My wife sent me to the store forty-five minutes ago. Since it takes only five minutes or so to get there from the house and another five to pick up a gallon of milk, pay for it, and leave, I figure I should have been home about a half an hour ago. But I’m not.
In fact, I haven’t even made it into the store yet. I’ve been stuck near the entrance watching a Salvation Army volunteer.
The boy is maybe ten, and he’s taking his job seriously. A wool cap sits on his head, ski gloves on his hands. His coat is the puffy kind that looks like its made for sub-Arctic temperatures. He needs them all today. It’s cold out here, and the wind is biting.
This is the time of year when the Salvation Army is out in full force. They’re a gracious lot, volunteering their valuable time to help the helpless. They stand out in the cold and ring their bells and say Merry Christmas when you offer a little something to the nearby kettle. Other than that, though, most won’t say much. They have the bell, and the bell is good enough.
Not so for this boy.
His bell is a clarion, a call to say a message is forthcoming and it is something you’d better heed if you know what’s good for you:
JANGLEJANGLE—“Give to the poor folk. They need Jesus, and so do you.”
The “Jesus” comes out more like “Jayzus.” I can see the boy’s breath in the cold December air. It stops mere inches from his mouth and then fades, but the sound carries. It carries far.
Every shopper who approaches the doors must get through him first. He lets no one off the hook.
JANGLEJANGLE—“Give some money, mister. Think of what all you have and the needy folk who have nothing.”
Standing along the wall about ten feet from the boy is an older man. He, too, wears a wool cap and ski gloves and a heavy coat. He’s sipping coffee and watching. The smile on his face tells me who he is.
I ease my way up to him and say, “That’s your boy, ain’t it?”
He nods while sipping and smiles again. “Sure is,” he says.
JANGLEJANGLE—“God wants you to help the poor people, ma’am.”
The ma’am does. She puts five dollars into the kettle and gets a “Merry Christmas!” in return.
“Seems to be doing a pretty good job,” I tell the father.
“That ain’t no lie, buddy,” he says. He nods toward his son. “He told me last night he wanted to come watch, but that didn’t last long. He said I was doin’ it wrong. I told him he could give it a try if he thought he could do better. That was about an hour ago.”
It’s my turn to smile. “You should be proud.”
Another sip, then, “I sure am. He told me he didn’t understand why there had to be poor people. Said it broke his heart. But then he said that maybe there were poor people because not enough people have done something to help. Lots of people blame God for stuff that’s our own fault.”
JANGLEJANGLE—“Hey mister, don’t you wanna help the poor?”
I suppose some could say the boy’s methods are all wrong. Rather than appeal to whatever inward sense of charity people have, he prods them—and maybe even guilts them—into giving.
But honestly? I’m good with that. Jesus once said that the poor will always be with us, and that’s the sort of thing that can make it easy for us to pass them over. “Let someone else help,” we say. “I have too many problems of my own.” So I don’t mind his prodding and guilting. It forces people to do something about the state of the world. Sometimes it’s good to feel shame.
Me, I’m with the boy. I don’t understand why there has to be poor people, either. It upsets me right along with him. The heart is broken upon the sight of that which contradicts what we know God desires.
But maybe instead of blaming Him, we should all do something about it.
I wish the father a good day and make my way inside. On the way, I drop my own contribution into the kettle. Not enough, I know that. But a start.
“God loves you, mister,” the boy says.
Yes. And God loves him, too.
This post is part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: Rejoice hosted by my friend Peter Pollock. To read more posts on the topic of Rejoicing, please visit his blog, PeterPollock.com