15. The generosity–gratitude–generosity cycle

Ted Grimsrud—Purpose vol. 44, no. 11 (November 2011), p. 28.

It was one of those beautiful late spring days that make Eugene, Oregon, so delightful. My buddy John and I were eating lunch at an outdoor café in the “Bohemian” section of town, not far from the train tracks.

We were near the sidewalk and shortly after we sat down, a fellow walked by, spotted John, and hurried up to greet him. The term we used of people like “Frank” was transient. Frank obviously lived rough, not real clean, not real well groomed, not very tidy.

Frank was delighted to see John, who worked in community development out of an office nearby. Frank had stopped to see John several days earlier with a stereo receiver he had found and he hoped John would buy it. John said he had first to check with the police to make sure that the receiver had not been reported stolen.

“So, what about that receiver?” Frank quickly asked. “It’s clean,” said John as he pulled a twenty out of his wallet and handed it to Frank. “Oh, that’s great!” Frank responded, and then he hurried off.

I admired John’s generosity, both for his paying Frank (I don’t think the receiver actually had much value to John) but more so for his kind and respectful style.

But the generosity wasn’t over. Maybe thirty minutes later, as we finished our sandwiches, Frank comes by again, with a happy smile—and a couple of fresh pastries in his hands. “Here, guys,” and he gives us each a beautiful bear claw he’d purchased from the nearby grocery store with his newly gained wealth. “Have a great day!”

In the twenty some years since that special moment of grace in the Oregon sunshine, I have continually drawn inspiration from Frank’s actions.

This dynamic of generosity generating gratitude generating generosity echoes the basic story line of the Bible—God gives us life and brings healing when we experience brokenness, we respond with gratitude to God’s generosity and then in turn give to others. At least this is the way it’s supposed to work.

This story line of the Bible, we could say, provides our blueprint for peacemaking. Most, if not all, violence results from a breakdown in this generosity—gratitude—generosity dynamic. Our empowerment to break the cycle of violence—retaliation—more violence begins when we choose to exchange that cycle for a generosity cycle.

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