In a matter of four days, over a billion dollars from all around the world have been raised after news broke about the Notre Dame fire. Several of the wealthiest families in France have led the charge in donating millions of dollars to reconstruct the Notre Dame Cathedral.
I value financially supporting sacred places, the arts, and the animals. I do not shame the wealthy for philanthropy.
The fundraising in the aftermath of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire presents a reminder for us to cherish our buildings, objects, and the people. All are important to different parts of many of our lives.
Thinking about church buildings and cathedrals brought to my mind the issue of homelessness. It impacts people across race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and gender.
Often, we can forget that the least of these are not animals or objects like stones.
We donate to save the whales and save the buildings. When it comes to people who have been hit hard by life, we might tell them in so many words and ways, “Save yourselves.”
One major life crisis or a series of them can render anyone to susceptible to homelessness.
Did you know that Paris has experienced an approximately 21% increase in homeless within the last year?
Out of the total number sleeping on the street, some 2,232 were found to be sleeping on the streets of the French capital, while 751 people were found sleeping in locations run by the Town Hall and partner associations. Some 639 people were found sleeping in the capital’s parks, woods and gardens.
The majority of people living on the streets of Paris are men, ages 40-54 years old, with over half experiencing homelessness for a year or more. Approximately 35% of them reported arriving in Paris without housing, while 23% experienced a “life crisis” (ie. unemployment, illness or prison).
If I had $5, $5,000, $5 million, or $500 million to give, I would rather give it to help people than for bricks of a church or cathedral.
With this being said, it does not have to be an either/or choice.
I can choose to give to churches, cathedrals, and people.
Given the heated backlash to the swift influx of money raised for the Notre Dame within a short timeframe, long-standing fires have been stoked among the masses. These are the consuming flames within the hearts of people who have been tired of social inequalities and the hardships within their societies.
Giving to a building can burn bridges with those who have been calling for change for months and years.
I think there is hope and vision through the smoke. For example, the Notre Dame fire has inspired people to re-evaluate their giving and the ways it has been racially biased.
With efforts to support the Notre Dame Cathedral drawing massive sums, activists, journalists, and politicians took to social media in the US to note that as the fundraising effort continued, people should also pay attention to the Louisiana churches, which were left reeling by arson and had been struggling to reach their donation goal. The message was further amplified by figures like former secretary of state and former first lady Hillary Clinton, journalist Yashar Ali, and retired NFL player Benjamin Watson.
According to Lockhart, prior to the fire, Black churches that were burned in Louisiana, as a result of alleged racist hate crimes, had only raised approximately $100,000. Since the Notre Dame fire, at the time of this writing, the churches have raised over $2 million.
In our world, we can give to multiple Black churches in Louisiana and a cathedral in Paris. One does not have to lose out because of the other. Both can exist and thrive.
Giving can be a win-win all around for humanity.
Years ago, my husband discovered that building and ministry salaries/operating costs constituted the majority of most U.S churches’ expenditures. In other words, most of the tithes and offerings went to bricks and ministers.
Additionally, imagine if more of this money went to people in need, from the congregation to the local community, to other parts of the world?
I value paying/giving to spiritual ministers and leaders, for their work is as important as any profession (the ones who are actually helping). I am not a proponent of starving artists and spiritual workers. Again, my intention is not to shame people for how they spend and give their money.
I invite us to continue to expand our vision of giving or transform our philanthropy. For example, if you are church-going Christian who regularly tithes at a church, what if you gave part to your church and part to other organizations and causes that helped people?
You will not rob God if you do not give 10% or more of your income to a church organization or anyone. You will not be cursed by God if you do not give it all to one particular church organization. Anyone who helps another person directly or indirectly is doing God’s work.
We can give without burning bridges with people who are homeless or in need. We can give and still buy our favorite things and support places of worship.
Last, I invite us to allow the Notre Dame fire to inspire us to keep searching our hearts to give in ways that are not necessarily monetary. Let it be a clarifying reminder for us to return to our deepest principles.
Omar Havanna, in a striking journalistic portrait of homelessness in France, shared the words of Nasser, a man from Algeria, who is homeless. He stated:
Some ask for money, some for food. Cold is our worst enemy, but the indifference of the people is an obstacle that is difficult to overcome… The solitude of our lives can happen to anyone. The people of Paris need to understand that we just want a smile or a simple ‘bonjour’. That can make a cold day not be hell for us… There is beauty in every corner of our lives, but this society has lost sensibility. Ideas have disappeared, and money is making this society blind to love.
Nasser spoke words of Divine wisdom. May we have ears to hear and eyes to appreciate places, enjoy things, and, most of all, love people.
Universal Design Update: Access to Audio of this Post
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