Why Give in Community?

March 24, 2015

By Christa

“…humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling. As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or withhostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web
a-tremble. The life that I touch for good orill will touch another life,
and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what
far place and time my touch will be felt.”

–Frederick Buechner, The
Hungering Dark

When I participated as a member of a Lazarus at the Gate group
in 2008, I knew one other participant. We were a bunch of people that were
interested in the study but didn’t have a group underway at our churches or
other affiliations that we could join. So some of us went in as strangers, and
then connected as we shared thoughts and fears about money, security, and faith.

That group helped me to understand, at a much deeper level,
why as Christians we are called to live in community with each other—that is, to
engage with other Christians in ways that go beyond showing up at a church
service and saying hello. For as much as we hear about the negatives and
positives of Western or U.S. individualism, humans are relational. We describe
ourselves in terms of relationships: son, daughter, sister, brother. Our
actions are determined by our connections to others in ways that range from the
mundane (reading yelp reviews to find out what other people think about a
restaurant or service) to the profound (forming advocacy groups in support of
specific issues).

Or, as Frederick Buechner wrote, “humanity is like an
enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing

Our Lazarus group was that trembling web, constantly in
motion from the effects of each other’s words and actions. We challenged each
other through our individual acts of giving. Some gave more, some gave less,
but I think all of us engaged in our own genuine struggle toward generosity and
away from fear. We extended grace to each other as we understood each person’s
story and context. Because we discussed times that we found changing our economic
choices to be difficult, it was easier to know how to be supportive.

I think we saw God’s call to each of us more clearly through
our conversations. We came to trust that everyone in our group was committed to trying
to understand how God was asking him or her to spend or give money, and in fact
to live generously, with the ultimate goal of working against injustice in the
world. So when we spoke together, we could hear God speaking to us when we agreed—and,
maybe especially, when we differed.

That seems to be how God set it up. That’s part of the shalom we read about throughout the
Bible, in the Torah and the prophets, in the words of Jesus and the words of
Paul. “The vision of wholeness,” wrote Walter Brueggemann, “which is the supreme
will of the biblical God, is the outgrowth of a covenant of shalom, in which persons are bound not
only to God but to one another in a caring, sharing, rejoicing community with
none to make them afraid.”

And so when we give together in community, we reflect that
wholeness in the process of giving. But the giving itself, and all of our economic
choices, also set the web trembling. Because, like it or not, our economic system
is relational. Every single thing we buy affects other people, and we have some
power over whether those effects are for good or for ill. We can throw up our
hands with the responsibility of it all, or we can look for God’s direction, in
community, to figure out our next steps toward the vision of shalom.

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