The Generosity Revolution
Service Space, Karma Kitchen, and the Giftivism Movement
Service Space: servicespace.org
Karma Kitchen: karmakitchen.org
Giftivism Videos: karmatube.org/videos.php
Introduction to Giftivism: Nipun Mehta's TEDtalk
The Generosity Revolution
The generosity revolution is gentle, loving, and fun. It is the moral thing to do, but it doesn't start from a sense of guilt or obligation. It starts when you grow weary of the cramping confines of selfishness and discover that acts of kindness are a lot more freeing and pleasurable. Mother Teresa called it "the joy of loving."
The revolution takes place in the heart and the acts of kindness and yet, as Nipun Mehta explains, it can have a ripple effect in society. The ultimate hope of the revolution is for personal and social transformation:
This transformation is what the Fat Soul Manifesto is all about. The manifesto is a poetic introduction to process theology in action. We "fat soulers" hope that small, collective acts of generosity can transform ourselves and the world.
It is no surprise, then, that Nipun Mehta is among those who inspire us. An organization he helped found, Service Space is an incubator of gift economy projects aimed at helping bring about a different and more loving kind of world, and we're behind it completely.
Admittedly, the whole idea of a generosity revolution is radical and visionary. It's as radical as Gandhi, as Jesus, as the Buddha -- or as John Cobb, who spells out some of its implications for public policy. See John Cobb's Radical Ideas or Ten Ideas that Can Save the Planet.
As the revolution unfolds there's nothing to be afraid of, and there's lots to enjoy. It is a soft revolution: no violence, no guns, no coercion, but lots of compassion and creativity.
Indeed, so we process theologians believe and so Teri Daily makes clear in a sermon at the bottom of this page, the generosity revolution has a divine flavor. If the Life in whom all lives unfold is generosity multiplied by infinity, wouldn't it be nice to participate in that generosity in our daily lives? Wouldn't we then happier and know what Jesus meant by abundant living in a spirit of jubilee. There's nothing to lose except the cramping confines of selfishness.
"Giftivism: the practice of radically generous acts that transform the world. History has seen giftivists in all corners - Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and so forth. People who believed that when we change ourselves, we can fundamentally change the world. But this ability isn't restricted to social change giants. The seeds of giftivism lie in each of us. But to tap into it we have to do something all these people did. We have to upturn one of the core assumptions of economics - the assumption that people always act to maximize self-interest. The assumption that we are inherently selfish beings. Giftivism flips that idea on its head. What practices, systems and designs emerge when we believe people WANT to behave selflessly?" In this heart-stirring talk filled with real-life stories, writer Pavi Mehta describes the path of Giftivism and the vast potential it holds for returning us to the priceless. - See more at: http://www.servicespace.org/blog/view.php?id=14209#sthash.JzLBFuGc.dpuf
Karma Kitchen: Generous Restaurants
Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: "Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those who dine after you."
Generous Flash Mobs
Religion and Generosity
The Year of Jubilee
A Sermon by Reverend Teri Daily
Board game marathons have become a Christmas break tradition for the Bowman-Murray family—for Noel, Donna, Archer, and Cady Gray. In fact, the days away from school are one continuous game with scores being carried over from one day to the next. During Christmas Break 2014, the plan had originally been to play until someone reached 1,000 points. But at some point it became clear that, for Donna to have any chance of catching up to the other family members, the finish line would need to be extended to 3,000. Even so, when I asked if the next year’s holiday season would see a continuation of their scores or if everyone’s score would start back at zero, the answer was that the game would start fresh, with everyone on equal ground. Such a resetting may have been Donna’s only hope for success the following Christmas break, and maybe such a generous, merciful act is good for the whole family.
Ancient Israel understood this importance of starting over. They called it the year of Jubilee, and it happened every fifty years. The concept of Jubilee embodies the need to periodically level the playing field, to occasionally start back at zero, or at least to begin from a place of more equal footing. We find the command for Israel to practice Jubilee in the book of Leviticus: “You shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family” (Leviticus 25:10). If an Israelite had sold the family homestead to pay an otherwise insurmountable debt, Jubilee saw a return of the land to its former inhabitant. If an Israelite had sold himself or herself to pay a debt, Jubilee became their means of freedom. Jubilee was to be a sign of grace. It was to be an experience of mercy, generosity, and justice. In Christian scriptures, we call it the kingdom of heaven.
It is this concept of Jubilee, or the kingdom of heaven, that Jesus uses to begin his ministry in the gospel of Luke. You may remember that, throughout the gospel of Luke, the Spirit gives people courage to speak prophetic words—Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, John the Baptist. And now it’s, we’re told, Jesus is filled with the Spirit. Jesus enters his hometown synagogue and the passage he chooses to read from the Hebrew scriptures is this passage from Isaiah 61, a passage that speaks of Jubilee: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And, as he sits back down, and everyone in the synagogue looks at him, he adds: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
This is happening today, Jesus tells the crowd. See, Jubilee isn’t supposed to be just some ancient practice that Israel may or may not have ever fully implemented. Instead, Jubilee is a way of life, the way of life that Jesus showed us—a way of life marked by mercy, justice, generosity, and love. It is a way of life in which the sick are healed, those who do wrong are forgiven seven times seventy times, and the poor are the ones invited to the banquet. It is a way of life that is just as possible today as it was two thousand years ago.
In fact, we are currently living in a year that Pope Francis, as other popes have done in their own times, has declared to be a year of Jubilee. In Misericordiae Vulltus, a papal bull issued last year, Pope Francis proclaimed December 8, 2015 through November 20, 2016 to be a year “dedicated to living out in our daily lives” the same mercy that God “constantly extends to all of us.” We are to be not only recipients of God’s mercy, but witnesses to it as well. (1)
Jubilee is about making God’s mercy concrete in the world. But here’s the sometimes tricky part of Jubilee: we don’t live in the economic and social world of ancient Israel.
And, so, to practice Jubilee, we have to figure out what it might look like in our own life, in our own context, in the place we work and the home in which we live. My husband Dave is a college professor and teaches courses in Hebrew scripture. Occasionally he asks students to develop their own plans for practicing Jubilee, both in their present lives as college students and in their future careers, both in their professional lives and in their personal lives—Jubilee as a banker, a physician, a teacher, a parent, a friend, and so on. Sometimes that can be a hard exercise, this assignment to imagine what Jubilee might look like in our day-to-day lives.
Pope Francis offers some universal suggestions: don’t judge others, but forgive them; avoid gossip and envy; accept God’s mercy in our own lives through prayer and the rite of reconciliation; believe that conversion and change is possible even in the most hopeless of places; open yourself up to those who, in your own context, live on the margins; dialogue with other faiths; seek justice (not the kind where everyone gets what we think they deserve, but the kind where each person gets what they need). These are some helpful suggestions. Still, when it comes to specifics, sometimes Jubilee is hard to practice because it’s difficult for us to translate into our own time and place.
I think the other reason that Jubilee can be hard to practice is that, deep down, we have a hard time believing that this way of life really works. We have come to see our consumer-driven society as the norm, as just the way things are. We have come to believe that there is not “enough” in the world to live with our hands wide open. We have lost faith in the economy of gift and no longer trust that, at heart, people are generous and merciful and loving. We believe in a zero sum equation: if you have more, then I must have less. If Jubilee wasn’t practiced in ancient Israel, maybe it’s because Israel carried the very same fears. Perhaps she, too, lost trust in mercy and generosity as a way of life.
I wonder, though, if we seemingly lack mercy and generosity in the world simply because we have stopped expecting it, looking for it, or finding ways in which it can be practiced. There’s a wonderful Ted talk by Nipun Mehta called Designing for Generosity (2). In it, he explores the question: What if the world were designed for generosity instead of greed? The reason we don’t experience more mercy and generosity, he says, is simply that our world is not designed for radical generosity. But what if we created more opportunities for generosity?
Mehta tells the story of a cartoon museum that, instead of charging people the usual $1.00 admission fee, simply asked people to put whatever they wanted to pay in a box. People gave an average of $1.23. Then people were asked to still pay whatever they wanted, but to give it to the cashier instead of putting it in the box. The transaction becomes more personal, and people give on average $2. The people were then told that someone had paid for them, and now they could pay for the person behind them. This tapped into their sense of interconnectedness, and they gave more than $3 per ticket. Generosity is alive and well deep down in human nature. And the more we see ourselves as connected to others, as part of a greater whole or a single body (to use the words of Paul), then the more generous, the more merciful, and the more trusting we become.
Jubilee is a possibility in our world. To get there we simply have to: 1) see ourselves as the recipients of mercy (from God and from other people), 2) truly understand that we are connected one to another, and that any system that doesn’t take this into account is bound to lead us further away from God’s dream for the world, 3) imagine ways to practice mercy, justice, and generosity in our own lives, and 4) let this practice of giving seep into our souls until we believe that there really is enough for everyone, until it changes the way we see everything.
So I invite you to reflect on three questions in the coming week: How have you received mercy and grace in your own life? Who in your world are the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and those in need of good news? What are some concrete practices of mercy, justice, and generosity that you can take part in? It can be as simple as starting over with a board game marathon or having a free neighborhood car wash (as Mehta’s nephew did). It can be as complicated as starting a non-profit or providing someone a place to live.
Just go and live Jubilee in a way unique to your own life and context, trusting that the same Spirit that rested on Jesus rests on you as well—filling you with the courage to change the world, one act of mercy at a time.
1. “Pope Francis presents Bull of Indiction of Jubilee of Mercy,” Vatican Radio website: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/04/11/pope_francis_presents_bull_of_indiction_of_jubilee_of_mercy/1136108.
2. Available at the Karmatube website: http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=3048.