Being & Building Followers & Friends of Jesus
Interview with Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell
Authors of Love Let Go
Phil ~ "In four days' time every one of our congregants would receive a check for five hundred dollars. They would be told: God trusts you to do something good in the world and so do we." Not every congregation will have the resources that made this possible for you, but what can even the smallest, least funded congregation learn from what you experienced?
Amalya ~ Generosity starts where you are and with what you have—no matter how much or how little. We all, individually and as congregations, have something to give. A cash-strapped congregation might not be able to give everyone $500 checks, but it can offer the message that each of us is created to give, and that God has granted every one of us the resources to do it. So rather than dwelling on what the church doesn’t have, the church can ask itself, What do we have? What resources of time, skill, passion, and yes, money, do we have to offer this broken and needy world? And when a church body starts giving, it will find itself wanting to give more – because just as the New Testament tell us, generosity begets generosity.
Phil ~ Your congregation was about to receive $1.6 million from the sale of property the church had invested in decades ago. What role did prayer play in the decision to pursue extravagant giving with the money you were about to receive?
Laura ~ This entire thing was conceived and expressed in prayer. At every turn this counter-cultural expression of grace was only possible because many of us were clued into a different way of being in the world. Several years ago I heard someone describe God’s work in the world as being a series of nudges, calls, whispers – and that prayer is like an antenna that receives those various radio waves. I love that description! Jesus was so in sync with his Father that he said, “I only do what I see the Father doing.” We wanted to do what God wanted us to do with this money – the only way we would know that was to be very connected with what God was doing via prayer.
Phil ~ "Generosity possesses the power to reshape us." In what ways did it reshape the spiritual culture of the church?
Amalya ~ LaSalle Street Church has a long history of generosity. As we note in the book, the original $1,000 social justice-inspired investment that led to the windfall came at a time when the church was hanging its utility bills from a bulletin board for congregants to take home to pay! But to keep that history of generosity alive, we need to honor and reclaim it. That’s what this windfall allowed us to do. With the Love Let Go checks, church members started to see their own roles in the story of abundance God has written. They experienced the irrepressible joy of giving away $500 and sought out more of it: A year after the giveaway, when we embarked on an Advent project to raise $6,000 to sponsor a refugee family, we didn’t raise $6,000. We raised $39,000. That’s a congregation reshaped by generosity.
Phil ~ Describe how radical generosity is different from random acts of kindness.
Amalya ~ Radical generosity is a posture, a stance, a way of living – not simply an act of giving. Radical generosity is the collection of seemingly small acts of love you let go day in and day out, from the conversation you have every week with the homeless person who sits outside the grocery store, to the hour you regularly volunteer to teach Sunday School, to the monthly check you write to sponsor a child in a developing country thousands of miles away. Those are intentional and deliberate—and often prayerful—choices, not random acts of kindness. Please don’t get us wrong—random acts of kindness are fantastic. We positively embrace random acts of kindness, but in Love Let Go we seek to celebrate and honor the sustained, repeated commitment that radically generous people demonstrate. By making small, deliberate, daily choices to give generously rather than to hold tightly, people experience the kind of freedom and joy that only giving provides. These small acts eventually cascade into a radically generous way of life.
Phil ~ Agree or disagree: Generosity is an expression of the Gospel, an act of grace that can soften a hardened or hurting heart and captivate a confused mind.
Laura ~ Agree. Wholeheartedly. As we say in Love Let Go, the very posture of generosity is one of open-handedness. It’s a realization that one is able to give regardless of what the receiver does with the gift. Generosity is one of the bedrocks of grace and connects us to the story of God’s generosity that began in the very opening pages of Genesis. God creates an amazing world and then hands it over the creatures! God graciously gives us the grace to fail or achieve; to love or not; to forgive or not. Whatever we decide, God doesn’t stop giving to us. In a similar way our generosity can create environments where people know they have the freedom to change.
Phil ~ How can Jesus followers know when God wants them to demonstrate generosity and how to discern the extent of their extravagant giving?
Laura ~ One of the clear teachings of scripture is not whether or not we should practice generosity, but rather how should we practice generosity. Jesus started with those right around him – giving himself to those he encountered in the course of his travels. That’s where we suggest starting as well. As we note in Love Let Go, many LaSallers gave to the immediate needs of their neighbors and their city. Those who invested in farther flung activities almost always had a personal connection. We give to what we know. We also give to what we see. The more Jesus is informing our vision, the more we are going to see how connected we are to those around us. We can trust that the Spirit will take it from there.
Phil ~ Please add an insight or comment to one or more of these quotes from the book:
Amalya ~ That’s the Good News in a nutshell! When we share the Gospel, it lights us up from the inside out, doesn’t it? We can’t help but share it, and in doing so, we feel fully alive. Generosity works the same way. Because we are made in the image of God—the first and grandest giver of all—we know we were created to give. Social science research tells us that when we are generous, we are healthier, happier people who experience a stronger sense of purpose. That’s because we were made for it! Once we acknowledge our inherently giving natures, we want to share and share freely.
Amalya ~ The fact is, giving is rarely easy. We often have plenty of rock-solid, entirely logical reasons to say No. What we so easily forget is that where we see scarcity, God sees abundance. A posture of radical generosity allows us to notice God’s abundance and live into it. That’s the shift we experienced as a church in this moment when we decided to let love go.
Amalya ~ When we experience plenty, we sometimes start to believe that we earned it. We tell a story of hard work that paid off or smart investments that generated sizable returns. The beauty of the $500 Love Let Go checks is that they (almost literally!) fell into our church members’ laps. In seeing these $500 checks as a grace gift from God, congregants began to see everything they had as gifts, too. Wealth tempts us to forget the real source of all the good that comes to us, which is why Jesus made it crystal clear that no one can serve both God and money.
Laura ~ “Give thanks with a grateful heart!,” the psalmist says. Come to find out that’s what science says, too. The practice of saying thanks reminds us that we are not self-made people, rather we exist in a web of relationships and good will. Gratitude also has a way of reframing our current situation by reminding us there is always goodness in whatever we encounter.
Amalya ~ Gratitude is the birthplace of generosity. Of course we can doggedly will ourselves to be generous, but generosity becomes instinctive and natural when it comes from a place of gratitude. To tap into all the proven physical, mental, and social benefits of generosity, the best place to start is by practicing gratitude. The Bible repeatedly encourages, pleads, even exhorts us to praise God and the goodness of creation—not because God needs it, but because we need it. Gratitude keeps us aware of God’s grace, mercy, and yes, his ever-present generosity.
Phil ~ Anything else you'd like to share with us?
Amalya ~ The Chicago Tribune called Love Let Go the “iconoclast’s manifesto.” Radical generosity is iconoclastic. It goes against the prevailing cultural narrative that we live in a world where there’s not enough to go around, so take what you can get, protect what’s yours, and watch out for the other guy. Love Let Go upends that narrative. And it is a manifesto, too. We truly believe generosity can change our world, one person and one generous act at a time. Christians, of all people, should believe it. Our entire faith rested on the backs of a dozen disciples who didn’t have money, power, or any of the trappings of success. What did they have? A lot of love, and they were determined to let it go.
Phil ~ May we pray with you? Please write a prayer we can apply to our personal life but also to our role as stewards of God's riches ...
Amalya ~ Generous God, you created the earth and everything in it, and in the next breath you gave it to us—freely, abundantly, generously, lovingly. We know we were made in your image, Lord, and because you are a giver, we are givers, too.
Yet we sometimes forget our generous natures. Lord, help us to reclaim our giving selves. When we see scarcity, remind us of your abundance. When we begin to tighten our fists, loosen our grips and open our hearts. Remind us to see your gifts everywhere and praise you for their presence.
Glorious Creator, teach us to listen for the cries of the world that our ears and our churches need to hear. Help us to know when we are called to respond, and when other members of the body are meant to fill the needs around us.
Help us to live radically generous lives, Lord, letting your love go each day. Thank you for the privilege of giving. We stand humbled that we get to play a role in your story of generosity.
In the name of the One who gives without end,