Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Got Extra Cash? Why I Want You to Take Up Gambling (Serious!)

I just saw the Will Smith movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. I loved the movie, especially when it was all over, but it was almost tedious to watch the incessant problems and disasters that the main character faced. But this tedium was more than just Hollywood melodrama. It's based on the true story of a most amazing man, Christopher Gardner, who really was a homeless single father in San Francisco trying his best to take care of his son. I encourage you to read his short biography, whether you've seen the movie or not. (And it's not just because he's from Wisconsin that I love his story so much, though it's hard not to see a touch of what I love about the Midwest in this man.)

The movie reminded me that among the crowds of people that might seem like losers to others, there are royal sons and daughters of God, good people doing all they can to be decent parents, to find their own way, and to overcome their problems. But they are on the edge, sometimes just one paycheck away, one bill away, one buck away from disaster. Sometimes they are past the edge, living in homeless shelters or public transit bathrooms. And this is why I want you to take up gambling.

Gambling? Yes, but not on slots or horses, but on people. Bet $5, $10, $20, or more (much more, sometimes), giving some extra cash to those who are down and out. Some are going to waste it. Some are going to lose it. But for some, that gamble you took could turn into a jackpot that could make a huge difference for that day, that week, of even for a life -- the difference, perhaps, between hope and despair. That's what I was thinking during this movie, thinking about the challenges Chris Gardner faced day after day. In his moments of crisis, and in the lives of many I have known, a small amount of cash freely given could have made the difference between disaster and hope.

And no, fast offerings are not enough. I've been a bishop, I've administered the inspired and wonderful fast offering program, and I can bear witness that as good as that program is, it is not enough to reach some of the people you are going to be standing next to, some of the people you are going to be inspired to bet on. There are limits to what can be done with fast offerings, strict rules that generally mean a bishop usually can't just walk up to someone in need and hand over some cash on the spot. (When I was bishop, I was so grateful to a couple of my ward members, real gamblers, who came up to me and said, "Bishop, I know you can't do some things you might want to with fast offerings, so here's a handful of anonymous money for you to use off the books for special cases." That was a huge gamble because it was also a gamble on me, but I think tremendous good came from those "under the table" donations.) Fast offerings are a little more like investments, money that comes with rules and often doesn't look foolishly spent. But you can be the fool with your extra cash or other resources. Be sure to give generous fast offerings and support solid charities, but save some gambling money on the side.

Sometimes the world needs a crazy gambler who dares to look fate in the eye and throw money not to the wind, but to the Spirit, placing what may be inspired or even prayerful bets on the potential of others. It may seem random and spontaneous or it may be planned, but however you do it, I'm hoping some of you will take up the true gamblin' spirit and place wild bets and have the experience of one day learning that you hit a jackpot or two.

Happy gambling!

Turning back to Chris Gardner and the movie, I'd like to say thank God for the Glide United Methodist Church in San Francisco that gambled away so much money every day on the homeless, betting that it would make a real difference in the lives of some. Their efforts helped sustain Chris Gardner as a homeless man struggling to become a stock broker in a difficult internship. Any of you know the good people at Glide? Give them a high five or a high $20 or something. Way to go, my brothers and sisters at Glide!

The reason for this kind of gambling is not just hope of the occasional jackpot. The Christian call, the one taken up by so many inspired organizations helping the homeless and others, is to love and minister regardless of what happens in the lives of the recipients. But for some, a small act of kindness, a few bucks, a meal, a place to sleep, a ride to work, help with a bill, can be a turning point that can change their lives in a lasting way - and that's a jackpot of spiritual wealth that I love to see.

In Chris's case, he became a successful business, millionaire, author, speaker, philanthropist, etc., all of which is cool. But most of the success stories that might come from generous gambling will be peace and hope in the lives of people who aren't going to become rich and famous. In the end, all the wealth means nothing, but the hope you give will mean a lot. There are millions of unclaimed jackpots out there, and no two will look the same.

Naturally, you can gamble with things besides money. Your time can be generously gambled away in serving the needy and the sick or others in your midst. It will make a difference sometimes, though perhaps not most of the time. Don't worry. The more you play, the more you win. Keep that gambling hope alive!

12 comments:

Robrob said...

I loved the movie Pursuit of Happyness, too. I also completely second your emotion on the idea of gambling on people. All my life I have tried to keep a few extra dollars in my pocket to help people out. In high school, I used them to give my friends money for lunch. Some of them even joked that I was secretly tracking all the money so I could one day collect by asking for the keys to their homes. It was funny, but I really never remembered who I gave money to. I just preferred my friends eat when they needed to, and I never cared if I got it back. One of my favorite games was to roll coins along the floor so people would find them later and think they were lucky to find it. I have had no small joy in my life from helping people in such small ways. I have also helped people with my business by helping them out in tight spots. Have I lost many times? Absolutely, but I have gained so much more in my soul by continuing to believe in other people. I tend to give more to the church in the form of fast offerings and humanitarian aid, but I love to help out someone who just seems to need it at that moment. I hope it does a little to make restitution for some of the things I've done wrong in my life.

Thanks for a reminder of something positive in life. Gamble away!

Ian said...

Amen!

I think sometimes our "Let them pull themselves up by thier bootstraps" attitude isn't all that Christlike. Sometimes that little bit of help is all people need.

A good gamble indeed.

ScandalMormon said...

One of my pet peeves about some of my bros in my choich is the tendency to emphasize "RESPONSIBILITY" - like "let's don't enable bad behavior by helping those slackers another time - they need to learn responsibility." Or "those slackers need to start learning RESPONSIBILITY by experiencing the consequences of their actions ." OK, there needs to be a balance, but we could do a little less judging of why people got into a stupid mess and more helping them to move forward in life. Most Mormons don't get hung up on that "R" word, but some do with a little too much zeal.

Bookslinger said...

I think "extra cash" can only exist _after_ you have eliminated all your consumer debt (everything except home mortgage) and have a 1-year supply of food and consumables.

Yes, appropritate levels of fast offerings and humanitarian aid contributions should be made even before you've accumulated a 1 year food supply. Even contributions to non-LDS charities should be considered prior to accumulating your 1-year food supply.

But giving money to strangers, and giving the bishop a private "slush fund" (which I think is a great idea) are things that I don't think I'd do until I have my 1-year supply in.

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

Enjoyed your post and your twist on "gambling." I've thought about this issue quite a bit and my wife and I decided to carry McDonalds gift cards to give to people who need a bite to eat.

I guess forcing food on people means we don't trust that folks will use the $5 wisely. Not exactly gambling, but people we've given them to have seemed appreciative.

Just an alternative...

ujlapana said...

I also just saw this movie and found it very moving. Reading the book will follow shortly. I, too, felt moved to realize that there are many people around us who are suffering, not for a lack of effort, but due to a bit of bad luck. They will ride through it (as Chris did), but if I can alleviate some of their suffering along the way, all the better.

I don't like you gambling analogy. You suggest that putting money on another person may be a losing proposition. It won't be. When you give of yourself (time or money), you have been rewarded at that moment. It is not our place to judge what they do with that money--to do so is to say that it wasn't really a free gift in the first place.

Mormanity said...

Thanks, ujlapana. I see your point - but let me clarify a couple aspects I had in mind when I referred to the losing part of the equation.

From my perspective, there have been plenty of times when effort and money to help someone seemed like a poor use of resources in the end because the person was a fraud and wasn't really trying to get help to feed kids or pay rent or get back on their own feet. Numerous stories I could share.

Sometimes just handing out cash can be terribly harmful to a person. If they are seeking cash to buy harmful drugs, booze, a weapon or to go gambling, you aren't blessing their life with your gift, however sweet the intentions were. Discrimination and discernment are needed, and even then it's really a gamble.

That's why I think we really should seek the help of the Lord in doing these things. Someone in the crowd is a sincere struggling person who just needs a little help to move forward, and you can be that help. Perhaps with a prayer in your heart, God can help you find the right one. It's worth trying. Fortunately, great places to help don't require picking random strangers. As we work with others, as we do our home teaching and visit people the missionaries are working with or get involved with our communities, we'll get to know the lives of people all over the social spectrum, and we can find some relatively safe bets to place. In those cases, I'll agree with you in saying that the effort to help in that meaningul way is not a losing proposition.

PJ said...

So I gambled. I usually give only If I really feel the spirit. But something in your post struck a chord with me. Yesterday I was out with my kids when we saw a young man. Probably missionary age. He clearly was down on his luck and probably a little strung out.My girls and I both initially went ooh yuck, but then I thought of your post. He asked for spare change, and we didn't really have it. But then I thought what if he were my son? Surely he is someones. And always, he is a child of God. So I gave what little I had. Not much, but more then my usual contempt and impatience. So maybe it was a gamble but I think that it is a gamble worth taking. So thank you for making me do a little reflection.
Polly

Mormanity said...

Polly, I like that attitude. Thanks for agreat example!

grammy said...

I love turning an idea of something as negative of gambling into something positive when applied toward our brothers and sisters in this world. I will subscribe to this thought. Thank you.

kidd05 said...

That was an excellent post. I find it's always so much easier to shed the doubt and mistrust when you put yourself in the position of that person. Oh, by the way, Jeff, I hope you managed to receive the mail I sent with my testimony!

card counting said...

Sometimes just handing out cash can be terribly harmful to a person. If they are seeking cash to buy harmful drugs, booze, and a weapon aren't blessing their life with the gift, however sweet the intentions were. Discrimination and discernment are needed and even then it's really a bad gamble for some people if they will over use of it.