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Give or Get

    Slogans are funny things.  They creep into the zeitgeist of a culture and spread ideas almost subconsciously.  “What goes around comes around” has brought the Hindu teaching of Karma to the West with considerable force.  “YOLO,” or “You only live once,” has brought into the minds of a generation the thought that self-gratification is always permissible on the basis of one's own mortality.   There was a sign in LA that captured this idea well.  It read, “You only live once.  Have an affair.”  That’s where the idea leads, but it is embraced and traded like a piece of hard-fought wisdom, instead of the insipid, selfish, and stupid thing that it really is.  

    There is a slogan that I have known my whole life, and it was odd.  Cause the slogan was not aimed at justifying myself or excusing my behavior.  It was a slogan that confronted my dreams and my neighborhood and my culture.  I knew this saying before I ever stepped foot in a church.  It was out there, just floating around in the air.  It said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

    At first, this saying seems like your everyday bumper sticker fare.  A single sentence.  A clever construction that contrasted two extremes.  A promise of something transcendent.  But this saying has something most of the others don’t.  This saying was true.

    First, this saying is confrontational.  Usually, the most popular sayings are pretty self-congratulatory.  If a slogan speaks about your own awesomeness, it is held up high.  We want to be praised.  We want to be assured that we are okay.  This slogan goes the other way.  It is confronting a basic tenet of our society.  We live in a world of fashion and status.  Most of the goods we buy are valued based on their perceived worth, not their actual cost.  We buy clothes not to cover our nakedness, but to be in line with the fashion of our tribe.  Christmas, America’s most pervasive holiday, consists of us spending huge amounts of money trying to buy new and exciting things for one another.  And most of the time, we don’t like the gifts.  But we love the getting.  We love buying for ourselves. We treat ourselves.  We pamper ourselves.  We spoil ourselves.  And this saying comes over and says we are wrong.

    Second, this saying is simple in its instruction.  A lot of slogans point to abstractions.  “Dance like no is watching.”  This goofy little line points to a frame of mind.  But the call to give is not meant to be abstracted.  It is straightforward and horrifying.  Give of your time.  Give of your love.  Give of your money.  Give of your strength.  Give.  This teaching calls us to be generous.  It calls us to be others-focused.  It is not an idea, but an action.  Do you spend your life focused on the getting, or the giving?  It is immediately clear to the hearer if this truth is lived out or not.

    Lastly, this saying promises riches.  Many sayings don’t say what you will get if you live by them.  They are clever enough not to make any promises.  This teaching says that the path to blessedness is this direction.  This teacher promises a path of true joy.  Who could offer such a thing?  In a world of such loneliness, of such struggle and loss, who could say they know a way to walk through this world?  And the answer still surprises me.  For this saying does not come from a philosopher.  It does not come from an advocacy group.  It does not come from a corporation trying to sell shoes.  This comes from the mouth of the man Christ Jesus.  This Hebrew teacher who lived and died 2000 years ago.  This healer who was seen alive after his death by hundreds.  This is the guy who said these words.  “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

    Living by these words has been an adventure.  And it has been quite the experiment.  Does it hold up?  I am happy to report that Jesus wasn’t lying.  The adventure of loving others and being a giver has brought more joy than one family has any right to.  We sleep well.  We love well.  We are loved well.  It is a great life.  A life of significance, of value, of purpose.  There is nothing I know that can bring joy like these things.  

    So, to all who are reading, I invite you to look past yourself.  Stop going to the mall.  Stop watching commercials.  Stop planning your life around the things you think you need.  Instead, walk down the street.  Be open to using your resources to enrich others.  Build financial strength into your life not to buy a nicer car, but to be able to be even more generous.  For as the man says, it is in losing your life that you find it.  

    “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  -Jesus the Christ