Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Retro Stewardship Posts

I told Erica I would repost these two pieces.

Money and More: The "M" Words

Everyone Has a Stewardship Story

The first was written shortly before graduation in 2008. Jerry later included it in the Stewardship Newsletter resource. I include the link from this page because I think it provides two lessons: the first is my take on the M words. The second is don't wear pigtails on your first day of seminary. I already looked young - I didn't need to look like an escaped Wee Care kid on my ID card for four years and neither do you. You're welcome.

The second is something I wrote after this same Financial Coaching event last fall. It was exciting to hear Nathan Dungan's enthusiasm and see so many students interested in the coaching program. It gave me energy for our stewardship season at St. John's.

Oh, I just found one more from last fall, too. It seems I was on a soapbox about financial pledging and why I hope my generation can get on board with this valuable tradition.

I hope they're helpful.

First Week

It’s First Week at Luther Seminary. New students are being inundated with information about campus, classes, candidacy and everything they need to know as the crazy journey begins. I remember getting a parking ticket the first day of First Week six years ago. Maybe that irritating $35 fee played into my decision to sign up for a financial coach that day – I know several things did.

I’d never taken a loan out or balanced my checkbook for more than a few months at a time. I had spent the whole summer applying for scholarships and grants, but needed to buckle down and organize the responses I was getting. I was several steps away from forming a realistic budget and didn’t even know if I'd have the gumption to stick to it.

I signed up for short-sighted and personal reasons. I wanted to become a money person according to my own definition – I wanted to be wise and generous and self aware and confident when I left seminary a few years later. While working with a coach helped me achieve these goals, my new skills also translated to my professional life. My new found identity as a money person naturally wandered beyond my own wallet as I dreamed about my leadership style in the parish.

Jerry invited me up to share my story, which is always a slippery slope. I could talk all day long about the ways stewardship quietly permeates every class and conversation at seminary. I could share about the ways becoming a stewardship leader has been good for my personal relationship with money, my marriage and my imagination for St. John’s. But instead, I settled for this: If you decide to get a coach, make that learning and relationship a priority. Trust that the uncomfortable places you go and the hard questions you ask will bear good fruit long after you leave Luther. You'll get out of it what you put into it.

Before I left, I told Jerry that I would devote my next few entries to stewardship and seminary. He could point students and/or coaches here to read and discuss ways to live as good stewards during these strange and wonderful years. So use the comments section. Leave your thoughts, ideas, fears and hopes. They’ll inspire what I share next.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Lord be with you.

We've been preaching familiar tales from the Old Testament during August. On Sunday we hear about David and Goliath. I write my sermons even later in the week when they are not based on the lectionary. It is a blessing to wander outside the structure I am used to - choosing stories I like and texts that interest me - but it is also a strange curse because my mind and heart tug the sermon in so many different directions, it takes awhile to get legs and move. On these weeks my sermon preparation mirrors the children's book If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, finding new tangents and distractions around every corner. But that wandering is one of my favorite things about life and scripture, so today I'm taking you with me.

The first thing I noticed about this tale is that David approaches the battlefield and his brothers as an unwelcome runt. They hear him yapping that Goliath is no match for the living God. His comments make them defensive and David continues his naive and adorable take on the situation by volunteering himself. King Saul catches wind of this and, after trying to talk David out of it, simply says The Lord go with you. These are valuable words in David's ears - God's presence is the only reason David thinks he can defeat the giant! And while the soldiers of Israel watch a small shepherd boy approach the enemy, David knows he is much more than an army of one.

Then I was taken by the jealousy David's older brothers feel. As an oldest sibling, I can relate to that envy. Gabe would get swept away in rip currents when we'd play at the beach. He was so carefree and unaware by the time I would reach him and remind him to stay between the flags. I remember pushing him off the monkey bars one afternoon because I wished I were brave enough to jump off the top. He, of course, landed on his feet like a cat, giggling and ready to take another fearless dive. I wished for that ignorance and confidence that Gabe and David knew.

Next I could picture King Saul dressing David before battle, giving him fine armor and a heavy helmet for protection. Little David tried to walk, but he couldn't move! So he took the pieces off and stepped out as himself, totally vulnerable and possessing only the gifts he'd been given: a slingshot, good aim and a voice that proclaimed the true God. David wasn't a soldier and didn't need to look like one to stand up for himself, his people and his God. He just needed to stand up.

And when I imagine David walking toward the beastly Philistine holding just a staff and slingshot, I lift up a prayer for the people of St. John's and for all our churches. May the promised presence from God that Saul spoke so simply give us courage to be ourselves, to know our gifts and to stand up for the things God can do in this world. Imagine what our congregations and communities could be capable of if we trusted in whose we are and what God thinks we can do instead of banking on what we produce and who the world tells us to be.

And then I pray that we start trusting the value of our own gifts enough to call other people out on theirs, promising God's presence and creativity to our neighbors at Holy Communion and the grocery store alike. Because the world could use another optimistic runt or two.

It is Friday and the words I keep coming back to have titled this post. I have dwelled deeply in the text and wondered a lot about what God has to say this week. Who knows were Sunday will end up? That's what the Holy Spirit is for. And it's used to working with me, my crooked staff and my no-frills slingshot to preach great news.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

These are my favorite people under 40 lbs.

This was last winter, so they're bigger now. And even cuter, believe it or not. I stopped over to see my goddaughter and her equally fantastic little sister today. They knew I had a "baby in my belly" and when they didn't see a huge bump, their disappointment was palpable. We caught them sneaking glances at my stomach during lunch, probably hoping it would be bigger and more impressive by the time I left.

B had a question right away, "Meta what's your baby's name?" We brainstormed for a little bit and after considering our three names they decided on "Baby Shortcake". I like it.

L asked if I could feel it kicking yet. "Nope, but when I do, I'll come over so you can feel it." Then we colored and she helped me shop through her beautiful momma's maternity clothes. "Meta, I like this tank top on you. It's cute. Try on the capri pants again!" I got some good stuff and I made a mental note to be a reference for L's first retail interview down the road.

But the kicker melted my heart while we were using big-girl-glue to put googly eyes on wooden stick dolls:

"Meta, when you're at our house, it's like you're in our family."

"Oh, thank you, L. Can I be in your family even when I'm not at your house?"

"Um...yes. I think you definitely are."

Technically that means Baby Shortcake will be in their family, too. Lucky.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Great. Tell me about it.

I officiate a lot of weddings. I love the adrenaline rush when there are lots of details to get just right. I love to speak words of value on their big day. I also enjoy the counseling sessions that proceed the chaotic event, although I've noticed that the same conversation seems to begin most of our sessions.

“And we wanted a pastor to do the service because we were both raised in the church and, I mean, we are still very spiritual. We definitely believe in God and a higher power and want that represented in the ceremony, but I wouldn’t say we’re actively religious. I guess we haven’t talked much about our spirituality – it’s more of a personal thing – but we are both definitely spiritual.”

Great, I reply. Tell me about your spirituality.

This is the depressing part. It would be one thing if couples consistently convinced me that their personal spirituality is satisfying and shaping their everyday lives in radical ways...but they don’t. They seem apologetic, sheepish or defensive when it comes to articulating what they believe and why. Most try to explain that it’s something they’ve been meaning to get around to, like taking up yoga or cleaning out the garage. This pastor doesn’t buy it, though. Their tone, their ambiguity and the way this conversation about spirituality hangs separately from the rest of their life has me convinced: Moralistic Theraputic Deism is trendy, but it’s not actually workin’ for people.

I’m so glad Christian Smith (author of Soul Searching) came up with a label for this trend within the inactive Christian community. While 75% of Americans identify as Christian, I’m afraid most of them do so because there hasn’t been a name for what they now ascribe to – a watered down, politically correct, individualistic version of modern monotheism. Smith says this creed of beliefs includes:

  • Faith in a God who created everything.
  • God wants people to be good, nice and fair.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself.
  • God is not involved in everyday life except when I need God to solve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

Moralistic Theraputic Deism (MTD) would be just fine if the people I knew subscribing to it seemed fulfilled by its doctrine or practices. MTD would be just fine if the church were better at proclaiming how Christianity is more radical, grace-filled and life giving than this. MTD would be just fine if we all called it that instead of Christianity because Jesus did not have to die or rise for any of these bullet points above.

It turns out, we’re not a Christian nation anymore. Christendom is over and 30 years from now, I might be serving a church that doesn’t have synods or pensions or global relief funds or buildings because we forgot how to tell the story of Jesus to each other and the stranger. We might look back on 2010 and wonder what we were preaching and teaching if it wasn’t God’s truth, forgiveness and a faith that isn't trendy.

MTD is the hardest thing about weddings, but it is also my greatest motivating factor. If a couple asks me to do their wedding outside or in a public space, they are inviting me to put on my collar and tell the truth. They are giving me 150 of their closest friends and a microphone. And that’s reason enough for me to say yes.

I like to stick around after the ceremony because wedding guests with MTD often prove me right and approach me. They introduce themselves and their faith story. They don't tell me about the last few years of Sunday brunches with friends and the New York Times or finding God in nature on the 18th green. Instead, they tell me what they remember about church and pastors and the Lord’s Prayer and what kind of liturgy has been woven into their being by hymnals, Sunday school, table grace and grandmothers. They thank me for being there and for speaking words that really resonated with them.

And this is the moment that gives me great hope. They cannot articulate their spirituality or their personal creed of wandering, but they can speak fluently and firmly about their memories of faith in the church. They can tell me what it meant to be in Christian community long ago. They light up while they share - suddenly remembering where they come from.

And that’s when I always, always invite them back.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I do not recommend morning sickness on a moped…

…or ten minutes before worship on a Sunday you’re preaching. Or at your husband’s favorite fish restaurant in Skagway, Alaska. But sometimes that stuff happens. And all you can do is take deep breaths, be quick on your feet to the bathroom and laugh about it.

It turns out I’m pregnant. We found out a few days before my brother was proposing to his beautiful girlfriend and just a few weeks before my mom got really, really sick. So we kept it quiet, enjoying our secret and waiting for the right time to tell our families about the little fetus I’m baking.

The first few weeks we knew, I thought I would explode. I wanted to spray the good news all over random strangers and thought I felt it dribbling down my chin in front of friends and family. But instead of buying billboard space or making t-shirts that said FEB 9! in enormous font, we would come home at the end of each day and talk about it with each other. We would research its growth and what I shouldn’t eat online. We would exchange na├»ve smiles, blissfully unaware of how much our life will soon change.

It was hard to keep quiet while my mom was in the ICU. Her brain was bleeding and we weren’t getting the answers we so desperately wanted. I would stand by her bed and hold her hand, wishing to crawl in alongside her because I, too, was tired and nauseas. When my matriarchs would call and ask how I was doing, I refused to cry. I was doing as well as a busy pastor with a sick mom and a worried dad could be doing…while carrying a clandestine zygote.

But Friday made all the waiting worth it. We were back from our vacation in Alaska and my family didn’t suspect a thing. Matt made a DVD of some of our photos and videos to show them before dinner and half way through, they were blown away when Matt referred to me as pregnant. Squealing ensued. It felt good to let it out and to be surrounded by their love!

I don’t know much about this fetus, but I do know a few things. We fell out of a hammock – hard – the day we found out about it and it kept clinging anyway. I climbed mountains and hiked the Chilkoot Trail in 2.5 days and it stuck with us. It really liked beef jerky for awhile and now it’s not so interested. When the ultrasound technician tried to make it roll over, the little alien threw defiant jabs and kicks. It’s now the size of a peach and will soon retire most of my pants.

These are the things I will share and yet there are so many more things that I will continue to write down elsewhere, hidden for just my new little family to know. And I guess that’s the most exciting part of all.