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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Generous Stewards — Collaborative and Collegial

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            Generous stewards often seem to interact and engage in ministry through networks of diverse folks – more like being part of a movement than a single organization. For example:

  • Cooking Up English, in Austin, TX, is a local church ministry that uses cooking to help non-English speakers learn more about the language, while building community between longtime church members and those new to the area.
  • Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in Stony Point, NY, brings together seven communities in different nearby towns that focus on various aspects of peacemaking, from urban gardening and immigrant support to young adult programs and storefront prayer gatherings.
  • Healthy Vines, in Corona, CA, is collaboration between local and public-school gardens, to help children learn about farming and enjoy locally-grown produce.

These ministries are examples of what I see as a third set of core attributes of generous stewards – they are collaborative and collegial.

When we try to live intentionally as stewards – enjoying, sharing and managing what God has entrusted to us – we often develop collegial relationships that cross over old-time boundaries for the sake of a larger purpose. An article about attracting Millennials in ministry (those born roughly between 1980 and 1995) says the bottom line is that they want to be part of a collaborative community that empowers and releases them to create new ways of doing church and connecting to others.1 But Millennials are not the only age group looking for this approach. Many congregations are popping up these days, which Phyllis Tickle refers to loosely as the “Emergent Church.”

Emergent or otherwise, whenever two or more of us gather in Christ’s name, stewards of the Good News and all God has entrusted to us tend to work with one another in a mutual, flexible way that strengthens the whole. May you find yourself in increasingly collaborative and collegial ministry relationships!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Chris Folmsbee and Brad Hanna, “What Millennials Crave and How the Church Can Relate,” Circuit Rider, May/June/July 2015, pp. 24-25.

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.

Generous Stewards — Cooperative and Connectional

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I got to thinking: What are the primary attributes of generous stewards, as they manage, share and use the gifts God has entrusted to them? For me, it comes down to four sets of “C”s.

The first set is “cooperative and connectional.” Generous stewards tend to choose connection over competition with others. An intriguing article in The Guardian 1 noted several studies of this behavior. It says we have strong influences that foster competition. It starts in schools, where the emphasis on exams and attainment can instill the idea that success is about doing better than others. And it’s reinforced in many of our workplaces, where employees compete for performance-related awards.

But research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School shows that “’givers’ – people who help others without seeking anything in return – are more successful in the long term than ‘takers’ – who try to maximize benefits for themselves, rather than others.” And there’s a growing body of evidence (including at the University of Warwick) that when people feel happier and more connected, they are more productive at work.

Ministries that emphasize cooperation naturally lead to a sense of connection. For example:

  • Victory Memorial United Methodist Church in Guymon, OK radiates connection with a strong mission mindset and a huge clothing ministry; financially supports local services for seniors, the hungry, and the homeless; are committed to international mission; and host a four-year-old Hispanic congregation.
  • The Slate Project, a young church in Baltimore, MD, is a joint project of the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. One denomination donates the space, another gave several years of fund, and two others provide staff. Participants gather both online and in person, pray and read Scripture together, host an open mic night for people to share their stories, and invite artists to work with them for a season.

Cooperation and connection naturally lead to spiritual outreach, which one ministry consultant 2 says has two key elements:

  • Focus on personal faith experience of God, and the transformation God can bring about; and
  • Relationship to our daily lives, including education, health, childcare, legal matters, family relations, and mental health. He concludes, “It’s about real people with real needs, and real spiritual resources.”

As stewards of God’s Good News, and of our relationships with one another, how do we foster cooperation, connection, and spiritual outreach?

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/20/key-to-happiness-not-competition

2 – Michael Rivas, a consultant for the United Methodist National Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministries

Generosity Heroes

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           Generosity isn’t about what we do with things; it’s about the heart. A generous heart gives quality time to listen to another person, gives follow-through compassion to act on concern for far-away people, gives personal involvement and practical resources to people in need and creatures in danger. And there are plenty of people who demonstrate generosity just by being who they are.

I love what Rebekah Basinger said once on generousmatters.com: “Forget the trope about the left hand knowing what the right is up to. It’s time to celebrate lives lived generously, to make heroes of those who share selflessly, to sing the praises of folks who embody the Golden Rule.”

So who are these generosity heroes for you? They may be people in the headlines, or those who are always behind the scenes, local folks who make good things happen, or those who work on our behalf on the world scale. Let’s forget the left hand / right hand business, and sing their praises!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Resurrection Generosity

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

On this Easter Day, I was thrilled to read today’s meditation from www.generositymonk.com. He cited Franklin Brookhart about “Resurrection Gratitude and Generosity.”

“The resurrection of our Lord is the paradigm of the way God works,” says Brookhart. “Resurrection means fullness and abundance of life – all of life. . . .” This statement aligns with what I see in the world these days, as well as within us human beings: God entering into deadly places and transforming them into opportunities for new life. Whether it’s an addict’s turnaround to claim a new beginning, or people saving lives in the midst of the devastation of war, in all sorts of places God inspires and empowers us to choose life and give and receive generously out of who we are.

Brookfield continues, “I am convinced that resurrection gratitude is a key component to maturity in the spiritual life . . . – the resurrection generosity of God.” Resurrection generosity, yes! It’s the deep generosity of God, Who loves us so much that God shocks and invites us into new life. And it’s that quality of generous-hearted living to which we are called, in turn – receiving little resurrections time and again, and gratefully responding in the all the daily ways we can.

A joyous Easter to you!

Betsy Schwarzentraub

White Helmets in Syria

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white-hats-syria-carrying-personGenerosity reaches a whole new level when your life is on the line – and when you’re saving someone else’s life at the literal risk of your own. That’s what the “White Helmets” are doing every day in Syria, as they voluntarily rush in after the bombs have hit. The rescuers don’t care about a person’s religion or politics, just their ability to survive.

So far, 141 White Helmets have died in the process of saving more than 73,530 people by pulling them out of the rubble, even as the bombs were still raining down. More than fifty bombs and mortars land on some neighborhoods each day.

A piece about the White Helmets on a television news show prompted me to find their website at www.whitehelmets.org. There I heard about a new Netflix documentary called “The White Helmets,” which is available for streaming on Netflix. There’s also an opportunity to learn more about the U.N. Security Council resolutions against barrel bombs and chlorine bombs, and a place to petition the U.N. to follow through on those resolutions in some way with the Syrian government.

Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The White Hats are giving their lives for all who are in harm’s way. This is the basis of generosity: living out God’s compassion.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub