More on Generosity

Ran across this from Seth Godin’s new (free, online) book:

When the economy tanks, it’s natural to think of yourself first. You have a family to feed a mortgage to pay. Getting more appears to be the order of business.

It turns out that the connected economy doesn’t respect this natural instinct. Instead, we’re rewarded for being generous. Generous with our time and money but most important
generous with our art.

I believe this is true not only for individuals and families, but for most levels of organization (churches, businesses, countries, etc.). When the economy gets tough, we need to look out for #1. Inasmuch as I am responsible for myself, my family, my business, my church, this makes perfect sense. After I get myself taken care of, then I will be in a place of strength and plenty and actually able to do something for other people.

We even have a little saying we can fit with this notion: “You can’t give what you don’t have.” There are some organizations out there that are really doing great work for people. I wish I could give them a million dollars. But I don’t have a million dollars. So, going by this way of thinking, if I want to give them a million dollars, I first need to get myself a million dollars.

Obviously we’ve moved beyond the appearance of economic distress now. But then that’s the difficulty for many of us. We know there is distress out there. We know people who have lost jobs. We’ve even had to change some of out plans, maybe even cut back on our spending. But most of us here in the USA are still ok. We still have a place to live, clothes to wear, and food to eat. By world standards we’re still pretty wealthy. By whose standards do we judge ourselves wealthy enough before we start being generous?

When we wait until we first secure ourselves (too often by a very high standard), we also tend to become less inclined to be generous. We worked hard to get where we are. The folks out there who might benefit from our largesse – how hard have they worked? How deserving are they?

It is sometimes the case that we become successful because we are generous rather than in spite of it. As a leader of an organization that seeks to influence people toward Jesus, I like this part of what Godin says:

If you make a difference, people will gravitate to you. They want to engage, to interact and to get you more involved.

Give to get. A variant of the Prosperity “gospel.” Let’s make it happen! Toot, toot, here I am! I’m being generous, flock to me! Things certainly work that way sometimes. I know I’m more attracted to the generous than to the stingy. Giving is good. Giving “works.”

But when this is my way of thinking, I’ve again lapsed into taking care of myself first, I just happen to be applying a different strategy. Jesus knew something of this, and said that those who profited from their acts of righteousness here and now (i.e., did them to be “seen by others”) have received their reward fully. Jesus advised doing works of mercy and generosity in secret, not even letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Surely this is not the first evidence you’ve had that Jesus is a trouble maker?

So why be generous – and why be generous even when you maybe cannot afford to be generous? If we were mere Kantians, we might say to do it just because it’s the right thing to do. As legislators of universal law, we can happily pass the maxim that all ought always to be generous. Often as not then, we might find ourselves recipients of generosity.

But I try hard not to be a Kantian. Instead, I find myself in a story where I am a recipient of mind-blowing generosity. God has given a gift well beyond any surplus. Jesus – who came for a broken damaged sinner like me – was generous far beyond what I deserved. Since that’s not the end of the story – either for Jesus (raised from the dead, now ruling over creation) or for me (I’m still walking, talking and typing) – I am a player in that same story. As a recipient of a free gift, I am taught by that very gift to extend it to others. I give grace out of gratitude (you may note those two ‘g’ words are etymologically related), I give love because I am loved. As part of the health Jesus gives me (consider the context of what Peter is talking about when he speaks of “salvation in Acts 4:12), I am healthy to the extent I share with others.

So, being generous is good for me. But that’s the smaller thing. Being generous is good for others – and good for God’s kingdom I claim to inhabit and for the story in which I live.

How about your story? Is generosity a logical move in your storyline?

This entry was posted in Economics, Generosity, Immanuel Kant, Seth Godin. Bookmark the permalink.

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