A Season for Generosity...

The holiday season or Christmas season has already kicked into high gear. 

There are parties to attend, food to eat, decorations to be put up and...gifts to buy. In our culture, most people embrace all of these things with enthusiasm despite the filing of the calendar and the overfilling of our stomachs.  Our lament to the seemingly unavoidable loss of down time, rest and the financial implications: " 'tis the season!"  In addition to all of the festive frivolity there is a reminder to give to 'something' or 'someone' at every turn. Add one dollar to your order here, donate something you're going to replace there or fill a box with the cute but cheaper versions to send somewhere else, for someone else. We do it and we feel good about it, maybe we even feel great! However, how often do we consider how our quick transactions affect the lives of others?  We all have the capacity to demonstrate true compassion and to likewise help others grow in their understanding of compassion, moving us from the simple reflexive act of giving to deeper, more sustainable, intentional act of generosity. 

In a consumer culture it is possible that there has been a dilution of the virtue of compassion to a transactional distance of
giving rather than the sacrificial commitment of generosity.

In Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus shares the details of the distant eternal horizon. In so doing He also challenges current perspectives on the suffering around us and causes internal questioning regarding our capacity to respond. It’s a Kingdom picture, a global picture that is shaped by everyday individual choices.

Many would say, “but of course, I donate food and drink, I give my old clothes for resale or even to someone in need and certainly I support care agencies that reach the sick and imprisoned.” In fact, some would say, “isn’t that what we’re supposed to do, give?” My concern is that we’ve reduced Jesus’ call to a transactional relationship rather than a transformative relationship. Here are some of my personal reflections of Matthew 25:31–46 as it relates to this transition from giving to generosity:

1. We have turned the food, drink, and clothes into commodities and we have co-opted the hospitality to a stranger or the caring for the sick or the prisoner to others.
2. We have focused primarily on the supply, the response, the action of giving and the feeling we derive from being kind.
3. How often is giving done so that we can replace what we have with something newer or better?
4. I say we, because these comments are not accusatory but are from my own reflection and from conversations I’ve had with others; they often condemn my conscience and challenge my thinking and my actions, while shaping and expanding my leadership capacity. 

One of the greatest challenges, particularly at this time of year, is to lead myself and others, away from the ease of transactional giving and into the development of intentional relationships with others, seeking their interests and helping them to recognize the resources and abilities that they might have. It's hard because, on the part of the one would give, we tend toward giving stuff, without personal engagement or sacrifice. It's hard because, on the part of one would receive, we are surrounded by ability to receive handouts, at every turn...until January.... What we really need is each other, over a long period of time learning to rely on the generous nature of God to help us both. 

When seeking to be generous to the undeniable needs in other countries, think carefully about doing so through organizations  that support their local economy, addresses their local need and strengthens their local community.

How have you tried to make an intentional move from giving to generosity?