ISSUE No. 4 | DECEMBER 2020
If you’re new to CULTIVARE we welcome you! CULTIVARE is a monthly field guide for life and faith, brought to you by TEND. Each month we explore a specific “field” – a topic or theme through which we seek to cultivate contemplation, engagement, and deeper understanding. Our guiding questions are:
What are you cultivating in your life?
What fruit do you want your life to bear?
Each issue of CULTIVARE is structured into three parts:
Cultivate: Examines a specific “Field” or facet of life and offers questions to unearth and challenge our held perspective; along with concise kernels of truth which we call “Seeds.”
Irrigate: Explores the ways we nurture our understanding, which varies from individual to individual. We offer six means of irrigation: Art, Poetry, Profile, Film, Essay, and Books.
Germinate: Encourages practical ways to engage in becoming more fruitful and free in our lives.
Our name, CULTIVARE, in Spanish means “I will cultivate.” We hope each issue of our field guide will encourage you to do just that – cultivate new thoughts, actions, faith, hope, and fruitful living. We invite you to dig in and DIG DEEP!
For we are partners working together for God, and you are God's field.
(I Corinthians 3:9)
Our theme this month is GENEROSITY. December celebrates Christmas, Hannukah, and other holidays and is often marked by gift giving, so we set out to illuminate the meaning and message of generosity. The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines “generous” as showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected. Think of a time when you were on the receiving end of a person’s generosity. What impact did it have on you? Think of a time when you acted in a generous manner. What feelings did this generate for you?
For those who want to improve their lives by virtually every measure, social scientists offer astonishing advice: Give away as much as you can. Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, writes in his book The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, these encouraging words:
Giving money, volunteering, being relationally generous, being a generous neighbor and friend, and personally valuing the importance of being a generous person are all significantly, positively correlated with greater personal happiness, physical health, a stronger sense of purpose in life, avoidance of symptoms of depression, and a greater interest in personal growth.
In this issue you will encounter photographers who do not “take” photos but rather GIVE them. You will learn about an historic church founder and his unique and sacrificial take on “The Use of Money.” We highlight three International films that reflect a global engagement with generosity. Our book of the month highlights a church that gave each church member $500 with instructions to go into their community and do good in God’s world. The results were profound. We also highlight scientists’ encouraging research on the health benefits of generosity.
Throughout this issue we feature various artists’ renditions of three gift givers notable in the Christmas story. These three Wise-men traveled a great distance and faced multiple obstacles to not only deliver their gifts but to receive one that they could never imagine. Christmas celebrates the gift of the Christ child to all -- a redemptive gift from a generous and loving God. May God’s generous and unmatched gift help us all to unleash our own generosity, for generosity gives us all the power to make a positive change in the lives of others and is a fundamental value we can all act on. (DG)
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10 NIV)
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.
(Luke 21: 1-4 NIV)
A handful of quotes to contemplate and cultivate into your life
Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. (Simone Weil)
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. (Winston Churchill)
I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.
When you learn, teach. When you get, give. (Maya Angelou)
The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation. (Corrie Ten Boom)
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. (C. S. Lewis)
God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.
You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. (John Bunyan)
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. (Pablo Picasso)
We celebrate the Help-Portrait movement this month.
If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer. (Eve Arnold)
Help-Portrait is a global movement of photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists using their time, tools and expertise to give back to those in need. Founded in 2008 by photographer Jeremey Cowart, their work is about GIVING the pictures, not taking them. The portraits they take aren’t for a portfolio, website, or sale. Their goal is to give people who could not otherwise afford photography, an opportunity to capture a moment, create a memory, and a whole lot more. You can learn more about their movement by visiting their website:
Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything. (Aaron Siskind)
A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to
fall in love with these people.
Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.
When Giving Is All We Have
One river gives
Its journey to the next.
We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference.
John Wesley (1703–1791) was a Church of England cleric and Christian theologian who led a revival movement within the Church of England known as Methodism. The societies he founded became the dominant form of the independent Methodist movement that continues to this day.
Giving for Wesley was a means of expressing generosity, rooted in gratitude for God's generosity and a means of fulfilling the great commandment to love God and neighbor. He was convinced that if the Christians would give all they can, then all would have enough. Wesley wrote that:
"(Money) is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked. It gives to the traveler and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of a husband to the widow, and of a father for the fatherless; we may be a defense for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain. It may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death.”
Wesley grew up in poverty, the son of an Anglican priest serving in one of England’s lowest paying parishes. He watched his father be marched off to debtor’s prison. As an adult, when John Wesley received his first well-paying position as a teacher at Oxford University, his income increased dramatically but he limited his spending to a modest 28 pounds per year. Over the ensuing years as he received salary increases he continued to maintain his spending at 28 pounds per year.
Wesley considered wealth and the failure to give to be a serious threat to Christianity. He preached a sermon entitled “The Use of Money” in which he outlined three principles guiding individuals’ finances. You can learn more about Wesley’s theology of giving and his three guiding principles by visiting the following resource page entitled John Wesley on Giving, found on the UMC website.
Each month we recommend films focused on our theme
This month we highlight three International Films
Live-action Short: (3 minutes) – Thailand
Making the world more beautiful. Receiving what money can’t buy.
Animated Short: (4 minutes) – China
A Joy Story: Joy and Heron
Illustrating the power of sharing.
Feature Film: (95 minutes) - UK
Nine-year-old Damian believes he’s received a divine gift from above when a suitcase filled with cash literally falls out of the sky. Against the advice of his older brother Anthony, Damian is anxious to share the wealth with those less fortunate. But when the loot turns out to be stolen, his noble intentions are put to the test with heartwarming and hilarious results. Directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Steve Jobs). The film’s screenwriter, Frank Cottrell Boyce, adapted his novel (which was awarded the Carnegie Medal) for the screen.
THE GENEROSITY OF JOURNEY
I don’t know about you, but for me, the day after Thanksgiving is in itself a holiday.
The transformation of home precedes a transformation of self at Christmas. The aesthetic in me loves the pageantry, the parade of color and texture, throughout city shops and households – especially in 2020 when I’m home each evening to walk through the neighborhood lights as my glowing one year-old takes it in. My empathetic side is attuned to the general rise of joy and compassion throughout the community. My pastoral heart relishes the internal quiet, a unique sense of pervading stillness to the soul like an inner snow flurry, as God becomes human babe and ultimately Savior, restoring chaos to order once again. These movements culminate in the activity of gift giving and receiving, an outward expression of the thankfulness we feel for those God has blessed us to live life alongside throughout the year.
One such gift my wife and I received in our first year of marriage was a beautiful nativity set from my parents that served then, as it does now, as a visual representation of our commitment to live together as Christ followers, loving and serving the resurrected King who came to earth as helpless babe. Each year we pull out the different characters: the baby Jesus with arms extended as if to be held (ignoring that infants do not start having the capacity to reach out like this for another 5 weeks or so), Mary and Joseph bookending the wooden manger with serene smiles (blissfully bypassing the state of physical fatigue from loss of blood and exertion that Mary would have been experiencing, along with the deep inner turmoil for Joseph as he ponders getting his family back home), the Shepherds in their perfect robes (with no sweat or other animal fluid stains from the daily toil in the fields), but I digress … the porcelain animals, the angels, and of course the Wise-men.
These Magi always call me to extra reflection. We know that these eastern foreigners, the learned scholarly men of their time, left home on a trek they probably did not know how long it would take, acting in belief upon the knowledge they had gained in reading the stars. If you are like me, you are tempted to put them on the other side of the room, or even outside, acknowledging the up to two years or so it will take them to traverse the desert and arrive on Herod’s doorstep asking about the birth of the King of the Jews. Two-ish years there, and another two-ish years back. Four years of their life -- to bring gifts to a small child! Ponder this; it is worth the reflection. They are not seeking a wise king who can answer their deep questions, they are not coming to an adult king who can reward their faithfulness, they are not popping over on an overnight trip. They are not making this trek for any reward to themselves. God has put on a celestial display that has stirred their souls and they have chosen to respond, to give up nearly half a decade bringing forth the precious gifts of themselves, as well as gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We return to the Nativity set: Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus, the shepherds, the animals, the angels, and the Wise-men. Each year when I am finished setting it up I am struck by this recognition--someone is missing, someone(s) who should have been primary figures at the birth of the Savior of Israel.
Looking back at the Matthew 2 text, when the Wise-men arrive, Matthew tells us in verse 3 that Herod, and all Jerusalem with him, is caught off guard, “troubled.” He did what was appropriate for a non-Jewish king ruling a Jewish people -- he turned to the learned scholars, the religious leaders of Israel, to ask for their perspective in making sense of this disturbing proclamation. Herod was thorough as he asked “all the chief priests and scribes” (vs 4), all the various factions and groups within Jewish leadership, including both Pharisees and Sadducees. As the leaders of Israel, they did not disappoint, identifying Bethlehem as the probable birthplace.
At this point the narrative picks up on three sets of action, all of which flow from knowledge, but only two of which would seem to flow from belief into giving of oneself fully.
First, those Wise-men, the foreigners from the East, hearing the scribes and priests, give of themselves and continue their journey forward to Bethlehem to worship. Meanwhile, Herod, the Edomite, the foreign king, also acts on what he has heard from these leaders; he gives of himself in fear and protection of his position, sends his soldiers behind the Magi to destroy all living males two years and younger. The learned men of the East go forward, and the learned foreign ruler of Jerusalem also goes forward.
Then we come to an unexpected plot twist--the learned scholars of Israel, the priests, the leaders of God’s people, when called to give of themselves, to act on their knowledge in belief and go meet their Savior and King, go … home.
These men -- tasked with keeping the community in social order, spiritual purity, and preparing their hearts for the day the Messiah comes -- are unwilling, for whatever reasons, to give even a day’s journey, when the foreign men of the East have given years. They simply go home. The two sets of foreigners have acted on their knowledge and given of themselves, one in worship and the other in destruction. The Jewish Priests have not. They have missed the culmination of their work, they have missed the opportunity to give of themselves fully, to celebrate in joy. They have missed their King. Sadly, they will continue to miss Him. Instead, it is the traveling foreigners, not the local leaders, that serve today throughout a myriad of households as examples that God gives knowledge for the purpose of living worshipful generous lives.
This Christmas season, as my wife and I and our one-year-old daughter pulled out our nativity, I was again struck by the incongruence of these missing leaders of Israel. As children, as parents, as learners, scholars and leaders, let us consider in what ways we may be confusing knowledge with belief. Knowledge by itself can be stagnant. Belief is knowledge internalized. Belief leads to generous activity. Thus, we are invited to act, to believe such that we too come and worship at the birth that would turn death into life. Gently, may I implore you to consider where and how God is calling you to live in worshipful response to Him through faithful grace and generosity to the world around us?
I invite you to wonder. Wonder at the invitation to the nativity. Wonder (honestly) if there is anything getting in the way of being like those who were present? Wonder what ways or places God might be calling you to act upon your knowledge and give of yourself fully? Wonder what life might look like, how you might act differently, if you believed that your value, your worth, the meaning in your daily work, is established not by your effort but by a God who became flesh and dwelt among us. I invite you to consider what knowledge has yet to mature into belief, and then act upon it.
Accept the invitation to come and worship at the nativity. May we be like the Wise-men who, with a little knowledge, believed, trusting their future to Someone greater than themselves. They gave of themselves for years, and ultimately found themselves kneeling before the giver of life.
Each month we recommend a book focused on our theme.
Book of the Month
LOVE LET GO
Laura Summer Truax & Amalya Campbell
Displays the amazing power of generosity to transform people and communities
When LaSalle Street Church in Chicago received an unexpected windfall, its leaders made the wild, counterintuitive decision to give it away. Each church member received a check for $500 with the instruction to go out and do good in God's world.
In Love Let Go readers witness how a church community was transformed by the startling truth that money can buy happiness—when we give it away. Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell show how this radical generosity shaped their community, exploring the reverberating impact of each act of generosity, and ultimately revealing how LaSalle's faith-filled risk snowballed into a movement beyond itself.
Throughout the book Truax and Campbell probe the connection of human flourishing to generosity and offer tools to help us reclaim our giver identities and live generously—to love and let go.
Practical suggestions to help you go deeper into our theme
1. EXERCISING GENEROSITY: What is an area of your life in which you could exercise greater generosity? In what ways could you be more generous with your time, involvement, care, support, finances? Choose at least one form of generosity and make a plan on how you could exercise greater generosity in that area.
2. IN HER OWN VOICE: Amalya Campbell, one of the authors of our Book of the Month, has an excellent TedTalk entitled: Radical Generosity is an Act of Living, Not an Act of Giving. We encourage you to check it out at: https://www.ted.com/talks/ami_campbell_radical_generosity_is_a_way_of_living_not_an_act_of_giving
3. HEALTH BENEFITS OF GIVING: Studies show that giving can actually boost your physical and mental health. This article from the Cleveland Clinic offers encouraging examples of the ways that giving can generate increased health. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-giving-is-good-for-your-health/
4. A GENEROUS NATION? While those living in the US could always contribute more, statistics suggest that when it comes to financial giving America is quite generous: https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=42
5. THE SCIENCE OF GENEROSITY: Researchers at Notre Dame University have established the Science of Generosity Initiative that examines generosity from a variety of academic fields. Led by sociologists Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson the study is funded by the Templeton Foundation. Check out the initiative’s website as well as an article by Smith and Davidson.
6. GO FUND ME: Help a cause by setting up a Go Fund Me account at the website below. If you are fund-raising for an individual, it is advisable to get their consent/input first.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV)
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Images used in order of appearance:
1. FIELD: Painted by Benedictine monks, Adoration of the Magi, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at Conception Abbey in Conception, Mo., late 19th century
2. SEEDS: Macario Vitalis, Adoration of the Magi, 1898-1989
3. ART: Photographs courtesy of Help-Portrait: https://help-portrait.com/
4. POETRY: Mihaly Schener, Adoration of the Magi (1923-2009)
5. PROFILE: Bartolome Esteban Murillo, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1660
6. FILM: Stephen Adam, Adoration of the Magi, Parish Church of Scotland, Allloway, Ayrshire, 1877
7. ESSAY: James Tissot, Journey of the Magi, 1894
8. BOOKS: Artists unknown, Three Kings Mosaic, Basilica of Sant'Apollinare, Ravenna, Italy, 6th century
9. DIG DEEPER: Artists unknown, Adoration of the Magi, panel from a Roman sarcophagus, cemetery of St. Agnes in Rome, Italy, 4th century
10. ROOTED: Hannah Brummel (age 8), Holy Magi, 2020.
TEAM CULTIVARE: Duane Grobman (Editor), Lori Andrews, Billy Brummel, Ben Hunter, Eugene Kim, Rita McIntosh, Jason Miller, Jason Pearson (Design: Pearpod.com)