Ice Bucket Challenges and St Augustine

Ice bucket challenges have raised awareness of, and funds for, an illness that comparatively few people know much about, but I have to admit they leave me cold (no pun intended). I think that is because I believe one should help others whenever one can with ‘time, treasure or talent’, as the case may be. I don’t see why one shouldn’t have fun into the bargain, but wasting fresh water and energy to make ice does strike me as a little daft. St Augustine, whose feast we keep today, had some wise things to say about being charitable. For example,

Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.

or this

Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.

If, like me, you are averse to the notion of having icy water poured over your head, you could take to heart these two sentences of St Augustine and give as much as you can to as many as you can, starting with the needy around you. It isn’t always a material need that has to be met, but a spiritual, intellectual or emotional one. Scope for all!


Thinking Aloud about the Philippines

Most of us are probably still too stunned to take in the magnitude of the disaster that has overtaken the Philippines. The numbers alone make the mind boggle. The earliest reports suggested, if you remember, just four people known to have died, and there was some modest congratulation of the Government for its excellent evacuation and  response plans. But then reports began to come in of whole cities destroyed and millions of people affected. The latest figures suggest many thousands dead and more at risk as the struggle to provide food, water, shelter and medical aid becomes a race against time. The Government, too, appears to outsiders too traumatised to act effectively.

Those who have Filippino friends will know something of the anguish they are experiencing, and true friends know how to give comfort. For the rest of us, the best we can do is to muster an imaginative sympathy, dig deep in our pockets and pray. And we must be content with that. Every human life matters; every dead body we see  in the news reports is an individual, with a being and a history as precious as our own. The fact that we do not ‘understand’ is a reminder, albeit painful, that we are not as in control as we like to think we are. For now, however, our business is to help in whatever way we can — and do not underestimate the power of prayer in that.

There are many aid agencies that have set up appeals for the people of the Philippines. Please support them if you are able to do so.


Something the Chancellor Forgot?

Unlike many in Britain today, I have no strong feelings about the Budget. That doesn’t mean I am indifferent — far from it — but when I look at the situation in Greece or Portugal, or even nearer home in Ireland, I think we are comparatively lucky. However, taking both the Budget and recent decisions to change the nature of the NHS and other familiar elements of our welfare system into account, I can’t help noting that there is one glaring anomaly.

There was nothing I could see in yesterday’s budget to help or encourage the voluntary sector. No matter how successful business in Britain may be, no matter how much surplus wealth may (eventually) be created, the voluntary sector (charity to you and me), can never plug all the gaps in our state welfare system. Indeed, major donors will not be getting the tax relief they have in the past for substantial donations to charity unless they have super-sized incomes (if you give £2M to charity, you now need to be earning £8M, or have I done my sums wrong?). There may be a vague hope that the strong impulse towards charitable giving among Jews and Christians, for example, will help make up for that lack, but with the constant nibbling away at organized religion and the demonstrable falling away in giving across all sectors of society, one may question that.

As one who is very conscious of the needs of some of the most forgotten people in society, the elderly blind and visually impaired among them, I suppose I am entitled to a gloomy view. It won’t stop us doing all we can, but there comes a point where we can do no more. Many charities this morning are probably wondering which services they will need to cut during the coming year. Maybe our Lenten alsmgiving needs to be a whole-year programme? What do you think?