Wednesday 20th September Generosity as a basic level assumption rather than a privilege.
Acts 4:32-35 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
photo credit: Simon Cross
“We Fijians know what it is to suffer. We sacrifice to make sure that those around us have enough.”
“My father was a fisherman, when he would land his catch he would first give fish to all the other people in the village, we were left with the smallest fish.”
During my visit to Fiji I heard stories of going without so that others could eat; stories of entire villages pooling their resources so that a young person could go to university; stories of generosity as a basic level assumption rather than a privilege. On a village visit I told my host, as we sat on the floor sharing food, that in the UK doors and windows are locked, and precious possessions hidden away. He looked off into the distance and then back at me and asked: “Why?” It was a surprisingly difficult question to answer.
To romanticise this way of living is a problem in two directions. First it demeans it, making it seem like something ‘only they’ can do, but ‘we’ never could. There’s a problematic dualism driving that way of thinking.
Secondly it fetishises it, denying the sometimes-harsh underlying realities. Greater levels of self-sacrifice may be expected from some than from others, perhaps.
“But when we needed help, all the people in the village stopped what they were doing and came to help us,” the fisherman’s daughter explained. The regular distribution of the catch meant that everyone was there to help when the need arose.
I once met a British monk who spoke of the ‘sanity’ of living in community. “I came to a realisation. I was living a ‘normal’ life on a street where everyone owned their own lawn mower, which they used maybe once a week. I saw how ridiculous this was,” he told me.
Prayer Grant that we might have eyes to see, and ears to hear, the voice of God in the lives of those who live differently from us. Grant that we might have strength to resist the temptation to romanticise or trivialise the ‘exotic’ ways of others. Grant that we might have hearts that learn to beat a new rhythm, voices that will turn to a new tongue, as they tell us of their lives – and ours. Amen
Dr Simon Cross is a 3rd year student at Westminster College training for the Ministry of Word and Sacraments. He is a member of Grimsby URC in North East Lincolnshire.