The Gift: Don’t Be a Keeper

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Sam here, with Chapter 1 of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. Loved the comments last time. Thanks, all.

This week I want to make a list of gift-giving guidelines. Hyde isn’t so regulated, but his principles challenge and encourage. Why not gather them in one place?

Guidelines for a healthy gift economy:

1. Keep the gift moving. “And the ungrateful son had to feed the toad every day, otherwise it would eat part of his face. And thus he went ceaselessly hither and yon about in the world.” I just love this folk tale by the brothers Grimm (page 12).

2. Don’t expect a gift in return. Hyde quotes ethnographer Bronislaw Malinowski here: “[T]he counter-gift...cannot by enforced by any kind of coercion.” How many times we've said, See if I invite HER over for dinner again! Our hospitality quickly turns to hostility when the recipient doesn't reciprocate (ref. Henri Nouwen).

3. Save bartering for yard sales. “Partners in barter talk and talk until they strike a balance, but the gift is given in silence.”

4. Use, consume, or eat the gift. “[W]hen the gift is used, it is not used up. Quite the opposite, in fact: the gift that is not used will be lost, while the one that is passed remains abundant.” Sound familiar? “Whoever keeps his life will lose it…”? Yep, Matthew 10:39. Manna also comes to mind. And the parable of the talents. And gift-cards to Circuit City.

5. Enlarge the gift circle. “[T]wo people do not make much of a circle.”

6. Include the Lord in the circle. Okay, Hyde doesn’t mention this, but he makes the Old Testament reference to first fruits: “The inclusion of the Lord in the circle…changes the ego in which the gift moves in a way unlike any other addition. It is enlarged beyond the tribal ego and beyond nature…. The gift leaves all boundary and circles into mystery.” I'm glad the Lord enters the circle even when I don't include him. Others I should have mentioned?

Post written by Sam Van Eman.