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Thought for the 14th Sunday after Trinity: Generosity

But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?  1 John 3:17

All the world’s religions promote generosity

When you find something that all world religions agree on, you feel you are on to something.

“The wise man does not lay up his own treasures.The more he gives to others,the more he has for his own.” Lao Tzu

Zakat, or the giving of alms, is one of the five pillars of Islam:

“God will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed then indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom”. Muhammad

“He that gives should never remember, he that receives should never forget”. Talmud,

“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity”.  Buddha

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:37-38

“It is more blessed to give than to receive”.– Acts 20:35

“God loves a cheerful giver”.– 2 Corinthians 9:7

“He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord”.– Proverbs 19:17

“Gentleness, self-sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive possesions of no one race or religion”. Mohandas Gandhi

“If you are a Buddhist, inspire yourself by thinking of the bodhisattva. If you are a Christian, think of the Christ, who came not to be served by others but to serve them in joy, in peace, and in generosity. For these things, these are not mere words, but acts, which go all the way, right up to their last breath. Even their death is a gift, and resurrection is born from this kind of death. (157)”
― Jean-Yves LeloupCompassion and Meditation: The Spiritual Dynamic Between Buddhism and Christianity

 Let’s start with the easy, and the obvious

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”― John Bunyan

“If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”  Bob Hope

“You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.”― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet 

“Go give to the needy sweet charity’s bread.
For giving is living,” the angel said.
“And must I be giving again and again?”
My peevish, petulant answer ran.
“Oh, no,” said the angel, piercing me through,
“just give till the Master stops giving to you.”

Recipients of our appreciation are apt to express their own gratitude to others, lengthening the unending, golden chain of connections-in-goodness that stretches across the world. Mary Ford Grabowsky

All you have shall some day be given; Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’  Kahlil Gibran

There are three kinds of givers — the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb. To get anything out of a flint you must hammer it. And then you get only chips and sparks. To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it, and the more you use pressure, the more you will get. But the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness. Which kind of giver are you?

 The Rich and Generosity

“Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.” ― G.K. Chesterton

But in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, it was very well understood by the rich that they needed to be generous – Andrew Carnegie said it was a disgrace to die rich.

“Think of giving not as a duty but as a privilege.”— John D. Rockefeller Jr

Bill Gates continues that tradition. But sometimes the penny does not drop and there is resentment and loss of social cohesion when bankers continue to flaunt their new-found wealth in the faces of those who are suffering financial hardship as a result of the crisis triggered by their ‘sub-prime’ investments.

“Even the poor need to know they can give”

Money is not the only currency of generosity. There is also time. And love.

“Giving with glad and generous hearts has a way of routing out the tough old miser within us. Even the poor need to know that they can give. Just the very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure, does something within us. It destroys the demon greed”. — Richard J. Foster

What is false generosity?

“Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do.” Khalil Gibran

“What is called generosity is usually only the vanity of giving; we enjoy the vanity more than the thing given.”  Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“He who gives what he would as readily throw away, gives without generosity; for the essence of generosity is in self sacrifice.” Henry Taylor

“If we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we fear guilt or retribution.” J.M. CoetzeeDisgrace

“Generosity without delicacy, like wit without judgement, generally gives as much pain as pleasure.”― Fanny BurneyEvelina

 The Ayn Rand Excuse

There is an argument which runs that it is best for all  if everyone acts out of pure self-interest. Ayn Rand behaved as she was the one who first thought of this, but there were many before her. Here is an explanation by Dostoevsky:

“No, it is not a commonplace, sir! If up to now, for example, I have been told to ‘love my neighbour,’ and I did love him, what came of it?. . . What came of it was that I tore my caftan in two, shared it with my neighbour, and we were both left half naked, in accordance with the Russian proverb which says: If you chase several hares at once, you won’t overtake any one of them. But science says: Love yourself before all, because everything in the world is based on self-interest. If you love only yourself, you will set your affairs up properly, and your caftan will also remain in one piece. And economic truth adds that the more properly arranged personal affairs and, so to speak, whole caftans there are in society, the firmer its foundations are and the better arranged its common cause. It follows that by acquiring for everyone, as it were, and working so that my neighbour will have something more than a torn caftan, not from private, isolated generosities now, but as a result of universal prosperity.” ― Fyodor DostoyevskyCrime and Punishment

The problem with this approach, of course, is that it is not much good to the starving man on your doorstep, and would be hard to argue convincingly in reply to Matthew 25.35-45.

And what is true generosity?

“Real generosity is doing something nice for someone who will never find out.” Frank Howard Clark

“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” Jack London

“True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands–whether of individuals or entire peoples–need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.” ― Paulo FreirePedagogy of the Oppressed

Generosity is delight in sharing the credit with others

It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert. Jacques Yves Cousteau

One’s performance is often heightened by the brilliance and generosity of other actors. Cyril Cusack

 The hardest lesson of all: sometimes true generosity is allowing others to be generous to you

“When we don’t ask, we don’t let others give. When we fear rejection, we don’t let generosity arise.” Roshi Bernie Glassman

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
― Elizabeth GilbertEat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

 Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings…

“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish”,said Richard Dawkins. Up to a point, Richard. The delight of childhood is the increasing importance of the world around us:

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied,“Well, I made a difference to that one!”The old man looked thoughtfully at the girl as he considered what she had done and said. Then, wordlessly, he too began throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.
Traditional, retold by Lene Jytte Hansen on Facebook. This story also very well illustrates why St Paul talks about Hope, Faith and Charity (generosity) being inseparable. Had the little girl not hoped, and had faith, that her actions were worth taking and that she was indeed saving the lives of the starfish, her generosity would have been pointless.

And finally, a story which encapsulates all that we have been talking about:

  Picture the setting – it was the Paralympics, some years ago now (in 1980’s) held that year  in Minnesota.  Two young boys with cerebral palsy lined up to run the 400 metre sprint. It was the end of the day, everyone was tired, nobody paid much attention to the race. The message came over the loud speaker, “On your marks, get set,” and the gun went off. The man who was reporting this for Time Magazine said it was painful to watch these two boys run. He said that they ran with a staggered gait that could be imitated by almost any  person. He said as he watched he can remember looking up and thanking God he wasn’t like those boys. He said the crowd weren’t really paying much attention except one of the coaches was a really wild man. He kept yelling at one of the runners “C’mon Joey you can beat this kid, you’re a real winner – you can beat him. C’mon, run , keep running.” He seemed to have forgotten that the Paralympics weren’t about humiliating your opponent it was about participation, friendship, etc. As the race got under way and his voice boomed across the stadium the crowd began to pay attention and join in. By the time they got past the first turn Joey had what sports writers call a commanding lead. By the time he got to the final leg he was over 40 metres ahead. As the coach continues to bellow at him the crowd joined in. ‘Joey, Joey’ chanting as he made his way towards the finish line. Coming down the home straight way ahead of the other guy, amidst the crowd cheering Joey stopped in his tracks. He stood there. The coach was jumping up and down and waving his arms.– he knew he couldn’t touch Joey or he’d be disqualified. He was close enough to shout – “C’mon Joey- don’t you want to win this race – there’s the finish line – go.” But Joey just looked at the coach and smiled at him. The crowd got quiet and he turned to them and waved. And then he looked back down the track at the other boy. As a hush came over the stadium the reporter said you could hear his voice: “ C’mon Billy, c’mon” And it was as if the other runner ran as he hadn’t run all race. And as the gap narrowed Joey reached out and took Billy’s hand and said “C’mon, let’s finish the race together.” The crowd went wild.  The man reporting this for Time Magazine who had prayed earlier – offered a different prayer and said “Lord, will you make me more like Joey.” He can remember hearing the coach saying “Joey you’re a real winner”.
Preached on 2 September, and generously given to me by the Revd Dodie Marsden

Part of the prayer attributed to St Francis:

O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.  Amen.

7 comments on this post:

Stephen Heard said...

Lovely post: thank you. Your writing is always so well researched and wide-ranging. And generous.

09 September 2012 15:43
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much, Stephen. I got into the habit of doing my ‘sermons’ like this when I wasn’t allowed (quite rightly) to do sermons from the pulpit. I am beginning to think that the corset it provides is quite a good discipline and can lead – occasionally – to something quite good. But I prefer to have longer to mull them over.

09 September 2012 15:48
Wendy Dackson said...

Well, Laura, you’ve done it again–through a non-sermon, given me something better than the vast majority of sermons I’ve heard in my adult life!

And you’ve exhibited extreme generosity to me, by inviting me to contribute here! I hope that by doing so occasionally, I can help give you some of that ‘mulling over’ time.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Wendy. I am really deeply honoured and happy to have you here. The more you can write for Lay Anglicana the better, but I do not want to be a slave-driver and the quality of what you write is so high that I am grateful for anything you can do.
I must say that, although I do not want to end up trying to write every day, which I am not sure I could do without running out of steam fairly quickly, it is enormously stimulating to have so many interesting correspondents and they offer a pretty good adrenaline high!

09 September 2012 20:25
09 September 2012 17:50
Matthew Caminer said...

Excellent and thought provoking and, as Stephen says, amazingly well researched. Thank you.

You set a really high standard for anyone who contributes here. Wendy is right up there, whereas I feel quite intimidated for my forthcoming piece about Cursillo, but I know equally with what courtesy and care people think before responding here.

In short, this is a very good place to be!

Lay Anglicana said...

Now, Matthew, no false modesty! Not that I mean you were being false about it, but that you certainly need not fear any comparison with me! Anyway, I try always just to say ‘thank-you’ when someone compliments me, so that is what I do here.
Please stick around!

09 September 2012 20:20
Wendy Dackson said...

Matthew, please don’t feel intimidated about writing–your perspectives will add something nobody else can offer!

09 September 2012 20:42
09 September 2012 19:40

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