Jesus recrosses the Sea of Galilee after some local unpleasantness cuts short his visit to the Decapolis. “[The Gerasenes] began to beg him to leave their neighborhood” (Mark 5:17). Are these pig farmers afraid because he commands unclean spirits? Or are they worried about their livelihood?
You will not find the term generosity in your theological dictionaries. Most ungenerously skip from “Generation, Eternal” to “Genevan Catechism” or from “Gaudium et Spes” to “Genocide” without “Generosity” slipping in. Don’t blame the authors. They need something with which to work, and the Hebrew and Greek words translated as “generosity” rarely appear in the biblical texts. But since theology (theos+logos) involves words or language about God, generosity has to be attached—as in “the generosity of God.”
In the mid-1980s I attended a church that still honored “Money Sunday,” a practice begun in the 1950s. Once a year members of the congregation gathered to make financial pledges to support missions efforts. As the pledges were collected, the minister would read the amounts aloud from the pulpit: “Here’s one for $50. . . . Here’s another for $100 and one for $1,000!” Occasionally a pledge came in for, say, $10,000, eliciting all sorts of approving oohs and aahs from the congregation.
That the phrase “Minnesota nice” is considered an insult by many says a lot about contemporary culture. I’m sure Minnesotans are as capable of acting on their original sin as are citizens of other states. But just often enough numbers of them behave in ways that startle non-nice Americans.
My last column was on gift-giving, and I cannot refrain from writing another on the same subject. A recent “Reading File” in the New York Times (Jan. 4) contains a provocation I cannot resist. Ross Gittins, a writer at the Sydney Morning Herald, explains why economists regard gift-giving as foolish. Here is an excerpt: