Win a $1,000 Gift Certificate

Rocketeer 12" figure
The Rocketeer 12" figure - considered pricey at $150 when it was introduced.
Tom Cruise 12" figure
This custom Tom Cruise 12" figure sold for $1,200.
Tom Cruise as Valkyrie 12" figure
Tom Cruise Valkyrie figure - sells for around $120 and comes with two uniforms, briefcase, bomb and banner. I've added a German Bible to mine.
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones 12" figure
Indiana Jones 12" figure - sells for close to $100.
Professor Jones custom 12" figure
This collector took the above figure, customized it as Professor Jones, and built an entire classroom around him.
John Connor Terminator Salvation 12" figure
Christian Bale Terminator Salvation figure - the head alone sells for over $50. The complete set is around $140.
Tom Hanks custom head
This custom Tom Hanks head sold for around $60. It is more illustrative, like a Norman Rockwell painting, than most 12" heads, which tend toward realism.
Chris Redfield Biohazard 12" figure
Even video game characters have been made into 12" figures, like Chris Redfield from Biohazard, which sells for around $160.


Charity: The Sixth Knightly Virtue - Part 1

"Hi. My name is Waitsel S and I'm addicted to... er, I collect... 12" figures." "Hello, Waitsel." There, I said it. I've admitted publicly that I collect what my friends laughingly call "dolls." But they're not dolls - they're works of art. Some of you may know them as 1/6 scale action figures, although they're not even that anymore.

I placed a 1/6 scale shoe on top of my own shoe one time to show a friend the difference. He wouldn't believe it was 1/6 scale until I pulled out a ruler and proved it. Then I laid a 1/6 scale sword next to a real sword. Again, he wouldn't believe it was 1/6 until he had measured them both himself. It is hard to believe how tiny 1/6 scale is. What's even harder to believe is that there are people who spend their lives crafting these items.

Since they're hand-painted, China pretty much owns the market, and it is one of their biggest and fastest growing industries. Some of you are thinking, "He collects GI Joes." Not really. GI Joe is the sub-basement level of a market that includes figures selling for as much as $1,200 out of the box. The average now is probably around $80, although it's going up all the time. These are figures that look like real people, whose heads have been designed and painted by Chinese artists that are as famous in China as comic book artists and rock stars are here.

Why do I collect these? Take a look at the pictures and then ask me that. They're fascinating: figures that look like almost any historical, literary or movie character you care to name, that can be posed in any position a human can, with hand-crafted clothing and equipment that are as detailed as the real thing. Maybe it's because I'm Irish and therefore supposedly believe in "the little people;" but there is something about these miniature figures that makes me want to collect them.

Now, here's what this has to do with charity, the sixth virtue in this series on the Twelve Virtues of Knighthood: it bothers me. It bothers me that I spend time and money on these figures when I could be spending them in some charitable service. Let me be clear: I don't usually just buy figures and place them on a shelf: typically, I assemble them from the ground up so they are "custom." So, it's a hobby for me. Plus, they don't lose their worth: these figures are constantly going up in value. So, it's also an investment.

But the fact is, there are people out there starving to death - both physically and spiritually - while I'm trying to find the right uniform for my Tom Hanks as Capt. John Miller (Saving Private Ryan) figure, or the right helmet and sword for my Russell Crowe as Maximus (Gladiator) figure. Now, before some of you shake your heads and utter, "Pathetic," keep in mind that you, too, waste tons of time and money watching meaningless sporting events and television shows, reading worthless novels and magazines, and posting on Facebook and other "social" sites. We all waste time and money doing things that we enjoy. So, is it really a waste? Well, not until you start thinking about how you could have spent that time and money.

Charity - which can also be thought of as lovingkindness, compassion, generosity, goodness and love - is in the 6 o'clock position on the Virtues Wheel, opposite righteousness, its complement. Knights in the Middle Ages called it charity, but they also had another name for it: largess. During knightly tournaments, such as the one described in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, heralds carrying baskets would walk through the crowds of noblemen and ladies crying, "Largess! Largess!" and the gentry would respond by emptying their pocketbooks, necks and wrists of gold, jewels and other items of value to be used to help the poor. It was a major part of every public event, and everyone of means participated in it. No knight ever knowingly refused to help the less fortunate unless he was a real cad, which of course there were some. But for the most part, knights were generous, compassionate people.

I think the answer to the dilemma I've posed is to figure out where to draw the line between indulging our personal desires and taking care of the needs of others. Christ said we were to love our neighbor as ourself. Deciding whether to spend $50 on myself or on a starving neighbor puts teeth into that. So, here's what I've decided, and you can hold me accountable to it: for every dollar I spend on one of my hobbies, I'm going to spend between twenty-five and fifty cents on one of my favorite charities. That will help keep me honest in two ways: it will make sure I'm supporting my charities, and it will help control my hobbies. It's crazy that Americans think this way, I know, when people in other countries are wondering where their next meal is coming from; but that is both the blessing and the curse of living in the richest nation on earth. We should all think in terms of giving sacrificially, after we've tithed, if for no other reason than to keep us humble and free of greed. I'm not sure sacrificing some of my hobbies, as opposed to one of my needs, is really "sacrificial;" but for now, it's a start.

You'll hear me go off on a tangent from time to time, making statements like, "People today are dumb as dirt." I say things like that, typically, right after I've heard someone make a totally ignorant statement about history. Some of the worst, in my opinion, are statements about the Middle Ages, such as calling them "dark," the people "benighted," or their arts and sciences "unsophisticated." All you have to do is study one of the cathedrals in Europe to see that these people were not only not as backward as people today think, but in many ways they were enlightened far beyond us. They understood things about life and nature that we have forgotten.

Psychologists and sociologists have figured out that, without modern conveniences and surrounded by hardships of every kind, people in the Middle Ages were far happier than we are today. Why? I may have mentioned these reasons before, but they're worth reiterating: 1) they lived simple lives; 2) they had tight-knit families and communities; 3) they were in touch with nature; 4) their societies were spiritually oriented, with the church as the center of the community; 5) they had a clear work ethic; 6) people understood their roles, not only in society, but sexual and in the family; 7) people had a clear purpose in life; 8) people understood their world as it was then known; etc. As much as we would like to denigrate our ancestors in order to make ourselves seem more important, the fact is, they were head and shoulders above us in many of the ways that count most. They enjoyed life because they took it in stride, the way God handed it to them. And a big, big part of that was charity.

It's interesting how much we've forgotten about the past, like where things came from. For example, hospitals: they were started by knights during the Crusades. These men wanted to help protect the weak and sick along the pilgrim routes to Jerusalem, so they started an order called the Hospitallers and set up stations along the way. These great warrior-humanitarians were also called the Order of St. John, the Knights of Malta, et al. They were the forerunners of the American Red Cross and other medical and charitable organizations. I wonder how many doctors, nurses and humanitarians today realize who's footsteps they're stepping in.

Schools, orphanages, colleges and organizations of every description were started by similarly noble-minded men and women, the vast majority of which were Christian. These people are what I call true gentlemen and ladies because they cared as much about others as they did themselves. Whether in the Middle Ages or in modern times, these people were the knights and ladies of their age.

Most knights were landowners and, therefore, barons and feudal lords, with communities and families under their care, who paid the lord of the manor a percentage less than half what we in the United States pay the federal government in taxes every year, for the use of their land and for their protection. Contrary to the image Hollywood has created, feudal lords did not, for the most part, oppress their people, and the feudal system was, in general, a fair one and did work. These tenant farmers were pastoral people whose lives were simple and who were, as I said before, very happy compared to people today. Most of the Western World's social ills were developed in the 19th and 20th centuries in cities and, ironically, under flags of free nations; so we cannot blame the Middle Ages or our ancestors or even our enemies for our present woes - only ourselves.

Selfishness and greed - the opposites of charity - plague our society and render us ineffectual as a church. I mentioned all the time and money we spend on our hobbies and leisure activities; but what about all the time and money we spend on our houses and yards. Not that they aren't important, but we've gone far, far beyond shelter and a home to the point of competing with each other for the finest showplace in town. This is nothing but pure greed... and pride. Individual bedrooms and individual baths for our children is not a need, it's a greed. How are children going to learn to get along with other people if they've never had to? Three boys or three girls in the same bedroom is not a bad thing. All my ancestors, and about a third of my cousins, grew up that way, and they all turned out to be fine people. I had to use our den for my bedroom growing up, and I was happier in that arrangement - far, far happier, as a matter of fact - than I was later when I had my own bedroom.

We spoil ourselves and our children. Money and technology never solve problems - they only complicate them. Add government to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. Yet, we keep speeding toward a more affluent, more technologically complex, more government-controlled society. Why? Have we lost our minds? Do we want to strip ourselves of every hope for happiness? All we are doing is creating more and more social ills that will ultimately make us even unhappier.

In Part 2, I want to offer some solutions for our rampant selfishness and show some examples of charity that will knock your socks off.


Waitsel Smith, September 3, 2009

Text © 2009 Waitsel Smith. Photos © various photographers and manufacturers. All Rights Reserved.

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