When Notre Dame de Paris burned, the world mourned.
Then the destruction was halted. And that’s when things got more complicated.
Not for the rescue itself. The French firefighters who battled the fire and stopped it in time to save the main edifice have received a flood of praise, and rightly so. They stood in the face of an inferno that could have completely wiped an irreplaceable monument from the face of the earth, and successfully told it “No. This far, and no further.” That act of stubborn defiance deserves all the praise the world can give, and then some.
The complications came when the donations started rolling in.
Millions had watched the grand cathedral burn. And millions began to be given for its restoration, some of it from some of the world’s wealthiest people. And that’s when the questions started.
“Where were these people when the hungry needed to be fed and the naked clothed?”
“What about the churches that aren’t so famous or lucky?”
“The Catholic Church has plenty of money; why don’t we give ours to (cause) instead?”
“How many problems could be solved if these people would stand up for them as quickly as they did for a famous monument?”
They’re challenging questions. They’re meant to be. The only one that truly has a “wait a minute” answer is the one about the Church: Notre Dame has been owned by the French government since 1905, and its funding for art and infrastructure projects is … well, about what you’d expect from many governments, actually. (There’s a reason that even before the fire, restoration of the cathedral had moved at a snail’s pace.)
But there’s some justice in the overall line of questioning. Yes, we should be helping the needy more than we do. Yes, there are many causes that are not in the spotlight that need the aid of all of us, rich and not-so-rich alike. Yes, giving is something that should be on our mind all the time and in our own backyard, not just when a famous site burns half a world away.
At the same time as I acknowledge the truth of all that, I’m also not going to disparage giving that adds to the joy and beauty in the world, either. That also fills a need.
Both sorts of causes are worthy. Both deserving of our attention. Both make the world more of a place worth living in.
Locally, there are plenty of ongoing causes that need support, from outreach efforts like HOPE and the OUR Center to newer initiatives like Sharing the NextLight. There are also people who gave to build a theatre marquee in the downtown, or an auditorium for the Longmont Museum, or a number of other, finite projects where a final goal could be reached. There are likely donors who have done both, and are doing both.
All of it adds to the life we share.
Are there folks whose public giving is purely for the accolades? Certainly. Are there folks who give quietly in the shadows whom we never hear about? Absolutely. Are we right to be cynical about the former and smile on the latter? There’s at least 2,000 years of precedent for doing so.
But whatever the motives, whatever may lie on a person’s soul – if the giving is doing some good somewhere, then it’s worth the having.
And whatever judgement we may pass on another’s motives, we surely know our own. There are needs we see, that we can support.
Support them. However you can. To lift someone up. To create beauty. to make something more for all of us.
Great or small, those deeds shine as bright as any cathedral.
And they stand with a power that no fire can take away.