In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, what does the minister say about charity?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In chapter 18 of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, young Maya Angelou attends a church revival service and hears a long and emotional sermon on charity from the minister:

"As I understand it, charity vaunteth not itself. Is not puffed up." He blew himself up with a deep breath to give us the picture of what Charity was not. "Charity don't go around saying, 'I give you good and I give you clothes and by rights you ought to thank me.'"

The congregation knew whom he was talking about and voiced agreement with his analysis. "Tell the truth, Lord."

"Charity don't say, 'Because I give you a job, you got to bend your knee to me.'" The church was rocking with each phrase. "It don't say, 'Because I pays you what you due, you got to call me master.' It don't ask me to humble myself and belittle myself. That ain't what Charity is."
(Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Google Books)

His point is that true charity is not done for praise or community respect, nor as something to hold over the heads of others. True charity comes from the heart and is done quietly, through private channels, so the receiver is not shamed. A giver of true charity does not care for personal glory, only that the charitable act helps and uplifts the receiver; one should even strive to give without ever being recognized, either by the receiver or anyone else. Giving charity so it can be a reason to lord over people, or worse, to enslave them through words and deeds, is worse than doing nothing at all.


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