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Nine Kinds of Generous

“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each,” writes Paul Goodman in the Nine Kinds of Silence.

“There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and sub-vocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.”

What a beautiful display, like the unfurling of cards in your hand. At first, one, and then one by one, slowly displayed and made available to be played.

Silence, not just one thing but many. Mesmerizing. As in the magical world of The Phantom Tollbooth … 

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” ― Norton Juster

Ah, the moment after the door closes when you are all alone in the whole house. Silence is so much more than quiet. It is shush. It is thinking. It is fear. It is failure. It is overpowering. It is overpowered. It is expectation. It is reciprocation. It is listening. It is distracted. Isn’t silence amazing?


Goodman and Juster have inspired me to think about the many kinds of Generosity, for “not giving and giving are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each.”

There is the selfish generosity which withholds because it doesn’t notice need; the generosity of scarcity which hoards and stores, fearing scant days ahead; the glad generosity which  gains by opening generosity’s door; the generosity of the perfect gift which smiles in anticipation; the generosity of giving without expecting anything in return; the generosity of listening which, by its attention, strengthens and grows; the shrinking generosity of payment due, extracting joy; the gift declined; and yet, yet, the generosity of spirit, unbidden, uncompelled, offered wholly back to God and to those whom God loves.

Giving and not giving are both human ways of being in the world. Only one remains. It is not the gift God loves, it’s the giver.

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. ~2 Corinthians 9:6-7


hand giving


Goldilocks and the lukewarm problem

You don’t have to tell me twice. Nope, usually it takes 4 or 5 times. Still, I am listening.

On Sunday our pastor, who is talking about generosity and giving – let that not be confused with stewardship, which is money and giving to the church, because people do not want to listen to this – says, “saying yes to funding these things also tells you what you need to say no to.”

This is, I admit, a new thought to me. Call me slow, but I hadn’t exactly thought about the relationship between these. You only have so much money. When you choose to put it in ‘these pots’ then you don’t have enough also to put it in ‘these pots.’ It’s an automatic – for him.

Not for me. I fill up those pots I’m sure about and then I scamper about trying to dig up money, time, talent, resources of some sort, to put in those other pots. Because they’re standing there like trick or treaters on my doorstep holding out their buckets. We’re supposed to give to all who ask of us, right?

Well, no. We’re supposed to be discerning the right proportions. For the trick or treaters, it may mean giving out less candy to each so you have enough for the bunch of them because you do want enough to go around. But in general, this scraping-up-giving is really not God’s way. But the notion that chosen-giving also illuminated not-giving was new to me.

Next day, I am faced with a decision about something that will commit a good deal of time. Saying yes, would mean investing in yes. And there were so many things I could say yes to. I would be limiting my options. Was that really wise? Prayer led me to say yes. This was something that had potential to pay large dividends. I had evidence of its effectiveness, even though the pay off wasn’t assured.

Oddly, when I said yes, I realized what other option was a no. I knew this without guilt. Didn’t feel like I must scrape something up for the losers. I declined that offer and wished them well in their endeavor. Really quite painless.

But, just to hammer this home, God sent me Tim McCarver on the World Series broadcast. He explained that the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t sign Albert Pujols, who was so expensive, allowed them to spread the resources they saved around to make offers to other players. “Who you don’t sign is as important as who you do sign,” he said.

Not quite done, God sent my online class marketing professor (UVA MOOC) to say, “when defining your brand you must be as careful to say what your product is as to say what it is not.” We can’t be all things to all people or we ‘ll lose them all. She related this to selling iced tea or hot tea; no one wants lukewarm tea.

Four prompts under my belt, I am thinking about little miss Goldilocks. Too hot. Too cold. Just right. She chose the middle ground every time and it worked out for her, in the story. I think most people can relate to this. We’re not extremists. We like to dabble in both sides, investigate our options, research the course of action, perhaps read what others in the know are saying. And then, hopefully, we make a choice. We are middling folks. We don’t want to be deceived and we really don’t want to make a mistake. We are shoppers.

But if you’re in the business of selling, you must decide what your product is and what it is not. You must decide where to put your resources so that you know where they don’t go. You must say yes, so you know what to say no to. In the words of St. Paul, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” He was a salesman to beat all salesmen.

I am a salesman for Christ through youth athletics. I believe in what I’m selling, not because it’s right for all people but because it was and is right for me. I want to get it to everyone for whom it would also be right. It’s my mission. They are my mission field.

Goldilocks has not served me well. It’s a place for shoppers. I’ve never been a very good shopper. I’m a seller. I’ll offer you what I have, who I am, and what I know at a fair price. I won’t cut corners to try to please the middle because that unbalances and depletes. It also blurs the lines between what I am and what I’m not, what I can give you and what I can’t.

You may be lukewarm about buying. That’s reasonable. It’s only fair, then, if I am firm about what I am offering. That’s good for business. And my mission. I don’t want to sell you something you don’t want. Just invite you in for a chat, show you around, find out what you’re looking for. Whether you buy is completely up to you.

That frees both of us.

Is negligence costing you, too?

I don’t neglect on purpose. It’s an accident. I don’t pay attention. Let it slide. Save it for a rainy day. Wait until I have big block of time. Just don’t notice it anymore.

My mess

My mess

The last may be the worst. Something small and insignificant doesn’t demand my attention so I set is aside until it blends in with the rest of the scenery. And goes unnoticed. Until I notice it. And it’s past due. Expired. Spoiled. Outgrown. Dust-covered. Obsolete. Or just so decrepit that its unusable.

Finally got around to three things yesterday that I had been neglecting. Oh, not intentionally. They were on my to-do list. Marked for execution, at some point. I just hadn’t gotten around to them. And when I did, they were all past due. There may be financial penalties on two of them. One was past deadline. Opportunity lost.

I wonder how fast the cost of negligence is accruing in my life. Not just in financial penalties and items tossed but in opportunities missed. That’s where God’s got my attention. And not in a “yes, you should lament this, shame on you” kind of way but a “dear one, please attend to the details” voice.

God really is exceedingly patient with me. I mean, I discovered I have a winter sweater from LAST January awaiting hand washing in my laundry room. Been what, 10 months? But this is the least of His worries, I imagine. Perhaps he laughs among Himself and says, “Oh that Wendy, she does have laundry issues.”

No, today we’re talking about maintenance issues. Things that can wait, but shouldn’t wait forever. Because things gather: the inbox fills, the bills mount, the dust gathers, the piles build. Isn’t it interesting how inanimate objects are active by accident?

I suspect it’s entropy. That force in the universe that tends things toward disorder and disarray unless we do something to stop it. The things I see seem harmless enough. But what about the things I don’t see? Things like:

  • boundaries that erode
  • relationships that grow cold
  • ideas left to die
  • energy that dissipates

These things deserve attention. At the very least, maintenance. A tap or a check-in or a re-visiting every now and then, just to be sure they’re intact. Perhaps some need a bit more care and tending. A bit of patching or bolstering. Some clean up or mending.

Perhaps the very act of attention may regenerate them. A little sorting or clean up may be just what is needed for me to see the nugget underneath. The seed waiting for me to sow it. A bit of water and some fertilizer and who knows what might grow?

My antagonist always seems to be busyness. That sense of needing to do what presents itself for doing and clamors for the most attention. The other things, the ones underneath, are quieter, calmer, willing to wait. If they have a voice it is still and small.

And I wonder if the Sabbath wasn’t created for such as these. A day of rest, not a ‘put your feet up and let the day serve you’ kind of rest but a restorative rest. A day to attend to the boundaries and things on the fringes. A time to address those things we have left behind or set aside. To consider what stays and what goes. To put things where they belong.

Really, it’s childish to leave our things all scattered about. Didn’t our Father teach us to take care of the things he’s given us? To leave our childish ways behind?

  • Step 1. Notice the messes.
  • Step 2. Schedule regular cleaning.
  • Step 3. Enjoy the satisfying feeling of order.
  • Step 4. Look for life there and give thanks.

How refreshing!

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