Monday, September 29, 2008

The Bailout and Stewardship

"It's extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases."
Bono on the Bailout

This weekend, a friend of mine from New York was in Chicago, and I was able to take the train up there to visit her and another of our friends who lives in Elgin. Melissa commented that she hadn't seen any homeless people yet, which surprised her because homeless people were all over NYC.

As we strolled up the Magnificent Mile, I thought it was a little odd myself, but then again, I'm from a small city that isn't as busy as Chicago. The last time I was in Chicago, I only saw homeless people at night. So maybe they only come at at night.

Not but twenty minutes later, I heard a woman say, "Please, can someone help me?" I turned to see who was calling out, and this woman sat in the grass, holding a sign that said she was homeless and needed help. In the next fifteen minutes, I saw four other homeless people, including one elderly man, who looked barely conscious, in a wheelchair.

Cities, of course, are a study in contrasts. They always have been:

46Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. (Mark 10:46)

1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. (John 5:1-3)

Here we have two major cities in Israel, places of business and trade, and both have beggars. People probably passed these beggars all the time, so used to seeing the poor that they rarely noticed them, much less heard their cries.

That's kind of what it was like in Chicago this weekend. Here I was, surrounded by fancy hotels, upscale retail establishments, and museums out the wazoo. People swarmed by me (at one point, Melissa leaned over to me and said, "This is what a New York sidewalk looks like."). And yet, in the middle of all this money and style, people walked right on by the poor people, some of whom cried out for help.

To start this post, I quoted Bono, who wondered why we have so much money to bail out ailing business from the mortgage crisis, but no money to help prevent disease in children. Or why do we have so much money to bail out these businesses, but not enough money to pay for single payer health insurance, homelessness prevention, or aid for those in poverty around the world?

Our federal government showed its priorities in introducing this bail out package. Hint: it's not people.

The House of Representatives voted against the bill today:

House ignores Bush, rejects $700B bailout bill
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - In a stunning vote that shocked the capital and worldwide markets, the House on Monday defeated a $700 billion emergency rescue for the nation's financial system, ignoring urgent warnings from President Bush and congressional leaders of both parties that the economy could nosedive without it. The Dow Jones industrials plunged nearly 800 points, the most ever for a single day.

Democratic and Republican leaders alike pledged to try again, though the Democrats said GOP lawmakers needed to provide more votes. Bush huddled with his economic advisers about a next step. The House was to reconvene on Thursday instead of adjourning for the year as planned.

Stocks began falling even before the 228-205 vote to reject the bill was officially announced on the House floor. The 777-point decline for the day surpassed the 721-point previous record, on the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, though in percentage terms it was well short of the drops on Black Monday of October 1987 and at the start of the Depression.

In the House chamber, as a digital screen recorded a cascade of "no" votes against the bailout, Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley of New York shouted news of the falling stocks. "Six hundred points!" he yelled, jabbing his thumb downward.

Bush and a host of leading congressional figures had implored the lawmakers to pass the legislation despite loud protest from their constituents back home. Not enough members were willing to take the political risk just five weeks before an election.

More than two-thirds of Republicans and 40 percent of Democrats opposed the bill.

The overriding question for congressional leaders was what to do next. Congress has been trying to adjourn so that its members can go out and campaign for the election that is just five weeks away.

"The legislation may have failed; the crisis is still with us," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a news conference after the defeat.

"What happened today cannot stand," Pelosi said. "We must move forward, and I hope that the markets will take that message."

At the White House, Bush said, "I'm disappointed in the vote. ... We've put forth a plan that was big because we've got a big problem." He pledged to keep pressing for a measure that Congress would pass.

Republicans blamed Pelosi's scathing speech near the close of the debate — which attacked Bush's economic policies and a "right-wing ideology of anything goes, no supervision, no discipline, no regulation" of financial markets — for the vote's failure.

"We could have gotten there today had it not been for the partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House," Minority Leader John Boehner said. Pelosi's words, the Ohio Republican said, "poisoned our conference, caused a number of members that we thought we could get, to go south."

Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the whip, estimated that Pelosi's speech changed the minds of a dozen Republicans who might otherwise have supported the plan.

That was a remarkable accusation by Republicans against Republicans, said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee: "Because somebody hurt their feelings, they decided to punish the country."

The presidential candidates kept close track — from afar.

In Colorado, Democrat Barack Obama said, "Democrats, Republicans, step up to the plate, get it done."

Republican John McCain spoke with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke before leaving Ohio for a campaign stop in Iowa, a spokeswoman said.

The legislation the administration promoted would have allowed the government to buy bad mortgages and other rotten assets held by troubled banks and financial institutions. Getting those debts off their books should bolster those companies' balance sheets, making them more inclined to lend and easing one of the biggest choke points in the credit crisis. If the plan worked, the thinking went, it would help lift a major weight off the national economy that is already sputtering.

Monday's action had been preceded by unusually aggressive White House lobbying, and Fratto said that Bush had been making calls to lawmakers until shortly before the vote.

Bush and his economic advisers, as well as congressional leaders in both parties had argued the plan was vital to insulating ordinary Americans from the effects of Wall Street's bad bets. The version that was up for vote Monday was the product of marathon closed-door negotiations on Capitol Hill over the weekend.

"We're all worried about losing our jobs," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declared in an impassioned speech in support of the bill before the vote. "Most of us say, 'I want this thing to pass, but I want you to vote for it — not me.'"

Said Boehner, after the vote: "Americans are angry, and so are my colleagues. They don't want to have to vote for a bill like this. But I have concerns about what this means for the American people, what it means for our economy, and what it means for people's jobs. I think that we need to renew our efforts to find a solution that Congress can support."

I got an email today from my cousin that has a solution. Congress might not support it, but I'm betting the rest of America would:

Good afternoon my fellow Americans,

I'm against the $85,000,000,000..00 bailout of AIG.

Instead, I'm in favor of giving $85,000,000,000 to America in a We Deserve It Dividend.

To make the math simple, let's assume there are 200,000,000 bonafide U.S. Citizens 18+.

Our population is about 301,000,000 +/- counting every man, woman and child. So 200,000,000 might b e a fair stab at adults 18 and up..

So divide 200 million adults 18+ into $85 billion that equals $425,000.00.

My plan is to give $425,000 to every person 18+ as a We Deserve It Dividend.

Of course, it would NOT be tax free.

So let's assume a tax rate of 30%.

Every individual 18+ has to pay $127,500.00 in taxes.

That sends $25,500,000,000 right back to Uncle Sam.

But it means that every adult 18+ has $297,500.00 in their pocket.

A husband and wife has $595,000.00.

What would you do with $297,500.00 to $595,000.00 in your family?

Pay off your mortgage - housing crisis solved.

Repay college loans - what a great boost to new grads

Put away money for college - it'll be there

Save in a bank - create money to loan to entrepreneurs.

Buy a new car - create jobs

Invest in the market - capital drives growth

Pay for your parent's medical insurance - health care improves

Enable Deadbeat Dads to come clean - or else

Remember this is for every adult U S Citizen 18+ including the folks who lost their jobs at Lehman Brothers and every other com pany that is cutting back. And of course, for those serving in our Armed Forces.

If we're going to re-distribute wealth let's really do it...instead of trickling out a puny $1000.00 ( "vote buy" ) economic incentive that is being proposed by one of our candidates for President.

If we're going to do an $85 billion bailout, let's bail out every adult U S Citizen 18+!

As for AIG - liquidate it.

Sell off its parts.

Let American General go back to being American General.

Sell off the real estate.

Let the private sector bargain hunters cut it up and clean it up.

Here's my rationale. We deserve it and AIG doesn't.

Sure it's a crazy idea that can "never work."

But can you imagine the Coast-To-Coast Block Party!

How do you spell Economic Boom?

I trust my fellow adult Americans to know how to use the $85 Billion!

My "We Deserve It Dividend" is more deserving for US, than the "geniuses" at AIG or in Washington DC!!!

And remember, The Brannon plan only really costs $59.5 Billion because $25.5 Billion is returned instantly in taxes to Uncle Sam.

Ahhh...I feel so much better getting that off my chest.

Kindest personal regards,

Stephen T Brannon -- A Creative Guy & Citizen of the Republic

PS: Feel free to pass this along to your pals as it's either good for a laugh or a tear or a very sobering thought on how WE ordinary people can think better than our current government representatives and could develop a much better economic bail-out plan!!!

Of course, this email was a joke (sort of), but it shows how ridiculous the whole thing is. These companies were poor stewards of their money and made bad loans to people who wanted cheap payments on mortgages they couldn't afford. When the recession began and people couldn't make their house payments, the mortgage companies started to see the results of their bad stewardship. And now they want to be saved.

Instead of saving a few companies from their own stupidity, why don't we save some people from their poverty? Why can't we use that money to help sick people pay their doctors bills, or buy homes for those who have had to choose between food and a mortgage payment? Maybe we should help developing countries with their food supplies instead of making sure a few presidents and CEOs don't lose their homes and cars.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Themes in Stewardship

I've just finished the fifth book I'm reading for this class and will be writing about it more later, but I've noticed some common themes in what I've read so far:

They also stressed that Christians should not work only to satisfy their own needs, but also in order to have something to share with their needy fellow human beings (Volf, 72).

First, God wants all people to have the productive resources to be able to earn a decent living and be dignified members of their community. Second, God wants the rest of us to provide a generous share of the necessities of life to those who cannot work (Ronald J. Sider, 86)

Correspondingly, the mere refusal of the wealthy to aid the poor can be considered a criminal act [Ezekiel 16:49](Volf, 194).

He [Jesus] fed the hungry. And he warned his followers in the strongest possible words that those who do not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners will experience eternal damnation [Matthew 25:31-46](Sider, 47).

These are just a few of the similarities. Discussions on being a good steward of time, the Sabbath, environment, and spiritual gifts show more similarities. I've also read a lot more about Adam Smith and Karl Marx than I expected I would, but when one is talking about stewardship, finances and the economy are usually where people start.

People are increasingly aware that the tradition that Smith started does not have solutions to some major problems plaguing the world today (such as widespread abject poverty, dehumanization, and global ecological disaster). The Marxist brand of socialism being completely discredited, the capitalism being completely inadequate, concerned people worldwide are searching for a still-elusive third way (Volf, x).

Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which I'll be posting about next, talks about this idea of a third way. Both authors spell it out pretty clearly - this third way is the way of sacrifice and sharing. This doesn't mean socialism or communism, at least not in the sense Marx intended and how we understand it today. Volf and Sider are talking about the way the earliest Christians lived. They held property, but sold it if one of them, or if anyone in their community, had a need. They lived together and took care of each other. They gave money to the poor. This third way is a generosity so wide it allows us to sell our cars, diamond rings, and houses so that we might make sure that a family had groceries, or a child could have emergency surgery.

Doing One Thing Well (Work in the Spirit, Part 3)

Plato grasped the many benefits of the division of labor very well when he said that "all things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time, and leaves other things" (31).

I am not a Supermom. I refuse to ever be a Supermom. I love my son, but I cannot do it all. I am a full time wife, mom, employee, and student. He always has clean clothes (though sometimes he has to wear jeans in shorts weather), but his room is another story. For me to do all of these things, something has to drop. As a result, my house usually looks like it's been hit by a tornado. Last night, I did squat. Actually, last night I did the absolute most important thing in the world - I sat on the couch with Liam cuddled in my lap. We read books, we talked to grandma and papa on the phone, and we tickled each other. I had other things I should have been doing, but my priority was him.

We are not Superhumans, and no individual can do everything. Oh, we try. And then we get severely burned out, or depressed, or angry at others. There are a million and one things you can do in a day, but you only have 24 hours to do them. Some of you don't get enough sleep or relaxation as it is (you know who you are).

Division of labor is a good thing. Think about everything you'd have to do if we had to do everything ourselves. Make a peanut butter sandwich? Not so easy when you have to make the bread and the peanut butter on your own. Especially not so easy when you have to grow the peanuts, wheat (flour), sugarcane (sugar), vegetables (for veg oil), and other assorted grains that go into bread. Add jelly to the mix, and you're screwed. With division of labor, you can pay someone else to make the bread and peanut butter for you, saving you time and energy to do whatever it is you do all day. This is what keeps all those companies in business, and allows us to buy the things we need - like peanut butter and bread.

But Plato's emphasis wasn't on making money; it was on someone focusing her time and attention on making one thing of a better quality and more plentifully, because making that thing is natural to her, it's done at the right time, and she leaves other thing for others to do.

Volf ties this in with a theology of work because this ties in very well with spiritual gifts. We don't all have the same gifts. There are things I can do, like administration and teaching, but they aren't my primary gifts and I don't really enjoy doing them. On the other hand, two of my top gifts seem to be giving and mercy - so, if you want my help, show me pictures of starving people or a homeless man sleeping on the street in the middle of February. You'll get your money (just make sure to have some Kleenex handy). The point is that there are some things we should do - must do - because we have the gifts and skills to do them, and there are some things we should leave alone because we are neither gifted nor talented in those areas. Plumbers don't build houses and carpenters don't fix toilets. If you are gifted in evangelism, why would you even think about doing administration stuff?

Using our gifts is a natural process. I am a better giver than my husband, but he is better at showing hospitality to others than I am. Where one of us leaves something, another will do that. In this way, we all fit together, much like a puzzle. It's a complete picture when our grooves and lines fit together and not one of us is missing.

What you are gifted to do, do and do it well. Leave the rest to those of us who have those gifts.

Work as Vocation (Work in the Spirit, Part 2)

One of the things I really liked about Work in the Spirit is that Volf redefines the role of work in the life of Christian. You might have a heard a Christian say they are called to be this or that, as in "God has called me to be a doctor" or "I've felt called to the ministry since I was ten." This is why a lot of Christians might call their job a vocation instead of just a job; they believe that God has called them to that line of work.

Volf argues that we should look at work not as a calling, but as an expression of our spiritual gifts:

In accordance with the plurality of charisms, there can be a plurality of employment or jobs without any of them being regarded theologically as inferior, or a mere "job on the side" (117).

In contrast to this is the view of work as a vocation, in which you feel called to one thing and stick to it. You might be miserable in your work, but if you find something else, then you might feel as if you are disobeying God.

I didn't get the impression that Volf was completely arguing against the concept of being called to so something, but rather that he was arguing more for being called - and able - to do many different things because of how we are gifted.

My husband has felt called to be in ministry as long as I've known him (so have I, so that works out well for us). Over the years, that call has been more defined as youth ministry. He gets along with adolescents pretty well, and he'll tell you (if you know him well enough) that he shares a brain with most adolescents. He enjoyed doing volunteer youth ministry, but the few times he's been the youth pastor haven't been quite as enjoyable (paid youth ministry involves a lot less working with kids and a lot more pacifying of parents). In a complete 180, he's now waiting tables in a fancy Asian place here in town. It's one of those jobs that people work typically as a stepping stone or a side job, but for him, it's neither. This is his real job, and it pays like a real job. Jeff's gifts lie in hospitality and helps - does it surprise you that he likes his job then? He's a great waiter; yes, I'm biased, but I've seen him in action. Oh, and other people will tell you the same thing, as he has regulars who ask for him to wait on them. Waiting tables would wear me out emotionally and spiritually, but I'm an extreme introvert (those of you who know me in real life are probably laughing at this, but think about when you first met me and how little I talked to you or looked you in the eye. And how quickly I escaped.) and people wear me out. For my husband, people are energizing. I'm extremely content to sit in an office all day long and not talk to another soul, but that would kill Jeff.

Jeff's worked a lot of jobs over the course of the 17 years I've known him, and the jobs he's been happiest at have been the ones that allow him to use his gifts to wait on others. He has a MBA, and he's happier and less stressed now (working what some would consider "not a real job") than he was when he was in a "real job."

For the Christian, ministry happens everywhere, and believers don't have to be pastors to do ministry. In fact, Jesus calls all of us to be ministers:

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)

You might not be called to or gifted for liturgical work, but you are still expected to be minister to others. You can do this in any job.

When you base your life on being called to a certain job, it's stifling and can be guilt-inducing. And what happens if you are forced to resign or fired? Were you ever really called to that job, or did someone get it wrong (either the decision to hire or fire you)? The best thing about Volf's redefinition of this issue is that it's liberating. There's a freedom in doing work that uses the gifts you've been given, and there's a freedom in knowing that you can change jobs at any time and switch to using other gifts - without guilt.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Americans always do the right thing, after they've exhausted every other alternative."
Andrew Sullivan on Real Time with Bill Maher, September 19, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Work in the Spirit, Part 1

I'll probably get back to Irresistible Revolution for one or two more posts, but I want to start talking about Miroslav Volf's Work in the Spirit (so I'm only one book behind what I'm reading, ha).

I like my job. For the past year, I've been a Research Associate for our state's General Assembly. I research questions for people and write letters explaining the research. Like any job, it has its bad days, but I'm doing something that I enjoy and I'm getting paid for it. There's the added bonus that I adore the people I work with, who are not just smart, but are some of the absolute nicest people I've ever met who go out of their ways to help everyone else out. I can't say enough good things about this place or the work I do.

My life hasn't always been that way. Up until August of last year, I was a bank teller. In itself, it wasn't a bad job. I was there for eight years, and the first three were pretty good. Then we had a few situations with other employees that made the work environment go downhill. Add to that long-term employees who hate their jobs and are bitter towards the company they work for, plus customers who don't like the policy changes, and you have a job that's not fun in any sense of the word. Oh, and let's add co-workers who would just as soon kick you in the teeth as look at you, and you have a pretty good idea of what my job at the bank was like.

After I graduated from UIS in 2006, I spent a year looking for a job, but there wasn't much to do in Springfield with the degree I had, and I really didn't want to settle for any old job. I wanted one that I would enjoy.

This brings me to the reason behind this post. I have been telling people for years that no one should have to settle for just any job. We are all gifted and talented in certain areas, and "called" to do something. When you spend 40 hours (or more) a week at a place, you should enjoy being there. It won't be fun every single day, but it should be something that you enjoy doing and can do well, using the gifts and talents that you have. Why, then, do so many people settle for jobs they don't enjoy, or worse yet, hate?

This is what I liked so much about Work in the Spirit - it validated what I've been saying.

...Since the whole life of a Christian is by definition a life in the Spirit, work cannot be an exception, whether that work is ecclesiastical or secular (viii).

According to Volf, work shouldn't be a place where you turn off your spiritual gifts. In fact, one should use their gifts at work whether or not they work in the church. And here's another gem:

One should not define charisma so narrowly as to include in the term only ecclesiastical activities (111).

A few posts back, I listed the more commonly known gifts. Generally, when Christians take a spiritual gifts inventory, these gifts are listed. Sometimes there are a few more than that, defined by Scripture and added according to what the author thinks should be included. The last inventory I took had the gift of writing on there, which was one of my top three gifts. I'm not sure I'd define writing as a gift so much as a talent, but it becomes important for me personally because either way, I'm using a gift or a talent to earn money. I'm using a skill I've acquired and practiced over the years (if you go to the very beginning of the blog, you can see how my creative writing skills were honed over my last semester as an undergrad) to earn a living. I hope to continue to do so throughout my life. And I don't work in the church.

Do I think I'll be at this job forever? Probably not. I think God has put me here right now to learn. I'm learning here, I'm learning a ton in school, and I think God is preparing me for what will come next. But it's enough that He's put me here right now and I can still use the gifts He's given me.

Do you enjoy what you do each day? If you could do any job in the world, would it be the one you're doing now? If the answer is an emphatic no, then start looking for another job. I know that's not easy right now, but you are worth the trouble of finding somewhere else to work. If you're miserable in your job, you don't have to be. If all that's standing in the way of you getting a job you enjoy is a college degree, then go get one. If it's money, ask yourself if the money you're making is worth the stress you feel each day you stay at a place you hate. Think of what you could give up to have a more enjoyable working environment. Having cable tv, a cell phone, internet service, a larger house, etc., aren't worth the stress of a bad job.

Missed Opportunities

Do you ever feel like you've missed an opportunity to serve or be a good steward?

I do. I try not to let it happen too often because I get a case of the guilts and "what ifs?". And since I think I missed an opportunity last night, I'm living both right now.

Let me give you some background: Three years ago, I took a class that included some study of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I haven't kept a really close watch on either country since then, but have made a mental note whenever Haiti's been mentioned in the news, mainly because it's such a poor country. When the price of food skyrocketed earlier this year, there were riots in Haiti. Since then, Haiti's been on my mind, especially in the past month as the people try to recover from four severe storms.

Last night was a nice night, so the front door was opened to get some fresh air in the house. I was in the kitchen when I heard this noise outside the screen door, and this young woman comes bouncing up to the door saying hello. Turns out she was selling magazines. She introduced herself, and between her name and her accent, I decided she was probably Haitian (which is odd, because I don't know that I've been around a lot of Haitians to recognize the accent). As part of her schpiel, she said, "I know it's you buying a magazine, but what it really is is you investing in a life." I kept my eyeroll to myself; even though I didn't want any magazines, I try to be polite to people who sell stuff for a living.

Anyway, as I was looking at the list of magazines, she asks, "Can I ask you a personal question?"

"Well, sure, you can ask me a personal question," I told her, in the tone of voice that I hope conveyed I might not give her the answer.

"What was your first job? This is my first job, and I wondered what yours was."

OK, that brought me up short. Of all the questions she could have asked me, I wasn't expecting that one. So I told her that my first real job (not counting all the babysitting gigs I'd done before) was working in a greenhouse. I decided that since we were asking personal questions, I'd take my turn as well. "You have a very interesting accent. Where are you from?"

"Oh, I'm from Haiti."

"Do you still have family there?"

"Yes. My father and grandmother are still there."

At this point I looked up from the list of magazines I was still perusing. "Are they OK?"

"Yes, they're both OK and safe."

"Good. I'm glad to hear that."

I didn't buy any magazines. I told her to come back sometime next week and between now and then I'd think about it. I could tell she was disappointed, but honestly, I don't need or want any magazines. I subscribe to one already, and I barely have time to read it anymore. Magazines aren't something I tend to buy someone as a gift unless I know as specific one to get. So I didn't lie to her. I just had the intention of thinking, "Yeah, I don't need any more magazines. Now, how do I tell her politely so that she doesn't try to wear me down with the rest of her sales pitch?"

Let me tell you what I've really been thinking: first, I told God why I shouldn't feel guilty about saying no, then I said that the whole 'investing in a life' thing was bull. If I wanted to invest in a life, I wouldn't do it by buying a magazine subscription. In my opinion, that was designed by some slick sales manager somewhere who wanted to guilt people into buying magazines. I'm trying to unclutter my life and spend less money, so I don't need another ream of paper lying around collecting dust!

But the more I thought about it, the more I think I made a mistake. I don't know what company this was that she was selling magazines for, but she told me very clearly that she was trying to become a manager, and this was how I could help her. I don't so much care about that - I mean, yeah, I'd like her to do well, but I think there's got to be a better way than going door to door selling magazines. But that's just my opinion, and selling things door to door is a valid way to make money. What I care about is this 'investing in a life' statement. What if she came to America to make some money so that she could take care of her family in Haiti? If I buy a magazine subscription, it could help her become a manager with this company, and she'd be able to send more money to her family. Haitians need all the help they can get right now, and that's how I figure this might have been a missed opportunity for me to be a better steward.

I've been praying for God to help me be a better steward. If you've ever prayed for patience, then you know how this goes - you pray to have it, so God sends you an opportunity to live it. (Can I say that it's sort of like being thrown in a pool without knowing how to swim?) The fortunate part is that even though we miss one opportunity, God keeps sending more your way, and eventually you catch on that this is the way God is training you to do something (at least that's how it is with me, but I'm a "learn by doing" person. Hey, see how I threw that in there, Eric?!). Sometimes it's not pretty, sometimes you miss, but God keeps sending opportunities.

I hope she comes back next week like I asked. I'll find something I like or something as a gift, but I'll do my best not to miss it the next time it comes around.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Downsizing the Dream (Irresistible Revolution, Part 3)

But we live in a world that has lost its appreciation for small things. We live in a world that wants things bigger and bigger. We want to supersize out fries, sodas, and church buildings (25).

I'm one of those people who falls into the "bigger is better" traps all the time. It's not healthy. I mean, think about it: you want your fries and your coke biggie size? Have you seen the amount of calories in that stuff? And locked in all those calories is the potential for weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, etc. Physically, it's not healthy.

It's not healthy spiritually either. We can lose our perspective. Bigger churches can allow us to think that everyone lives like us. We spend all our money on building bigger buildings when we should really be using that money to help others. We think we need more space, when the better answer might be meeting together at different times, instead of all at the same time. Bigger things spoil us and make us think more highly of ourselves.

We live in a consumer culture with enough stuff gathering dust on our shelves (32).

I have stuff I don't use. About a year ago, I started cleaning out all this stuff. I think it started with magazines I'd been holding on to for one or two recipes. One day, I decided enough was enough and I cut the recipes out, put them all in one place, and recycled those magazines. Then I recycled old computer magazines that hadn't been looked at for a few years. After that it was toiletries and clothes, some of my son's old toys, and then I went through drawers and got rid of stuff in there.

I try not to think of all the money I spent on those things I was getting rid of. That's money that could have been saved for something obviously more important.

And that's the key: we have all these things we spend out money on, and most of them become stuff gathering dust on our shelves. I'm not against knick-knacks (completely) or books, but some of these things were made just to look pretty. That's their sole function. How do we have enough money to buy stuff that gathers dust, but no money to buy a homeless guy a meal?

So I would suggest we need a third way, neither the prosperity gospel nor the poverty gospel, but the gospel of abundance rooted in the theology of enough (172).

For those of you who don't know what the prosperity gospel is, it's the theory that God wants you to be rich. Some call it "name it and claim it" theology - tell God what you want and claim it in His name.

The prosperity gospel also has been called the "name it and claim it" theology. God wants His people to prosper, evangelists like [Joyce] Meyer maintain. Those who follow God and give generously to his ministries can have anything, and everything, they want.

Meyer spends most of her three-day conferences on lessons in giving, and she is blunt when she addresses what the critics say about her seed-faith interpretation of the Bible. She says that those preachers who believe that to be godly is to be poor are the ones who have it wrong.

"Why would He (God) want all of His people poverty stricken while all of the people that aren't living for God have everything?" Meyer said. "I think it's old religious thinking, and I believe the devil uses it to keep people from wanting to serve God."
Bill Smith and Carolyn Tuft,"The Prosperity Gospel." The St. Louis Post Dispatch, 9/18/03

I don't think God wants us any of us to live in poverty - nor do I think he wants everyone to be rich. I don't think he really wants anyone to be rich when there are hungry and homeless people in the world. It's quite obvious that He has allowed some of His followers to be rich. When God asked Solomon what he wanted, Solomon asked for wisdom. God gave him wisdom, but also made the young king rich beyond even our wildest dreams. But Solomon was the exception rather then the rule, and the Bible is full of people who had what they needed, but they certainly weren't rich.

The point that Claiborne is making is that we need balance. Jesus told us that when we pray we should ask for our daily bread; we should ask for the things we need, not the luxuries we want. God may provide much more than we need, or He may not.

After all, what's crazier: one person owning the same amount of money as the combined economies of twenty countries, or suggesting that if we shared, there would be enough for everyone (344)?

It's crazy to suggest we share. After all, that sounds like communism.

But sharing is better than waste. How many times have you spent money on groceries, only to have a loaf of bread or a head of cauliflower go bad? I have, and I'm ashamed. If I had planned ahead, I wouldn't have allowed that to happen.

This is why we need to share. We have an abundance of resources in America, and every day some of them go to waste because we have a surplus we don't know how to use. The surplus is there because we demand more and bigger, and we demand more and bigger because we've always had more than we need.

Is this really what it's all about? Is that really the American Dream?

We knew that the world cannot afford the American dream and that the Good News is that there is another dream (119).

Irresistible Revolution, Part 2

We have to ask who the invisible people are. Who makes our clothes? Who picks our vegetables? And how are they treated? Growing up, I was told not to wear a t-shirt that advertised a band unless I agreed with what they stood for, but I was never told to do the same with companies I advertised inadvertently. What do they stand for? What gospel do they proclaim?
(Irresistible Revolution, 301)

The change of seasons brings about that incurable urge to shop for new clothes. Well, in most people it does. Personally, I usually despise clothes shopping (for myself), and only do it when I really need something. Even then, I wait.

I need a new pair of jeans. I only have two pairs. One pair fits like it was cut by a toddler, and the other pair I like but I'm not comfortable in them (they're a little too slim cut for my tastes). Since I can wear jeans to work, and because in a few weeks I'm going to have to put my beach-themed capris away until next spring, I need jeans.

But how do I buy clothes and become a better steward? Claiborne brings up a great point here about the invisible people of the world. We don't see how other people are treated in the fit or color of the clothes we buy, but our purchasing choices determine
which companies make money and reinforce how they treat their employees.

Sweatshops still exist all over the world. You've probably heard that Nike, Disney, and Gap (just to name a few) are some of the worst offenders for products made in sweatshops. But did you know sweatshops are in the US? Yeah, that's right, the good old "land of the free and the home of the brave". So even something that's made in America could be made in near-slavery conditions.

Shopping isn't simple, is it? While we want to cut down on what we buy, there are some things we simply have to have.

What about the people who harvest the vegetables and fruit we eat? Consider this article about Burger King:

Burger King Grants Raises to Pickers
Published: May 24, 2008

After a contentious battle that included allegations of spying, Burger King announced on Friday that it had reached an agreement to improve the wages and working conditions of tomato pickers in Florida.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, the hamburger chain, based in Miami, said it would pay tomato prices adequate to give workers a wage increase of 1.5 cents a pound. A penny a pound will go into the workers’ pockets. The extra half-cent is intended to cover additional payroll taxes and administrative costs for tomato growers.

The 1-cent increase means that for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, the workers will earn 77 cents, instead of 45 cents. That is a 71 percent increase, the first substantial one in decades for the workers. At the old wage, a farm workers’ group said, the pickers typically earned $10,000 to $12,000 a year.

“If the Florida tomato industry is to be sustainable long term, it must become more socially responsible,” said Amy Wagner, a senior vice president at Burger King. She estimated that the wage boost would cost Burger King about $300,000 a year.

In a statement, Burger King’s chief executive, John W. Chidsey, said he was sorry for previous negative remarks directed toward an activist group that has fought on behalf of the pickers, the Coalition for Immokalee Workers. Immokalee is a town in southwest Florida where many of the farm workers live in decrepit shacks and trailers.

Mr. Chidsey praised the workers’ organization as “being on the forefront of efforts to improve farm labor conditions, exposing abuses and driving socially responsible purchasing and work practices in the Florida tomato fields.”

McDonalds and Yum Brands, the parent of Taco Bell, had already agreed to similar deals. But it remained unclear on Friday if workers would receive the pay increase, because Florida tomato growers had resisted it.

The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which represents 90 percent of the state’s tomato growers, told The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., on Thursday that it was withdrawing its threat of imposing $100,000 fines on members who provided a penny-a-pound pay raise.

Reggie Brown, the exchange’s executive vice president, told the Florida newspaper that he remained troubled by legal questions prompted by the raise and was advising members not to participate.

Mr. Brown could not be located for comment on Friday.

The announcement was hailed by some members of Congress and by farm workers’ organizations, who had waged a vigorous campaign that included petition drives and Congressional hearings.

Senator Bernard Sanders, an Independent of Vermont, said the working conditions of the tomato pickers were a “national and international embarrassment,” and he praised Burger King for agreeing to raise wages.

“We all know that this has been a long and hard road for Burger King,” he said.

Lucas Benitez, of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, said he was thankful that Burger King agreed to the wage increase, and he said his group would now set its sights on other restaurant chains and grocery retailers who continue to pay wages his group regards as substandard.

Noting that some of those companies market themselves as being socially responsible, Mr. Benitez, co-founder of the farm workers’ group, said, “It is time for those companies to live out the true meaning of their marketers’ words.

Friday’s announcement was a sharp departure for Burger King, which had vigorously fought increasing its tomato costs. Burger King acknowledged, for instance, that it had hired a private security firm to obtain information about student and farm worker organizations that were demanding price increases. The company has since severed its ties to the security firm.

I'm glad Burger King increased it wages to their workers, but what about other companies. Who do we support when we spend our money, and what does that say about what we believe?

In my Environmental Ethics class, we've been talking about Is vs. Ought. I am a staunch pessimist and talk a lot about what ought to be. The land of what is pisses me off, but we can't ignore it. I think stewardship encompasses a lot of this Is vs. Ought dilemma, in that in moving towards better stewardship, we move from what is to what ought to be - for example, moving from being huge consumers to being moderate consumers.

I stand for what ought to be - a world where people are treated like humans instead of 3/5 of a man. In order to encourage that change, I need to use my purchasing power to support those companies that already have that ethic.

What can you do? What do you stand for?

Monday, September 15, 2008

The aftermath of Ike

As most of you know, this past weekend a little thing called Hurricane Ike blew through Galveston Island and Houston, Texas. If you're in the Midwest like me, you caught the tail end of Ike in the form a very wet Sunday.

I feel bad for the people in Texas who got caught in this and I hope they are able to recover and rebuild. I know there were some people who refused to leave the island, and to be honest, I find it a little more difficult to be compassionate towards them because they were not only able to leave the island, they were mandated to leave it. And honestly, didn't they learn anything from Katrina?

Consider this: while some people in Texas chose not to leave their homes, the people of Haiti, hit by 4 storms in the past month, weren't able to leave.

Relief Operations Under Way In Devastated Haiti

Jason Beaubien/NPR

All Things Considered, September 12, 2008 · Relief operations continue in Haiti for the hundreds of thousands of people affected by two tropical storms and two hurricanes in the last month. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed and large parts of Haiti remain cut off from the rest of the country.

The international relief operation is focusing on the northern port city of Gonaives, which flooded twice in one week, but many other parts of Haiti are still reeling from this year's hurricane season.

In the Grand Ravine neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, 700 people are living in a school where there is no running water, no electricity, no beds and often no food. People have been packed in here for weeks.

Luita Armand has been sleeping on the cement floor here since late August.

"The only thing we want is for them to rebuild our house," Armand says. "Here it's a school. We can't stay here for a long time. We have to go home. Before we go home, it's very important that the government help us rebuild our house."

Armand fled to the school with her five children just before Hurricane Gustav made landfall on Aug. 26.

Distribution Difficult

One floor below where she sleeps, 122 children are packed into a single classroom waiting for cookies and juice. Unfortunately the cardboard box that's supposed to have the cookies actually contains bottles of bleach, so the kids get grape soda and Saltines.

Evel Fanfan, with a human rights group in Port-au-Prince, is passing out the meager snacks. He says what he needs now is for the government to establish some order in this chaotic encampment so he can distribute more substantive food.

"Some policemen, some people who can help provide security," Fanfan says. "Right now I'd like to get some rice to the kids. But I can't do that. I'm scared the old people just get it."

It's not just these 700 people in this school or the flooded residents of Gonaives who have been hit hard this hurricane season. All across the country — from Les Cayes in the south to Jacmel in the southeast to Cap-Haitien in the north — there are people who lost everything to the storms.

In the parking lot of the main offices of Catholic Relief Services, several dozen people are packing food into large plastic bags.

"We got rice, bread, peanut butter, beans," says Bill Canny, the country representative for Catholic Relief Services. "So it's a packet to sustain a family of five for 15 days. We have trouble getting these to Gonaives — the roads have been closed. But there are plenty of places affected and we are getting it to other parts of the country that are equally suffering from the effects of the hurricanes."

Haiti was hit by Tropical Storm Fay on Aug. 18, and then came Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike.

Catholic Relief Services first came to Haiti in response to Hurricane Hazel in 1954. It has grown into one of the largest aid agencies in the country.

Infrastructure And Agriculture Disruptions

Canny says this storm season has been a huge setback for farmers here.

"When the water drops a bit more, we'll be better able to do an assessment, but you can count on a very significant crop loss this year," he says.

Haiti is already heavily dependent on food imports — more than half of Haiti's food comes from abroad. Rising global food prices earlier this year sparked riots in the country and led to the prime minister's ouster.

With the crop losses from these most recent storms, Haiti will have little choice but to remain heavily dependent on food imports for at least another year.

The storms also have delayed the opening of schools by a month. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure have been wiped out. A newly refurbished hospital in Gonaives that was destroyed in 2004 by Hurricane Jean was demolished again this month by Hanna.

"It's not often that a country can be hit by four tropical storms successively," says Abel Nazier, the deputy coordinator for Recent Disaster Management at the Haitian Interior Ministry.

Many Haitians complain that the government did not do enough to prepare for the storms, did not warn people to evacuate, was not able to rescue people who were trapped and now has no plan to get people back home.

Nazier denies all this. He says the death toll, especially in Gonaives, would have been much higher had the government not issued warnings right before Hanna hit.

"We don't have enough possibility in terms of resources — economical resources," he says. "But we have a good national system for recent disaster management."

Nazier says the government does have a plan for getting people back in to their homes, but he says that part of the response won't begin for another six months. Right now, he says, the government is focused on providing emergency relief such as water and food to the thousands and thousands of Haitians who lost their homes in the storms.

The whole point of this blog is not only to write (and rant) about my thoughts on stewardship, but to encourage those of you reading this to be better stewards. Right now I want to encourage you to send money to a relief organization that will be helping the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. These poor people had it hard enough before these four storms, and this will only increase their food shortages and poverty.

Where you can help (links go straight to donation pages):

Doctors without Borders

The Greater Good (on the Hunger Site)

World Vision

Please think about what you can do to help. Right now, Haiti and her people need the world's compassion. And if your heart isn't led to help Haiti, then maybe there's another place in the world that you are led to help. Doctors without Borders and World Vision both help countries around the world, so maybe you can help in another place.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Spiritual Gifts

4There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.
(1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 27-28)

10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers...
(Ephesians 4:10-11)

6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his[b]faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
(Romans 12:6-8)

I've already talked a little about spiritual gifts in a previous post, but since this is another aspect of stewardship that I'm studying, I thought it would be beneficial to post something about it right now.

My own definition of spiritual gifts are those gifts given by God through the Holy Spirit which enable Christians to minister to and serve others. Another definition I came across said almost the same thing: "...a spiritual gift is a God-given ability to serve the church effectively" (Fred G. Zaspel).

It's important to know that these are the three main sources of Scripture when discussing spiritual gifts, but other authors (if you'll allow me to call myself that for a minute) include other possible gifts. The gifts listed here are:

speaking in tongues
interpretation of tongues
shepherding (pastors)

You might be looking at this list and thinking, "Um, isn't every Christian supposed to have that gift?" In the case of faith, helps, evangelism, serving, encouragement, and mercy, then yes, I think every Christian probably has those qualities to a certain extent. However, it's probably a spiritual gift if it's more defined than just your run of the mill quality. For example, in Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells the disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations." Most Christians would say that command is for every believer, not just the original 12 disciples. So while all believers are commanded to share and spread their faith, some are given the gift of evangelism, the gift to spread the gospel on a scale that others don't have. Here's a hint: it's the difference between me and Billy Graham (and I'm not an evangelist). Another example: in the Old Testament, God commanded the tithe, and I personally believe that all Christians should tithe as well, though the New Testament seems more concerned about giving willingly and with the right attitude than a set number. So while we're all called to give money to the Church (or charity or whatever serves the Kingdom of God), some people have this gift of giving that allows them to give more than that on a continual basis, and that giving is one way they minister to others. That's one of my gifts. (I'm not working in full capacity yet, but I'm trusting that the vision God has given me of my future will make that happen fully)

My personal theory when it comes to any of these types of stewardship is that if every single member of the Body of Christ did her or his part, not only would the Church be healthier and run more efficiently without all the drama, the world would be a better place. Here's the reality: 20% of the people in the church do 80% of the work. That's not the way God intended for the Church to work. Paul continues the letter to the Corinthians:

12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Paul's message is clear: the parts of the body remain parts of the body, even if they say they aren't anymore. The same is true for the Body of Christ. Just because you decide, as a part of that Body, to not do your job or serve your function doesn't mean you aren't a part of the Body anymore. What it really means is that your lack of function is making the rest of the Body sick. The little toe, as small and unworthy as it seems, provides balance to the human body. The little toes in the Body of Christ all have a function too.

But here's a thought - I have a feeling that it's not the "little toes" in the Church that aren't doing their jobs. Little toes are humble creatures and true servants. They do their job without complaint. Even when you break them, they might cry out in pain, but they don't even require a splint to be repaired, other than a humble fourth toe, who props them up in sympathy and helps them heal. No, it's not the "little toes" in the Body that we need to worry about, because they're in that hardworking 20%. We really need to worry about the hair. Seriously. Hair is pretty. It keeps you warm, and sometimes even gives you the warms fuzzies. But you never know how it's going to act from day to day, and it can be really unreliable. Hair comes in many different personalities and colors, and some days it jut screams, "I am NOT a part of this body!"

Lest you think I'm being silly in this illustration, think about it hard. You know someone in the church who is unreliable, who refuses to just do her job for no real reason, someone who just screams that they want nothing to do with what the church is doing some days.

And there are all the body parts in between: the hands that type one day and play video games the next, the stomach that starves one day and is a glutton on another.

It's hard to be a member of the Church, but that doesn't mean we cut ourselves off from the body when it gets too painful. We can't (I know this from experience). Instead, we have to dig in harder and use the gifts God has given us. And really, what you find when you try not to use your gifts is that you can't not use them; they are as much a part of you as your personality, and they flow in, through, and out of you as much as the Holy Spirit does. You'll find yourself teaching a child a Bible verse, or helping an elderly neighbor clean her house. Maybe you take on a volunteer management position at a local charity, or help someone figure out what God wants them to do in a particular situation. You might want to avoid using your gifts, but you just can't.


2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested [a] from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
(Genesis 2:2)

I'm exhausted.

I had a great weekend, and unlike most weekends, I got quite a bit accomplished. But I worked hard and didn't just sit around and read for awhile between cleaning and homework.

Here's a little secret about me: I'm lazy and I procrastinate. I'm trying to change both of those aspects of my personality, but I have 34 years of habit working against me. Some of this has improved just because I'm a mom and have been in school four of the last five years. It's absolutely necessary for me to stick to some sort of schedule to get anything done, and if it HAS to be done, it gets done. If it doesn't, it falls by the wayside. But as I said, I'm trying to change that for a few different reasons. And this weekend was a huge accomplishment on that front.

Last night when I put our son to bed, I knew I was tired, but I didn't know how exhausted I was until, in a fit of silliness, he headbutted me in the chin, slamming my teeth into my bottom lip. It hurt and I cried. But I kept crying, and it was like this well of despair had been opened up and let loose. I didn't know why I felt that way, and it took a lot of self-control to get calmed down, because all I wanted to do was sit there and cry. There was no reason for that quick change in attitude, because I was in a perfectly good mood two minutes before that little accident.

A few hours later, the answer came to me: I was bloody exhausted. What I really needed was another day off so I could sit and relax for a while.

A few months ago, my small group agreed that we would take six hours sometime during the week to observe the Sabbath, but it was difficult for most of us to commit to that challenge. After this weekend, I understand the need for the Sabbath better than I think I ever have before, but the idea of taking a whole day to rest seems like a waste of time.

In this independent study, I'm looking at all the ways we could possibly be good stewards, and one of those ways is being a steward of time. After all, time is a resource, and unlike other resources, if we don't use the time we have, it disappears. We can't save time, in a literal sense, like we would save money or food. When each moment is gone, it's gone forever. Yes, there will be other moments to use - until there are no more moments to use.

How do you use your time? I've already mentioned that I'm a procrastinator, which means I put things off to the last minute (see? Time.). And lazy, which means I don't always use my time (time!) wisely. How else is your time divided? Mine is divided into work, not-work, and sleep. All of these are necessary components to a healthy life. But how much of each of these do we need? If you're like me and work full time outside the home, you spend at least 7.5 hours at a job five days a week. Like my husband, some of you work weird shifts or maybe two (or more) jobs, so you still work about 40 hours each week. Some of you work a part-time job, but you're in school full time. And some of you are stay at home moms who work your ever-loving butts off in your own house (and I salute you - you should be paid. Seriously!). Then when you aren't working at your job, you are either working or not-working - there are errands to run, kids to cart from place to place, houses to clean, etc. These are all necessary too, but they eat up any free time you might have to rest and relax. Sleep is essential, but so is rest. Very few of you would argue with the first part of the last sentence, but many of you would argue against the last part. I don't know what it's like in other countries, but here in the US we have what might be referred to as a Puritan Work Ethic. Loosely translated, it means "work your ass off, don't take a break, and look down on anyone who does." Sound familiar? Also from the Puritan Work Ethic comes this little ditty: "Idle hands are the Devil's playground."

God worked those first six days of creation, then designated the seventh day as the day of rest. Genesis doesn't say what He did that seventh day, only that He rested from His work of creating. I doubt God's hands were the Devil's playground, and I doubt anyone would look down on Him because He took a much needed break. So if we are created in His image, and He commands us to take a day to rest, why do we look down on people who actually do that? Are we better than God in that we don't need a day to rest?

I don't know about you, but I need to learn to be a better steward of my time. I need to learn not just to be more productive, but how to rest, and do so without guilt. And in a culture that defines us by what we do instead of who we are, that's a scary idea to ponder.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How much is too much?

13Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."
(2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

Right now I'm supposed to be reading stuff for this project. I started to, I did; however, the next chapter in the book I'm currently reading started off with these three verses, and it struck me so much I wanted to write about it NOW.

In the years I've had to think about stewardship - at least that of the financial variety - I've wondered if there's ever a point at which someone could give too much. Obviously, that point is when giving becomes a financial hardship on you and your family, but I don't know many people like that. Quite often, Believers don't give enough money, either to the Church, the poor, or the hungry.

This desire to understand the fine line comes out of trying to reconcile what I see in others and myself and not being able to do so. I have pastor friends who drive expensive cars and live in expensive houses. I have Christian friends who are staunch advocates of the prosperity gospel. In my own life, I like things - on a message board I frequent, I'm the self-professed shower gel Queen, and as a group we talk about makeup and shopping. I'm not a clothes horse or a shoe afficianado, but I like things that smell good.

In the past, I've tried to defend the pastors (not the prosperity gospel proponents though, that just makes me want to rant at the person advocating it - personally, I don't think God CARES if you're rich!) who drive nice cars and live in nice homes. Most of them tithe to their church, give to special offerings in their church, and also help those in their communities who are in need. If they do all these things, then what harm is it if one of them decides to drive a Lexus or a Mercedes? And after all, as a member of that church (in several cases), I gave my own tithe to that church knowing that part of it would be going to support the pastors and staff.

Of course, I was helping to rationalize my own consumer-driven behavior as well, because I liked to horde shower gels and shampoo (OK, I still have that tendency, but I'm getting better). But then a time came when I couldn't even afford to tithe, much less horde personal care items, and I became resentful that not one of those pastors (who knew we could barely afford groceries) asked if they could help us out. Not one.

Circumstances tend to change perspectives, don't they?

As I've tried to move into a "total steward" mindset, I've tried to correct my drive and desire to be the consumer that the world wants me to be, which has supported the resentment I feel towards those who have plenty and can't even help their friends. On an environmental note, everyone can recite the three R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. As consumers, we're really caught up in Recycle mode, but forget that the true key to being environmentally friendly is Reduction and Re-use. Reduction is, in my opinion, the key to being a better total steward. When you spend less money on stuff, you have more money to take care of your family and those in need.

And now I need to let you in on a not-well-kept secret about me: I feel guilty about everything. So now that I've adopted more of the "consume less" mindset, I feel guilty buying anything. Let's take my shower gel obsession for example. Five years ago, when I had a full time job, no child, and some expendable income, I tithed, paid my bills, then shopped. I liked to buy shower gels that you can't get just anywhere, so I bought stuff from Nordstrom and Sephora to support my obsession. Two years ago, when I was broke, working part time, and now paying for child care, I bought one shower gel for $3.50 and used it until I ran out. I was quite happy with it actually. But this is also about the time I was becoming more environmentally friendly, and this shower gel is full of chemicals and surfactants that can't even spell "biodegradable." So when I started this full time job last year and finally had more fun money, I switched to shower gels that you can't buy just anywhere AND were environmentally friendly! Yippee! They're also expensive! BOO!

Where do you draw the line? In my effort to be a better all around steward, I have to balance economics and the environment (and after last semester's environmental economics class, I never thought I'd utter those two words in the same sentence again - hush, Eric!). There's a reason cheap shower gel is cheap: it uses lots of chemicals and detergents that are harmful to the planet. But when you want and need to be better about controlling your finances, it sometimes seems like you don't have a choice.

This leads to my guilt problem. If I do better about my finances, I feel bad about endangering the environment. If I buy items that are better for the environment, I feel like I haven't been a good steward of my money. Do you see the problem? Do you see how I (or anyone) could go round and round for eternity and never really solve the problem?

For this year's Earth Day, we had a a guest speaker at school who commented on this. She explained that our job was to do what we could. Some people are willing to really change their lives by moving to the country and living off grid, but for the rest of us, all that's necessary is to do what we feel we can do. For some people, that means eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, while others might switch to organic and sustainably grown meat and produce. Some people might try to reduce their use of electricity while others switch to cleaners that are ecofriendly. The point is that you can only do what you feel you need to do, and you don't have to do everything. Your life should be enjoyable, and you should take pleasure in the good you're doing. It's hard to do that when the good you're doing becomes a burden.

And with that, I move to the Scripture posted above. I firmly believe in a God who wants to have fun, and created us to experience joy, happiness, pleasure, and fulfillment, but I don't often internalize that belief. But here's what 2 Cor. 8:13 says: Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. So God doesn't want us to sacrifice for the good of others if it becomes a burden to us. This is freeing for me, and it should be freeing for all of you who have a desire to be better stewards. In the previous verses, Paul praises the Corinthians for being willing and excited givers, and encourages them in that continued state. Here, I think Paul is trying to tell them that they don't have to give so hard that they bleed. If the measure of stewardship is equality, then maybe it really is alright to have some nice things for yourself if you've helped take care of someone else first. God doesn't expect any one person to do everything to save the world, but he expects all of us to do our part. And I think that leaves room for me not to feel guilty when I want to buy my ecofriendly $30 shower gels (only one or two, because while I need to be clean, I do not need to overconsume), and it leaves room for you to not feel guilty when you've helped feed the family down the street and then want to buy a bag of cheetos for yourself.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Irrisistible Revolution, Part 1

Over and over, when I ask God why all these injustices are allowed to exist in the world, I can feel the Spirit whisper to me, "You tell me why we allow this to happen. You are my body, my hands, my feet."
Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution

2: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.
(Merriam-Webster Online)

Shane Claiborne lives in an intentional community in Philadelphia called The Simple Way, and The Irresistible Revolution is his expression of what it means to be a faithful steward.

I picked the above quote to start off this blogging experience because it "defines" stewardship so well. You are my body, my hands, my feet. In those few words, we hear the call of God on our lives, as followers of Christ, to live out our faith instead of just believing it.

1. When Paul talks about spiritual gifts, he begins with the illustration of a body divided into many parts:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-20)

Paul explains that spiritual gifts are like this, in that we all have a function in the Kingdom of God, and just because you're a little toe doesn't mean you don't. In other words, you might have a gift that you don't care for, or you might think it's insignificant. First, there are no insignificant spiritual gifts, except for the one that is done without love (see 1 Corinthians 13:1). Spiritual gifts (charisms or charismata) are given to believers by God to do His work here on earth. Second - if you don't like the charismata you've been given, get over it or pray for another gift. I'm not saying God's going to take it away and exchange it for a new one, but it doesn't hurt to ask. But God gave you that gift for a reason, so the prudent thing would be to look for that reason.

2. As God's Body, hands, and feet, we are the ones entrusted to care for His Creation. Sometimes bad things happen because shit happens, but more often, it's because people suck and don't do the right thing. If we who believe in Jesus don't do something to correct these problems, we have to answer for our poor stewardship. Why am I tired and grumpy? Because I worked when I should have been resting. (Hey, God rested too) Why is my next-door neighbor eating so little? Because I didn't buy her some groceries so she and her kids could eat. Why didn't that small group in my church get started? Because I didn't want to use my gift of teaching to teach the interested people.

We allow bad things to happen because we are horrible stewards. God has given us responsibilities, and we don't take them - or Him - seriously.