A Tapestry of Grace

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In a few months I will go to my fiftieth high school reunion. This is a courageous step, since I haven’t attended any of the previous reunion events along the way. But I’ve been curious to see what my classmates have done in their lives ever since graduation. Thankfully the organizers set up a website, so we can fill out profiles and publically respond to one another before the in-person reunion date. The former students now are spread all across the country and even around the world.

Those daily optional online interactions have prompted me to recall long-past memories and friendships, now viewed in a wider context of the decades we’ve lived in between. High school years can be dramatic enough for anyone, and I’m now glimpsing how many people have grown through (or out of) those teenage experiences, into some wonderful vocations of improving people’s lives.

Whether or not I get to see old friends at the reunion, it will be an opportunity to make new ones. As God told Isaiah, “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare – before they spring forth, I tell you of them!” Reunions are a small reminder that God offers us learnings not only from the past, but also in every new moment, to form what can become a beautiful tapestry of grace.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

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Generous Stewards — Curious and Creative

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Who knew that curiosity might have anything to do with stewardship? I hadn’t thought about it that way. But some scientific studies approach curiosity not as a predilection or character trait, but as a behavior. As such, it shows our “stewardship of attention” 1 – how we choose to pay attention to certain people and situations. When we are curious about others and ask open-ended questions, we can learn and grow, and improve others’ lives, as well.

This is Part Two of four blogs about some primary attributes of generous stewards. Yes, they are cooperative and connectional – and they’re also curious and creative.

Two broad-based studies focused on what Millennials (those born roughly between 1980 and 1995) look for. 2 They want interaction with people in relationships that are diverse in theology, race, ethnicity, etc. And they are curious, seeking experiences and unafraid of risk. They hope to leave the world a better place, including social justice issues, environmental ethics, and local and global physical wellness.

But while Millennials stand out for these things, they aren’t the only age group to desire them. Curiosity is “the desire to approach novel and challenging ideas and experiences,” 3 to increase one’s personal knowledge and engagement. And we all want that, to differing degrees. But when people actively reach out to follow their curiosity, they tend to have better relationships – they connect more easily with strangers, they are often better at “reading” other people’s verbal and nonverbal cues, they are usually less aggressive and enjoy socializing more. 4

It’s no wonder that curious folks – generous stewards of attention – tend to be creative, then. Because they’re willing to learn from other people and to cooperate and connect with others, they end up helping to create new ways to relate beyond old roles and expectations, and new models of ministry that involve risk and flexibility.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – For more on “stewarding attention,” see the three-blog series under that title by Jason Misselt at www.luthersem.edu.

2 – Cited in Folmsbee and Brad Hanna, “What Millennials Crave and How the Church Can Relate,” Circuit Rider, May/June/July 2015, pp. 24f.

3 & 4 – Jill Suttie, “Why Curious People Have Better Relationships,” http://greatergood.berkeley.edu.

A Thank You Plan

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Saying thank you is often a spontaneous thing. When someone does something for us, especially unasked for or at a cost to themselves, we naturally want to thank them, in words, by doing something for them, or by “paying it forward:” giving in some way to others. Most people don’t give in order to be thanked, but it feels good to know the receiver has noticed them and appreciates what they’ve done.

When we’re together as the Church, it makes a big difference when we plan to say thank you, regularly and in different ways. Cesie Delve Scheurmann, consultant and blogger, 1 offers a potent, three-part plan:

  1. Thank people who give a financial gift for the first time, or who make an unexpected gift at Christmas or at year’s end.
  2. Schedule one day every week, when you’ll write four notes of gratitude. A heartfelt thank you note for someone’s gift of time, talent, and/or treasure will make you feel good, and will please them, too.
  3. Every Sunday, plan to thank your congregation for being generous and for supporting ministries that make a difference. There’s plenty to be thankful for, including for churches that are struggling financially, and Scheurmann gives several examples. Over the course of a year, the message will sink in: “What you give brings joy to and matters in the lives of real people.”

However it’s done, giving thanks becomes a gift in itself. “You will be enriched in every way for your generosity,” Paul tells the Corinthians. Their giving will produce not only thanksgiving from Paul and his ministry partner and “not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Cor. 9:11-12) The “saints” – that’s us, and all who seek to follow Jesus – will thank God for their needs being met, and will give their thanks back, as a gift, to God. So giving thanks keeps multiplying, grace upon grace!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Cesie Delve Scheuermann, “Set Your Generosity Priorities – Part 1,” 1/11/2017, at http://www.umoi.org/blogdetail/inspiring-generosity-7343136

Assets and Liabilities

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“Generosity is a spiritual disposition, not a quantifiable percentage of income,” said author James Hudnut-Beumler in Generous Saints. Generous people are grateful to God, affirming that “they know their worth comes from God, and not from money – not from money earned, hoarded, spent to purchase things, or used to exercise power.” 1

As I re-read these words, I’m struck by the powerful impact of such knowledge: that our worth has absolutely nothing to do with what we do or don’t have in assets and possessions. I think of the people I’ve known personally who are truly homeless, those who have routinely eked out the rest of the month after the end of the paycheck, and those who have plenty of money to go on trips abroad or buy the latest versions of cars or electronics.

Maybe this is a good time to do the related exercise Hudnut-Beumler proposes: to construct a statement of one’s worth – apart from the things we possess, not according to financial assets and liabilities. Draw a line down the middle of the paper, he says. On one side, list what you have and value: relationships, skills, knowledge, habits, and practices that help define who you are and what you have to offer other people. On the other side, list the debts you owe other people and God, including how you acquired or received the “assets” on the other side of the line. Discuss your statement of worth with someone else who has also completed the exercise. What have you learned?

In this process, did you have any “residuals:” items of value that did not come without incurring a debt in some way to someone else?

I didn’t think so, either.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1Generous Saints: Congregations Rethinking Ethics and Money (Alban Institute, 1999), pp. 9-13