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My American friends told me that Hong Kong was ‘like New York on steroids.’

Having grown up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I was skeptical about the Asian city’s intensity or impressiveness. Yet, I must admit I was astounded by China’s ‘Special Administrative Region.’ After 23 meetings in 13 days— all meetings but two held in Central and Wan Chai districts —I knew why the city was known for juicing. I later asked a Chinese friend about this.

“It’s such a dense city,” he said… [more here]

They were two Hasidic Jews—must have been in their late 70s at least—who would sit on a bench inside Central Park next to a playground across from Mount Sinai Hospital’s entrance on Fifth Avenue and 98th Street. They would feed the pigeons with breadcrumbs. I used to talk with them. I was maybe five or six.

One day I decided to give them a gift. I found some pieces of glass, no doubt from broken beer bottles left from teenagers mixing their alcohol with their LSD. Having placed the shards on top of a patty I fashioned with moist dirt, I ran to the men, excited to present my sparkling creation. Of course, I tripped and fell, cutting my left hand deeply enough to require stitches, which were provided in short order from the hospital.

I have no recollection of interacting with the men after that day, and I have a scar where the thumb meets my palm.

We like how this project in Portland brings services to those whose lifestyle often prevents them from gaining access to the interiors of buildings, where these services traditionally exist.

Having been a fan of The High Line since I first laid feet on it, I have often posted photos and videos of it here, on Flickr, and on Facebook.

This TED talk is a concise explanation by co-founder Robert Hammond of what it was, how it came to be now, and some aspects of what it’s doing for New York City.

My sons were fascinated in Riverside Park a couple weekends ago when they happened upon thousands of ants doing…something…together. As one.

This video has something to say about the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and what can be created through collaborative force.

In other words, what a community can do.

Recently, we engaged in a conversation with other charitable giving professionals about the differences in spending money, giving, and saving, for urbanites versus ex-urbanites. They are substantial, and yet they are not the focus of this post. Instead, we want to draw attention to Rachel Botsman and her TEDxSydney 2010 talk (video below). We really like the ideas of ‘collaborative behaviors’ and ‘trust mechanics.’ And we feel they are best played out in densely populated global cities.

‘Technology,’ Botsman claims, like Swaptree.com and others (like eBay, the grandfather of them all), ‘is enabling trust between strangers.’ Botsman claims further that we are moving from consumers, to creators to collaborators, thanks to the Internet. We would take issue only, and strongly, with her notion that our collaborative instincts come from being monkeys in our early years. We believe that our common human ancestry, with its concomitant call to cultivate the world, endues us with a divine call to collaborate. We believe that it is this genesis that animates and spurs us on.

Yet, to agree with Botsman in the end, much of our unthinking consumption goes into buying something like the power drill, which is used for 12-13 minutes in its entire lifetime, when what we need is not the drill per se, but the hole. Give it a look:

Seed for the City also commends to you Lewis Hyde’s seminal work ‘The Gift.’ Oddly enough, the collaborative consumption possible in urban areas and across the Internet somewhat owes its power to the practice of gift cultures stemming from tribal and traditional cultures dating back thousand of years.

A government worker abused his power, extorting money and growing rich on the backs of his already beleaguered constituency. He was roundly hated, but after a local disturbance involving a celebrity known for his compassion, he paid back all those he had cheated four times over and also gave half his money to the poor.

A woman married a successful businessman. She indulged herself in luxuries and traveled extensively. Little did she think that one day, after meeting a traveling Jewish teacher, she would she be using her husband’s money—with his permission—to support this teacher and his other students, funding their works of mercy as they went.

An heir to his father’s wealth, a man who had never worked a day in his life, became a socially prominent figure. Yet one day he saw hanging from a cross the bloodied corpse of a traveling Jewish teacher whom he had secretly followed. He knew that he must—he wanted to—give up his expensive burial plot to bury this man’s body. He boldly went to the Governor to ask permission, risking everything.

Zaccheus, Joanna, Joseph of Arimathea, their back-stories somewhat fictionalized but not their transformations, are distinguished in Scripture for their generosity. In fact, most of what we know about them is that when they met Jesus, they gave sacrificially.

Most of us are not asked to sacrifice our lives for our faith. But our reputations, our money, our time? It happens every day, yet it seems so hard to act faithfully, let alone sacrificially. Where can we get the power to act like Zaccheus, Joanna, and even Joseph of Arimathea, giving away the tomb where he himself was to be buried? Where can we find the joy in giving like the hymn writer who sang,

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Joseph saw what we are asked to see: Christ crucified, and his blood, which flowed both because of Jesus’ sorrow at our sin and his love in spite of it. So Joseph ‘boldly’ risked his reputation and social position, and he also gave away something of great material value. Seeing the sorrow and love of Jesus gives us the power to find a gift to give that is greater than if we owned ‘the whole realm of nature.’

photo: xollob58

A fellow parent at my children’s school was telling me about the older Italian woman who was her landlord when she lived in Boston’s North End about twenty years ago.

“So she invited me in for lemonade one day and we had a nice chat. And then she said, ‘You know, I realize you’re just getting started in your career, and so I’m sorry about this but I’m afraid I’m going to have to raise the rent.’ So I thought for a minute and remembered the elderly couple below me and my roommate. They were on a fixed income and this would be really tough on them.

“I asked my landlord about them. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I’ve been worried about what will happen when I raise their rent, but I don’t know what else I can do.’ The man who lived below me was a fixture in our community; everyone knew him. He would even save my parking place by sitting in a chair out front, and nobody ever bothered him. He’d been very kind, you know? So I said to my landlord, ‘Why don’t you just add the difference in their rent to our new rent. We can cover it. We’ll just drink less beer.’”

My friend had absorbed the cost.

I had two takeaways from her story. The first was that true generosity is cheerfully paying for something that someone else owes, but cannot afford, especially when it is a hardship to do so. Jesus did this for us, and he did it for those who had not ‘been kind’ but rather for those who were estranged, like lost sheep. Disobedient. Clueless. He cheerfully gave to us out of love, though it cost him everything.

The second takeaway was how powerful a strong community can be, both positively and negatively. My friend’s landlord, she recounted with laughter, would stop her on the street and say, “I didn’t see you at church this week!” And her landlord and others from the neighborhood, which was racially quite homogenous, would also look askance at her when she brought overseas friends from a different culture to visit. They’d ask her about it and she’d explain that she was showing them what a great place it was to live.

Within the church, there can be both loving accountability and also sanctimonious judgmentalism. In the community that Jesus has redeemed and which the Spirit is making holy, there is no room for fear of the ‘other.’ Rather, there is a generosity of spirit, which has a concern for others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3). And there is a generosity of self, which makes us vulnerable, even as Jesus himself was when he asked his disciples at Gesthemane to ‘stay here and keep watch with me’ (Matthew 26:38b). This redeemed community generously and boldly carries others’ burdens and also fearlessly and humbly lets others help carry our own.

What can we each be doing in our neighborhoods to demonstrate both generosity and community?

+ In your circle of friends think creatively and proactively about individuals’ needs that you hear about. Pool funds or resources to meet them.

+ If you are a Christian, during Lent plan to give something up and give that something to another.

+ Let your friends know when you need help—be specific.

+ Be aware of your neighbors’ needs in your building. Surprise an elderly or poor neighbor with a gift that they couldn’t afford. Or an intangible one they can’t reciprocate.

+ Stop and talk with people on your street. Meet the business owners or workers. Greet and thank the local firefighters or police officers.

What if someone actually tooks seriously the words, sell what you have and give to the poor? As you watch this, doesn’t it make you want to have this kind of bravery and faith?

If we were to consider more often the ways of the ant (as the ancients tell us in the Hebrew Scriptures), we might find ways to achieve our goals more quickly, more effectively, and more cheaply.