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Friday, January 12, 2007

What is the role of Charity?

After having spent over 20 years in the Orisha community and just under half of that as a priest, I've come to wonder, what is the role of charity?

It seems like a simple question, but I racked my brain looking for examples. The most I could come up with were those where a particular person known to the community was in need (usually for an initiation, or burial) and a call was made. There was also the occasional time when in a reading someone is told to donate to the poor. In very rare instances, and mostly within the Traditional African community, there were calls for money and clothes for Nigerian temples (and once for some help with Katrina victims). Other then these instances (which seem very few and far between) I haven't seen much in the form of charity.

It's always struck me the lack of interest in organizing charitable functions within the Orisa traditions is an extension of the loss of community and move toward individualism (my practice/my ile syndrome as I call it) . The exception being particular cases of particular people (ie funding an Osha or a funeral). Much beyond that, I've heard of little in the community. It seems to me that although this is a prominently latino community, capitalistic/individualism has permeated the mind and people don't think of charitable practices as a part of their religious life. I think this also stems from the explosive growth of priests being initiated, and as an extension their generally poor theological education. To some extent, the US practices have become a bit of a cult of personality, with a godparent/s who rule over their temples, and though they may be morally responsible for their "house" (not all are), they also inadvertently end up in a situation where their financial well being in part springs from this relationship. Therefore there seems to be a lack of motivation to look beyond themselves to their obligations to the community as a whole. Add to that the constant need of adherents priest/practitioner alike, to undergo costly initiations and cleansings and you further weaken the impetus for helping out others.

These might not seem like words of inspiration, but I think it's important to look at the factors for why the problem exists before you can create a solution.

Where does that leave us? It is of course difficult to get people to see beyond their own problems, in any religion, especially one in which people can do tangible things (make ebo) in order to have tangible results. It creates a bit of a quandry as it leaves people wondering what being charitable will do for them. I pay my money, i get initiated. I do my ebo, I am free from witchcraft. I do my love spell, I get my mate.

In this case I believe that the best way to change this is to use the nomenclature of the religion in order to have people understand what they need to do. Feeding the poor is ebo so that we may not see poverty. Helping the sick is ebo so that we may not see sickness. Volunteering is a responsibility of the priest/practitioner alike.

But what's important is that the example begins from the top. In this hierarchical religion, where we often see in larger or lesser ways, cults of personality (read strong godparent), the godparent has to set the example. As in life, the mother/father in theory should set an example for their children, so to it's the responsibility of the godparent to set the example for their godchildren. Be it in learning/teaching the theology, or helping the community at large.

This is a difficult task, and one which probably will take a mindshift in many of the "elders", but a few well positioned elders taking the lead and leading by example could inspire a system that often gets mired down by greed, politics, and power. We are human, and I'm not trying to point a finger, but we all also have to look at ourselves and those around us.

If you could get 1 or 2 elders to step forward and ask their godchildren to commit to communally volunteering once every 3 months, things would begin to change.

This bring to mind 2 of the 16 laws of Ifa from Ika Ofun:

won ni ki won ma gba opa l'owo afoju
They (Babalawo) advised them not to take a walking cane from the blind

Won ni ki won ma gba opa l'owo ogbo
They (Babalawo) advised them not to take a walking cane from an old person

Ika Ofun tells us, that we must help the disabled and help the elderly, for it is never known when we might become disabled, and we all hope to live long lives. One way or the other, someday it will be us.

I leave this conversation with a saying from the Odu Oturupon Oworin:

Ifa ni ti a ba ji ni kutukutu
Ogbon ni ki a ma a ko ara wa . . .

Ifa says when we wake early mornings
We should teach each other wisdom . . .

Babalawo Ifalola omo Iwori Aweda - marcos

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