To the Dickens with me this year

Many hands together. Interior shot

Happy New Year!

I’m back from working on the novel that … well, not to sound too dramatic or anything, but that I’ve spent literally my whole life preparing to write.

Whew! Good thing I’m still alive!

And now that neither of my parents are, who’s to sue? (Har! But terrible joke, of course. Sorry.)

Today we are half-way through what many churches still call Christmastide, which, in the Christian year (for a refresher of which see my Advent, Easter and Ordinary Time: Knowing the Christian Calendar), runs from December 25 to January 5—being the Twelve Nights of Christmas you might recall from the song starring all the birds and extravagant servants. (Speaking of which, don’t forget that there’s still time to enjoy Going to Work Dressed as the Twelve Days of Christmas. Have fun!)

So. I recently read Nobody’s Story, one of Charles Dickens’ ridiculously artful Christmas tales. The nameless protagonist of the story is a good, hard-working man who is barely making it:

He lived in a busy place, and he worked very hard to live. He had no hope of ever being rich enough to live a month without hard work, but he was quite content, God knows, to labor with a cheerful will. He was one of an immense family, all of whose sons and daughters gained their daily bread by daily work, prolonged from their rising up until their lying down at night. Beyond this destiny he had no prospect, and he sought none.

Man. How much does that totally wrap that guy up? Amazing.

Anyway, a plague sweeps through the man’s impoverished community:

The dying and the dead were mingled in the close and tainted houses among which his life was passed. New poison was distilled into the always murky, always sickening air. The robust and the weak, old age and infancy, the father and the mother, all were stricken down alike. What means of flight had he? He remained there, where he was, and saw those who were dearest to him die.

Ugh. Awful.

A kindly preacher seeks to comfort the man by praying for him. But (and this is the key passage here) the man stops him, and says this:

O what avails it, missionary, to come to me, a man condemned to residence in this fetid place, where every sense bestowed upon me for my delight becomes a torment, and where every minute of my numbered days is new mire added to the heap under which I lie oppressed! But, give me my first glimpse of Heaven, through a little of its light and air; give me pure water; help me to be clean; lighten this heavy atmosphere and heavy life, in which our spirits sink, and we become the indifferent and callous creatures you too often see us; gently and kindly take the bodies of those who die among us, out of the small room where we grow to be so familiar with the awful change that even its sanctity is lost to us; and, Teacher, then I will hear—none know better than you, how willingly—of Him whose thoughts were so much with the poor, and who had compassion for all human sorrow.

For a while, those in a position to offer relief to the poor and needy (the “Bigwigs”) much discuss doing so. But, inevitably, “as their fear [of the pestilence] wore off, which it soon began to do, they resumed their falling out among themselves, and did nothing.”

Ugh redux.

The story ends with this donkey kick to the heart:

The story of Nobody is the story of the rank and file of the earth. They bear their share of the battle; they have their part in the victory; they fall; they leave no name but in the mass. The march of the proudest of us, leads to the dusty way by which they go. O! Let us think of them this year at the Christmas fire, and not forget them when it is burnt out.

This year, I want to make sure that I don’t forget the maligned and downtrodden after my Christmas fires have burnt out. This year I want to be sure to make of myself someone who actually, really, and consistently does stuff—who regularly does anything—that helps to ease the burden of at least one person—and hopefully more than one person—upon whom fortune has smiled less munificently than (thank God!) it has upon me.

Doing that is my obligation. It’s my duty. It’s my honor. It’s my privilege.

It’s my shame if I don’t do it.

This year, let me not shirk from what my spirit is forever telling me to do: Love others as I myself wish to be loved.


I’m the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question:

unfair-cover-xsmallPaperback. Kindle. NookBook. Signed and inscribed by me according to your direction.

"You really can learn a lot from heavy metal music as the darkest subject matter ..."

The fundamentally toxic Christianity
"Heavy metal "music" is deliberately ugly, just as uncivil language is deliberately offensive. Both interfere ..."

The fundamentally toxic Christianity
"The way I see it all unions should be Civil Partnerships or Domestic Partnerships. That ..."

Is every Christian against gay marriage ..."
"Play Black Sabbath's After Forever and Iron Maiden's Holy Smoke and see what happens. :laughing: ..."

The fundamentally toxic Christianity

Browse Our Archives



What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • BarbaraR

    The sea is so wide and my boat is so small

    Poverty and homelessness are hydras of causes and issues…. Where does one begin?

  • Linnea912

    That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? I guess one answer is to start where you can… serve at a soup kitchen (which I was meaning to do this holiday season but with my new job it kind of slipped through my fingers), or donate gently used clothes to a secondhand store or shelter…

  • BarbaraR

    I’ve found the soup kitchens/missions here already have no shortage of volunteers (primarily through churches) and I periodically go through my closet to weed out the still-good-and-wearables, and donate them plus other items that can be resold. It helps, and those are good beginnings to help people continue to live. But what about lifting people out of poverty and homelessness?

    Where I live, that subject is a political hot potato, with city councils and boards of supervisors who won’t touch it. The self-styled “homeless advocates” have alienated everyone who is in a position to help. The people in poverty & homelessness are a mixture of hardcore homeless, drug/alcohol/mental health cases, and people who fell through the cracks and find themselves on the streets. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution on the horizon.

    I understand that some cities/states have more progressive solutions being worked on, but I fear that’s a pipe dream for the foreseeable future….

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

    “The poor, you’ll have with you always” That observation by Jesus, may rank up there as one of the saddest verses in scripture.

    The problem of poverty, of apathy, of the haves ignoring the have nots, of applying plattitudes instead of compassion has always been among us. You’d think after all these thousands of years of human civilization, we’d have found a solution to our worst trait, the failure to love our neighbors as ourselves. Of course we can’t solve it ourselves, and I am very skeptical of our societies ever figuring out how apply the cure. Its not that we don’t know how, its the will that’s lacking.

    All I know I can do, all any of us can do, is as John suggests, to be one person, interacting with one other person to do something that brings, peace, comfort, joy, or love, into their lives, and to keep trying to do it every day.

  • charlesburchfield

    that dog’ll hunt!

  • Sharla Hulsey

    Yes. Figure out what you can do, and do it. The fact that I can’t help
    every person get out of poverty doesn’t eliminate my responsibility to
    help one person get out of poverty, if I encounter such a person and God
    calls me to help them.

    I’ve gone a round or two with someone I
    know about that verse from John’s Gospel. Someone will say something
    about helping the poor, and this person will say, “Well, Jesus said we
    will always have the poor with us,” almost as though they believe Jesus
    was thus absolving us of any responsibility to do anything to help. But
    Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 15:11, which says, “Since there will
    never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you,
    ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.'” The
    point is that we ALWAYS have an opportunity to help others who are in
    need. My friend said they had never considered it from that angle.

  • Sharla Hulsey

    You can’t wait for the city/state governments to impose a solution. Even if they manage to agree on something it will have been compromised down to the point of being filled with unintended consequences that will mean it makes some things better while making others much worse.

    Consider something more creative as a possibility for how you’ll take action. Yes, giving food and clothing are helpful. But you’re right that more long-term thinking is needed. What are your gifts? Are you a teacher? A public speaker? Perhaps if the advocates have alienated everyone someone else could step up to be a go-between between them and the people who shape policy and action. Perhaps someone who’s decent at financial planning could work with people on the edge of homelessness with budgeting, or help them figure out solutions for debts that are crushing them.

    I know of a person who was working on a project for her master’s degree in food science. She created a cookbook of simple dishes made with reasonably easy-to-obtain ingredients, all priced out so that they fall within the $4-per-person-per-day people who receive SNAP benefits typically have available to them. No, it doesn’t lift people up out of poverty, but it might help someone in poverty eat healthier, and thus perhaps have more energy available to do things that will make it possible for them to lift themselves up a step or two.

    Not too long ago I read an article about a woman who became a pastor after being a chef for a time. She got someone to loan her a food truck once a week, and she drives it down to an area where there’s substantial poverty and a good-sized homeless population. She cooks some kind of simple, portable lunch for them, and everyone is invited to come eat their fill. Afterward, anyone who would like is welcome to stay for prayer and Bible study; but that’s not a requirement to get the meal.

    Poverty and homelessness are problems whose solutions are not necessary one-size-fits-all grand programs. Instead each person who feels called to help poor or homeless people needs to figure out what their gifts are, and then think creatively about how those gifts can be applied to the problem at hand.

  • Brandon Roberts

    Amen brother

  • webejustsayin

    We so often forget that we are to be the hands and feet… Having been in a place of despair (and still in a place of financial uncertainty), I know firsthand how frustrating it is to be told to “lean on God”, or to “trust God”, when what I need is a paying job. Real income. Physical support. And I know how often it is that the ones who offer this kind of real support are not screaming “I’m a Christian!” but they are the ones who show real compassion and the true spirit of love.

  • Dandhman

    So what do we do? I must admit to a sense of shame. I do not do more. what does it take to be a “good” person.

  • Matt

    No one is a “good” person. It’s not an achievement in which you unlock a steady, unchanging state of goodness. You’ll have days, hours, and moments where you are undoubtedly doing good, relieving suffering, and showing love. You’ll also have times where you’re definitely not. That’s just being human. There’s no need to have shame about it, or at least don’t let it mire you down and keep you from moving forward.

    May I make a suggestion? I have found that doing good doesn’t start with actions at all. Instead, I work on my internal state first. I cultivate peace and gratitude in myself, being content with who I am and where I am in the world. Then I ask for the ability to see the whole picture, not the narrow, biased lens I usually have to see through. You may be surprised at how naturally opportunities to show love just kind of show up if you approach the world openly and with calm observation.

    Of course, I have my bad moments too. You should see my road rage. It’s legendary among my friends.

  • charlesburchfield

    i think a good place to start is to do what you have done here: admit a sense of shame to safe others. that begins an opportunity to start processing it If you are willing. in my life i have seen that there is wisdom in the feeling and, if I am fearless and honest about engageing in a conversation w/ it & about it doors that lead to peace and resolution open up so I can become liberated to take informed action if necessary.

  • Carol

    ”Good’ is what we say to a child ‘now be a good girl/boy’ No one is perfect so no one can be good all the time. Hence we need to fix our eyes on God and be willing to come smaller so he can come bigger. In other words turning all you do and say over to God so God speaks/does for you, metaphorically. In other words taking the time to stop before you speak, look around you before you do and so on. That is what Paul meant by praying 24/7. He didn’t mean literally on our hands and knees all the time. Paul meant having God at the front of our minds all the time in all we say and do. In other words the hip WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)

  • Sharla Hulsey

    Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God” is a wonderful description of how a person can pray without ceasing, by making everything they do a prayer and an offering to God. (It’s available online for free, and I think every Christian would do well to read it.)

  • Carol

    Thank you for the book reference. I shall find it online and read

  • Carol

    Prayer and meditation asking for God’s will to show you what God wants you do on a daily basis. Once you have learnt to hear the gentle inner voice/feeling/spirit of God and continue daily with, then you are nudged to where God wants you.

    That doesn’t stop you whilst learning to listen to God, doing good works for others, nor when you find a calling, stopping other things you may do on a daily basis, the smile, the chat, support etc.

    How it works for me. God lays something on my heart and until I go ahead with it, the feeling doesn’t leave me. God often does that even when I am not praying to be shown. I just get this personal feeling of what God wants me to do.

    Last year it was about the charities I donate too. Everytime this 1 advert came on TV for help I had this overwhelming sensation to pick up the phone and set up a donation. Until I did, that feeling didn’t go away, is just 1 example for me.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

    That doesn’t work for everyone, just so you know.

  • Carol

    Never said it did: It takes a lot of diligence over years to build. No short term answers

  • DonRappe

    I think I sense piety creeping into this (our) group.

  • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

    ??

  • DonRappe

    I don’t mean this as a negative, but moving a little away from the Shore family motto!

  • BarbaraR

    I can’t be the only one not getting this.

  • Sharla Hulsey

    Maybe more pietism than piety. Again not a bad thing; the Pietists were second-or third-generation Protestants who believed that changing hearts was best done by helping people in need. Thus they built hospitals, and orphanages, and other organizations that we take for granted. The Pietists were also a strong influence on John Wesley.

  • kentspeedway

    I don’t get all the discussion about being good. I don’t do things for others because I want to be thought of as good. I do things for others because I try to follow Jesus. He didn’t do things because he wanted to be thought of as good. I am scheduled later this month to begin the process of becoming a part of a program at our local “public” hospital. The program is called “No One Dies Alone.” When they have a homeless person or someone with no family who is about to die volunteers sit with them until they pass. I am not doing this to feel good! I am doing it because I have hurting brothers and sisters who need someone who cares.

  • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

    Who said anything different from what you’re saying?

  • BarbaraR

    So often the homeless become dehumanized – a part of the landscape we no longer see. Here’s what photographer Nigel Skeet ( http://nigelskeet.com/) did: make the homeless look like rock stars.

    http://northstatestudios.com/brothers-sisters-sons-daughters/