Monday, July 7, 2008

Spiritual generosity

It was my birthday last week. Among the many lovelinesses offered by dear ones, one of them really got me thinking. My friend G is a writer, a poet, a tender and generous soul. She also happens not to believe in God, at least in a "traditional" sense. No big, bearded guy in the sky for G. (Or, actually, for me...but that's another post.)

What she does believe in is generosity. In sharing whatever she's eating. In taking care of each other and giving voice to the voiceless. Or, as that Jesus guy said, in "loving your neighbor as yourself."

She tells me that I'm the only "churchy" person she's ever known well. She regards the Church with suspicion, not having grown up in one, and having heard mostly exclusionary, judgmental messages from our loudest voices.

But G is a writer, and thus has a gift for observation. She "gets" me on a surprisingly deep level for someone I've known only a year. So, among several presents that made me grin, I found this book.

"I saw it on the shelf and knew right away that you'd love it. I had to get it even though I'd already bought your present," mused G.

Understand, please, that the content doesn't set her heart on fire or anything. But she knew that it would do so for mine.

It got me thinking about a couple of things:
  1. It's a gift to be truly seen and to be loved as the person you are. I think that's what our relationship with our Creator is, most fundamentally. It's warts-and-all acceptance, coupled with the desire for the loved one to keep right on becoming.
  2. In order to truly give something, you have to empty yourself. This gift was not about G. Many people I know (and certainly I'm one of them sometimes) would be more likely to offer something that's meaningful to them, in the hope that it will be meaningful to the recipient. And I think there's often a lovely impulse behind that, as well. But the conscious choice to offer a gift with no agenda other than the joy and growth of the recipient...that's powerful stuff.
Which leads me to the question: what if our evangelism looked like that? (as opposed to "edifying instruction")
  • What if we just met people where they are, with all the love we can muster?
  • What if we stopped treating our Christian story as something that needs defense and protection from the unbeliever (or the "wrongbeliever") and started acting in the confidence the love of God is so strong, it can't be constrained?
  • What if we found a way to truly see the stranger, and respond in love to her/his full humanity--the pain, the growth, the joy, the brokenness?
  • What if we could act from a position of equality, instead of one of "I have something you need," or (worse) "I know how you should be living?" Just as fellow human beings on the same level--as friends.
  • What if my churchless friend G has a clearer understanding of what it is to be Church than we on the "inside" do?
  • What if we listened to her and learned from her example?
What a powerful witness to the One who came in full humanity to bleed and sweat and laugh and cry with us: Emmanuel, God With Us.

So, G--thanks for the gift. And for the Gift. :-)


Songbird said...

This is just great.
A friend shared some poems from this book at clergy group last week. I need a copy, too!

Diane said...

oh, you and your friend... are so wise.

oh, if only our evangelism looked more like that.

Jan said...

I love this book. So glad your friend gave it to you. And it inspired you write such wise words. Thank you, CG.

FranIAm said...

Oh that book sounds great.

And such blessings to you on your birthday- you who are such a blessing to many. That from me who has not known you long, but truly is grateful for your presence.

I have this on my desktop in a file because I am going to write a post- church, FIA or both with it, but it seems appropriate for here.

It is my gift to you, tiny as it is. Happy Birthday you woman of wise and generous love yourself.

All Real Living is Meeting
by Martin Buber

Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, God,
I do not suppose You are very tied to titles,
You seem to revel more
in creating and loving
Than arguing like we do.

You are beyond any name,
Beyond this group or that,
Beyond ideas or any ability to
Control You by definitions.

You are the Utterly Free One.
You are the Eternal I
That always allows me to be a Thou
Whenever we meeet.

You are the Speaker, I am the spoken,
So Love must be Your name!
Which is always beyond words.


(it was on a prayer card with st. francis embracing the sultan. that there is some good evangelizin' - no? with kindness, love and respect.)

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Very good post. You did so much with this idea and exploring how evangelism might look in this guise.
I loved all your questions.

Shalom said...

Thanks so much for this post. So, so well said.

Cecilia said...

So beautiful, just right.

You are a minister/ theologian. You know that, right?

Pax, C.

Mrs. M said...

This is really great.

Choralgirl said...

Thanks, y'all. :-) Really.