A few of the interactions I have had in the past week have all carried some element of a way of being and doing that I love encountering, and that I am hopefully learning to cultivate more in my life. It is that very attractive thing called generosity. Far more than simply giving a few dollars to the beggar on the street or offering to share my lottery winnings, it is an attitude that reflects vulnerability and openness. It tells people how much I want them in my life.
We attended a U2 concert on Saturday night. If I were to point to any one thing that stood out, it would not be the impressive stage nor the huge "fan jam" tent village erected for people to enjoy during the day nor the incredible number of humans gathered (80,000) in that one space, though all of that was remarkable. The sense that I got from the whole experience was extravagant generosity. I know we all paid good money to be there, and many also shelled out cash for t-shirts and over-priced refreshments, but I am not talking about what someone does for a living nor what their net profit is. I am talking about how they interact with others.
The design of the stage for this 360 tour was one that sought to include everyone on all sides. Though it was arguably the largest stage I have ever seen, it felt paradoxically intimate. Bono, predictably, pulled out a few individuals from the audience (one was a man with a turban and the other was a small boy) who sang along into his microphone when he offered it. It was a simple gesture, but this, along with the circular track around the stage which gave the band members the freedom to roam around and play to every side, and the two sections of the stage which allowed people to stand inside the performing area, said a lot about how much they wanted to connect with their audience. They were not trying to keep their distance or simply play to us. One got the sense that we were all having this experience together. The gigantic screen hovering above the band (and lowered at different points) gave a clear view of them from all angles. The sound (some of the most amazing, clear sound I have ever heard) was also designed to project to all sides and provide optimum clarity for everyone, no matter where they were sitting or standing. The whole venue was designed to offer the audience the best, most intimate, and unique experience that money could buy. And U2 did not skimp on anything. Extravagant, indeed! And if you have ever been the recipient of extravagance, then you know what generosity looks like.
This past week as part of a research project I am working on, I have been in contact with a few authors, researchers, and leaders in the new monastic, intentional community, and emerging church movements. I was humbled by their quick replies, their willingness to converse with a total stranger, and their readiness to give me their personal coordinates, arrange visits, set up a video call, friend me on facebook, and answer my questions. Their generosity meant that they did not keep their distance from me. They are freely sharing what they have and who they are, and I appreciate these busy (and sometimes high-profile) writers, leaders, and practitioners letting me into their worlds for a few minutes. To me, this says a lot about their desire to be people who exemplify what they are learning and in addition, placing strong value on sharing their learning journey.
Part of the challenge of being a teacher, a public figure, or even an introvert is that sometimes giving ourselves to others can feel pretty costly. I use the word, "feel," because I believe that even though generosity does and must carry a certain factor of depletion, it is much less costly and stressful than protectively clutching at our precious bits of information or hiding parts of ourselves away from others. Really, how much energy does it take to be myself? Not much. The energy and resources (at least for me) come in trying to be my most loving self. Yes, being honest, real, patient, vulnerable, gracious, and loving is a challenge. Like surrender, it is the easiest and hardest thing at the same time. It is a lesson in being extravagant. In offering what I have freely, and that includes myself as well as my resources.
In light of the extravagance of the Creator so evident in this universe and the love that my parents, family, and friends, and even total strangers have shown me, let me delight in being generous with all that I am and all that I have.
These are two photos from the U2 concert: the first is the ginormous 360 stage. The second is of The Edge as he played to our part of the crowd.