Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

Ok, maybe it's a bit early for some of you to read a post about Christmas. But as a pastor, I already have Advent services on the brain, and I swear, my mother has been shopping (yes, you, mom!) for Christmas things since January. So, this year in my family, we're trying to be more intentional about what kinds of things we get each other for gifts. We're not quite ready to do away with presents altogether (particularly my younger brothers, who were appalled at the very thought), but we're working on things like: is this present useful? is it harmful to people or the earth? can it help people - ie - can we make purchases from local business owners or crafters, etc.? can we buy something that is organic or recyclable or helps reduce waste, etc.?
I think we may start having some alternative giving options at our church this year. At Simple Living, they have a huge section dedicated to different ways of celebrating Christmas, and they have tons of free/cheap resources specifically for local churches. Check it out! Check out also: buynothingchristmas.org

Friday, September 24, 2004

Global Rich List

Happened on this link at Dylan's Lectionary Blog:
Global Rich List

Enter your annual income, and it will tell you how many people are richer and how many are poorer than you in the world. At my $30,000 pastor's salary, I am still in the top 7.22%. That's a wake-up statistic!

Try it out!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom

Just finished reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. A lot of people in my church had read it, and all loved it, so I thought I'd give it a look. It's a pretty quick and easy read - could read it in a day if you had the time to spare. Overall, I wasn't greatly impressed - something like a well-written Hallmark greeting card. But a couple nice quotes near the end, where the "point" or "moral" is spelled out with little subtlety:

Eddie, the main character, responding to why he was 'sad' in his life: "I was sad because I didn't do anything with my life. I was nothing. I accomplished nothing. I was lost. I felt like wasn't supposed to be there." (pg. 191) This is a common worry/fear about our own lives, isn't it? That we won't count for anything?

Then, on the last page, the reassurance: "the secret of heaven: that each [person] affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one." (pg. 196)

Saturday, September 18, 2004

More Stewardship Thoughts

Thanks for feedback on my stewardship post last week. I want to share some of comment left by Mike from Things of Infinite Importance.

He writes:

We also push 50/50 giving in our community. That's taking your tithe (or whatever percentage you give) and giving 50% of it to the church community and 50% of it to works of love and mercy outside the church community. Then we as a church strive to do the same ... take 50% of our money and use it for ourselves and give 50% away. It puts the focus where it needs to be (IMO), which is on being Christ in the world among the poor, weak, sick and lonely. It also makes it all seem a lot less self-serving.

I really like the strategy he suggests - especially how his idea turns the focus from raising money for our own church to giving in Christ's spirit.

I also picked up a book by Dan Hotchkiss, Ministry and Money, A Guide for Clergy and Their Friends. Still a ways to go yet, but here's some quotes that jumped out at me so far.

"We avoid confronting our unease about economic inequality by distancing ourselves from people who are different, and by trying not to notice the differences. One of the most frequent reasons clergy give for avoiding the financial aspects of congregational life is that they don't want to know how much members give." (pg. 8)

and some statistics: 36% of labor force and 24% of weekly churchgoers say, "it annoys me when churches ask me to give money." (pg. 16-17) Ah.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A Process Theology and the Lectionary

The Center for Process Studies has a new (or I guess a renewed) page that features lectionary commentary by process theologians. Check it out!

Also, here's a quote from my A Year in Process daily calendar by Judith Casanova - I would link to it, but can't find a way to order it online - though it is listed at The Center's site under the book section. Anyway, the September 14th quote was from Alfred North Whitehead's An Introduction to Mathematics and reads:

"Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them."

Ah, perfect take on human nature!

Monday, September 13, 2004

Stewardship Campaigns - God and Money

This week as the gospel lesson in the lectionary has us reading the fascinating and perplexing Luke 16:1-13, where we read that we cannot serve two masters, God and wealth, my mind is turned to the Stewardship Campaign that gets underway in my congregation in November every year. In the United Methodist Church, local churches make a commitment to pay apportionments, money that supports ministries beyond our local church walls. We at St. Paul's have a hard time making these payments - we pay our own bills first, and by the time we get to our apportionments, we usually only scrape out about 50% of what we owe. I hate this fact! I wish we paid 100% every year. But, of course, that means people have to give more money! This past year, the first I completed at a pastor, was the first year I ever pledged in my life, and the first year I tithed from my income. It has been hard. But I know it has been the right thing for me to do.
So, some questions for you who are involved in congregations in some form or another - do you have a successful stewardship plan that you'd like to share? As a pastor, how much do you share about your own financial giving? I've been thinking, this year, of laying my cards on the table to my congregation - this is how much I make, this is how much I give, and this is how difficult it has been for me. What makes people want to give as much to the church as they give each year to McDonalds? I've been looking for some new resources, but everything I've found seems too contrived for my personal tastes. Help! :)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

CROP walk - Church World Service

My church is participating this year in the CROP walk, an outreach of Church World Service. I attended our "Oneida Area Christian Churches" meeting last week, and was very impressed with the presentation from the gentleman from CWS (and from one of my own church members as well!) I've been participating in the CROP walk for years, but this was the first time I learned more about the program as a whole. They also shared with us some great resources about hunger to be used in worship, Sunday School, etc. I encourage you to check out Church World Service directly, or, you can also donate to my team! (after clicking the link, click on my name, Elizabeth, in the top right corner, or my team, to make donations.)

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Faithful Skeptic: Theology Doesn't Matter

here is a great post from The Faithful Skeptic, "Theology Doesn't Matter".

An excerpt:
"People seem to change churches all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with theology. It amazes me that people can step from a liberal Methodist congregation to a conservative/fundamentalist congregation without blinking. What does that say about the theology of our church?

What it tells me is that of all the reasons people go to church, theology is probably not near the top of the list. People go for social activities, support, companionship, worship, music, etc. What bothers me is that I think theology is really important. What we're about as a church is more than the sum of our activities or the format of our worship. What we believe matters a great deal. How is it that our message is making so little impact? Do we have a coherent message?"


I often think this, as I watch people switch in and out of various churches, mine included, in my community. It is a challenge for us to wrestle with.

Isaiah 58

At the "No Room for Poverty" rally I attended last week, Rev. Dr. James Forbes was one of the first (and best, in my opinion) speakers. He urged us to go home and read Isaiah 58. I did, finally, and had to put some verses up here today - what a great chapter, one I don't remember noticing before....:
from the NRSV -
:3 "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. :4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. :5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a da y acceptable to the Lord?

:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? : 8 Then light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

good stuff.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Luke 15:1-10 from Dylan's Lectionary Blog

A great parable from Sarah Dylan Breuer at her lectionary blog, which closes with these thought-provoking questions:

"Three questions:
Where is the shepherd?
Where are the ninety-nine?
If one sheep is with the shepherd and ninety-nine aren't, who's really the stray?"


having trouble with permalinks on her site, so I'm just linking to her main page, but definitely worth the read. She calls it the parable of the ninety-nine, and the story is hilarious and accurate.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Steve Waldman on why evangelical Christians love George W. Bush so much. -- Beliefnet.com

Found this article from beliefnet.com, titled, "Why evangelical Christians love George W. Bush so much", written by belief net editor-in-chief Steve Waldman. He writes:

"First, Christians feel persecuted. This idea is nearly unfathomable to people in New York City or non-evangelicals. How could they feel persecuted? The country is 83% Christian! They're always trying to impose their views on us. But many evangelical Christians believe they are despised, misunderstood and discriminated against by journalists, Hollywood, other elites, and almost anyone not in their pack.

And there is a grain of truth to their concerns. A recent poll showed that while most Americans say a candidate's religion would not affect their vote for presidency, there is one religious type that they would vote against just because of their beliefs: an evangelical Christian. (Actually there were three faith-based non-starters: evangelical, Muslim, and atheist--perhaps they should form a new coalition?) The film, called 'George W. Bush: Faith in the White House' intersperses clips of Bush with photos of school kids who had been punished for praying in the cafeteria."


Intriguing, and makes some sense to me. I find particularly interesting who we won't vote - anyone we perceive to be extreme one way or another - an evangelical, a Muslim (I think most people still stereotype Muslims as extremists, despite inaccuracy and despite attempts to correct our stereotypes through interfaith dialogue!) or an atheist - the other extreme. It's like Goldilocks and the Three Bears - this candidate has too much faith, this candidate has not enough faith - but this candidate is just right....

Friday, September 03, 2004

"No Room for Poverty" Rally

2004 'No Room for Poverty' National Rally

Heading down to DC tonight/tomorrow for this rally - have no idea what to expect, but hopefully it will be fun and informative!

last thoughts on Marva Dawn's Unfettered Hope

Finally finished Marva Dawn's book Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society. I was less impressed with the last chapters than the first, but in all a good read.

A quote she lifts out from Martin Luther's Christmas sermon that really struck me:
"There are many of you who think to yourselves: 'If only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the baby!' . . . You say that because you know how great Christ is, but if you had been there at that time you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem . . . Why don't you do it now? You have in Christ you neighbor."

Why don't I do it now?


Thursday, September 02, 2004

Bishop William Willimon on Luk 14:25-33

Just reading over an article from Pulpit Resource magazine, written by William Willimon, and found his words for September 5th's readings to be right on target with what I've been thinking about lately.

On page 43 of the Sept. 5th article he writes, "Forgive me, forgive the church, for sometimes implying that Jesus will make life easier for you, will fix everything that's wrong with you, will put a little lilt in your voice, a little sunshine in our life. Chances are, he won't. He can do even better than that. He can make you a disciple. Fogive the church for sometimes being guilty of false advertising."

I wish I could quote the whole article - one of the best of his I've read in Pulpit Resource. Worth a look!