Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Generosity and Selfishness

Over the past week I have heard and read many stories of events during the big power outage after Hurricane Ike unexpectedly blew through Ohio. It is unusual, to say the least, to have 75 mile an hour winds in this neck of the woods and we were completely unprepared for the onslaught. Unlike the flexible palm trees of the coastlands, our deciduous trees snapped like twigs and our power lines were helpless against the falling boughs.

For a while, most of us thought that the power would come right back on. After all, it was just some wind. But over the next few hours, we all began to realize that this was a disaster and, having sent all of our electric crews to Texas to help with the much worse damage there, we were completely unprepared. It was going to be days, not hours, before the power would come on again. People started to hunker down to make the best of a bad situation. Ice was bought. Coolers were packed with all the perishables and then covered in ice to make them last as long as they would. And people began to come up with alternatives to cooking on their electric stoves and in their microwaves.

I heard of blocks where people's freezers were full of food and they just opened it all up and cooked it on the grill and had a Block Party. One person brought the meat and another the veggies. Really...it happened in many neighborhoods. You could smell barbecues all over the city in the evening.

There was a man who visits our office frequently who brought in the contents of his freezer to the office (we have a big freezer and still had power). Upon leaving his groceries, he encouraged a couple of us who had been without power for a couple of days, to "help ourselves". People ran extension cords from one house to the next as power began to come on in spots around the city. Others opened their kitchens, bathrooms and refrigerators to their neighbors, friends and families without power.

But, by contrast, I heard a story from a co-worker of a neighbor who refused to allow them to charge their cell phones from an extension cord because "We don't know you very well." I also saw people lose pounds and pounds of food, rather than sharing with their neighbors, hoping against hope that their power would come on and they would have that food over the winter. But would it not have been better to share and to have someone get good from it, rather than letting it all spoil?

Hearing stories like this reminds me of the parable of the talents from the Bible. Of course, if you have studied scripture, you know that a talent is a unit of monetary measure within the context of the story. But, the message applies to our spiritual gifts as well as our material gifts. The servants who invested and gave of the talents increased the talents and were rewarded in return, while the one who buried his gained nothing and indeed ended up losing everything.

The gifts that we are given by God are manifold. They are material. They are spiritual. They are different from person to person. Those people who shared their food with their neighborhood probably share generously of their other gifts, too. They have generous hearts. Those who did not share, and instead horded up all their possessions and let them spoil, probably waste their other gifts, too. And that is something to think about. I had nothing to spoil (I hadn't been to the store), but would I have shared my food? I think that at one time I would have, but now that I am older, I am finding that I am not as generous as I once was. And that is sad.

It is in these crisis situations that you get a real look at your heart and soul. The generous know that God provided them with what they have and are willing to share it, knowing that God will provide for them again. The selfish are so worried about themselves, that instead of being blessed richly by God, they lose everything they had and get no more in the bargain.

These stories are a reminder to me to be more generous. To give of my time and talent, as well as the material possessions that I have been given.

I need not worry that I will lose myself. By losing myself, I gain heaven.

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