Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Generous Hearts

Do you remember this photograph? Many of you were touched by the story of this elderly Nova Scotia couple, Allen and Violet Large, which I shared with you in a blog last year. You might recall that they won just over eleven million dollars in the lottery and decided to give most of it away. After their win they realized that they were content with their lives and kept just enough to sustain their present lifestyle. They supported hospitals and other charitable organizations, including churches. In the end they gave away 98% of their winnings.

Well, Violet succumbed to the cancer which is evident in this photo. In the newspaper article about her death it mentions that Allen and Violet have requested that donations be made to their local United Church.

This sort of generosity is impressive. But do we need to win a lottery in order to be generous? As a minister I am fascinated by how emotional and even angry some people get when they are asked to support the life and work of their community of faith and I hear it all the time from colleagues. One told us that her congregation was dealing with the possibility of closing and members were upset. But one stood up and said that he wasn't willing to contribute any more because he couldn't afford it. When someone else noted that he spent the winter down south and always drove a new car he let them know that this was none of their business.

I figure that generosity is public business in the church because we are called to a life of sharing in Christ's name. Most of us have "won the lottery" in life by virtue of living in this prosperous country and it is a shame that the mission of congregations is so often strangled by lack of funds. We don't need 98% or even ten. If our members gave three to five percent we would have enough and more.

But that's me. What are your thoughts?


IanD said...

I think our generous impulses abate or falter when we feel the belt tighten around ourselves and our families.

Each time we see a hike in the price at the pump, or notice that same item we've put in the grocery cart for the last 'x' years has gone up in price, it triggers a feeling of lost control, or worry that the pinch will continue whether we like it or not.

I think putting a face to the help our generosity brings is a way to bring it forward more often. I was moved to reconsider my own lack of generosity when I played the piano at the June session of The Gathering Place. It's one thing to acknowledge need in abstraction; it's quite another to see that need in the faces of real people.

Furthermore, seeing this need coupled to immense personal dignity was an experience both moving and perplexing at the same time. I didn't think they could co-exist, but there they were, together, in the faces I saw that evening at the church.

Thanks for the reminder, David. It's a call I need to hear more often.

johnny said...

It is interesting how we will often not give a second thought to spending money on one thing, but really scrutinize spending on another.

Over the last 18 months, I have spent many thousands of dollars on a lawyer - something I obviously did everything I could to avoid. At $340/hr, a simple meeting would cost hundreds.

This has changed my entire outlook on spending. I have always been careful about what I spend my money on, and I don't go blowing my money on stuff I don't need. But if I am wondering whether to spend $10 or $20 on something(including the church offering), I quickly realize that that would amount to just 4 minutes with my lawyer. It makes it a lot easier to part with it when I think about it that way.

IanD said...


Perspective is EVERYTHING, man.


lionlamb said...

I really appreciate both of your responses. Interesting Ian that you mention The Gathering Place and the reality check it provides. I had already written today's blog which also brings in TGP when I saw you response. I couldn't agree with you more.

And a great perspective from you Johnny, although one you no doubt wish you didn't have!

sjd said...

PAR is the way to go.
I've been on PAR for 3 or 4 years now. When the givings report came out I was surprised to see I was in the top 1/3 for amount given for the year. This embarassed me, not only for myself, but for the other 2/3. I was only giving $100/month. Roughly $25 per Sunday if I'm there or not.
When you consider all the un-nessessary things we pay regularly on. Cable/satellight TV, Multiple cell phones, security systems, On star, video memberships, Car payments.
We are easily lured into a low monthly payment because the amount is digestable for the average person. What most people don't realize is most of these payments never stop. How many of us have an unused gym membership that is still taking that $30/month or so. If it's unused stop it and put that towards something you might get something out of in this life, and the next.
I recently reviewed my monthly payments, and decided that the reason I was living paycheck to paycheck, was all the little things that don't make much difference. I bought out the contract on an unused cell phone, adjusted my satellight subscription, did not trade in our car for a new one because I take care of it, and it has not given any problems.
End result is I still make the car payment, but into a savings account to save towards the next one when needed. The other stuff saved me almost $150/month, and no one in my house can see anything different.
Now the $150/month is my PAR payment.

lionlamb said...

Another excellent response sjd! It's the same for us, we are on Pre-Authorized Remittance and we view "paying God" as one of our monthly expenses. We respond to other important causes as they arise.

About the car thing. Since we drive a 15-year-old car that my good wife would dearly like to upgrade I don't think she would agree with every thought you have shared.

Laurie said...

In my last church I was on Par. I loved it, I didn't have to worry about coming up with money Sunday morning. I have tried to get on Par at St.Paul's, It is not easy. I will try again in September.