Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Place to Excel: Generosity

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. (2 Cor. 8:7, NRSV)

Since you excel in so many ways—you have so much faith, such gifted speakers, such knowledge, such enthusiasm, and such love for us—now I want you to excel also in this gracious ministry of giving. (2 Cor. 8:7, New Living Translation)

Who do you know who excels in generosity?

Isn't this an interesting progression outlined in the verse above? After you excel in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in enthusiasm, and in love, then the ultimate place to excel is in generosity. That may be a slightly loose translation; grace, rather than generosity, or generous giving may be a closer translation, but nonetheless it captures the meaning of what Paul is trying to convey to the church at Corinth.

I am reading a book entitled The Giving Myths: Giving Then Getting the Life You've Always Wanted by Stephen McSwain that provoked these thoughts and questions, and I'm hopeful that he'll provide some direction or answers before I’m done reading.

Would you define yourself as generous? In this economic climate, I think many of us are fearful and perhaps had been holding back on our giving, rather than being more generous. But truly, I suspect that generosity is the sign that we have faith, and are filled with the Spirit (enthused) and that we love. Think about what expressions you might make about or of your faith, of the Spirit's presence within you, of your love for another—aren't all of those manifested in generosity?

Fear is the thing that gets in the way of love, of faith and, clearly, of generosity.

Jesus is quoted by Paul in Acts 20:35:

In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'

Do you ever think of that? How often do you act on it? What would you have to do, what or how would you have to give for you to think of yourself as excelling in generosity?

In writing that I was reminded of the management book, In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters. He named a key value: the ability to manage ambiguity and paradox and eight attributes of excellent corporations--summarized in his chapter headings. Unfortunately a number of the corporations he named as excellent in the 1980's are now defunct, so it's hard to know if those attributes really reflect excellence. Perhaps it is unnecessary to note, given the economic meltdown of the past two years prompted by greed, that none of those attributes included or ended with generosity.

Oddly enough, I just read something in God with Skin On by Anne Robertson that speaks to what happens when we have a generous spirit corporately: it's called cooperation rather than competition.

The business study looked at the field of Formula 1 racing and how the competition between the companies who developed the engines for the race cars affected both their own bottom line and the sport as a whole. They found that when a company was highly competitive, keeping its techniques and formulas away from the prying eyes of other engine manufacturers, the company rose to the top of its class.

On the other hand, when there was a sharing of technologies, methods, and information--a more open-source approach--the result was a successful overall industry. In other words, competition produced an engine that was superior to all the others and a good bottom line for the company that made it. Cooperation produced a variety of good engines across the board and a number of firms with sustainable profits. p. 67-8

Doesn't that sound like generosity? Robertson goes on to talk about the impact of cooperation vs. competition on relationships and our ability to be "God with skin on" for others--more on her book in another post.

I struggle with generosity myself, particularly around giving money, and had suspected that struggle came from being the child of Depression-era parents, but I think I may need to reflect on generosity for progress in my own spiritual and faith journey. As texts for reflection, my morning Psalm reading included these verses:

Deal bountifully with your servant, so that I may live and observe your word. Psalm 119:17

It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice. Psalm 112:5
Perhaps we need to ask for and trust in God's bounty, and understand that we emulate God in our generosity. Your generous comments are always welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your generous plug of God With Skin On! For myself, I found writing that chapter about competition/cooperation one of the most personally challenging and thought-provoking. It does seem that even innocent competition has the potential to suppress generosity.