Monday, November 9, 2015


The Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, where I work part-time, is participating this year in a study and small-group discussion program called “Soul Matters Sharing Circles.” Each month, people work with materials organized around a theme. This month, the theme is “Grace,” a blessing that is unexpected and perhaps even undeserved.

RVUUF’s older children had the opportunity this past Sunday to discuss the subject of “Grace” as it relates to a guest opinion in the Ashland Daily Tidings written by John Wieczorek about homeless people in Ashland.

Wieczorek was writing in response to comments by a city councilmember who proposed dividing the homeless population into “locals” (that is, the “deserving”) and “travelers” (those who are not). The councilmember suggested that bad behavior by some individuals was characteristic of all the homeless “travelers.”

He didn’t use the word “deserving,” but essentially the councilmember was saying that “local” homeless are deserving of Ashland’s help and the “travelers” are not.

Wieczorek in turn suggested that the councilmember was oversimplifying the issue, and the mistake he sees being made in Ashland is “a projection of fear of other humans onto an entire group of individuals.”

I shared some observations by lead teacher Liz Bianco in case RVUUF families wanted to take up this discussion at home:
“As we ask who deserves Grace ... How can we as a community bring more ease and grace. There are of course many topics to explore with older kids — about solutions to homelessness as a society and solutions to healing some deeper issues ... many layers to the discussion of homelessness..etc. we can also discuss that sometimes we move through challenges such as these for a greater purpose of learning and growth.”
Speaking for myself, I’ve long been uncomfortable with the whole concept of “deserving” in seasonal appeals for charity. With the actual word, these organizations emphasize that contributions support “deserving” recipients.

It’s one thing for a charity to establish qualifications for the people it serves. But “deserving” suggests a moral component as a condition of help.

Whenever I encounter “deserving,” it always makes me think that perhaps there were others, also needy, but they’d been judged undeserving — “but not to worry — your generous donations won’t be spent on THOSE people.”

I don’t know which is more disturbing — that organizations identify potential recipients as “deserving,” or that they believe would-be donors want to have this information. If we allow this concept to dictate whether or not we give to any group, then perhaps we’re contributing to the problem.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Robust debate and even unusual opinions are encouraged, but please stay on-topic and be respectful. Comments are subject to review for personal attacks or insults, discriminatory statements, hyperlinks not directly related to the discussion and commercial spam.