Holy Week Writing at Mount Hermon

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It was an amazing way to enter into Holy Week, recalling Christ’s last week here on earth as Jesus of Nazareth. I joined about 300 people – writers, agents and editors – for the Christian Writers Conference in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. Mount Hermon is a glorious site filled with both young and ancient coastal redwoods: an inspiring place for walking, writing, worshiping, and consciously being with God.

 Mount Hermon is a place already filled with good memories for me, since our family rented a cabin here several times when I was young, and one weekend a year our entire congregation would close the church building and take over these campgrounds for worship, learning and community.

 But I have cherished it differently the times I’ve come for the Christian Writers Conference, and especially this year. Yes, individual appointments with editors have given the opportunity of a lifetime, as we’ve come with our book proposals and writing ideas. But the most moving dimensions have been seeing so many people for whom the passion to write is normal, and worshiping together as Christians with this common call. The variety of theologies and church brands made no difference, as we knelt on common ground – particularly inviting Jesus Christ to enter into our spiritual Jerusalems once more.

 Holy Week can be an emotional roller coaster, between the depths of sacrifice and self-giving that Jesus gave us, and the Easter glory yet to come. It reveals the extremes of faithful human living in response to God’s incredible grace. In the face of all this, how can we strive to be anything less than stewards of God’s grace?

 Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

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Lynne Twist for Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday

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Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” this April 23 will include Lynne Twist, inspiring blogger and author of The Soul of Money. I was so moved by her blog, “Super Soul Sunday with Oprah” that I made the following comment:

“Lynne, I was thrilled to read your response to being interviewed by Oprah for this April’s Super Soul Sunday. Navigating the world of money can be hugely challenging, whether we come from our U.S. obsessed “money culture,” or from impoverished situations like those of Oprah’s Leadership Academy graduates. It takes attention, persistence and intentional gratitude to mature in the very traits you have and recognized in Oprah: spiritually grounded, loving, smart, and incredibly generous.

“A key aspect of growing such generous souls is telling ‘rallying stories:’ experiences that inspire hope, and trust in God’s abundance. When we reflect on learning from our own experiences and share what we’ve heard from others, we encourage healing in our relationship with money in an amazing ripple-out way. Thank you for your own grounding and the way you share rallying stories about generous stewards with so many of us in the process!”

Lynne Twist’s site is http://soulofmoney.org. Another great resource is Rebekah Basinger’s www.generousmatters.com.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Rainstorms and a Thin Stillness

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Rank upon rank of torrential rains has pummeled Northern California this winter — this latest with rainstorm-1wailing winds, thunder, and sheet lightning covering the entire night sky. When the Oroville Dam spillway broke up, 200,000 people were evacuated in all the towns downriver. The break in its lip was fixed, but the storms still are lined up out in the Pacific Ocean. And before these last two weeks of rain began, we were already at 200 percent of our normal average precipitation. Managing the runoff will be as major an issue when the snow starts melting this spring.

It’s not surprising that so many ancient Israelites experienced God’s dramatic presence (theophany) in great storms. This makes Elijah’s opposite experience that much more powerful, since God specifically came not in the thundering storm, but in “a still, small voice.” The Hebrew phrase actually is “the sound of a thin stillness.”

In reading this week, I’ve been reminded that God is not in nature; nature is God’s creation. But God has chosen to enter into nature in Jesus Christ, God’s human Incarnation (literally meaning “enfleshment”). Such divine greatness, coming into the lowest of human suffering, is astounding. It reminds me of Philippians 2:5-11, and also in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, where the diver brings the “dripping, precious thing” up from the depths of the ocean into bright sunlight. God comes down into the depths of human experience in order to lift us up!

The rainstorms continue, reminding me of the power of the Creator. But it is the sound of a thin stillness and the lowly Incarnation that most often put a lump in my throat.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Surprise Generosity

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Twenty dollars is a lot of money to my good friend, whom I’ll call Joan. She was homeless many years ago, and for decades lived financially on the edge, working multiple jobs as she found them and creating her own businesses whenever possible. With a family gift to help with a down payment a long time ago, she began buying a house, and now has it paid off. With personal discipline she continues to live frugally, savoring life’s goodness.found-faithful-little-much-all-logo

So it was a big gift when a friend sent her a twenty-dollar bill in her Christmas card this year. In gratitude, Joan tucked it away separately in her purse for some special, undisclosed purpose.

This week as she drove into the parking lot of a big box store, Joan caught sight of her neighbor’s car, just leaving. But instead, her neighbor pulled her car into the space next to her. “I saw a woman in a van, parked just a few spaces away from you, and noticed the car was full of things and she was cooking in her car,” she said. “I gave her five dollars. I guess she’s homeless, living here in the parking lot.”

Immediately Joan knew where her surprise gift was meant to go. She gave the woman in the van the twenty dollars. “I’m waiting for a job to come through,” the woman said, “and this makes all the difference in the world. Thank you so much!”

That surprise gift has been given over and over. The Christmas-card friend chose to give the money to Joan. Joan’s neighbor chose to notice the woman in the van and to tell Joan about it. Then Joan chose to give the money to the woman in the van. She is just as thrilled as the recipient to be able to make that gift! Next Joan chose to tell me, and now I am telling you – to spread it further and surprise someone else with the opportunity to receive and to give.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Ultimate Security

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Trailhead fire 6 30 2016The fire season: it’s summer once again. Fire is the only potentially terrifying aspect of living in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The photo here is of the fire now burning above us, its southern edge currently seven aerial miles north of our home. Thankfully it is moving in the opposite direction, although at the moment it is only twelve percent contained.

One lesson from this is about ultimate safety. Betsey Ten Boom (Corrie’s sister and World War II rescuer) said, “In God is my only security.” That truth held onto her every day of her life, to its end after months in a Nazi concentration camp.

To some degree fire is a matter of scale. The King Fire two years ago covered 96,000 acres; this is only 1,200. But fire is primarily about location, and that can be luck of the draw. Of course mortal danger, in other forms, can be just as arbitrary in metropolitan areas, as well.

I’ll stick with Betsey Ten Boom – that is, with God. We can prepare all we can, but “one day at a time” is always a great way to live.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Beauty, Grace and Gratitude

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Clouds blue sky 1Looking up, I watch the high, bright clouds slide smoothly across e. e. cummings’ “blue, true dream of sky.” What beauty God makes with creation!

Gratitude gives us solid ground to stand on, but as long-armed as it is, it can never reach as far as God’s grace extends. Like the clouds, I want to be a steward sharing God’s presence in my way, as well.

A recent devotion* offers us a personal goal, where “every day is a blessing, every step is a prayer, and every act of mercy a statement of faith.” May your stewardship witness just as brightly as these.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

* – Brad Gabriel, Memphis, TN, in the 2016 Upper Room Disciplines for May 13, 2016

Seekers

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YAs on coast from Yellowstone ConfThere was a trend among church leaders years ago to call non-church-goers “seekers.” It seemed like a polite term at the time: better than “the unchurched,” anyway. The problem is that “seekers” implied that members of the opposite group are “finders,” as if people who have found a church home aren’t seekers anymore. “Finders” sounds so absolute, as if we’re not seeking anything anymore, as if we have no more questions and are just filled with answers. And that sounds scary indeed.

It is God Who finds us, not the other way around. I hope we will always be seekers: seekers of the Holy Spirit, seekers of truth, seekers of peace, seekers of all the fruits of the Spirit. Hopefully we act in a way that shows what we are seeking – that is, to the degree that we have integrity, or wholeness, a consistency between what we do and who we are and seek to be.

One song by Jim and Jean Strathdee I love to sing begins, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,” referring to Matthew 6:33. I hope we’ll keep on seeking God’s Reign, no matter how many times God has found us, or where we are on the journey.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub