Music as Gift

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Piano hands on keys 2“The one who sings prays twice.” I’ve come to confirm that old adage. There’s something powerful about music that speaks to a deeper place in the soul than words alone can reach.

Music brings joy to my heart! I grew up loving Western classical music and have returned to it in recent years. But I’ve also grown to enjoy a variety of genres, whether it’s Taiko drums, bluesy jazz or a strong rock beat; Taize melodies, Celtic strains or Gregorian chants. Since moving to the country almost ten years ago, I’ve come to appreciate some western and Americana, as well. Last year we had an opportunity to share in music from Fiji, following the leader’s complex rhythm with our bamboo sticks. The music of drums and bamboo filled our space and formed a mystic sense of community.

The Psalms are full of musical instruments, with songs of praise and lament and much in between. In fact, the Psalms themselves are songs, most sung together in worship. As we enter into the U.S. celebration of Thanksgiving, I can’t help but recall the first two verses of Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise to [God the Name], all the earth! Worship [God the Name] with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing!”

If this is a season of Thanksgiving for you, may your soul sing for joy, as you delight in and share God’s glorious gift of music!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

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Stretching the Mind

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One of the joys in life for me is learning from The Teaching Company (www.thegreatcourses.com). The folks at The Teaching Company provide scores of college-level courses in audio and video formats in a mind-expBooks ancientanding range of subjects, taught by professors from all over the world who have been awarded for their teaching style. My brother told my sister about it, and my sister told me. I began picking up courses and listening to them in the car back in the old audio-cassette days, and have continued to benefit from their CDs and DVDs. Now they also offer audio- and video-streaming.

Rabelais, the great seventeenth century thinker, says to follow your passion. So for me it all started with augmenting my seminary training with Bible and religion courses from more angles than any single seminary can offer. Then I branched out into the history of music, the symphony, and specific composers. Next came periods of history and a range of subjects that evoke my wonder and awe: the Solar System and universe, quantum physics and geology, great literature and meditation. Then I chose some courses I had missed out on during college. This past year I’ve taken in several great philosophy courses, as part of research for my next book, Growing a Generous Soul.

Continued learning is a great thing – not for packing in more information or even just for keeping your brain nimble, but for acquiring a wider context, expanded understanding, and deeper wisdom. Learning doesn’t have to end with schooling. It can be just the beginning.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

December 2 #GivingTuesday

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What a beautiful gift some anonymous donor has made for the United Methodist “#GivingTuesday”! For the one day of December 2, every gift made online to The Advance at www.umcmission.org/give will be matched, up to $1 million.

“The Advance” is a collective term for hundreds of grassroots United Methodist mission projectHands circles in the U.S. and around the world which are encouraged as second-mile gifts, beyond our local-church apportionments for shared ministry. The Advance supports United Methodist missionaries and mission projects around the world. You can learn more about any of these ministries by going to http://www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission/Search-for-Projects/Focus. The website is set up so you can search by country or region; by specific ministry name; or by its type of work, whether it deals with poverty, global health, evangelization and church growth, or leadership development and education.

On #GivingTuesday, the donor will match up to $2,500 for every individual gift to a project. A specific ministry may receive a maximum of $25,000 in matching funds. Last year on #GivingTuesday, United Methodists raised a total of $6.5 million for mission projects through The Advance. Thanks to that one day of giving, for example, an entire community in the Philippines now is rebuilding after a devastating typhoon; families in Guatemala are raising their own food and generating income through gardening; and a health care center in Haiti can give greater access to people needing health care.

What a terrific way to counteract the whole consumerist season of Black Friday to Christmas overspending! Come to think of it, on December 2 we could make some of our Christmas gifts to an Advance ministry in that person’s name – so the gift doubles and everyone benefits!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Retired Time

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Todayclock is my birthday: a watershed year. I have gone through several stages to get used to the thought, but now I’m beginning to embrace it. It has taken a while to acknowledge that television personalities and company executives are usually younger than my husband and me. Our “kids” not only became full adults long since, but are mature parents and in the middle of their own careers. And I no longer mind being part of the retired class.

But what still trips me up sometimes is how hard I should be working – that is, how much I should be doing on projects related to my major passions (writing and stewardship/generosity). There, I’ve said “should” twice in one sentence, and even used the term “working!” I’ve never thought that retirement should be merely a glorified sandbox for seniors to play in, ignorant of the wider world or serious issues. I still remember one of our vows when I was ordained, about never being “triflingly employed.”

At the same time, quality-of-life issues and the use of one’s time take on a different cast at this age. I do want to finish writing my book on Growing a Generous Soul and to get it out there to people. (IAnd yet it takes time to sort through my over-researched folders.) And I want to keep spending quality time with my husband and family, church family and neighbors.

Somehow time management is a continual rebalancing, even in these supposedly simplified years. I love the projects I’ve said “Yes” to, and hope they actually help people somewhere along the way. So minor frustrations with balancing are just part of living. The different stages in life only look monolithic when we haven’t lived through them yet. It’s certainly always an adventure!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub