Archive for December, 2010

Glad, generous giver seeks grateful receiver

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The joy of gift giving can be overshadowed at this time of year by the thought of busy shops, frustrated shoppers, and a world that’s falling apart due to the unremitting demands of human consumption. I find myself caught between the desire to be generous, and the impulse to opt out of consumer culture and its false promises. Thinking about this, I came across a quote recently from Julian of Norwich, a 14th Century English mystic. She (don’t be fooled by her name) reminded me that the joy of gift giving is not found primarily in the gift itself, but in the relationship that exists between giver and receiver. She has in mind a more profound gift than any will we give this Christmas – the gift of life itself – but it seemed appropriate nonetheless:

A glad giver pays little attention to the thing he is giving, but his whole desire and intention is to please and comfort the one to whom he gives it; and if the receiver values the gift highly and takes it gratefully, then the generous giver thinks nothing of all the hardship and the price he had to pay, because of the joy and delight that he feels at having pleased and comforted the one he loves.

Debt of Love

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Isn’t it interesting that the week before Christmas as many of us are blindly slapping down our credit cards, that Bank of Canada Governor, Mark Carney, has some stern warnings for Canadians about our ballooning consumer debt. While Carney sounds the alarm in hopes of convincing us of our dire financial state before we rack up even more debt before Christmas, one does have to wonder how we’ve gotten here? Is it really simply due to low interest rates and ease of credit? Or has something more fundamental happened to our thinking? And how is it that Christmas has become synonymous with debt?

I’m reminded of another warning made two thousand years ago to the people of Rome on the topic of responsible citizenship: ‘Pay your taxes, pay your bills…don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other’.

Funny that this passage precedes one of the most famous quotes of all time… ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Seems that the latter was the stickier message over history. Perhaps it’s time to stitch the messaging back together and realize that loving your neighbour as yourself involves paying the debt of love we owe each other, not running up debts.

Who’s Making an Impact?

Friday, December 10th, 2010


At this time of year, many of us will compliment our own feasting and gift-giving with small gestures towards those less fortunate than ourselves; perhaps contributing to office collections, or donating food hampers for families in need. What a great way to ‘make an impact’, and think – and act – outside of ourselves. Sometimes I wonder though, who really impacts who? Don’t get me wrong – it’s appropriate that we should help those who’ve lost their footing in a society designed to benefit the rich. But it struck me this week that often it is precisely these people to whom we seem to have so much to give, who in fact might have even more to give to us.

I was on my way in to work on public transit through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I’d had a tricky weekend with moments of frustrating relational conflict; and was heading in to some urgent tasks that should have been undertaken many days earlier. It was not one of my best Monday mornings! Just as I was trying to jolt myself out of my malaise, a precious woman with whom I’d previously exchanged brief pleasantries, got on the bus. Immediately upon seeing me, her face lit up and she exclaimed loudly to everyone on the bus, ‘I recognise that face,’ and we entered in to conversation. I asked how she was, and she said she was well, and launched in to a story about her father who had come through serious surgery, and the son who had saved his life twice and of whom she was very proud.

This lady, apparently ‘in need’ in so many ways, had the most extraordinary impact on me. She was pleased to see me, and I her. From a place of vulnerability, she shared her great delight in the important things in life – of family, and good health. As she did so, I realised that we are not so different after all. For a few brief moments, we shared our common humanity – me on my way to the studio; she on her way to a government-run program. She reminded me of the importance of relationships. She reminded me of what it means to love.