By Steven Norris
It is the season of generosity — at least, non-profit organizations around town hope it is. It is the season of red kettles and ringing bells. It is the season of countless emails requesting year-end donations and tax-deductible contributions. Aside from throwing a few coins in the kettle or putting a few dollars in the plate on Sunday, what does it mean to be a truly generous person?
At its most basic level, generosity is about giving beyond what is required. We all have areas of our life where something is required of us — money, time, energy, commitment, creativity, or some other resource at our disposal. To be truly generous means that we are willing to go beyond the minimum of what is required in those areas and give, not grudgingly but joyfully.
The French philosopher and mystic, Simone Weil once said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” As a student in a Baptist seminary, the Catholic abbot of Belmont Abbey in North Carolina, modeled such generosity through the open and generous spirit with which he received me.
I never got the sense that the Abbot was too busy for me or uninterested in my spiritual journey. In fact, as our relationship developed, he agreed to serve as my spiritual director for a couple of years while I was living nearby. He went above and beyond what was required of Benedictine hospitality to be a peaceful, compassionate, grace-filled presence of Christ to me.
To be generous is to hold on loosely, regardless of the particular resource in question. Generosity discourages clinging to the resources available to us or insisting that they are “mine” to control, recognizing instead that everything we have is a gift from God. As such, all of those resources are ultimately at God’s disposal to use for God’s kingdom purposes.
In the midst of the greed that surrounds us, the world needs people of faith who are willing to go against the grain. Instead of insisting on “my way” or “my stuff,” we need a “conspiracy of generosity” that leads us to loosen our grip on those resources and return them to their rightful owner, God.
Our children need parents who are willing to push back when the “me monster” appears in family life. To fight against entitlement, greed, cynicism, and general callousness of heart and spirit, we need to model a life of generosity. I need the courage to go against my own defaults toward greed and selfishness to model a different way of living for my children.
I can think of no better description of the kind of “conspiracy of generosity” that I have in mind than an oft-quoted line from one of John Wesley’s letters. In it, the founder of Methodism wrote, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Amen.