Before you get too excited this is not another blog about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. How much publicity does that book and film need, for goodness sake? Out of curiosity, and I can assure you for no other reason, I downloaded the book onto my Kindle when it was first published. Struggling to page 100 I gave up. Life is too short and it was more painful than anything that would happen in Mr Grey’s secret room.
It’s just that I have been thinking about a couple of words that have suddenly entered ‘church-speak’ more obviously, though, of course, they have been there in the past. My two ‘G’ words are – generosity and graciousness. They are being used all over the place, whether it be about the consecration of bishops, forms of orthodoxy, or diocesan systems that used to be called ‘Quota’ or ‘Share’ and aren’t so any longer.
It seems a shame if we have got to such a position in life and in the church that we have to be told to be gracious and told to be generous. It was one of the lessons of the play room as a child that you had to learn. You couldn’t have the toy box all to yourself. You had to let your sister or your cousin play with something, even if deep down you didn’t want to let them. But generosity and graciousness have to be about more than simply handing over a toy train to another child at playtime.
Towards the end of St Matthew’s Gospel there are a series of kingdom parables. The one that came to mind thinking about all of this was one of the parables of the vineyard. Vineyards were rich ground for Jesus as he taught his followers.
But the parable in Matthew 20.1-15 is a particular favourite of mine. It’s the one about hiring labourers throughout the day and paying the last one to arrive as much as the first who had worked through the heat of the day. This is a parable about the kingdom remember, not guidance for employers, so trade unionists can relax!
But at the end, as the vineyard owner is receiving the complaints of those who worked all day for the same wage as those who had worked the last hour, the owner says this
“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
The Archbishop of York asked for ‘gracious restraint’ at the ordination of the Bishop of Burnley last week; some now talk of ‘generous orthodoxy’ and in the diocese in which I minister, parishes and the cathedral are being asked to make a ‘generous response’ in terms of what we commit ourselves to give financially from parish to diocese. And from the pulpit, of course, priests and lay people are constantly encouraging generosity from their parishoners whether it be about stewardship or filling up the box at the back of church for the local food bank.
Is there something in society, which is apparently more self centered than previously, that has become so all pervasive and so affected the life of the church that we now have to be told to be gracious, told to be generous, rather than these things being natural responses to what we find in God. Am I really reflecting in myself the true nature of the God I know, the God whose graciousness and generosity I have experienced in my own life, if I am having to be told to be gracious, if I’m having to be told to be generous?
In Psalm 68 the psalmist writes this
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.
What the psalmist is celebrating is the fact that at the heart of God is graciousness, love, generosity and as I know that, as I experience that, so I respond in the same way, or that is what should happen.
Jesus not only taught about the ‘G’ words, Jesus lived them and his doing so led to the violent and envious responses that he pointed to in his parable. The truth is that both graciousness and generosity are challenging and both will be reacted to.
But if we, the church, are to be a ‘G Spot’ in society, if the church is to model fully what we know we should be, naturally, without being told to be, then it works both ways. If I am called to graciousness should I not expect graciousness? If you are called to be generous should you not be experiencing generosity? Will ordained women expereince the same graciousness in the church from the traditionalist men who ask for a gracious response; will those of conservative theological stance be generous to those who uphold generous and radical orthodoxy; will a diocese be as generous in response to a parish that is being generous to the diocese? It all flows both ways and has to so that we live differently and authentically, and generously and graciously and not just for ourselves but for the world. For as the French writer Albert Camus said
Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.
as I receive your generosity
may I live it.
as I know your graciousness
may I show it.