On a hot and steamy summer day, my family and I went to a city park with litres of homemade icecold lemonade, offering it to anyone who wanted it—for free. But people did not want it. That is, until we asked them to pay for it. Only then would they take it and happily guzzle it down.
Giving is hard. People are reluctant to receive simply because they know a gift is almost never just a gift. Philosopher Jacques Derrida argues that what we have historically regarded as a gift was actually never a gift. Most often, we give to gain. In return, we covet a favour, thankfulness, a sense of satisfaction in seeing ourselves as a giving person or simply the warm sensation of buying something for someone we love. Our gifts are a form of exchange, in which we give something obvious, to receive something more subtle.
Sensing this dynamic, people don’t easily accept free help, favours or money from others. To receive means to lose control. Gifts change relationships and the recipient becomes a “weaker part” in the transaction.
This reluctance to receive has become a great problem among religious people today. Yes, we have learned to tolerate one another to some extent. Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists have learned to live parallel lives. But in order to make progress toward peace and justice, we must learn to appreciate what others have—and at times receive what they have to give us.
Religion is an expression of what we hold as true, valuable and beautiful.
ecause religion—or any other world view—holds the meaning of our life together, accepting a gift from other groups feels like losing face, control or power over life. It potentially exposes the weaknesses of our religion, casting us as the weaker in the relationship.
t’s why religious people like to give and don’t know how to receive. We say, “Love people—in your school, in your neighbourhood and in your workplace.” We call each other to ministry, which always means serving people, caring for their needs, teaching them what they need to know. Giving, giving, giving. Giving keeps us in control, subtly communicating the superiority of our world view.
And we like to be in control—even of God, goodness and love.
e exalt the virtue of giving, saying, “It is in giving that we receive.” This is true and the world would perish without people who understand this law of the kingdom of God. But in the relationship between religions, the attitude of being a sole dispenser of the blessing becomes counterproductive. Everyone wants to teach while nobody wants to learn. Everyone wants to stay in power by giving and nobody wants to seem weak by receiving.
That’s why religions often don’t know how to repent of their historical failures. Repentance means one needs to receive forgiveness. And receiving means our religion is not as perfect as we think it must be.
But religion that matters does not pretend to be faultless, self-sufficient and above the frailties of human existence.
an concept of sin revolves around self-sufficiency. And this includes matters of spirituality. We have to come to a place where we know how to receive goodness, grace and God from others.
God is in others, even in the enemy.
God is in a stranger. That’s why in the Bible, hospitality is of such value, not just as a custom of the day but as a way God visits us unexpectedly.
Love knows how to take what others have to offer—even when that is something we think we are in charge of. That’s why evangelism—sharing the good news of Christianity—at its best is primarily a process of receiving, in humility before the mystery of God, thus modelling to others what we are asking them to do.
When we receive from others, we celebrate the wisdom God has given them, we affirm grace in their experience and we find footsteps of God in their life. And while blessing us, this process makes them thirsty for the God we have recognised in them.
It is often by giving that we control and it is by receiving that we actually give.