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A generosity of spirit

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Have you ever been a target of drive-thru generosity, when the person ahead of you pays for your coffee (pages 12–13)? Or maybe members of your church have brought you food after a death in the family or during an extended illness. Maybe you’ve even received a larger gift, like the Mennonites fleeing Russia in the 1920s – to whom the Canadian government granted travel loans, then forgave $1 million in interest when the Depression made it difficult for them to repay their debt (page 14).

It feels good to receive these gestures, and it feels good to give them as well. We might even get a thrill from our acts of magnanimity. But does our spirit of giving extend beyond our actions to our ways of thinking?

Opening more than our pocketbooks

Giving, as sacrifice stories in the Old Testament and offering stories in the New Testament show, is about more than the money or objects donated; it’s about the heart of the giver. Do we truly embody a spirit of generosity in the way of Christ, who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7)?

Often, our generosity is carefully managed. We prefer to share on our own terms, to remain in control, even of what we are giving away. We get tax receipts for our monetary donations; we give panhandlers food instead of money; we donate things we have no use for. And if ever our generosity isn’t received or employed the way we expected – no more! The tap is turned off.

Generosity has a cost – and that doesn’t only refer to the price tag. Are we willing to give of our possessions, resources and time? As Nikki White points out (page 15), it won’t all be warm fuzzies and feelings of virtuousness. A small offer may be turned into a big favour. Needs will arise at inconvenient times. There may be none of the thanks that fill our tanks.

Sometimes generosity means trying again and again when our gift is rebuffed or even abused. Are willing to share “not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)?

Generous thinking

We can practise generosity in our thinking. When the MB Herald asked, “How do you practise everyday generosity?” on social media, Janessa Giesbrecht responded that she is becoming increasingly aware of the value of listening as generosity.

“Generous listening means allowing people to have the space to share,” she says. “There is something very powerful about creating a space for someone to speak from the heart and be heard.”

We often rush to give answers (or judgment) or fix problems, but that can be more harmful than helpful. “Without generous listening, we keep people hidden behind public faces while they try to wrestle through struggles alone,” says Janessa.

When we think we are at our holiest, we can fall into outcome-driven thinking that fails to be generous. Not discounting the truth and power of the gospel, could we be generous enough to understand another person’s beliefs without first needing to change them? Could we allow that, perhaps, as letter writer Carol Penner says (page 22), we ourselves have something to learn from others?

As the highly polarized debate from the U.S. election occupies the media in the days leading up to publication of this issue, I’m personally challenged to generous thinking. Internet platforms can insulate us from perspectives unlike our own. But what if loving my neighbour means listening to – and not immediately judging – the reasons he or she supports the other candidate?

In our churches, could generosity mean inviting the perspectives of those we think are choosing the wrong path on issues like Zionism, women in leadership and sexuality? It’s not easy to open ourselves up to those whose ideas worry or threaten us. But as a church that believes the Holy Spirit speaks among us as the community gathers, should we not make room for a diversity of voices?

A spirit of generosity can lead us to walk toward fear rather that away from it, to live out our call to be God’s agents of reconciliation in the world (2 Corinthians 5:18). As the settlers and displaced people of Reserve 107 (page 34) discovered, extending and responding to generosity of spirit, and journeying together can conquer fear and build shalom even between groups that might have been enemies.

Janessa’s Facebook post ended with a question worth pondering: “What does it look like for us to listen with enough generosity to sit in the complexities of all of our lives and invite God to pour his generous grace into that?”

Freely you have received; freely give (Matthew 10:8).

—Karla Braun

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