Monday, January 28, 2008

The Empty Gas Can

On Saturday, I was at the Kroger near my house. I had just finished getting gas there and was getting ready to do a little shopping. As I opened my door, a man carrying a gas can approached me and asked to have a little money for a gallon of gas. Having worked downtown, it was not an unusual circumstance to have someone ask me for money and sometimes I give, sometimes I don't. On this day, I decided to go a little extra. I said, "Sure thing. Let's go fill up." So we took his gas can and I filled up a couple of gallons. He took it, thanked me, and walked off.

I went up to the front of the store and the manager and assistant manager were there watching the man. Apparently they had received several complaints about him and were watching to see what he did. I told them that I'd filled up his tank and basically that if he was legit, then now he had some gas to get where he's going and if he wasn't, then now he's not carrying an empty gas can to try and scam people with. And I went in to do my shopping.

It wasn't until last night on the way home from the prison that I realized what I'd done. Back when I read Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution, I noted that he included a quote from Dorothy Day about how the rich use charity as a buffer between them and the poor. About how the rich give away their money to prevent from having to get to know the poor.

And that's not to say that it's not a good thing to help people in need, but when I filled the guy's can up, I didn't ask his name. I didn't ask why he needed the gas, where he was trying to get to. I filled up his can as a service to him, to me and my self-satisfaction, and to my parking lot neighbors so that they wouldn't have to be bothered. And as much as I would like to convince myself, I'm not sure I did it out of love for him.


Tony Arnold said...

Phil, one thing I love about you is that your heart sometimes gets in the way of your brain, which is not easy, because you have a pretty good brain.

I will use your logic. If the man really needed the gas, he probably did not need your love at the moment. He needed the gas because he obviously had been trying for a while just to get some and get on his way. At the moment, ending his frustration meant more than your love.

("I love you brother." "Great...but I have a wife, a dog, and a brother, so can you love me a little fuel instead?")

If he was scamming people, you dis-armed him which would cause him to have to consider, what now? Maybe the small amount of time he spent thinking would cause him to question himself.

Bottom line: you acted on impulse and you don't know God's ways. Just maybe the Holy Spirit was the impulse you listened to at that moment, in that situation, and what God needed to happen, happened.

Or maybe the guy finally got his gallon of gas he needed.

Jim said...

Don't over rationalize it, Phil. He said he needed help and you believed him and bought him gas. In the grand scheme of things, why you did it is just post-event rationalization. There but for the grace of God...

Tony Arnold said...

Jim said it better and shorter. Parimony is not my strength.

Phil said...

I freely admit that I don't know God's ways and that I pray that I was a useful tool for God that day (rather than just a tool).

However, I really do think that if my intent is to be formed into the mindset and attitude of Christ, then the spirit and intentions with which I interact with someone is important and in fact, that if I'm truly seeking after the image of Christ in my life, I won't let charity be a buffer between me and those in need.

I'm really bad at that, extraordinarily bad. But I want to be someone who doesn't just give money or gas to someone, but enters into relationship.

Brian said...

Phil, you are the only one (apart from God and your wife) who knows the motivation in your heart. If you feel bad, it could be realistic guilt or it could be christian performance guilt.

Jesus said to give a glass of water, clothe the naked, feed the poor. I think you did that.

When I was in Africa with a missions organisation, the poor needed physical help more than they needed the gospel preached to them. People can't here over a rumbling stomach.

Give your time/money/resources in Jesus' name, and let Him prompt you when to do more.

livelaughlove95 said...

I get what you're saying, Phil. Something similar happened to me awhile back. And I remember it was either before or during the time I was reading Irresistible Revolution. I just hope that the situation I encountered was a good learning experience and that next time, my response can be a little more Christ-like and so on.

Tony Arnold said...

Phil, I do understand what you are saying. And the fact that you agonize over it is the very reason that you are least likely to be routinely guility of such behavior.

Your heart and motivation, I think, are more true than you realize. But that is just my opinion after observing your behavior for so many years.

Here you are really searching and questioning your heart, and what you don't realize is there people like me who wish they could be more like you. You are a real, positive example for me.

If that does not make you feel better, then try this.

Quit whining, and go serve someone! :-)

I really do love you as a Christian brother.

Anonymous said...

Phil, I'm going to break from the other comments and give you my honest take as a long-time friend. I think your question is self-serving.

Phil said...

Ok, Daren. I'll bite. How is it self-serving? Not that I think it can't be, but I'm interested in your perspective.

Clarissa said...

I got hit up for gas money by a woman the other night as I walked out of a drugstore to my vehicle. She drove up asking for gas money so she could get home. I had no cash, or very little, but I'm one that might do that sort of thing. IF she had approached me on foot. During the day. If she really needed gas, why was she driving all over the Kroger shopping center parking lot stalking potential prospects?

I've taken food to a guy who was seated in the same parking lot before, but again. Daytime. Seated on the ground, nowhere I could be grabbed and stashed.

I also gave a guy a ride once outside Jaz's place that "needed to get home to get something and then come back and he'd pay me" and I had time to kill. Well, it wasn't a home where he had me drop him off and wait for him; and after I brought him back he disappeared and I never saw the money he promised.

Stupid, stupid, stupid!! Rob would say as much as well. He was NOT happy about that, and neither was I when I considered the possibilities of what the guy might've been into. But no proof, no name, no nothing but a big case of ick. Ick, ick, ick.

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