Fostering Cultures of Mutual Generosity

I had the privilege of participating tonight in an interfaith panel on philanthropy, an IndyTalks event put on by Christian Theological Seminary and the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving.  My co-panelists had amazing stories of working around the world, and I was certainly the lightweight on the panel when it came to international philanthropy.

I wanted to share here a little about the key idea that I addressed.  Here at Englewood, we don’t use the word philanthropy much, as it carries with it the baggage of being primarily about the giving of money and the sort of giving that it promotes tends to be uni-directional — from those with lots of money to those who need money. But the etymology of the word philanthropy is from the Greek words meaning love of humanity, and that is a practice that we deeply desire to embody.   So the challenge for me was to articulate how we understand giving, in a way that nurtures our desire to love humankind.  The phrase I stumbled upon was “fostering cultures of mutual generosity.”

Now before I explore what I mean by that, I should be clear that we have received a number of gifts over the years that are philanthropic in the traditional sense, and we are immensely grateful for these.  But as we don’t have much in the way of fiscal resources, we believe that there is room on the philanthropic spectrum for another type of giving and sharing that I am calling cultures of mutual generosity.

Let’s break it down:

Cultures:  We’re not talking about random or one-time generosity, but placed communities where the virtues of giving can be nurtured over time.  And speaking in terms of cultures that are maintained over time,also paves the way for mutuality: everyone will at some point give and receive.

Mutual: With our emphasis at Englewood on Asset-based community development, we believe that everyone (yes, EVERY-one!) has something to contribute to others in the community. It may not be money, it might be time, or skills, or something else, but everyone has something to share that will benefit the health and flourishing of the community.

Generosity: Sharing of our selves for the sake of others. In the Slow Church book, we talk about hospitality as one important expression of generosity.  For us as followers of Jesus, generosity is essential to our faith, embodying the Way of Jesus who emptied himself out of love for humanity (Phillipians 2).  And there are all kinds of ways in which this generosity unfolds, from lending a listening ear, to using a skill we have to do work that needs to be done to sharing a meal together to giving money or other resources.

I think our faith communities of whatever tradition —  Christian, Muslim, Hindu or otherwise — are ideal places to begin cutting against the grain of the fundamental selfishness of Western culture and learning to share our lives together within our particular faith community and with our neighbors.

What are some ways that your faith community is fostering a culture of mutual generosity?  Would love to hear your stories!


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