Living Treasures

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Hidden Treasure

This past Sunday I got to preach at Loomis UMC, CA, where they were celebrating “Living Treasures Sunday.” One Sunday each year they honor an older person (or couple) whose life shows what it means to be a joyful, faithful follower of Christ, modeling loving discipleship for future generations. The church hosts a special meal after worship for the recipients, and the whole congregation attends. As dinner guests, attendees are encouraged to bring a monetary “hostess gift” in honor of the recipient. The gift goes into the congregation’s endowment fund for future ministries.

The recipients this year were Garvin and Betty Jabusch, and they are true Living Treasures! The next two generations of their family were there to help us all celebrate them. Over the years, Betty and Garvin have participated in twenty-two volunteer building projects for homes for the poor, much of it through Habitat for Humanity. For their fiftieth anniversary, instead of going on a cruise or doing something costly for themselves, they sponsored building an entire home and invited their friends to join them as the volunteers to build it.

Whether we realize it or not, members of younger generations are watching and learning from what we do and how we live. In the case of the Jabusch family, that’s true not only in terms of learning extravagant generosity, but also learning the skills for building homes for others. Two of their sons are contractors, and one grandson works for Sierra Service Project, which does volunteer home building as well.

In a larger way, we all naturally look to older people around us as possible models for faithful living, and at the same time, we have the opportunity to be such models for those who come after us. I pray that you will be a Living Treasure to those around you, and to those who will follow in the years to come.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

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The Gratitude Effect

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“Gratitude has the power to heal, to energize, and to change lives,” said researcher Robert Emmons at the June 7th Greater Good Gratitude Summit. “We’re here to celebrate the science and the spirit of gratitude.”Emmons, Robert

While gratitude may be a familiar topic in religious circles, these comments came from a professor of psychology at U.C. Davis, author of multiple books, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. Backed by funding from the John Templeton Foundation, he and other leaders across the U.S. oversee fourteen three-year-long studies that are measuring evidence-based effects of gratitude as both a science and a practice.

In a panel called “The Gratitude Effect,” four scientists presented their teams’ findings on physical, psychological and social benefits of gratitude. Christina Karns distinguished gratitude from mere happiness by saying “gratitude compels us to give back.” Then she cited her study of its connection to altruism by analyzing the neural systems of the mid-brain. She has been measuring pleasure in the brain as people chose to keep their work bonus for themselves, or give it to a charity instead.

Wendy Mendes is a social and biological scientist. Her team has been exploring gratitude’s effects on health and length of life. They have found that gratitude contributes to better well-being, lower anxiety and lower anger; more social connections with others; better sleep quality; and lower blood pressure both at rest and reactivity.

Jeff Huffman is a professor and psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. He is completing a study of the effects of gratitude on people who have survived a heart attack. By testing people while they are in the hospital, two weeks later, three months later, and six months later, he has noted that people who show gratitude (by both self-check and biomarkers) exercise more and eat healthier foods, and have a better quality of life. The results so far show that gratitude has positive biological effects, and protects against hopelessness and cardiac events.

Philip Watkins is a professor of psychology at Eastern Washington University. He has focused on how gratitude enhances well-being through cognitive processes, as people recall what they are grateful for. “Grateful recounting may train you to notice the good in your life,” he said, “to make positive interpretations of good events, and to help you reflect positively on events in your past.” He has found that gratitude increases our desire to affiliate with others, even when there is a cost to oneself. It enhances our tendency to include others and helps us find new relationships, be reminded of relationships that are helpful to our well-being, and brings us closer in the relationships we have.

Okay, so we are not grateful in order to receive all these benefits. But isn’t it amazing how the impulse to give back, out of gratitude, ends up giving back to the giver, as well?

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

From Transaction to Trust

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Mehta, NipunWhat a phenomenal experience we had last week, when more than 500 people gathered to hear about the latest scientific studies and firsthand stories on the benefits of gratitude! Scientists from fourteen studies plus other presenters discussed everything from the chemical effects of gratitude on the mid-brain to its benefits in a range of relationships.

One gem I took away with me was a story from Nipun Mehta, founder of ServiceSpace, a four-year-old company that does projects related to volunteerism, technology and gift-economy. He spoke about the Karma Kitchen, a restaurant that has been going strong for four years now, where diners discover someone else has already paid for their meals – and they choose to pay for the diners who will come after them.

Mehta talked about the change in attitude he has seen when people move from transaction to trust. The movement goes through four stages, from gratitude to mental stillness (awareness and reflection), on to a sense of interconnection with others, and then to “pay it forward” behavior.

“We start with ‘We are enough; we have enough,’” said Mehta, describing the ethos that initiated and continues to nurture Karma Kitchen.

It’s thrilling to see people rediscovering the truth of “enough” and joyfully paying it forward for others to receive goodness. We may be used to hearing this message from our faith or religious life, but when it comes out of scientific studies and repeatable everyday experiences, it reinforces our conviction.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Talking Mission

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Remember all those church mission statements your congregation has painstakingly writtenover thepast years? Where are they now? I used to have a file drawer full of them, carefully formed in planning retreats, tried for a time and then filed away. But the only really great mission statement is the kind that sets our hearts on fire and gets put up on the wall for God and everybody to see. That’s the way the Church of the Resurrection does it (up on the wall, that is; www.cor.org). It takes time and effort to discover, but when the mission is right for who you are, you don’t forget it.

 “When there is clarity and passion about God’s mission, strong financial stewardship follows,” says a pastor for Luther Seminary’s Center for Stewardship Leaders (http://www.luthersem.edu/stewardship/email_archive.aspx?display_date_sent=4%2F22%2F2014). The point is not to get people to give a lot of money to the church – it’s to ignite people to participate in God’s work in the world. When we’re not clear about what God is doing or where God wants us to be, we end up substituting all kinds of lesser activities for the real mission for which God has made us.

I know: easy to say, hard to do. But in the end, our purpose is not just to raise money. It’s to nurture and encourage full-throttle Jesus-followers who reflect our generous, Living, Sovereign God. Sheer Preaching quarterly at Vacaville St. Paul's UMCgrace!

Oh yes, that takes money, but it takes all that we are, as well. Beginning with our hearts.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Dealing with Possessions

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Possessions Happy“Too much stuff” can be a challenge at any point in life. I read a terrific article by two newlyweds who discovered a way to “navigate the jungle of wedding gifts,” offered an alternative giving site for their wedding, and worked out some powerful “slow living practices” that they are instigating in their young-adult lives. (To read their article, go to http://compassfaithandfinances.wordpress.com.)

Too much stuff can happen at the other end of our adult lives, too, when people need to downsize. Just as the newlyweds talked about the emotional value of the eclectic dishes and household items they brought to their marriage, older adults find many possessions invested with personal meaning from all their past experiences. While moving to a smaller place is some years off yet for my husband and me, I’m beginning the process now. Books are a big part of my cherished possessions, so I’m thinking of particular categories of books that a specific person or group might appreciate and use. My plan is to contact the possible recipients and start delivering the books. That way, my bookshelves will begin to clear out more and more over time, and I’ll know that the recipients value what I gave away.

It’s a small step compared to the more dramatic decisions of those newlyweds. But every step is a good start and keeps us on the journey toward simpler living.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub