Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Why We Give

As part of its annual stewardship drive, my church has encouraged us to undertake a 29 Days of Giving challenge. Based on the experiences of Cami Walker, who wrote 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life, the program encourages us to be intentional about giving and receiving, making at least one gift every day for a month.

Over 400 members of the church have committed to participate in the exercise, which will culminate on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, when we submit our pledge cards "gratitude cards" indicating our pledge for 2011. Some have been sharing their experiences on the St. Luke's Facebook page, while others have been blogging about it on their own. (You should totally check out that link -- Angie Six is sharp as a tack and a great writer, to boot.) (And yes, her last name is "Six.")

I've heard lots of great stories already from folks around the congregation -- how their gifts have had impacts small and large for themselves and for others. I believe that anything that can send hundreds of people out into the world with more giving hearts is good for us, good for the world, and good for God.

At the same time, though, I wonder about the way we're doing it. Sermons on the topic and the 29 Gifts book itself seem to imply (or, occasionally, outright state) that giving and receiving are a zero-sum game: I gave X, and so therefore I received Y. I personally don't believe God/the Universe works that way and if that's how things do work, I'd venture to say that everyone in the world (me included) believes that she or he is owed something. It's only human to feel like we're giving more than we're getting, right?

I think this transactional outlook on Giving misses the point entirely. Yes, Jesus told us:
Somethingsomething give and it will be returned to you even more, pressed down, shaken, overflowing into your lap or whatever.*
And when I was doing capital campaigns for the Catholic Church, I loved to whip out:
God loves a cheerful giver (so please don't make my job raising money for the Bishop any harder than it already is).*
But I don't think it is cheer or joy that motivates us when we're giving with the expectation of receiving. I'm not sure it's greed, per se, but it's definitely not the selfless act of altruism that I think of when I think of "Giving." I think that by giving with intention, we can become more attuned to and grateful for the many blessings that are already present in our lives, but I do not think we can cause them to happen by giving. (Of course, I am open to rebuttal on this.)

Rather, giving from love is part of our "spiritual DNA." Once people were around, the first thing God did was give us things: a lovely garden to hang out in, animals and plants for food and shelter (and, later, for clothes), other humans to share the journey (and to [ahem]) with, rules to follow, etc. And at the very center of our faith as Christians is the idea that God gave us something -- in this case, God's only begotten son -- because God loved us so much.

Please to be repeating: BECAUSE GOD LOVED US SO MUCH, God gave us Jesus.

Indeed, everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God. If you believe, as I do, that we are made in God's image, then surely that aspect of God's identity lives in us. Surely we are to give from love, not from expectation of reciprocity or return -- or even from an acknowledgment that giving and receiving might be related. I give because I think it's the right thing to do and because it makes me feel good. When something good happens to me, I believe it happens because God/the Universe is benevolent and wants good for all of us (and also because I worked hard for it, usually).

And I can't believe I'm linking to a Focus on the Family document (I'm as surprised as you are), but this PDF goes along pretty well with my understanding of why we should give and how giving fits in the context of our Christianity.

You should read it, and read 29 Gifts, and read some of those sermons, and let me know what you think.

*This is from the Scott Semester Paraphrase Bible, available in your local Christian bookstore sometime next Never.


Anonymous said...

"Over 400 members of the church have committed to participate..."

*cough* Out of 6,000 members total *cough*

Scott S. Semester said...

Now, now...