This post is a self-indulgent religious post with no pictures. You have been warned 🙂

Last Sunday’s church service touched on the concept of generosity. Now, personally, my cynical mind suspected that the admonishment to be generous seems to be quite common in American churches, where they’re always trying really hard to bolster up the offering so they can afford that new sound system or gold trimmings on the pews. That said, I did take something away from that. For me, generosity is a core part of the Christian lifestyle, but it’s generosity of spirit, not necessarily of money.

I learnt this lesson in what might be considered a strange way. Every second weekend, my father would come up to Pietermaritzburgh to pick my sister and I up and take us down to Durban for the weekend (one of those awkward divorce custody arrangements). What made the trip to exciting was the fact that at any moment, the car could run out of petrol.

I could always tell we were in trouble because Dad would start freewheeling down the hills. We knew all hope was finally lost when he started weaving the steering wheel from side to side in an attempt to slosh the remaining dregs of fuel into the inlet.

I remember quite distinctly one time when dad free-wheeled his ancient Chevy into someone’s driveway. By the way it stopped it was quite apparent that the thing was bone dry. He got out and spoke to the owner of the house, then proceeded to siphon petrol out of the guy’s tank and into the Chevy.

“I’m actually doing him a favour.” Dad insisted cheerfully as we drove away with just enough petrol to get us to our destination. “I’m giving him an opportunity to be generous; God will reward him ten times over for that.”

From those experiences I learned many things: don’t ever run out of petrol, freewheeling down a hill does actually save petrol especially I you turn your engine off (but be careful not to steer too much while the engine is off or the steering wheel will lock), cars don’t run on faith no matter how hard you pray and every time someone asks you for something, it’s an incredible opportunity for you to do something good for someone else and you should take it wit both hands.

I am grateful to have had a number of opportunities to be generous lately. One such occasion was straight after the church service about “generosity”. I was just coming back from my sojourn to the city (I will expound upon that later), about to take off in my hybrid car when some guy drove around the corner, stopped, got out and made a beeline for me.

“Oh crap” I thought “I’ve parked in someone’s spot and he’s going to run me over with his monstrous tank of a car”. Instead he walked up to me, smiling nervously. He looked like a used car salesman who had just been swindled out of his commission (in other words: smarmy and bewildered).

He then (to my great bewilderment) proceeded to tell me about his day. It all gushed out uncontrollably, as though he was confessing to me before he died. He had done this and done that, bought a sandwich etc. I could see the desperation oozing out of him like the sweat on his brow. As his eventual objective became clearer, I started wondering where I could find a length of hose. Sure enough: he had left his wallet somewhere and needed some petrol.

“So, would you like me to pay for some petrol?” I asked as kindly as I could, so he wouldn’t have to actually ask.
“Uh. Gas. You wanna go put gas in?” I affected my best American accent.
“Yes, please”

I joined him in his car. The used car salesman look was completed by a can of hairspray lying on the floor and a coat hanging in the back. We drove around the corner and I put 4 gallons worth in, twice what he asked for. If it’s within your means to do so, why not give people more than what they ask for? I don’t think giving people what they ask for is necessarily generosity, giving them more than what they asked for could be, though.

It’s hard to be grateful for situations like these. Often we’re in such a hurry or so wrapped up in our own concerns that we have a lot of difficulty even setting aside the time just to think about other people’s problems, let alone do anything about them. It’s something we should all strive for though: to love our neighbours.

What a strange concept, to love one’s neighbour. Loving one’s neighbour was definitely in the Old Testament, but there was always the impression that “neighbour” didn’t include “those people over there”. When Jesus was asked “who is my neighbour?” he responded with the parable of the Samaritan (Luke 10), explaining that all people are our neighbours and we should love them equally.

I have a (literal) neighbour who has been quite needy of late. He arrived in the country not long after me. So far I have let him use my washing machine to clean his clothes, driven him to work when he got his brakes fixed, helped him carry his new table & chairs up two flights of stairs and sacrificed valuable porn-surfing time to help him comparison shop for Skype phones online.

But you know what: it’s worth it. What a horribly dull and lifeless world it would be if we couldn’t bear to help each other out every once in awhile, and how much more wonderful would the world be if every time someone asked for something, they got it, twice over. That’s what generosity means to me.