Pursuit and Possessions

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             Jesus says that what we pursue is what we treasure (Luke 12:33-34). The trouble with pursuing wealth as a source of security, adds author Sondra Ely Wheeler, 1 is that “it usurps God’s role as source and measure and guarantor of life.” By contrast, Wheeler notes, the Book of Luke lays out “a confidence of ultimate blessing so complete as to free people from compulsion about the material needs of their lives.”

This combination of confidence in God and freedom of living empowers us to pursue God’s Reign. It keeps us from chasing all the things that people otherwise see as ultimate measures of life: status, power, invulnerability against others, and business as usual.

Luke gives no single rule when it comes to what Jesus says about living with possessions. “Sell your possessions” is one reply (Luke 12:33-34). Other statements are to be generous to the poor (Luke 21:1-4), choose volunteer poverty (Luke 12:38), and refuse to call anything your own (Acts 4:32). Apparently there’s no one formula for us all; we have to figure out what is most effective, given our unique pursuit of God’s Reign in the lives and circumstances God has entrusted to us.

This can sound like bad news, in that there’s no one formula for us all – we have to figure out for ourselves what is the right relationship for us to have with the things we own. But in another way that’s also Good News: we keep working out how we can receive, give, and use our possessions for God’s purposes, in our lives and for everyone else’s life, as well.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Sondra Ely Wheeler, Wealth as Peril and Obligation: The New Testament on Possessions (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), p. 71

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

Smartphone Addictions

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Technology has made so many things possible, with literally global access to knowledge and information. I was stunned years ago, when I first had the chance to go on the Internet. At that time I was working on my doctoral thesis – and got into thirteen libraries around the world in a half-hour’s time, all by googling a few key phrases!tech-13

Of course technology has leap frogged many times since those old personal-computer days. Today I’m mulling over the benefits and dangers of technological capabilities, as I anticipate discussing the topic in my upcoming online “Stewardship and Culture” course. It seems technology, in itself, is a neutral tool, depending upon how people use it and for what purposes. Does it tend to isolate us from others, or draw us into wider human networks? Are we in charge of it, or does it draw us in unhelpful directions?

Some developments bring substantial worry – such as one study’s finding that smartphone owners check their phones as many as 150 times a day! 1 At best, such behavior reveals human weakness, and at worst it’s the sign of addiction. Technology watchdog Tristan Harris says software developers are using behavioral science to program apps that are irresistible to users.

What does this mean for a Christian steward’s lifestyle, as we try to communicate with real persons, manage time and relationships, and focus on God’s priorities? How do we keep balance and participate in community, both in-person and virtual? What are the implications for us as our technology keeps bounding forward? How do we apply ethics to this whole technological domain? There is much to ponder, with a lot of repercussions. . . .

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – “Smartphone Addictions,” Christian Century, Nov. 23, 2016, p. 9, citing an article in the November Atlantic.

“Stewardship and Culture” course in January

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person-w-cross-signI’m excited to teach an online course on “Stewardship and Culture: Building Contagious Generosity” this next Jan. 9 through Feb. 11. Registration will be open beginning in December at transformingthechurch.org. The class will feature four audio-video presentations, an interactive online Class Forum, and four weekly live conference calls on Saturdays, Jan. 21 and 28 and Feb. 4 and 11. We’ll begin with a conference call on Jan. 9 to introduce ourselves to the class, website, and one another.

The course will explore how aspects of our North American culture influence our practice of stewardship and giving. Students will frame critical questions about consumerism and God’s vision of sufficiency, recognize the impact of technology and marketing on consumerism, and begin to create an intentional Generosity Plan for their congregation. Topics will include critiquing mainstream-culture assumptions about achievement and individualism, redefining ourselves from consumers to stewards, shifting our focus from “the market of one” to hands-on community work, and strengthening a culture of generosity within our faith network.

“Stewardship and Culture” is sponsored by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center, which provides stewardship resources for churches and Christian organizations all across the U.S. and Canada. I look forward to joining in this venture with you!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

What Stuff Means

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In The Power of Enough: Finding Contentment by Putting Stuff in Its Place, Lynn Miller has a great exercise for our personal reflection. It goes like this (my paraphrases):

  1. For each word on this list, write down what it means to you. There are no wrong answers.

House                                                                                                               Possessions Happy

Car

Salary

Food

Clothes

Cash Savings

Retirement Savings.

2. Think about how you formed those opinions. What did your parents teach you? What were the unspoken lessons you learned about having things? Were you aware of your family being poor or rich? Write down your thoughts.

3. Look back at the list of things in the first question. Which of your beliefs about these things are working for you? Which beliefs are working against you? Circle the ones that still make sense to you.

4. You can change your mind about what stuff means at any time. Write down what would be the “inherent usefulness” (the practical function) of each category in your life.

5. Given the inherent usefulness of each of these things, look at each word again and write down what is “enough” related to that item.

House

Car

Salary

Food

Clothes

Cash Savings

Retirement Savings.

What have you learned from this exercise? Does it change your perspective in any way? Might it make any difference in the decisions you make?

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Impact Investing

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“Impact investing” was a new phrase to me until I saw a piece on YouTube. The term refers to microfunding 1microfinancing: loaning very small amounts of money to individuals to help solve economic and social problems.

Microfinancing is a market of about 100 billion dollars today, serving roughly 100 million people by giving loans of 50 or 100 dollars each, mostly to the poor and mostly to women. One example is the Acumen Fund, which invests in entrepreneurs in India, Pakistan and East Africa, through loans to people who make less than four dollars a day. At the time I was watching, the Acumen Fund had made 192 loans, 100 of which already had been paid back. For example, one recipient is Husk, in Behar, India. It creates energy from rice hulls. About three million dollars, total, has gone into Husk power throughout India, half of it in grants and subsidies.

The Acumen Fund is financed mostly philanthropically, and its primary goal is that of social impact. They hope to grow from their current 50 million dollars to 250 million dollars invested, in order to touch 100 million lives. Their goal is to “build this sector and build new business models to serve the poor.”

Impact investing sounds like an exciting practice that can bring the best of philanthropy, of government and of business together to serve the poor. What a productive “Jesus thing” to do!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub