunts me when I think of my Lent “sacrifice.” For those few weeks, I gave up buying things I could do without. The outcome was that when a friend was struggling to buy fuel, I had a few extra dollars to share. And I didn’t have to give up anything because I had not already spent the money on my own wants.
Sadly, I have reverted to buying for the few seconds of pleasure something new gives me. It’s time to go back to my Lenten practice. Donating doesn’t mean we have to send money to an international relief fund (although Mercy Corps is one I strongly suggest when that is the plan); it does mean that our “extra dollars” will find a good home if we are sensitive to the needs around us.
If you have a good story of how sensitivity and stewardship paid off, please share with us! It may just motivate others, for as Singer wrote, “what it is possible for a man to do and what he is likely to do are both, I think, greatly influenced by what people around him are doing and expecting him to do.”
Let’s expect this of each other because it is wrong not to do so.