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Giving and Receiving in Beloved Community

The story of Peter healing the lame man is fascinating, but unreachable, as a literal story. None of us have ever seen this happen, none of us could presume to go out and heal someone who couldn’t walk. So, how does this have meaning for us today? I suggest we look at it metaphorically.

What does this scripture say to us if we look at a deeper than literal meaning? Especially in the context of Beloved Community?

 To me it says: we give what we have to offer to help others to stand. Again, I mean this more than literally! To help someone stand means to support them, to be there for them, to listen to them, to stand with those who are oppressed, to offer a ride, or meals, to send a card, or call to inquire how they are. It can be as simple as a smile and a hug.

It’s an amazing boost in my faith in humanity when I see people reaching out to help others. However, I believe that in a Beloved Community acts of giving and receiving should be balanced. The spiritual life is about being awake and aware, in this case about opportunities the Universe offers us to participate in giving and receiving. These are not just actions, but energetic exchanges. We aren't simply invited to give, but to give willingly, joyfull, grateful for the opportunity to participate in Beloved Community. And, we're not simply invited to receive, but to receive without hedging or "you don't have to do that" or guilt. To receive with gratitude recognizes that the Universe is moving to help us stand. 

When the exchange of energy in a giving and receiving situation is positive, everyone is blessed!

I know what good people you all are, but if you’re human, there are times when it is difficult to give of anything. Perhaps you are burnt out and have nothing to give. Perhaps you don't trust the person, or don't have a relationship with them. Perhaps you are afraid of being taken advantage of, or you are in a hurry.

Jim Wallis, in his book On God's Side, describes a fascinating experiment related to the Good Samaritan story was conducted by Princeton Seminary. Seminary students were invited to participate in a project on religious education. After filling out a survey of religious questions about themselves, they were asked to travel from one building to another on campus to give prepared talks on different topics when they arrived at their final destination. But unbeknownst to them, on their way, they would encounter a young actor, lying in an alleyway right in their path, playing the part of somebody who was hurt and in distress, his condition unknown.

One group was told to prepare a talk about seminary jobs, the other about the Good Samaritan. Some were told they were almost late for the next task, others that they would arrive early but might as well get over there anyway. In the alley, they all passed the man sitting slumped in a doorway, and he was to moan and cough – twice – as they walked by. After they arrived at the second site, the seminarians gave their talk and answered a “helping behavior questionnaire.”

The results from the experiment were very clear: “The only one of these variables that made a difference was how much of a hurry the subjects were in. Sixty-three percent of subjects that were in no hurry stopped to help, 45 percent of those in a moderate hurry stopped, and 10 percent of those that were in a great hurry stopped. It made no difference whether the students were assigned to talk on the Good Samaritan parable, nor did it matter what their religious outlook was.”

Princeton even reported that some of the seminarians literally stepped over the actor in order to continue on their way – to preach Jesus’ Gospel story of what it means to be a neighbor.

Personally, I’m grateful that I’m not watched and my movements analyzed. I can guarantee that I’m not perfect. But just the thought makes me think more deeply about my willingness to give, the opportunities I have to give, and the reasons I don’t.

In Beloved Community we’re called to look beyond ourselves, to get past mistrust and cynicism, to pay attention to the world around us, and to offer assistance when we can, not expecting anything in return. We help simply because we share a common humanity.

Even given this example, and all of our obstacles to giving, if I had to venture a guess, I’d say that most of us are better at giving than receiving.

We’ve been inundated with messages in our culture that say we need to be independent, we need to stand alone, we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. It’s a rare person who is balanced in giving and receiving, not only willing to give what they have to offer, but to accept what others offer unsolicited, or even to ASK for help (gasp!).

Yet, as Mark Nepo says “Asking for help, whether we get it or not, breaks the hardness that builds in the world." There is a vulnerability in asking for help that opens a connection with another person, it breaks down isolation, it gives another the chance to be blessed by giving, and it eases our struggle in the world, whatever that may be.

It’s sort of interesting that we like to let kids help, because it makes them feel good, they have a sense of accomplishment, they learn how to serve. But we don’t like to let grown people help us!

There is a story of an economically challenged woman who was looking for a church to join. One church not far from her had a meal program that she often attended when she needed help with food. But she ended up joining a different church that also had a meal program because there they had asked her if she would like to help them to serve the meal. At the second church she wasn’t just seen as a victim to be helped, but a person with something to offer and people there were willing to receive. This was a balanced, reciprocal relationship in the image of the Beloved Community where everyone is sacred and has something to offer.

But, any time it is a one-way street, it feels like there is an imbalance of energy and perhaps power. We all need to be givers and receivers. Sure, sometimes in our lives we are more one or the other. But we are always able to give something – our kindness, our presence, even our care and concern is a simple yet very powerful gift to give.

Author Joyce Rupp wrote, “When a gift of helpfulness is extended to us, it reminds us that the human heart is a reservoir of love. When kindness is received with awareness, we enter into the reality of being one great family of humanity. Each of us is called to give and receive this precious gift that brings light to the darkest places and soothes the greatest sorrows.” 

I'm inviting you to be awake and aware about giving and receiving as you go about your days. Pay attention to how you feel and respond to offers of help. Pay attention to how you feel when you give, to whom you’re willing to give, and do you expect anything. Consider how this fits into the concept of Beloved Community, where we’re called to help each other stand.

Love & Light!