Monday, June 20, 2011

Generations & Generosity

by Rev. Christina Whitehouse-Suggs

Being the mother of a five year old has taught me a few things. One, breakable things are NEVER as far out of reach as you think they are; two, hugs and kisses are usually the best medicine for a bump or bruise; and three, she is ALWAYS watching. That means that if I want Kara to be polite, use good manners, and clean up after herself, I’d better be doing it myself. The logic follows that if I want her to be a follower of the way of Jesus, devoted to the Church, concerned for the poor, and a generous giver, then I need to model those traits for her.

Too often, I hear the lament that young people just don’t give to the church the way older folks do, that us 30 and 40-somethings are cynical, “me” oriented, suspicious and only concerned about what’s in it for us. And to some extent, that is true. My question is, “Where did we learn these traits?”

We are the “fast food generation” who was raised on Happy Meals, taught to read by Sesame Street, and grew up in after-school programs. Who taught us how to care for others? Were we taught to give generously and support things we loved with our time, energy, AND money? The economists have labeled us “Generation Debt”, the ones who are “upside-down” in car payments, mortgages, and credit cards. We are a generation obsessed with instant gratification.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not placing the blame entirely on the shoulders of our parents and grandparents. At some point, we young adults need to suck it up and take responsibility for our poor giving (and spending!) habits. But we could use a little grace and education.

In her excellent article, “Generations and Generosity”, Ann Updegraff Spleth, ministry colleague with The Columbia Partnership, outlines some assumptions about generosity; that it is a learned or conditioned response, religiously motivated, shaped by childhood experiences, and influenced by our adult life experiences. That says to me that we can learn (even as adults) to be generous… but it helps if we are taught this Christ-like trait early on.

To all the saints in the Church who have the most generous hearts and spirits I have ever encountered, I am speaking to you. Help us. Teach us. Be patient with us. We are trying to grow up and be responsible and generous adults.

To my fellow Gen Xers who are struggling to pay bills and raise children and follow the risen Christ, I feel your pain. But if we are serious about following Jesus, then the generous Spirit of God should captivate us and become a priority. Let’s become a generation of redeemed Zacchaeuses who find the joy in giving.

Christina Whitehouse-Suggs is the Associate Coordinator of CBF of South Carolina. This article originally appeared in their monthly newsletter, Fellowship. Christina also blogs at Thoughts from the Journey.

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