Donald Miller begins his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years with some clever (but poignant) lines about story. He tells a brieftale about a guy who works all the time to save up for a car.With a humorous delivery, he explains that no one really wants to read abook or watch a movie about a man who works hard with the goal of purchasing an expensive car; it is not the least bit inspiring or noble. It makes me laugh to think that Jesus might have called a fisherman or two there at the seaside that turned him down because they had just leased a new convertible and had to keep hauling nets to make the payments. And yet, for many of us, that is exactly the type of story we are living! Our lives are black holes of insatiable spending and consumption. We order our lives around the next purchase that we believe can make us happy.
I was speaking recently about the power of story, and in the midst of the talk stumbled across something profound in my own narrative. I am transformed when I give. My life is affected when I take the time and plan to do something with a neighbor in mind. When I give, it requires that I step outside of my own world and recognize (if only for moments) that someone else has needs. In a world illuminated by the bright lights of consumerism and driven by constant reminders of what we should purchase to be complete and satisfied, it is often the first step in remembering that something spiritual is foundthrough acknowledging and responding to the needs of others.
A character from To Kill a Mockingbird laments that most church people “are so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one…” she continues, “you can look down the street and see the results.” We find a beautiful answer to her commentary later in the book though. One of my favorite scenes in any story takes place when Scout and Jem visit the First Purchase Church in chapter twelve of Harper Lee’s novel. Not only is it one of the most moving moments in the narrative, I think it has a lot to teach us about the way we should endeavor to care for our neighbors. At the end of the church service, the pastor of the African-American community takes up an offering and does something Scout had never seen before in church:
“To our amazement, Reverend Sykes emptied the can onto the table and raked the coins into his hand. He straightened up and said, ‘This is not enough, we must have ten dollars.’ The congregation stirred. ‘You all know what it’s for — Helen can’t leave those children to work while Tom’s in jail. If everyone gives one more dime, we’ll have it — ‘Reverend Sykes waved his hand and called to someone in the back of the church. ‘Alec, shut the doors. Nobody leaves here till we have ten dollars.'”
Amen. I love those lines… They remind me of C.S. Lewis’s quote, “It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter. It is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.” Reverend Sykes has closed the doors to his church and will not let his congregation leave until the needs of one suffering family are adequately met. Scout recounts how the Reverend even begins to call people down to the front of the church who have not given or could give more “slowly, painfully, the ten dollars was collected. The door was opened and the gust of warm air revived us.”
Can you imagine this taking place in a church service today? I wonder what it would look like if our communities of faith, our neighborhoods,or our co-workers endeavored to care for each other in this way. I think we need more people like Reverend Sykes in the world.
Curiously, the most common question I receive about giving (and the one I often ask myself) is simply — how much am I required to give?
I love the way C. S. Lewis responded to this query:
“Giving to the poor is an essential part of Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I’m afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, and amusement, is up to the standard common of those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things that we’d like to do but cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”
I wonder how transforming and fulfilling our story could be if we endeavoredto give in this way…