Book Festival Community

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The Gold CouB at 5 17 14 Bk Festivalntry Book Festival, in Auburn, California, was a great experience of community. Writing can feel like a solo occupation, so it’s wonderful when writers and readers get together to celebrate the written word.

On Saturday, May 17th, the Placer County Library hosted 35 of us local writers in its leafy courtyard throughout the day. It also housed a four-author panel on the writing life, a children’s book corner, a workshop on how to borrow eBooks from the library, and a seminar for Millennial writers led by two published authors who are still in their teenage years.

It was a delight to see people relating to so many topics, with books reflecting a wide array of genres. People connected over mysteries and thrillers, children’s books and storyteller cards, Christian poetry and generosity, pre-teen fantasy, and Dust Bowl fiction. They connected in conversations ranging from bicycling California to living in Pakistan; publishing music to interviewing sports stars; global warming and coming-of-age stories to writing scripts for Hollywood. There was something for everyone.

Pastoring can also feel like a solo occupation, as well – for the pastor, at least. It’s wonderful when pastors and church members plan equivalent opportunities to celebrate the Word Made Flesh. I hope we do as well as this writer-reader event did, in encouraging one another to our commitment and our love of the process together.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Content Curation

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Recently I ran into a new word: “curated.” Oh sure, I’ve known museum “curators,” who are in charge of handling all the museum’s treasures. But these days the word “curate” is being used in some new ways.

One use of the word is in “content curation,” in contrast to “content creation.” Whereas content creation is original writing, content curation is alerting others to someone else’s material anComputer 1d linking them to the source, so they can read or see the full story for themselves. No doubt the idea of content curation arises out of our constantly-changing computer context. Specialized email subscriptions highlight a few concepts or new developments to attract the reader and then provide a hyperlink to read someone else’s firsthand words.

We’re even doing curation with the Bible these days. Digital Bibles like Logos give integrated cross-references and Scripture commentary in their software. “I want curated rabbit trails,” says Eli Evans, founder of Logos. “I want to be taken to places I’d never go.”1

Thinking back to those museum curators, they really are stewards – people who care for, manage and share all that has been entrusted to them. As Christian leaders and followers of Jesus, we are “content curators,” too – stewards of the gospel, meant to highlight key aspects that relate to people’s lives, and offer them a link to the Source.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 Cited in “The Bible in the Original Geek,” Christianity Today, March 2014

Stewards of God’s Mysteries

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Easter is the season, more than any other, when God takes our breath away with the sheer mystery of God’s overwhelming grace. In the face of Jesus’ resurrection, none of us can stand on our own two feet before God. It’s overwhelming enough to reflect on God’s self-giving love in Jesus’ lif3 women at empty tombe and death for us on the cross. But to witness God’s victory over all estrangement and death, and God’s gift of abundant and eternal life through Jesus’ resurrection? It is unimaginable for us, utter mystery.

As we experience this Easter season, I am stunned by St. Paul’s declaration to the Christians in Corinth that they are – that we are – “stewards of God’s mysteries” (1 Corinthians 4:1). How can we steward the Good News itself? How do we live our creaturely lives, moment by moment, in such a way that we share this precious gift of God’s now-and-forever love for us all?

I guess that’s why Easter reduces us to Alleluias and song – and the silence of awe. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has not only given us this incredible gift, but has also entrusted us with witnessing to it by the way that we live.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Revised from original written in April, 2011

Vital Signs

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We measure what’s important to us. I heard that statement a longFoothills UMC vital signs logo time ago, but it becomes truer with one’s age and with experiences in the local church. It’s like taking our pulse as we exercise, to make sure we are growing a stronger, healthier body. And now that the Bishops of the United Methodist Church are asking for congregations’ “measurables,” local church leaders are even more aware of needing to create and note observable measures for church vitality.

Okay, so some people are more Left Brain than others. They like to set up goals and measure progress along the way. But when we switch the subject from personality traits to behavior – to what we actually do – measurables become important to us all. As the old adage goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter where you are.”

The kick, of course, is choosing what we will measure. As a congregation, if we measure only worship attendance and income, that tells us we’re not in the gospel business, but simply a generic service organization. So it’s essential to think deeply about what we measure and to figure out how to assess aspects of ministry that are naturally more qualitative then numerical. I have given it a try in the article on this site called “Ways to Measure Generosity in Our Local Church Life.” (Scroll down on the left to the category of ‘Creating a Congregational Generosity Plan.’) Depending upon your congregation’s context, size and energy level, you can put specific numbers to the general phrases like “regularly invite,” “involve an increasing number,” and “increase participation.”

The point is not to reach some magic number in any of your indicators, but to consciously keep moving, as you grow in intentionality and in opportunities for people to deepen their relationship with God in Christ. As you choose any of those indicators and develop new ones, please let me know how it goes. How are you measuring generous-hearted living in your congregation?

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Offering Tips

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One of the sites I check regularly is Alan Wildes, who goes by the name of Generosity CoaOffering platech. In four brief video clips this past month, he has given tips for the offering which resonate with what I have been teaching, as well.

Two clips deal with the importance of language, which shapes both our thinking and others’ expectations. We do not “take” the offering; we “receive” it. We’re not “taking” it to use in church ministries. People give to God through the church. The offering is a worshipful act where we help all of us give back to God in response to what God has done for us.

The second message about offering language relates to worship visitors and giving. Personally, it sets my teeth on edge when a church leader says, “We do not expect visitors to give.” Who are we to deny someone the opportunity to participate in God’s work in the world? But Wildes make a great point even before that. By calling people “visitors,” we imply that they’re just here to visit and then will leave. But when we call them “newcomers,” we say they have recently joined us and we hope they will continue to be part of the community. What a difference that makes!

The other two offering tips speak of all-important connections. “Connect the dots,” he says, by connecting our constituents’ giving to people’s life changes – changes for the better in who they are and how they live. And connect your church’s vision to (you guessed it) people’s real life changes. “Vision increases generosity,” he states. Surely we can celebrate the transformation we see going on in people’s lives, both inside the church and in our wider community.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub