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What does it mean to be generous?

I went to a Christian college in the late 1990s. We had mandatory chapel five days a week, with a certain number of “skips” tallied by “chapel checkers” who identified absences by peering over the sides of the balcony and marking the empty seats on their clipboards.

I paint this picture as a entry point into the fact that I have heard a lot of sermons. I attended chapel and church obsessively through the end of college. I served as a Methodist pastor on a large church staff for 18 months.

But there are only a few sermons that have stuck with me, and I want to tell you about one of them today.

Our college president regularly spoke in chapel, and one year he gave a sermon series on the Ten Commandments. I typically leave that kind of series feeling pretty good about myself. I don’t know about you, but I don’t struggle much with making graven images, lying, killing, or stealing.

But this was different.

Our college president transformed each of the ten commandments from a negative prohibition to a positive command. Sidebar: This is a common parenting strategy. Instead of saying “don’t run,” we’re supposed to say “please walk” so that kids know what they should do and not just which behaviors to avoid.

Instead of simply being told not to steal, I heard a statement about generosity and a challenge to live out this commitment:

“What’s mine is yours, and I give it freely.”

Why does that feel like such a big ask or an impossible goal? Maybe it’s because I want to hold tightly to what is mine so that no one takes it away. I feel like I earned it, and so I should get to decide if and when I give it. I don’t want to acknowledge the biblical teaching that God owns it all; I don’t want to believe that sometimes the allocation of wealth is more about luck and birth than about my hard work. I don’t want to believe that it could all go away in a moment.

I also want to maintain my right to decide. I might just decide to keep that wealth in case I need it later. I might also want to hang onto those goods or that wealth and incorporate it into my identity and see myself as a person of means, which entails certain memberships or possessions. And even if I can’t take it with me, I’d sure like to leave that wealth to my kids.

And so while I don’t feel tempted to steal, I do find it harder to live with generosity than I might like to admit. And so I lift up the challenge that still echoes through my heart more than two decades later.

“What’s mine is yours, and I give it freely.”

by Katy Attanasi Barker, Development Coordinator at HOTEL INC; join the work of living generously and extending love in Bowling Green by giving financially at

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