What church do you go to? Are you a Christian? These are questions that come up if you live where I live. I grew up in a big city and was not once asked either of these questions… but they come up every so often when you live in the small conservative town that I have called home for the past 23 years. I get asked the first question far more frequently than the second… but I think that they probably mean the same thing one just seems more polite, like someone wants to get to know you. While to me, the second one seems a little scary. I am not usually comfortable answering either because I don’t think people would be happy with my answers.
I do believe that you should treat people with kindness, respect and that having a strong moral compass is crucial to having a healthy community. I believe in looking for the good in people and giving others the benefit of the doubt. I believe that we are all part of one giant family and that we are all connected.
When I was a girl I remember something my father told me he did during the holiday season. He worked for a company that gave out Christmas bonuses and he would take some of his bonus and get $1 bills with it (maybe 100 of them) and then he would just give them out to strangers. I don’t know if he just did it once or if he did it every year. He didn’t make a big deal about it and I think I only found out by accident – it wasn’t a story he told over and over. But it certainly struck a cord with me.
He also taught me by example that you take care of your neighborhood – he is an artist and when graphitti started to pop up around our small community in West Los Angeles, he created a little kit of paint and sometimes I would go with him to paint off the graphitti. We mixed colors of burnt red and gray to paint the graffiti off of the local brick market, we mixed grays and whites and blacks to stipple off the graffiti from the granite lampposts, we even had this pinkish color to paint off the backs of those pink concrete walls that lined one of the larger streets near our house. I loved going to help him… he was really grouchy about it but I was thrilled because I was helping him make it better and when he drove past those places on his way home from work it would make him happy.
So flash forward to today. I was almost out of McDonald’s gift cards so I took some birthday money (yes, my parents still like to send me birthday money) that I hadn’t used yet and bought 5 more $10 cards. Now, I don’t eat at McDonald’s (if you read my ‘About’ page you know I am trying to be vegan), but I like to keep cards on hand. I used to fret over people asking for money or work or anything to help out. I worried that if I gave them money they might just buy a beer or use it for drugs – and maybe they do really just need a beer or drugs – sometimes I just need a glass of wine so who am I to judge… but I still didn’t feel great about just handing out cash and I almost never have any on me. So a while back I started carrying these cards and when I see someone who seems like they could really use it (because they are asking or holding a sign or just sitting with a shopping cart filled with all of their stuff) I go right up to them and ask if they would use a $10 gift card to McDonald’s… I get really nervous right before I ask but they always are soft spoken, surprised and grateful… sometimes if I don’t have a card I have Cliff Bars in my purse and I offer them but not everyone wants a Cliff Bar. Yesterday at a rest stop there was a small bedraggled latin woman holding a sign. She looked so sad… I ran back to the car and took out my last McDonald’s gift card. I went right up to her, she was smaller than I am (I am only 5’1″) and I asked her if she would use the card… then I explained to her in Spanish what it was. She smiled and said ‘gracias’… I spent the next half hour of our drive wondering if she would be able to get to McDonald’s and figure out how to use it…
Am I a Christian? Do I go to church?
Does it really matter?