and with the first fruits of all your produce
--Proverbs 3:9 NRSV
This morning my inbox was full of messages asking me to give to particular
causes and organizations because it is Giving Tuesday. From religious
organizations to nonprofits to advocacy groups, If I ever subscribed to or
had my name added to an email list then today each of those organizations
sends me an email. I began noticing this annual phenomenon about five years
ago, and while I don't have any statistics on how much money is actually
given on Giving Tuesday, I sure hope the number of emails about it
correlates to a reciprocal number of generous responses.
If you are unfamiliar with Giving Tuesday, here is an explainer. Giving
Tuesday began in 2012 when a couple of large nonprofits in New York City
partnered with some for-profit corporations to emphasize charitable giving.
They chose the Tuesday after Black Friday as a time to emphasize giving
after a weekend of consumerism. Our culture experiences the Friday after
Thanksgiving as Black Friday when the supposedly best deals of the year are
rolled out for consumers who want to spend their day off buying Christmas
presents. The next day has been called Small Business Saturday to emphasize
local businesses after a day of people lined up to shop at the big box store
retailers. Then, of course, Cyber Monday occurs when supposedly the best
online shopping deals happen for people going back to work who stare at
computer screens all day. Finally comes Giving Tuesday when those who have
perhaps over-indulged in purchasing stuff nobody needs for people who lack
very little stop to consider people who lack basic necessities.
I have yet to hear of a label for the Sunday of this weekend. Maybe churches
should call it Spiritual Sunday to get people to spend a day thinking about
their spiritual lives? I also think it is just a matter of time before
somebody comes up with a clever name for the Wednesday after these special
days? Maybe Work Present Wednesday where you shop for impersonal gifts to
give people at your workplace?
I'm all for Giving Tuesday. Any way nonprofit organizations who are working
to make the world a better place can get more funding sounds like a good
thing to me. From what I can tell, the change in tax law that began in 2017
which raised the standard deduction for most families has really hurt
charitable giving in America. Since most middle class families don't give
enough to charity to raise their deductions higher than the one they
automatically get, there is less reason to give more--that is if one needs a
tax deduction to prompt oneself to give.
So while I am all for Giving Tuesday, as a Christian I think God expects
much more from us than giving on a special day once a year. I feel quite
sure God wishes us to make our generosity into a lifestyle rather than an
afterthought. Generosity should be a key point of our identity rather than
one that needs prompting through emails or tax deductions.
Throughout the Bible in commands, narrative and poetry there is an
expectation that people will give to God out of their "first fruits." In our
time, where most of us exist far removed from the growing and harvesting of
the food we consume, this image may be lost on us. It is an important image
however, because it asks each person to acknowledge where what they consume
comes from in the first place.
Contrary to our capitalist economy which says we earn what we have, the
concept of giving from the "first fruits" or the first things harvested
means we have what we have because God gave it to us whether we earned it or
not. Therefore before we enjoy it, we remember what we have is grace and
"but for the grace of God" we could live under different circumstances where
we would not enjoy such blessings. Giving as a first thought rather than as
an afterthought is a spiritual practice of humility that reminds us of the
many who exist without the things we take for granted. It is also a
spiritual practice that says we are not at the center of all things but
rather God is.
This spiritual truth is expressed by the farmer-poet Wendall Berry:
is given that is not
Taken, and nothing taken
That was not first gift.
The gift is balanced by
its total loss, and yet,
And yet the light breaks in,
Heaven seizing its moments
That are at once its own
I have found that making giving a discipline which I think of first rather
than something I only consider last with what I have "left over" is one of
the most difficult changes in mindset and in my spiritual life that I have
ever undertaken. Looking at my paycheck and monthly budget with giving as
something I put right at the top of the list before things like mortgage,
utilities, internet, car payments/repairs is truly difficult. If I don't
give to my church or to a nonprofit I support, they will not come and
foreclose on my house or repossess my car or cut off my lights. Even more
important than these things is the cultivation of my soul and my spiritual
life. Yet, I keep living as if the cost of my lack of generosity is somehow
less than the cost of my water being cut off. Such are the struggles of
This morning my wife and I were discussing one of the nonprofits she
volunteers with to provide food and Christmas presents to low income
families this time of year. She mentioned that their annual fundraiser, a
charity ball, couldn't happen because of COVID-19 so their income is way
down. We marvelled at how the "big givers" won't give unless they receive in
return a big party to add to their social calendar. As I write these words
however, I'm considering that even though I may not be a "big giver" who
attends large galas and fundraisers there are probably many reasons a
"little giver" like me only gives when I get something in return.
I'm pretty sure Jesus showed both "big givers" and "little givers" there is
a whole different way to be generous. Jesus' idea of generosity involves not
merely giving on Giving Tuesday but every other day of the year too.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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