A small choice at our church has created the platform for a small discussion. Here's the situation - on Sunday mornings we have coffee in our lobby between services. Not Starbucks, not a coffee bar, just good hot coffee. On these two Sundays before Christmas we have also have several trays of cookies with the coffee.
So, on Sunday, the lobby was electric with cookies. Well, maybe that is an slight exaggeration. But it's not exaggerating to say that there was more lingering, more laughing, more gathering around cookie in hand, than normal. I loved it ... somehow the small act of generosity created a moment. A festive moment. A kitchen table moment.
The discussion then, is whether we should spend to provide cookies on these two Sundays, when a church we partner with in Canada sometimes can't pay their heating bill. We do not NEED cookies - certainly. Our collective heft proves that. And there are real needs all around us, some more poignant than others. It hurts my heart to say it, but there are no doubt families in our church who have trouble paying their heating bill.
So.. what about it? This is a tricky question because there are so many ditches to fall in on either side. Extremes, subtleties and specifics abound to complicate any opinion.
But in principle, I am for the cookies. The reason is simple: we all need moments of generosity. I have lived in poverty and when I found ways to be generous, even then, I became rich. Generosity is not the property of abundance. Generosity flowing out of need is stunningly beautiful. And in my life, it has been those times of shared need when shared generosity has been at its best. Think fish and loaves that become a feast. I remember Judy Rollins, my neighbor with whom I shared one roll of toilet paper on a hot month in June. We both had three kids - we were both on the edge financially - and we would have our kids run the roll back and forth when it was needed. I have learned more about generosity in those times than in times of abundance.
My second reason is based on the understanding that God is everlastingly generous. The character of God is rife with abundance, joyous communion and generous hospitality. He gives until he has given himself away.
But I hear the push back - when we put cookies by the coffee we are not simply giving to ourselves? Feathering our own nest? I draw from my experience as a mother to think about this. I learned in the nineties that the best gift I can give my family and community is my own wellness. To choose for my wellness feels selfish, often, and everything in me can fight against it. But from my wellness flows my home, the gifts of my life, rest for the souls of my family and those who come through my life. Some people don't have beds, but I will work to put warm quilts on my beds. And then I will fill those beds. Some people are hungry, but I will put a meal on my table whenever I am able, and sit with people, and listen and talk and laugh together over food. Some people don't have order, but I will do the work to create order in my life and invite people into the peace of it.
Somehow when we put out the plate of cookies we are saying that life is valuable, generosity is God-like, and for this moment we are living in the abundance of God. It is a moment of sacred remembering. It is a sacrament of a lower order.
So, I have learned that generosity is not about what you have. It is about how you think. And I think the cookies are some of that.