Giving

Giving as a Discipline of Unlearning

The more I engage with the spiritual disciplines of my faith tradition, the more I am shown their pedagogy. Rather than teaching me things, the disciplines guide me to unlearn what I thought I knew.

For example, the discipline of giving financially to the work of God. I tend to be one who feels there will not be enough money in my life to meet my needs. So I am prone to withhold my giving because what if I need something and don’t have the money for it? Or what about saving for retirement? Shouldn’t I give as little as I can to ensure that I have enough saved for my golden years? Also, I am a better decider of how my money should be spent and so why should I trust another who will frivolously spend it?

Notice how much I think I “know” about how the world works in these basic assumptions.

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The discipline and practice of giving shows me I need to unlearn what I know. It is impossible to learn a new way until I unlearn the old way. As such the discipline of giving is not something that will teach me anything but will help me unlearn the old assumptions. This is why we say through giving God transforms us. It is not the giving that changes us, it is God that changes us as we go through the practice of giving. The discipline is not the destination, it is the bridge that can help us get to a different place.

As of late, many in my denomination are choosing to not give to the denomination because of how the church upholds or violates rules. I get it. Who would want to give to an organization that perpetuates what you feel is sin? What the practice of giving to the church has shown me is that I do not withhold my money to other organizations that perpetuate sin. Tech companies still gets my money, despite knowing work conditions are not good. I bought a “Trump brand” tie, knowing that there are ethical matters related to the president using the office for personal financial gain. I pay my taxes knowing that wars are waged with those monies. I shop on Amazon knowing that the discount I get comes at the cost of selling my data. I scroll through facebook knowing that they care less about connection then about the bottom line.

The discipline of giving has shown me that I am in great need to unlearn the false story I tell myself: I only give to organizations that I fully support.

The Church has her faults and I am a part of the organization. I confess and repent of my failings in the organization. However, it is revealed to me that if I am going to give my money to organizations that exploit and do damage in the world, then I can also give money to those organizations that are trying, but are not immune to fault, to repair the world. For all her faults, the Church is trying to repair the world. The Church educates and builds hospitals. When the private sector cannot see a profit in a problem the church steps in and tries to fill the need (it is churches that are housing people on the boarder, not businesses). The Church is involved in prisons and psychiatric wards. The Church is there when you are born to remind you that you are loved and there when you die to bless you as important.

I have so much to unlearn about what I “know” to be true. I give thanks for the spiritual disciplines that are a means to unlearn the false so that I might learn the Truth of God.

The Good News of Re-gifting

Photo by  Lina Trochez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

Re-gifting has gotten a bad wrap (pun intended) for a while now. I know it is propaganda of the capitalist system that says that you should not give anything to anyone unless you bought it specifically for that person. As though the only possession that is worth giving to someone else are virgin dollars on a new gift. It is silly, but powerful on us. Many of us feel a sense of shame with re-gifting that we would never do it.

The irony is that there is Good News in re-gifting.

Christianity teaches that all things are from God and that humans are stewards of these gifts. We are stewards of money, stewards of natural resources, stewards of animals, and stewards of our sisters and brothers. All that we have is a gift.

As such, anything you give to another is a re-gift. The money you use to buy a “new gift” is a re-gift.

The Good News of re-gifting is that all of life is a gift. And in re-gifting we are reminded of that.

The eight degrees of charity

Maimonides was a 12th century Jewish teacher who is new to me but old hat for those who know anything about Judaism and philosophy. While he writes on a wide breath of topics, it is some of his writing on charity that stands out to me this time of year. It was brought to my attention on the podcast "Question of the Day" (trailer below).

Here are the eight degrees of charity that Maimonides puts forth. Just a note that each degree is "greater" than the preceding degree.

8. When donations are given grudgingly.

7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.

6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.

5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.

4. Donations when the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but the donor still doesn't know the specific identity of the recipient.

3. Donations when the donor is aware to whom the charity is being given, but the recipient is unaware of the source.

2. Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other. Communal funds, administered by responsible people are also in this category.

1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

What is interesting to me is degree number two. I have heard much of my time in church work that many people value giving in a way that they know what the money will be used for and they will not give or not give as much if they do not know what the money will be used for. That is to say that for our time it seems we do not value Maimonides' degree #2 as highly has he did.

Could it be that we are missing something in our persistent insistence in having the final say on where the money we donate goes? Could we it be that we are eroding away social Trust when we push aside the second degree for a "lesser" degree? 

It is better to give than to receive? Shenanigans.

6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste? 9For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.’ 10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’
— Matthew 26:6-13

How can Jesus be a generous guy and then say it is okay for this woman to pour expensive oil on his head when it could have been sold and proceeds given to the poor? That does not sound very generous at all.

And yet this story may be one of the great stories of Jesus teaching about true generosity in any Gospel.

It is worth noting that generosity is often understood as when we give. We talk about being generous givers of which we generally are good at especially this time of year. But there is also the idea of being a generous receiver.

We tend to think that it is better to give than to receive, however it really is just as important to be able to give as it is to receive.

If we cannot receive something from another person, if we think we don’t need anything from anyone, if we are uncomfortable when someone gives us something and we don’t have anything to give back to them - then we are not very generous receivers.

Giving is an act of grace and receiving is an act of humility. It is humbling when someone gives us a gift is it not? We have been conditioned to think that we are not worthy of receiving gifts. We say things like, “I don’t need anything.” or “You really shouldn’t have.”

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We say things like this, I think, in part because we don’t want to feel that humbling feeling we have when we know that someone went out of their way, used their resources, in order to give us a gift to say, “I was thinking about you and I wanted to give this to you and say I love you.” It is humbling when someone looks you in the eyes and shows you that they love you.

In the story of the woman anointing Jesus we get Jesus teaching his disciples both how to give and receive generously.

First, when Jesus says “For you will always have the poor with you.” He is alluding to Deuteronomy 15 - specifically the verses where God commands the people how to give generously:

Deuteronomy 15:7-11

7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour.8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near’, and therefore view your needy neighbour with hostility and give nothing; your neighbour might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’

 

When Jesus says, “For the poor will always be with you” he is using one line to invoke the entire teaching. It is like if I say, “she was a Good Samaritan”. If you know the parable of the Good Samaritan then you know what I mean. Through didactic teaching Jesus is articulating how to be a generous giver.

But like I said, it really is just as important to be able to give as it is to receive. And Jesus was a generous receiver.

Jesus does not turn the gift away. He does not say to the woman, “Hey, I am the Son of God, I don’t need anything.” or “You shouldn’t have. I did not get you anything.”

No.

Jesus recognizes that this woman went out of her way, used her resources, in order to give him a gift to say, “I was thinking about you and I wanted to give this to you and say I love you.”

It is humbling when someone looks you in the eyes and shows you that they love you.

Because it is just as important to be able to give as it is to receive.