“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them;a otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. Matthew 6:1-4
These are the instructions Jesus gives for almsgiving. One of the benefits about not participating in social media on a personal level is not getting myself bent out of shape about the moral and ethical implications of the latest fad. Even when that fad is considered charitable.
Yes, I’m talking about the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. Lots of friends and family are doing it as we speak.Not being able to see so many personal feeds means I can largely ignore it. Letting people know I’m not checking in means I’m not forced to hurt someone’s feelings when I tell them a) I’m not participating b) why I’m not participating and c) why the whole thing is so misguided. I know they are good people who are trying to do something nice. I don’t like being the buzz-kill, but with this kind of thing, I am.
If you’re not on social media or somehow have missed this, the idea is to raise funds for ALS by challenging friends and family to either pour ice over their head or write a check for $100 to the ALS Association. Ethical and moral concerns have been raised by Father Michael Duffy here and Deacon Greg Kandra here. Read those articles. I’m not going to sum them up here for you.
Some people have suggested in light of those concerns to do the challenge but mention in your video that you are not endorsing or supporting the ALS Association but showing solidarity or remembering a loved one or in honor of those suffering. Others have offered alternative ALS organizations such as Team Gleason.
ALS is a terrible disease. And my prayers are with all those suffering and those who care for them. Just as they are with those suffering from cancer. The moral and ethical consequences of this are just part of the reason you won’t find me dumping ice over my head.
While millions in donations have poured in, the truth is, this is a short-term solution to a long term situation. ALS is known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease because the ball player known as the Iron Horse was diagnosed with it all the way back in 1939. The year that World War II started. Read that again, this disease has been killing people since before Hitler invaded Poland. Lou Gehrig put the first public face on this wretched killer. He stood up in Yankee stadium and said he was the luckiest man on the face of the planet. And for many years, that has been the enduring image people have had of ALS. It is touching and moving. But not moving enough to open your wallet in most cases. More recently, former NFL safety for the New Orleans Saints, Steve Gleason was diagnosed. His public image and his frequent public appearances with the band Pearl Jam and in various forms of media have shown people the tragedy of a young, vibrant, healthy man confined to a wheel chair typing with his eyes. His voice generated by a computer. He has a young son he cannot even hold. These compelling public displays of ALS motivate people to think they have to DO SOMETHING! NOW! Or at least til October rolls around and they need to buy everything with a pink ribbon on it and burn bras on facebook or tell people where they put their purse.
Today it’s ALS, tomorrow it’s something else and the ALS Association’s donations will even out.
And still, we aren’t to the whole reason I’m not participating. Jesus’ instructions are CLEAR. You don’t perform stunts, you quietly do the grunt work. You make the donation and you don’t film yourself for the world to know. You don’t allow your vanity to overshadow the good work. You just don’t. “LOOK AT ME, MA! I’M DOING IT! I’M MAKING A DIFFERENCE! I’M RAISING AWARENESS!!!!” is not Christian. It’s not following in Christ’s example of telling those he cured not to tell anyone of what had been done for them (obviously someone who had been blind from birth suddenly being able to see wasn’t going to go unnoticed, but Jesus had very specific instructions).
Jesus did the work. He healed. He instructed. But He did not send his disciples ahead to announce his arrival and set up shop for people to come and see Him do all of this. And so to it must be with us. Donate your money, or your time to a local family suffering through this illness with a loved one, or your prayers if that is all that is possible. Do all that you can, but tell no one. God sees you doing it and that is enough.
In two weeks, is anyone going to remember who dumped ice and who didn’t? You’re not a bad person if you participate, but for me, the reasons to not participate are more than there are to do it.