Generous Stewards — Compassionate and Caring

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I listened to a fascinating TED Talk on National Public Radio about compassion a while ago.1 It featured political analyst Sally Cone, and journalist Christa Tippet.

“Compassion [is] the ability to appreciate and respect another person’s viewpoint, even if it isn’t your own,” said Cone. It includes communicating that your feelings are valid, and prompts you to form a connection with someone regardless of his or her viewpoint. “This is the starting point for change,” Cone stated.

Tippet hosts an NPR radio show called, “On Being.” She said that compassion is a core virtue that has within it many others, leading to “what it’s like to lead a worthy life.”

This got me thinking about compassion and caring as attributes of generous stewards. So this is Part Four of that article series. And three churches’ ministries came to mind, in how they encourage and celebrate compassion among their people.

One is a debt annihilation program at Circle of Hope, a Brethren in Christ church in Philadelphia, PA.2 Scott Sorrentino knows about that firsthand. A married father of three, he had accumulated $6,000 in debt by the fall of 2010, with no known way to pay it off. Then he discovered the Circle of Hope’s program. Five debtors made their minimum payments on what they owed, then contributed an additional payment for someone else in the group, so all six of them got out of debt in two years’ time. “I don’t have the discipline to do this on my own,” Scott admitted. “I really feel like this came from the Spirit.” The 500-member Circle of Hope church gathered $8,000 from its members in seed money to start the program, and have been paying off participants’ debts in what they consider “the practice of being generous.”

A second example is Los Altos United Methodist Church in CA, which declared “Compassion Week,” organizing thousands of volunteers to come together to serve the community.3 “Compassion Week is an invitation to serve, care for and support our community,” said Senior Pastor Mariellen Yoshino. She noted that the congregation sets up service projects with partner organizations not only to make an impact that week, but also to inspire participants to keep serving those organizations.

Grace Church, in SW FLA, is a third example. Its members engage in intentional acts of compassion and caring every Wednesday afternoon and third Saturday morning. They give away “thousands of pounds of food; hundreds of pounds of pet food; haircuts by the dozens; hundreds of articles of clothing; referrals to medical, food stamp, insurance providers, and more; plus everyone receives prayer by one of [their] prayer team.” They turned an old grocery store into a community center to house these ministries, including a homeless program and an after-school drop-in center.

Compassion and care are individual values and habits, but they can be celebrated and multiplied by our faith communities. We can prompt one another to be faithful, joyful stewards of God’s Good News, and of everything else God has entrusted to us!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Ted Radio Hour on KXPR (88.9) National Public Radio, Dec. 22, 2014.

2 – Jesse James DeConto, “Pay pals: A small group for debtors,” Christian Century Jan. 25, 2012, pp. 10 ff.

3 – “Compassion Week will serve 200,000 people in need,” Oct. 7, 2015, www.cnumc.org/news/wra2344

4 – Rev. Jorge Acevedo, “Staying Focused!” Upper Room Disciplines 2012, p. 222.

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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