I thought that it was about time that I got back into writing about the kind of values that I think should shape [Christian] community. These thoughts have been percolating for a while, shaped in community with friends over the last few years, but as such are really just my musings on what it means to try to share life with one-another.
So, the next value is all about generosity:
Living generously – we are all about generous living, not living beyond our means. It says that what is ours is yours, but don’t worry about feeling like you have to give back. Generosity is about trying to say yes more than we say no, about seeing the needs of those around of us and working out how we can act, with compassion to help meet those needs.
I’ve been really challenged over the last few years by the movements which have sprung up that model the kind of generosity that our society needs so much more of (and I’m not going to go off on a rant here about Cameron’s Big Society and how crap that all is!). Freecycle showed the potential for what might happen if we set aside the desire to make money out of everything (the ebay phenomenon) and instead willingly gave away what we didn’t need to those who perhaps had greater needs than us. Now, I know that it has turned into a bit of a dumping ground for anyone to lazy to go to their local recycling centre, but the principle behind it is brilliant.
Every year we do a scheme of work at school at the beginning of year 9 that focuses on consumerism and materialism. When you’re stood in front of a class full of teenagers talking about the evils of modern capitalism you soon become aware of the hypocrisy flowing out of you – condemning the excesses of our culture, yet fully imbibing it at every possible opportunity. Do I need that new iphone…well, no, but that’s not the point…it’s pretty…and I can (kind of) afford it.
Yeah. Well, you can see what I mean. We are all about what we can get, and love the pleasure of how that puts us ahead of our friends and neighbours.
If you think you’re better than that, just check your internal reaction the next time that you discover someone you know who’s got the next model up from you for whatever. Or perhaps even when you spy an advert for that latest you-know-what. That’ll give you a glimpse of what lurks beneath.
So, am I advocating some kind of neo-Luddism, or even some form of communist collectivism, denying the right of the individual to own property? I don’t think so. I do, however, think we may need to revisit what community is all about.
As with my other posts on values I’m not suggesting that I am sorted on this. I want stuff, and I struggle to give stuff away that I really love owning. It’s easy when it’s something that I don’t need anymore…but something that I really enjoy…yeah, that would be much harder to cope with.
The heart of generous living is a lack of attachment to things, and a willingness to put the needs of other people ahead of your own. It’s preferring the other. It’s saying that you’re more important than me.
My guess is that it also stops us from focusing on what ‘I’ deserve, and more on what ‘we’ need. A new social contract – perhaps that’s the best way to explain it. My rights subjugated to the needs of everyone.
That goes against everything that our world tells us to be and do.
The thing is, this will also be a huge experiment in receiving as well as giving. We love the buzz of helping others. Needing to be helped ourselves is a deeply humbling experience. That’s why the narrative of the ‘grasping poor’ or ‘benefit scrounger’ is so far off the mark. Admitting we need help and can’t cope on our own hurts. It hurts deeply.
It’s also more than just giving. Giving is sometimes as simple as putting our hands in our metaphorical pockets. I think generous is much more about a mindset and a deep involvement in the daily lives of each other.
Of course, this all goes beyond ‘stuff’ and revisits what we explored in ‘together’ and ‘inclusive’. It’s the blurring of the boundaries between private and public, between personal and corporate.
We lose ourselves, and yet gain so much more.
That, again, is hard.
But the individualism of the last century is not the inevitable result of some kind of evolutionary process. It’s going against the very nature of who we are. We are social animals. We are designed for community. We need each other. We need generosity to exist.
We shouldn’t…no, strike that…we can’t be alone.
Generous is love in action.