In 1964 Shel Silverstein wrote a great book. It’s still a high-flying classic. The Giving Tree. If you have never read it before, run out and do so.
“A children’s book?”
Yes. Trust me. If you have read it, but not in awhile, do so again. Why? Because it extols beautifully the virtues of giving. And this is needed desperately in our world of Takers.
I grew up in that world. It’s called childhood. All children, with many wonderful qualities to their credit, are shameless Takers. Need an example of this? Watch the pinata part of any birthday party. It goes from fun loving, innocent revelry into looting thugs rioting through the streets of New York in like two seconds flat.
My parents had the vain notion of training that tendency out of their children. Amongst their many futile attempts was the rule that everybody had to finish firsts (at the dinner table) before moving on to seconds. This was so that everybody could get some food. Each would have at least a fighting chance at survival. Sadly, what it ended up leading to was a frantic 50 yard dash, but with forks and food involved. It made me at least a little reminiscent of the “pie fight” scenes in all those Three Stooges shorts. As you sped through your corn dog or hamburger, you’d actually be doing the math on the corn dogs or hamburgers which remained. If the math wasn’t right, you’d shift into another gear altogether.
If the food was a favorite, like fried chicken, you’d take to staring down your opponent from across the table, as they sat eating, while you sat eating, both of you, faster, then faster, then faster still. You’d add to your glare the ol’ whammy eye, trying to throw them off their game. All the while, you were still processing the drumstick you currently possessed in the mean clutches of your little claws. A lot of sawdust flew through the air in the lumber mill of our dinner table. When you finished, you’d rush out your hand to be the first to grab. I can remember clearly a sense of accomplishment if I could out-grab a sibling.
My only word for this now? Animals.
When it came to fried chicken, we were like the beasts of the field, ranging hyenas, circling turkey vultures. Get, get, get. If you didn’t do this, you’d be left out in the cold with a few crusts of bread in hand. I know all of this because I am, myself, a former hyena.
No longer, I hope. For me now, the gift is in the giving.
I had to go shopping the other day. We were low on a few food stuffs. So, I went to church, of all places. Our church runs this informal, irregular Farmer’s Market. We don’t actually call it a Farmer’s Market. We don’t call it anything. It’s not organized enough for that. But it is open every Sunday. The food is always free. There may be something there, there may not, but keep your eyes open. It is few Sundays where you find nothing lying around.
It shows up mysteriously and at different locations in the church. Rhubarb has been the food of choice lately. It’s part of the early summer harvest. Someone else might put out a box of cucumbers for dispersal in the carpeted hallway. At other times of the summer, bags and bags of sweet corn might be found laying almost anywhere. A favorite dropping off spot is on one of the two remaining wooden pews from the old church. We leave it out by the entryway for people to sit on and take off their boots and whatnot. In midsummer it will often be lined with gourds, squash, beets, potatoes, you name it.
The fellowship hall is another favorite haunt. On the serving table will be found tin upon tin of zucchini bread. Often the announcement is made to pick up one of these before you head for home. Or, “there are three dozen farm fresh eggs in the refrigerator. Feel free.” People return the cartons so that those with chickens can refill them. For years, I got goats milk this way. The children love the plates of donuts which magically reappear almost every Sunday. After Sunday School (we call it BLC, Biblical Life Concepts), several kids line up to do their best imitations of three mini donuts in a one donut mouth. Sometimes, I look out at first hymn to see if any of them are still chewing.
One gentleman working at Post at the time used to purchase discount cereal from the factory store and bring boxes of it in to give away. Boxes and boxes. I’m telling you. You need some groceries? You can do no better than to go to church.
Years ago, one of our gentlemen came to Sunday evening service with a trunk loaded to its lock with rutabagas. That trunk was chalked full. His springs were low-riding.
“A farmer near us couldn’t sell them. He was going to throw them out into a field. Do you believe that? They’re all good.”
They were in good shape. Fresh. I couldn’t say as much for the car that he brought them in. He arranged his car in a prominent space near the front door of the church so that everyone that walked out had to pass his little “stand.” The rutabaga lovers stopped in. The non-lovers kept moving it along toward their cars. We barely made a dent in his load. Rutabagas are not one of your fashionable designer vegetables.
I watched him as he, later, closed shop and drove off into the night. His rutabaga weighted back end barely cleared the pavement.
“Share the wealth,” one wise man said. “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” NKJV (Ecclesiastes 11:1) Giving is the heart of the gospels and the secret to life. Try to make your giving over your receiving at least 100 to one. It’s maybe not good pinata strategy, but it sure gets them smiling up in heaven.
I think of that old pew sitting out in our hall, how all the pastors of the past preached to the people who sat in it, decade after decade. And now, with its diminishing line of rhubarb, the wooden pew preaches back to us.
I’ve finished some writing. When I finish a writing project, especially a big one, I feel clean all over, like I took a 30 minute hot shower. Very refreshing. I also did some planning for a future sermon series. I will preach through the Apostle’s Creed, and other early church creeds. A great format for hitting broad footed theology.
VOICE FROM THE PAST
“Again, be careful to make a good improvement of precious time.”
David Brainerd (1718-1747)