September 2012
Practicing Generosity

Legacy and Generosity

It is quite true what philosophy says: life must be understood backwards.
But then one forgets the other principle: that it must be lived forwards
              - Søren Kierkegaard, 19th century Danish philosopher, theologian and author

Once a week, at the dinner table, my dad would ask me how my stocks were doing. Nothing unusual you might say, but I was 12 years old at the time. I dearly loved him; however at times I did think Dad was a little strange. No other family I knew had this type of dinner conversation.

Dad had given me $2,000 in play money (as a child, I never actually invested) and my charge was to come up with a plan for what stocks to buy and when to sell. He taught me how to read the Wall Street Journal, to understand and follow corporate news, to know what dividends and PE ratios were, and to chart the stocks I “picked.” Once a week, during dinner, I would give him a report. Were the stocks up or down; did the company declare a dividend; what was the news? Without the Internet, this meant I actually read the newspaper on a fairly regular basis. Not highly sophisticated but the practice took the form of a quest for knowledge.

As I reflect back, I am grateful for his guidance and the practice he instilled. It is part of my dad’s legacy and now part of mine, living forward. That idea of legacy as the way we live, not simply the things we leave, is fundamental to ideas I have been privileged to present as a finance faculty member at CREDO conferences. The CREDO conferences consider the confluence of a holistic perspective on health that includes spiritual, vocational, and financial wellness, too.

Although the legal world views legacy as something tangible, CREDO views legacy as something we live, not simply the things we leave. Legacy can be expressed intangibly, passed either intentionally or unintentionally, from one generation to another in the form of beliefs and values, forgiveness given, forgiveness received, experiences shared, memories made, and stories told. You can choose to have generosity as a core value, and be part of the legacy you live and the legacy you leave.

A vivid memory of those dinners with my father came to me during the summer of 2011. A group from our parish in the Diocese of El Camino Real was working and living for a week at Our Little Roses, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  Nuestras Pequeñas Rosas provides a safe, nurturing home and education for Honduran girls who have been born into poverty and whose lives have been marked by physical and emotional abuse. One day, we took them on an outing, to the beach a few hours away. We brought bags and gloves so that before swimming and lunch, we could have a beach clean-up party. The girls had never experienced any thing like this and in fact, they thought we were a little strange, just like I remembered thinking of my father.

As I thought about my father, it was not stocks I thought about but rather his legacy. I wondered if we were encouraging and passing on a practice that might become a norm—as Dad had done for me. I wondered if the simple act of having a beach cleanup party might encourage the girls of Our Little Roses to adopt this as a generous practice for their environment. I wondered if learning was taking place from one generation to another: Would the kids look back and see this experience as an entrée to being stewards of God’s creation or would they remember it at all? Were we laying a foundation, however thin, for these young Hondurans to care for their stunningly beautiful country and to be the next generation of people in relationship throughout the Anglican Communion?

As you reflect on your own legacy and the place of generosity as a core value, integral to your spiritual well being and the well being of others, I offer you some questions for reflection. What are the practices you are living forward and what do you understand about practice, generosity and legacy by looking back? Is your legacy, as reflected in your financial plans and action, congruent with, and integrally a part of, the wholeness of God’s image in which we were created? Who has been a model of generosity in your life, a model of living life with integrity? I encourage you to share your stories of legacy with the next generation and together make memories that will become generous models for the following generation.

Celeste Ventura is a member of the CREDO faculty and writes a financial wellness blog called Next$ Steps


This article is part of the September 2012 Vestry Papers issue on Practicing Generosity