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by Sarah Dull

The first faith forum series this fall is Decolonial Stewardship of God’s Resources. In preparation, I thought it may be helpful for us to look at how we got away from the early teachings of stewardship and some ideas for practicing decolonial stewardship of God’s resources.

Before we start, a quick reminder: In the September/October 2021 issue of The Evangelist Magazine I explained stewards are people of authority who are entrusted with the duty of managing and caring for another person’s property and how God made us stewards of what God has made.

Christianity was born amongst the oppressed of the Roman Empire. Early believers lived in communal devotion and sharing.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Acts 2:44-45

Over 300 years later, Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. When the emperor became Christian, the empire became Christian. Suddenly, the persecuted became the establishment. Over the subsequent centuries Christianity spread throughout Europe and instead of being the faith of subjugated middle easterners, Christianity became the religion of the world’s most powerful white Europeans.

Many European leaders focused on passages in the bible that flattered their egos and supported their ambitions, such as Proverbs 22:7 that tells us The rich rules over the poor…, ignoring the next verse, that says, Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity…. Or Deuteronomy 15:6, when God says those God blesses will rule over many nations and will not be ruled over, ignoring the next verses, that command the needy to be willingly taken care of. Or Romans 13:1-7 that says every person is subject to the governing authority who God has instituted, ignoring the next verses, that command us to love one another without mention of rank.

This misinterpretation or misuse of our Christian scriptures fostered a belief of superiority and righteousness to devastating effect. As well as being used to justify the exploitation of their own citizens and neighbors, European leaders often used Christian teachings to justify the colonization of nations around the world.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines colonialism as a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. Contrary to the propaganda that suffering heathens were being educated and saved through baptism, many lands were plundered and stripped of their resources, and millions of people abused and murdered.

During the height of European colonialism, 15th Century through World War II, financial culture was built around accumulation and ownership. There was even a mass market in owning each other. The idea of humans only being stewards of this world and its resources was largely lost. The early believer’s ideal of communal devotion and sharing gave way to stratified societies of have and have nots.

The last 80 years has seen a slow start towards decolonization; some national sovereignties and human rights have been restored. However, centuries of colonialism are embedded deep in our culture and in our psyches. It is going to take sustained intentional work to bring about decolonial stewardship of God’s resources. Hence, the forums this fall.

In terms of financial management, I think, the first, and probably the hardest, thing to accept about decolonial stewardship is that we don’t own anything. God owns it. He gives it to us to be good stewards of. That goes for monarchs, governments, trade blocks, conglomerates, and individuals like me and you. Just like the government doesn’t own the taxes they collect, they are entrusted with that money to use for the good of its citizens, we do not own the resources God has entrusted to our care. That’s right, everything you have been told, all your life, about working hard and earning all you have is not true, you don’t own anything!

God created this world. Everything in this world is God’s. Yet God gives it to us to manage for God. Back in the garden, God gave Adam and Eve charge to take care of what God created. Even after the fall, God didn’t take that away from them.

I began to understand this concept when I started attending a Christian parenting group and the parent educator explained how our babies were God’s creation given to us to raise into the person God created them to be. Instead of seeing this child as mine I saw him as God’s beloved son. I think replacing the possessiveness with a duty of care has helped me be a better parent. Applying this perspective to other aspects of my life has helped me reduce personal attachment and be a better steward.

It takes time to let go of the colonial concept of ownership, but I encourage you to try. It’s liberating. At the same time, you feel a greater sense of duty to take good care of the resources entrusted to you.

Once, we have accepted our roles as stewards then the question is what makes a good steward? And for that we have lots of scripture to turn to. One of my favorites is 1 Peter 4:10:

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

Below, I recommend decolonial money stewardship practices grounded in scripture. The first five would also be recommended by pretty much every financial adviser in the world. From the current world’s perspective, the last four ideas about money are crazy. Yet, from God’s point of view, these are what make it possible for you to be a good steward of the money God places in your bank accounts.

Decolonial Money Stewardship Practice #1: Make A Budget

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.”

Luke 14: 28-30

Avoid rushing into your job of managing God’s money without a plan. A budget is that plan. When you go through the steps to make a budget, you will discover what you have and what you spend. The tools are out there to make this a simple process.

However, don’t stop at creating the budget, follow the budget you make. Seek God’s help for the self-control and wisdom necessary to manage the money God gives you.

Decolonial Money Stewardship Practice #2: Avoid Debt

Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13.7-8

Debt has so many downsides. It causes stress, can contribute to relationship breakdowns, and poor finances can limit new opportunities, to name a few. With the amount of debt climbing every day, it is no wonder that many people walk around feeling like they are a slave to their financial situation. I think Jesus knew the pain of debt and His apostles’ teachings were an attempt to save us from that.

There are some worldly financial advisers who will make an exception for property mortgages, on the assumption that the value of the property will rise by more than the cost of the debt. In many cases that has been true, but it is not guaranteed. Some people have found themselves with negative equity, owing more than the property is worth, or “house poor”, struggling to pay the mortgage every month and potentially going into foreclosure. Both situations can be devastating so do your research and budgeting carefully before taking on any kind of debt and don’t be afraid to say no, it’s OK to rent until the time is right. If you do take on debt pay it off quickly and seek to live a debt-free life!

Decolonial Money Stewardship Practice #3: Take Care of Your Family

And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

As we go on, we will talk about using God’s resources for the good of all, but I think the above verse is clear; our priority is to take care of our family. Of course, this does not mean to excess but we do need to provide for their basic needs as best we can.

Decolonial Money Stewardship Practice #4: Give Generously

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8

This is one place where the world’s and God’s point of view overlap perfectly: You should give. Your generosity is rewarded with tax deductions and God’s love. Throughout the bible God, Jesus, and the disciples remind us, time and again that we are blessed with resources, not for ourselves to store up, but to share with and bless others. Being decolonial stewards of God’s resources means putting them to the use God intended which is caring for all God’s people, especially the needy. Be a wise and willing giver to what God calls you to give to.

Decolonial Money Stewardship Practice #5: Save and Invest

Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem.

1 Corinthians 16:1-3

Many people will only quote the middle verse above to justify saving for themselves, but I made sure to keep it in context. Paul was encouraging the congregation in Corinth to save for a donation to Jerusalem.

Jesus used the parable of the talents to help us understand that God wants us to invest and multiply the resources he has given us so they can be put to even greater use in God’s world. So, make sure to designate a certain amount of your budget towards saving and investing, even a small amount will grow over time. Once you have taken care of your family and debt, find worthy causes that can benefit from your good stewardship of God’s money.

Decolonial Money Stewardship Practice #6: Don’t Charge Each Other Interest & Cancel Debts

You shall not charge interest on loans to another Israelite, interest on money, interest on provisions, interest on anything that is lent.

Deuteronomy 23:19

Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts.

Deuteronomy 15:1

This is where it gets crazy. Not only did God warn against getting into debt he cautioned against charging interest and holding on to debt. Instead, God wants us to be generous and in right and equal relationship with each other. So, God commands, through Moses, that we do not charge each other interest and every 7 years the economy is reset. While our world is not ready to embrace this decolonial economy yet, you can practice this in your own personal interactions with family and friends.

Decolonial Money Stewardship Practice #7: Guard Your Heart Against Greed

And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’

Luke 12:15

This has been a secular and Christian conflict for a while. There are many biblical verses warning against greed and putting our faith in amassing “things” and yet we live in a culture that tells us more is good and we often succumb to a scarcity mindset.

My first piece of advice is to give yourself a break, it’s not easy being in a world that tends to judge us by what we have. But be assured God judges us by what’s in our hearts and that is why I advise guarding your heart against greed. Being successful is not a problem if your heart is generous.

As we work to be good stewards of the money entrusted to us, let’s check our heart often. Are we discerning what God is calling us to do with God’s money or are we trying to accumulate resources for ourselves? Pray and seek out the Holy Spirit’s help to guard your heart from the love of money.

Decolonial Money Stewardship Practice #8: Be Honest and Steady

Wealth hastily gained will dwindle, but those who gather little by little will increase it.

Proverbs 13.11-25

In a world that seeks to find the quickest way to earn a buck, I think God is telling us to slow down and take notice of the journey. When money comes easily, we think we can earn wealth without really working for it, and we can become so blinded by the money that it becomes our goal, instead of what we can learn, and how we can grow. Quick money-making projects are also more likely to involve taking advantage of others. Even if it’s not technically illegal, is that what God would want you involved in?

What “get rich quick” people fail to realize is that the money itself really isn’t the ultimate reward for success. The process of earning the money is the reward. True and lasting success isn’t about what you achieve, it’s who you become along the journey. So, we need to learn to appreciate the experiences we are earning instead of the money.

Decolonial Money Stewardship Practice #9: Seek Wide Counsel, Especially God’s

Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 15.22-33

Most modern financial advisers are going to be following a colonial influenced money management playbook. So, to get a decolonial perspective on managing the money entrusted to your care, I would follow king Solomon’s advice and consult a wide variety of advisers and they don’t all have to be professional financial advisers. We all have experience of living in this world and managing the resources in it. So, reach out to family, friends, fellow congregants, clergy, scripture, and God themself. Pray and discern God’s will for the resources God has entrusted to your care, good and faithful steward!

I would love to hear your thoughts about decolonial stewardship of God’s resources, especially as you process the forum discussions. Please contact me to share your thoughts and experiences.

No Escape

by the Rev. Barbara Mraz

Abortion rights, the abomination of gun laws, or my three favorite movies of all time — much as I would like to hold forth on these topics from the pulpit, the implicit expectation is that the preacher will address at least one of the lessons for the day.

It can take finesse or sneakiness, if you will, to still address the topic you really want to talk about.  I have focused on one phrase or even one word from one of the lessons in order to work in an issue I’m passionate about. This coming Sunday, however, there is no escape.  Everywhere I looked, there it was: Vulnerability.  

Could any topic be less relevant in our success-oriented, competitive culture where the best college, job, or even partner is the goal? It wasn’t that long ago that children were taught the importance of good manners and being a good person. But a book published in 1990 was instrumental in changing this with an overwhelming emphasis on individuality and the self.  What are the spiritual implications of this shift? (And you’ll never guess which book it is…). Focusing on vulnerability and success seem like a hard sell.

Fortunately, the importance of hospitality is also stressed in this Gospel from Luke. In fact, a good part of the lesson seems to be about table seating – as who should sit where!  Sounds dated – and even trivial — but think about how often we stress about who should sit where at the holiday table, or who will let us sit with them at lunch in seventh grade. In the parable, Jesus gives us a daunting “to do” list for our next get-together and definite instructions about who to invite.

It is a troubling and demanding Gospel and is all about much more than vulnerability, table manners and guest lists. Is it realistic for 2022 or do we need to dance around it with qualifiers and conditions? 

Good question.

See you in church.

Barbara

by Sarah Dull

A recent blog post called out the continuing anxiety most of us are still living with.

Over the past few years, we have developed a public narrative that the world is scarier than ever, we are hopelessly divided into political factions, we are powerless to create institutional change, and we’re on a perilous course to global destruction via climate change. 

Rev. Cameron Trimble

Any of that resonate with you? It did me! The current public narrative also includes anxiety around financial matters; escalating inflation, threat of another recession, there isn’t enough, and so on – scary!

Throughout scripture God tells us “do not be afraid”. In Matthew 6:25-26, Jesus explicitally tells us:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

How wonderful to be as carefree as the birds in the air! Unfortunately, for most of us fallible humans, this is easier said than done. For many people, the answer to fear is to avoid what we perceive to be the source of that fear. In our financial lives that can lead to “Money Avoidance”.

If looking at your financial statements fills you with dread; if you put off dealing with financial matters for as long as possible, then you are probably stuck in a money avoidance habit loop. Money avoidance tells our brain that dealing with money is painful so we avoid it, but usually the more we avoid money problems the worse our sitaution becomes. However, there are tools that we can use to help us break this unhealth loop and I wanted to share this one with you.

In January, NPR Life Kits published a podcast featuring Dr. Judson Brewer, author of Unwinding Anxiety. The subject… Money Avoidance, and how to over come it. Dr. Judson explains that money avoidance is a survival instinct. He goes on to explain how to break the money avoidance habit loop. I encourage you to listen to this 16 minute recording for some insight into your money avoidance habits.

click above

If you would like more tools and support to help you deal with anxiety around money and live the abundant life that is promised to us in Christ, please reach out to me or a member of the clergy. It is our privilege to walk with you through all your joys and hardships.

Discussing money can be triggering, prompting feelings of fear or shame. Maybe that is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than faith and prayer. Sharing our stories can be liberating and transformative.

As with most spiritual practices, we gain strength when we share with and support each other. To write a post, offer resources, submit an article, or do an interview for Finance First Friday blog, please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull. You never know who needs to hear your story.

We have been reading, learning, engaging with, and growing in our understanding of Racial Justice over the past two and a half years. One of our parish priorities, adopted from the same Diocesan priorities introduced in 2021 by Bishop Loya, is Justice: Becoming Beloved Community. In prior Finance First Friday posts we have looked at issues around the intersection of justice and finance, justice and banking, and more. This month, our member, Erin Weber-Johnson shares with us from her field of expertise in the work she does with churches and faith based organizations around philanthropy and stewardship. The following is excerpted from her recent book Crisis and Care: Meditations on Faith and Philanthropy from Wipf and Stock Publishers. Erin’s writing stems from a deep dive into understanding why data and research did not exist around the giving, philanthropy, and stewardship practices of faith communities of color. She discovered that far beyond the lack of data, there was a world of difference in the philanthropic realities of BIPOC led faith-based institutions and communities and those led by white leaders. She learned and wrote about it in her chapter Philanthropic Redlining: Working twice as hard for half as much.

A few years ago  I attended a regional church meeting where local faith communities were gathered to discuss the judicatory budget as well as spending allocated to faith communities in need of financial support. A concern was raised about continuing to support churches, specifically churches of color, that were utilizing allocated funds from the judicatory’s budget. Two churches were held up as an example: one was primarily Latinx/a/e/o and the other Vietnamese and Lao.. The church with primarily Vietnamese and Lao constituents was historically noted to have used judicatory funds to support the mission of their congregation but “successfully moved to a place of sustainability.” Given this example, the leadership of the judiciary determined that the Latina/o congregation should surely replicate their experience and determined their continued funding would be based on their ability to meet these benchmarks of sustainability. 

What went unmentioned was that a significant proportion of those in the Latina/o/x faith community were undocumented and migrant workers. Never mind that this conversation occurred in a time of significant fear around immigration and our federal government’s tone and policy with regard to undocumented immigrants. Of course congregation members would hesitate to sign pledge cards or make financial promises. If one congregation could make the benchmarks, then why not another?  I witnessed as judicatory support for this mission became contingent, requiring them to work above and beyond their circumstances, culture, and counterparts. Further insulting, to ensure this congregation didn’t become “too dependent”, funding to the Latina/o/x congregation from the judicatory would taper each year by half. As a colleague shared, they were expected to “work twice as hard and for half as much.”

In the past few years, as the term philanthropic redlining came into common parlance, studies began to examine how philanthropic dollars are distributed and to what end. For instance, a fellowship program designed to provide influential leaders with resources for deepening their engagement in the world, Echoing Green, recently investigated their own granting practices. Echoing Green released results in May of 2020 after analysts examined three years of funding data. They found that white-led groups had budgets that were 24 percent larger than those led by people of color, and they also found that groups led by black women received less money than those led by black men or white women. 

Not surprisingly, in addition to receiving less, groups led by BIPOC leaders were asked to perform significantly and measurably more in order to receive funding. For nonprofits whose mission’s focus on similar issues, these gaps were even larger. Among groups focused on improving life outcomes of black men, revenue at organizations with black leaders is 45% lower than groups led by people who are white. 

Our systems are developed and maintained in ways that continue to mean BIPOC led organizations and faith communities work twice as hard for less resources than their white counterparts. The absence of data for giving characteristics among communities of color is but one way in which this has occurred. In this way, white folks, like me, utilize national data to provide best practices, continuing to reinforce a dominant narrative. Thus, our stewardship resources, how we teach, form, and disciple people and faith communities within the church perpetuate a culture that ensures white resources stay in white institutions.  

I see the irony in producing data to describe how granting organizations and major donors aren’t funding BIPOC at the same levels, with varying rules around approval, and all with an absence of giving data. We need new data, but we also need something more; we need new eyes to see the racialized reality of our institutionalized funding structures.  We need new questions to consider who and what does and doesn’t ‘count’ in decisions about funding. We need new ways of imagining our common life.

Darrel Hammond, Founder of Kaboom! recently noted: “Being brutally honest, my drive towards data, dashboards, and measurement—because ‘data don’t lie’—was wrong, especially if you’re not asking the right questions, drawing the wrong conclusions or insights, or not understanding the nuance of the numbers.” 

Wetikos is an Algonquin word for a cannibalistic spirit that is driven by greed, excess, and selfish consumption (in Ojibwa it is windigo, wintiko in Powhatan).  Interestingly,  in this tradition, the spirit deludes its host into believing that cannibalizing the life-force of others is a logical and morally upright way to live. This holds true for cultures and systems; all can be described as being wetiko if they routinely manifest these traits. This spirit has often been described to explain the impact of white culture on nature and on the bodies of enslaved people of color. 

As a white person, I wonder about the impact of the commodification of bodies and the ways it has led to colonizer-framed measurements of efficiency, success, and profitability. What does it mean to have to persuade others that you/your organization is a good investment, that your dignity, as a child of God, is worth giving to? 

Within the spirit of Wetikos, how have dominant systems devoured the resources of others and, in the process, seen the erosion of life from our churches? The erosion from our own souls?

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker recently noted, “As funders, we need to reject the impulse to put grantmaking rather than change making at the center of our worldview.” Walker describes how listening, learning, and lifting up voices who are most proximate and most essential to unlocking solutions is critical to the type of change making that we seek. This requires examining what gets in the way of trust—including deeply rooted cultural norms and structures, including racial biases.

As I make sense of systems with this newly named lens of philanthropic redlining,  I try to liberate  my imaginations from the spirit of Weitikos–which threatens to devour us all. Together, we work for systems where no one has to work twice as hard to get half as much.

Thank you, Erin, for sharing with us from your experience. As a church that not only raises dollars to support our own mission and ministry, but which also raises dollars to “grant” to other organization, means these insights are deeply relevant to our work as a church. Moreover, we hope they’ll inform you, in whatever ways you support, fund, and advocate for justice in the world through the organizations you give to and participate in.

Discussing money can be triggering, prompting feelings of fear or shame. Maybe that is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than faith and prayer. Sharing our stories and God’s stories can be liberating and transformative.

As with most spiritual practices, we gain strength when we share with and support each other. To write a post, offer resources, submit an article, or do an interview for Finance First Friday blog, please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull. You never know who needs to hear your story.

by the Rev. Barbara Mraz

Everyone in lighter clothes due to the heat (well except for Cameron, Jayan and me who aren’t about to abandon our black!); hymns that are easier to sing (more “Amazing Grace” and less “Hail Thee Festival Day”), sermons with more jokes and lighter theology (more “Jesus loves everyone” and less “Five Objections to the Atonement”), maybe even you sneaking a few radishes out of your bag from the Farmer’s Market to munch discretely during the sermon… 

These may be part of your associations with summer church. 

Unfortunately, this week’s lessons are not exactly “light.” Jesus seems to be in a bad mood talking to his disciples; Paul is disgruntled (which isn’t that unusual for Paul); and I still haven’t figured what’s up with Elijah and Elisha but I think it has something to do with grilled oxen for lunch. 

Mostly, we will consider if Jesus can possibly be serious about what he is asking from his potential followers, and then move on to a debate I am having with myself about Church 2022 (Post-Covid, sort of) in which I will daringly pose the question about the church and boredom.

Yeah, I know. 

When scouring the Internet for ideas, I came across the work of “The Undercover Pastor,” a clergyperson who assumes a disguise to find out what people are “really thinking” in his congregation.  This is about as light as you can get.

See you in church,
Barbara

As we head into summer holidays, St. John’s Director for Children, Youth, and Families, Katie Madsen, encourages us, as disciples of Christ, to talk about hard topics. 

Money, Politics, and Religion. For most families these are no-go topics of conversation—things that should not be brought up around the Thanksgiving dinner table. You never know how Uncle Fred or Cousin Betsey might respond, after all.  

Growing up in my house the rules were quite different, however. Money, politics, and religion were the three things we talked about the most. My father would say, “these are three of the most important things, so why wouldn’t you talk about them?”  

Our faith as Christians should be the thing that impacts our lives the most. It should inform how we live, how we treat others, and how we spend our money. We are called from our baptismal vows to strive “for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Oftentimes that means giving, financially and/or through service, to those in need.

Conversations about money are difficult with children. I often remember, while shopping at Target, I overheard a child ask their parents for something, saying “just take out that plastic card and get it that way.” The parent calmly tried to explain to the child that that’s not how money works, you don’t just get things when you swipe the card. I sometimes miss the days of cash when it was clear how much you could spend. 

As the parent of a tiny human myself, I want Russell to understand that as a family we give to others because we have enough, that our faith is linked to the way we spend our money as a family just as it is tied to the causes we support and the ideals we strive for.  

At St. John’s we strive to meet our community partners where they are and do what we can to support their mission. We give each month through our mustard seed offering, we support the farmers market during the summer and fall – buying local produce from the farmers themselves and raising awareness for their causes.These are the ways I want Russell to see us spend and support our faith community each and every week so that he knows where our money goes and the people we help through our giving.

Money shouldn’t be a taboo subject, especially with kids. We need to  talk openly about why we give and why it is important. The dollar amount isn’t what matters, it’s the meaning and reasoning behind the giving that is important. The idea of helping others is something we instill in our children from a young age. The Golden Rule—to treat others the way we want to be treated—goes beyond the playground. We should be showing and talking to our children about what that means and looks like as a person of faith in the world. 

Money, Politics, and Religion: if we aren’t talking about these things, what are we talking about?

Indeed, what are we talking about? As I wrote in October’s Finance First Friday post, “How will they know what was treasure and what were toys in our lives? Will they understand what was surface and what was substance in our experiences? How will they know the God who wants to walk their paths with them?” So, please, talk with your loved ones about the things that are important to you as a disciple of Christ.

Discussing money can be triggering, prompting feelings of fear or shame. Maybe that is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than faith and prayer. Sharing our stories and God’s stories can be liberating and transformative.

As with most spiritual practices, we gain strength when we share with and support each other. To write a post, offer resources, submit an article, or do an interview for Finance First Friday blog, please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull. You never know who needs to hear your story.

by The Rev. Barbara Mraz

One pundit says that Americans are almost promiscuous in their overuse of the word love.   We “love” our dog, our dinner, a season, a song, a place. Oh, and also our friends and family.

Yet how do you love when you are exhausted? When Covid is out there still menacing? When your heart is broken or when you feel helpless about the hourly tragedies in another part of the world? When you have been betrayed by a friend, a system you trusted, or your body?

This week’s Gospel is about Jesus’ charge to the disciples to love each other.  We are told that God loves, us but how do we experience that? Does God love those in Ukraine? Does God love the Russians?

These are weighty questions and Sunday’s sermon will certainly not answer all of them, but I hope it will shed some light on how to think about them. We will also extend a gracious welcome to some new members!   

Meanwhile, enterprising minds are creating a “brand” for Jesus. A group of people raised $100 million to put a series of commercials in prime time aimed at Generation Z to introduce them to Jesus. There’s an example below. I think they are beautifully produced but is this brilliant or tacky? Is it effective evangelism or a waste of time and money? Do these ads do what the church tries to do– only better? Or are they kind of an embarrassment?

And why does it matter?

Hmmmm.

See you in church.

Barbara

I often feel like I’ve won the jackpot
-Bette Ashcroft

In January, Bette Ashcroft was elected as St. John’s new Junior Warden. Knowing Bette as someone who lives their faith, I invited her to share a post about her financial story. I got an immediate response, accepting the invitation and letting me know it “would probably be on the fear I experienced when I first confronted the reality that my relationship to money was deeply entwined with my faith”. Wow! I was excited to hear Bette’s story…

Some time around 1991 I was sitting in a meeting at church. I don’t remember what we were discussing, but the person to my left – a man I knew well and respected – referenced tithing as the minimum standard of giving for followers of Jesus. “Oh my God”, I thought. “He’s serious”.

I was 38 years old; a full-time mom of three children. My husband was living with a serious disease (aplastic anemia), and the only “cure” was a bone marrow transplant. The BMT at that point was still considered to be in the experimental stage, and not covered by our insurance. Our plan was to sell our home to pay for the transplant. The recovery period would be at least three months. The risk of organ rejection was very high. He might very well have died and I would be raising the kids alone with the marketable skills of a mom which were, and still are, undervalued.

We gave money to the church. After all, our kids were involved in the programs and we understood that the ministers had to be paid. We thought of it like paying for a membership at the YMCA. Yet here was this guy saying that we should be giving at least 10% of our income to the church. Are you kidding me?

No. He was serious. I had a knot of fear in my stomach that did not go away.

Shortly thereafter I was invited to serve on the vestry. One of the first items on the agenda was for the leaders of the church (ie: me!) to publicly acknowledge the tithe as the Biblical standard of giving and to pledge AT LEAST 3% of our income to the church. I reasoned that tithing was an Old Testament law, one of the religious rules that Jesus consistently challenged – never mind that Jesus also advised the rich young man to let go of the far more radical 100% of his wealth.

Giving 3% of our income to the church was a stretch for my family. Nobody knew what our income was, so we could have continued to give as we had, or bump it up a few bucks. But I knew I couldn’t serve with integrity if I didn’t actually commit to the promise. My husband and I discussed this with each other and with our kids. We decided to give it a try.

I was angry about it. I was scared. I told Jesus that if things went South, I was gonna be done with tithing, and fast. I was not a cheerful giver.

I seriously doubt I would have had the courage to start proportional giving had I not been put in the position of having to make a public statement about it. Even the rector was reluctant to suggest the tithe as an expectation of the congregation. The subject of money creates tension and stress for many if not most of us. Talking and thinking about money often calls up deep fears and insecurities, and I was no exception.

Once we surrendered to the choice, however, it got easier. We didn’t have to feel guilty or agonize over how much to give; it was a done deal. In fact, it was so easy that the next year we gave 4%. The year after that, 5%. And so on.

After a while I began to feel less afraid. I began to feel freedom from financial anxiety, and it felt fantastic. Even though we were giving substantially more than we had been, astonishingly nothing in our financial life seemed to be at risk. Our kids still participated in camps and sports; we took vacations. We never worried about having enough to buy whatever we really needed or wanted. The family business was thriving and growing. New treatments for aplastic anemia were being developed, and my (now former) husband never did need a bone marrow transplant. In fact, he will celebrate his 74th birthday in May, Thanks be to God.

I am no longer afraid to talk about money. I don’t want money, or the lack of it, to define me or define you. It would be untrue to say I never, ever, worry about my financial future. I do sometimes, especially when I listen to what the world has to tell me about the state of things, or when I feel pushed by the Spirit to let go of a little more. When that happens, I pray.

Jesus said “no one can serve both God and wealth”. Sometimes supporting the church can feel like serving wealth, especially when the needs of the poor and marginalized are given lip service but not taken seriously by the faithful. Us pew-sitters may not always agree on what it means to be good stewards of our resources. This is part of the tension of living together in community.

There are always places in addition to the church that need our support. Ernie and I give to those, too. Places that, for us, proclaim the Gospel of Love. But the bulk of our giving goes to our church, because “where your heart is, there your treasure will be”.

Our faith family has supported and sustained us in times of grief and joy. It has been a light for us and a light for others who are searching for acceptance and belonging; searching for Grace. The natural response to Grace is gratitude and generosity, but sometimes the simple discipline of proportional giving can open the road to freedom from fear.

The market rises and falls, employment comes and goes, health challenges emerge, and it is easy to become trapped in anxiety. Jesus said “be not afraid, I am with you”.

Thank you Bette, for sharing your story and for modeling courageous faithfulness! I imagine most of us have found ourselves conflicted between keeping and giving. Will you share your story with your faith community? You never know who needs to hear it. Contact Sarah Dull, Executive Administrator.

MORE THAN HISTORY

By The Rev. Barbara Mraz

As outrageous as this “illustration” is, it makes an excellent point: Some things are pretty hard to reduce to a zoom call. In other ways, it reflects the first sentence of Craig’s sermon last Sunday: Come to church.

It is wonderful to have the option of zooming into services when you can’t be there in person. Yet during the next three days, there is an intimacy present in the liturgy that can best be experienced shoulder to shoulder, in the room. If you can, come to church, and not just on Easter, although we are glad to have you at any time. But you only hear part of the story then, and in some ways the parts of the story that we may most identify in our hardest times are in the services preceding Easter.

The Tenebrae service will be at 5:30 today, and Jay Phelan will be preaching good Friday at 7:00 and I’ll preach Maundy Thursday at the same time. These are somber occasions in their painfuness but also in how relatable they are — to each and every one of us. I hope to show you on Thursday that Holy Week and Easter are not as much about history as they are about our own experience and our own world today.

May this week give you its blessings as well as its lessons.

Barbara

I had the pleasure of working with parishioner and Episcopal Priest, Ernie Ashcroft, for several years when he was Chair of St. John’s Stewardship Committee. Not only is Ernie a fellow Brit but a warm and wise soul. When Ernie’s wife, Bette, told me they had been talking a lot recently about mortality and legacy, I knew Ernie would have some wisdom to share with us.

For over 15 years, my wife Bette and I have been members of a Book Club. We meet together monthly. The group is made up of five couples. We come from different backgrounds and had different educational experiences. I have learned such a lot from our discussions since I had a very narrow scientific education, with no exposure to arts or literature after being 15!

During the last month, two members of this Book Club have died. One very suddenly, the other after a long illness. These are but two of the most recent deaths of a number of my friends. These events, together with my own advanced age, motivated me to reflect on our human mortality. To do so necessitated my swimming against the powerful tide of our culture, which strongly encourages distraction and denial by, for example, encouraging us to focus on acquiring material things rather than reflecting seriously about our mortality.

I love to cook and marketers know this about me so I get lots of appealing emails inviting me to buy a wonderful new set of cooking knives, an amazing all new set of pans, or the latest coffee making machine. Yes, these can inflame my desire, but then I ask myself “what is wrong with your present knives, pans or coffee maker that they need to be replaced?” Yes, my present items could be recycled or reused, but why not be happy with what I have?

To state the obvious, we all will die and often the timing of this will come as a surprise to us. As I reflect on my own mortality, I do not have any fear about death itself and its aftermath. I am confident in Jesus’ promise of Resurrection life for us beyond the grave. The apprehensions I have are in relation to the lead up to death. Will I struggle with a horrible cancer or dementia? Will I find myself trapped in my body, following a huge stroke? I cannot know what my future here and now holds, but in the light of looming mortality it seems prudent to me to give thought to my priorities, choices and actions now.

This opens up a broad array of issues for me, but in this piece, I simply want to focus on its impact on my use of money and possessions. It is a truism that “we cannot take it with us”, or to quote the Biblical text “we brought nothing into this world, (and) we can take nothing out of it”. Expending my total effort and energy on leaving a pile of money behind when I “shed this mortal coil” seems shortsighted and selfish.

I have explained to my kids that my choosing to provide them and their kids with satisfying, shared experiences, memories and times together will certainly impact what they can expect to inherit, but in my view, this is more valuable and lasting. Last summer we took all our kids and grandchildren to Madeleine Island (not a cheap proposition) but to witness the sheer joy on the faces of the grandchildren as they experienced being on a sail boat, playing together and of course eating (many) ice cream cones said this is worth it. They will remember this trip long after I am gone.

After Christmas we took the whole family mob to Lutsen and our Christmas present to the grandchildren was ski lessons. One of our grandchildren is on the autistic spectrum and initially he said that he just could not go down even the bunny hill. He watched others doing so for a long while before very tentatively taking the tow up to the top of the bunny hill. Then he considered things for another while before deciding that he could try to ski down the little hill. His joy and sense of accomplishment when he got the the bottom lit up his face. One of his cousins who is 7 was tasked by his teacher to write what he most enjoyed over the Christmas holidays. He wrote six pages about his ski trip!

It is completely legitimate of course to make provision for my family, but is that all I need to be doing with my resources? My grown children are well launched into adult life with good jobs and careers. My grandchildren are well cared for physically, financially, and emotionally. There are four organizations that my wife and I plan to leave resources to after our deaths. We choose these because we have had special relationships with each. And yes, St John’s is one of them.

We at St John’s have a very fine church building with attractive church furnishings– altar, organ, stained glass windows etc. We enjoy these in large measure because of the generosity and sacrifice of the folks who came before us. We have inherited this wonderful physical plant as a legacy. What legacy will we leave behind for those who will follow after us?

For me, it is vital that in the future the church fabric continue to be well maintained and strategic physical improvements be made to it. But equally important is that resources be available to minister not only to our church members but also to those in the wider community often lacking the basic necessities of food, housing, employment, and justice. All these tasks will require significant financial resources. I have the opportunity not only to support the current needs of the church, but also to provide for the future ministry of St John’s. If I leave less for my kids, they will not suffer deprivation and this will free up resources to invest in St John’s future.

I encourage you to join me in facing our mortality and discerning your legacy.

Thank you Ernie for courageously thinking beyond yourself, and even your family, and for sharing your insights with us. I would love to hear from others who have been contemplating their end of life plans and legacy. Please let me know if you are willing to write a post, offer resources, submit an article, or do an interview-you never know who needs to hear your story. -Sarah Dull, Executive Administrator