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Charity is an intimate thing. It’s a clear declaration of your principles and your values, expressed in cold, hard cash. And if you happen to follow the man from Nazareth, or believe you do, it should be done in private and without fanfare. What charities you support, with sweat or gold, is as close and private as to leave you, essentially, naked.

And others are ready to judge you. Man, are they ever. If your charities (read, your values and principles) do not precisely align with theirs, they will look down on you for supporting undeserving causes rather than the noble and urgent causes that they support. I generally hear this in half-remembered rehashes of Alice Walker when I talk about space travel. “How can we waste money on space exploration when people are starving in Africa?/when there’s human rights abuses in China?/when you could be contributing to the Democratic party?”

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At which point, I’m usually thinking this.

So why talk about charity and about giving?

Because it is an expression of your values and principles. It’s one of the clearest indications of what you do value, what you consider important. And why you give to this cause (instead of others) is another indication. Because talking about an idea, writing it out, helps you to understand the idea – even if that idea is “what I think is important.”

And because I’d like to get to know you. Not a grand reason, but a real one.

I won’t judge you for your choices (even if that choice is not to give anything to charity at all!), and anyone who does will feel the loving stroke of the banhammer. I do ask that you give your reasons, because reasons are interesting and help us all understand you better.

So, let’s get charitably intimate. I don’t mind starting. I compiled this list last year, and one of my resolutions is to donate at least $25 to each of these charities this year. I’m going to group these roughly in terms of self-interest going in – into expanding circles of empathy.

Rank Self-Interest:

These two organizations help others, but let’s be honest, I’m in it because I like fish and because I don’t want to die.

Familial Hypercholesterolemia FoundationHigh cholesterol is a genetic trait in my family. Over the past forty years, anti-cholesterol drugs have been developed that make it possible for members of my family to live past fifty-five. The FHF continues to fund research into treating or even eliminating the spectre of early death and heart attacks that my bloodline has lived with since time immemorial. This is prudent self-interest.

San Luis Obispo Fresh Catch – Seasonal local fish delivered weekly or biweekly? YES PLEASE. Admittedly, I love seafood to a fault. You can tell me all about mercury levels and the sustainability of farmed fish all you like, I will still happily suck down my Dungeness crab and my urchin. The Fish Cooperative keeps the local fishermen afloat, keeps Port San Luis and Morro Bay operating, and gets me cheap, affordable, local fish. What’s not to love?

Local Interest:

I grew up in the house my grandfather built, walking amongst the trees my grandfather planted, going to the library my grandmother started, attending the church they helped to found, with my mother feeding the hungry and my father keeping the local government squirming under the public eye. Charity may begin at home, but it’s in the local community where you can make the most impact. And I want to live up to the example of Miles Castle and Jean Bennett, of Steve Mathieu and Nancy Castle, of my uncle Roger Castle and of all the others who have made Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo a good place to live.

Morro Bay Friends of the LibraryMy grandmother was the first librarian in Morro Bay’s history. My mother has been a stalwart Friend of the Library since she was a girl. As a homeschooler, I was constantly in and out of the library as a boy and a young man. I know most of the librarians by name and they know me. Especially with this year’s library remodel, I want to uphold my family tradition and ensure that the library is there for anyone to check out a book from. Also, I run a publishing company – it’s enlightened self-interest.

Morro Bay Community FoundationThe Community Foundation administers the evening classes at the  Community Center on Kennedy Way in Morro Bay. While I grew up, I took Taekwondo, fencing, and Uechi-ryu karate classes there (martial arts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, fencing Wednesdays). I could not have done so, and I could not have swordplay and the discipline of karate in my life, without scholarships from the Community Foundation. Let them benefit some other poor boy, so he can learn belly dance or iron body techniques whether his family is rich or poor. The Community Foundation allows children and adults to grow and develop as people, to drink deep of rich wells of expression and culture, whether they are rich or poor. They make the Estero Bay and its inhabitants better.

Morro Bay Harbor FestivalI’ve served on the Harbor Festival as Volunteer Coordinator, and my father has been a linchpin of the organization for nearly thirty years. The Harbor Festival, every first weekend in October, brings tens of thousands of people to Morro Bay and acts as a celebration of our maritime history and culture. Our merchants turn out to sell fish and jambalaya and arts and crafts and herbs and pictures. The Historical Society and the Friends of the Bay turn out to teach tourist and local alike. Bands play. And the Harbor Festival, bringing business and joy, asks only that you buy a glass of wine or a cup of beer. The Harbor Festival can always use donations to make next year’s bigger and better.

Central Coast Monthly Meeting (and the Education Fund thereof) – Central Coast Meeting is the Quaker Meeting that I attend. Effectively a Liberal Meeting, we have Friends of all theological and religious stances (and none), but worship in the traditional way: sitting in a circle, in waiting silence, quieting ourselves to hear the still, small voice within and to the voice of the Divine speaking through one of our Friends to the Meeting as a whole. All are welcome. Donations pay for rent at the Odd Fellows Hall, and donations to the Education Fund makes possible our Alternatives to Violence workshops, scholarships for Quaker youth, and a host of other educational activities.

St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal ChurchMy grandfather, being a good Englishman, was Anglican, and when he built his house in Morro Bay, he quite sensibly went about organizing the same sort of church there (Episcopals are part of the greater Anglican communion). He was a key figure in the early history of St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea, and Mother now sits on the vestry, doing what she can to feed the homeless and working to make St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea a quiet power of Good in the community. Myself, I prefer the silence of Meeting, but I owe a debt to St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea and I am happy to pay it.

Cuesta CollegeI’m a big supporter of the California community college program. For a hundred or two hundred dollars a class (as opposed to thousands), a student can retrain in skills like nursing or welding, expand their horizons through art or music classes, or prepare for a university education by completing general education at far lower costs. I have many, many, many happy memories at Cuesta. But would it kill Cuesta to have one non-Indo-European language class?

Martial Arts:

I am a karateka. The martial arts have been a big part of my life and have moulded the better parts of my character. In the dojo I learned control, discipline, empathy, pacifism, service, and how to handle pain and defeat. In my arrogant rejection of martial practice, I learned humility and self-discipline and the difference between should and yearn for. And a well-executed sanchin kata is a thing of beauty, like a Miles Davis piece or a Gary Snyder poem. I want it to still be there for my children and for their children, and so on until there is a Mathieu on Free Mars settling into sanchin stance for their black belt testing.

OkikukaiOkikukai is the administrative body of Uechi-ryu karate. Uechi-ryu is a deeply conservative and traditional style of Okinawan karate, continuing to practice iron body methods and older, less sport-based versions of karate techniques (if you’re interested, compare and contrast boshi-ken in Uechi-ryu to the same technique in Isshin-ryu). A large part of this is because of how strict and tightly regulated Okikukai is – one does not simply collect a black belt in Uechi-ryu! I want Okikukai to continue and expand, to ensure a complete and clear transmission of the art of Uechi-ryu for generations to come.

International Aikido Federation –I practice Uechi-ryu and some t’ai chi chuan, but if I had to recommend a martial art to someone, I’d recommend aikido. Aikido is a pacifist and practical art for solving self-defense problems, does not fall into the “philosophy of winning” trap, and is good exercise in the bargain. I would love to see a population where every single citizen is an aikidoka, and fully support IAF’s mission to educate the world in the do and jutsu, the philosophy and techniques, of aikido.

 

National Interest:

I have Feelings about America. This image gets pretty close to summing it up. And I support organizations that, in the words of Captain America, serve The Dream. Not the government, not any faction, not any person. Just the Dream. Organizations that serve our values and who we, as a people, aught to be. You may and I damn well hope you do disagree on the particulars, because that’s one of the things that make us us – we can disagree as citizens, and shake hands as friends, and through disagreement become better citizens and better friends.

The American Civil Liberties Union – Because I’m nothing if not polite, timid, and uncontroversial. Yeah, the ACLU loves them a nice high-profile case, and can zealously pursue them at the expense of equally deserving but less prestigious cases. But the ACLU is dedicated to preserving and maintaining individual rights and liberties, in the face of unjust governments, immoral corporations, and militant nonprofits. They also have this alarming tendency to be on the right side of history. The ACLU does good work, and I want them to keep doing so – even when it’s defending icky speech.

American Friends Service Committee – This is the activist arm of the Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers), and while I disagree with some of AFSC’s planks, I fully support their platform is upholding the traditional Quaker values and Testimonies. Having someone in Washington arguing for wacky ideas like religious tolerance, brotherly love, egalitarianism, and not going to war at the drop of a veil is a beautiful thing, over and above AFSC’s service projects both domestic and abroad.

The Peace Corps – The Peace Corps exists to bring Americans to the world and the world to Americans. Since 1961, Corps Volunteers have gone to the hungry and planted gardens, gone to the illiterate and built schools, gone to the thirsty and dug wells. And all we ask in return is friendship. Because, as our Canadian friends have noted, when the chips are down, you can and should expect the Americans to show up first. 2014 was a record-breaking year for Volunteer applications, and the Corps is expanding into more countries than ever before. If the ACLU defends who we Americans aught to be, and the AFSC reminds us who we aught to be, the Corps upholds who we aught to be. I will expand on my feelings of the Peace Corps in another post. I can only sum it up that the Corps makes me proud to be American, and I can think of no better way to serve my country and the world than as a Volunteer.

 

All of Humanity:

These people, in one way or another, have the entire world as their concern.

Red CrossThe Red Cross is first into disaster and war, bringing medical aid to the afflicted and help to the helpless. They also spread and maintain medical knowledge among the general population through their CPR and First Aid education programs. I haven’t needed the Red Cross yet (and God preserve me from ever doing so!), but I’d rather they were around if I did…or if anyone I know did.

Copenhagen SuborbitalsThese Danish madmen are trying to crowdsource human spaceflight. And it’s working. Forget SpaceX, forget Musk, forget Dragon. If you want to see the future of human space, if you want to know who can find the most cost-effective way to put human beings in space and keep them there, it is here. What these men and women are doing today will put a Senegalese boy on a Low Earth Orbit platform in my daughter’s day, or her daughter’s – you mark my words.

Crowdsourced human spaceflight! YOU GUYS. THIS IS AWESOME.

Union of Concerned ScientistsThe UCS wants to keep scientists (and the people who make scientific decisions, such as government employees) honest, and they want science to focus on helping humanity rather than developing new and terrible means of war. They exist as the intellectual heirs to Oppenheimer and Einstein, scientists who are wise and compassionate as well as intelligent. They protect whistleblowers and call out governments for manipulating science to suit political ends, they support renewable energy and truth in scientific research. If you have ever, ever, had concerns about scientific ethics or the morality of scientists, these are your people.

These, then, are my principles – the list may grow and change as I grow and change, but it won’t change very fast, and I don’t think it will change much at all. But how about you? Who do you give to? Who would you give to? And would you give $25 to them this year?

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About R. Jean Mathieu

They say he speaks five languages, was conceived on a chess board, and once seduced a tong boss' daughter and lived to tell the tale. All we know is, he's called Roscoe. You can find more scurrilous lies at rjeanmathieu.com and buy his books at fedoraarts.com. View all posts by R. Jean Mathieu

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