Delighting in whales

by Ann Fontaine

Yonder is the great and wide sea
with its living things too many to number, *
creatures both small and great.

There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan, *
which you have made for the sport of it.
Psalm 104:26-27

Saturday, driving from Nehalem to Cannon Beach, I stopped at Neahkahnie Mountain to look for gray whales. It was one of those blue sky days where it looks like you can see the curvature of the earth. Since we moved from Wyoming to the Oregon Coast I stop to look for the whales in the spring and fall when they are migrating but no luck. This time - there they were - leaping and blowing great spouts of water. I could see them with my own eyes but also had my binoculars so could see them even better.

A couple from Europe was standing there - I said "Can you see the whales?" They said they had been looking all during their trip but had not. I pointed them toward the whales. The whales are not as far out in the ocean as people sometimes think. The couple was delighted. I let them use my binoculars as their's were low power.

A few weeks ago a young man wrote that his grandmother always said,
"don't give ... share."

I have been thinking about the difference - giving and sharing. Saturday I had an example - sharing has the sense of delight. Giving feels more like something I should do. Sharing is something I want to do.

When I offer money or my time or share something I know how to do - it is better when I have realize that sense of delight and joy. I am richer for sharing. The couple and I shared mutual delight - their joy increased mine on the day of seeing whales.

When we talk about stewardship as we often do at this time of year I want to have this sense of sharing and delight in whatever I offer. There is a passage in the Bible that says if you can't get to the temple with your offering - give a party for your friends and neighbors. That's it.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine is a retired priest who lives on the coast of Oregon and attends St Catherine Episcopal Church. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Stewardship, tithing, giving, annual pledge: defined

by Lisa Fischbeck

Some Helpful Definitions and Challenging Questions

In the autumn of each year the attentions of vestries and clergy across the church turns to thoughts of “the every member canvass”, “stewardship” and “tithing” (words that, for the most part, are not part of the average 21st century American’s lexicon). It is hard to ignore that the bottom line is, of course, the bottom line. We hope to glean pledges toward the operating budget for the coming year so we can know whether or not we can commit to salaries, buildings and programs. Above that, we hope to encourage one another to remember the abundance with which we have been blessed by God, and to give freely from that abundance. We say we “give back” to God what God has given to us.

This last bit is hard for many to understand. Because from the time we get our first job, we have a clear sense of earning and working hard for what we get. What we have and acquire sure feels like the fruit of our labor. So it is hard for us to wrap our minds around the concept of it coming from God.

And frankly, it is sometimes hard to see how giving to the church’s operating budget is giving to God. Too often, it seems more like giving to the staff salary and to building maintenance.

Add to all this the fact that people are decreasingly inclined to pledge, simply because the future seems uncertain. Or because pledging usurps the spontaneity of giving that many, particularly many under forty years old, cherish.

At the risk of tipping over the kettle of church annual fund raising, I want to offer some definitions that can help us sort out the connections and disconnects between money and faith. If we can become more consistent and clear in the words we use, more straight-forward and honest about what we believe, what we want, and what we need, the church might then be more effective in showing God’s people a way to faithful and abundant giving.

Stewardship

Until the late twentieth century, through all that mid-20th century church boom-time, “stewardship” was equated with something called The Every Member Canvass [sic]. The Every Member Canvass was often also called “the Stewardship Campaign”. Stewardship meant giving to the church, giving money. And tithe was the word used to describe what someone gave to the church, whatever the amount. Stewardship, tithe, every member canvass, all pointed to the same thing: money to the local church.

But sometime in the 1980s, a corrective movement hit the wider church, helping us to see that “stewardship” was about a whole lot more than money. Simply put, Stewardship came to be understood as “all that we have, and all we do, all the time.” It is rooted in the belief that who we are and what we have and the life we live, and the world in which we live is all a gift from God, or even that it all belongs to God: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,” says the Psalmist. And we are stewards of it.

A steward is a manager, a person who has charge of the household or possessions of another. In our case, we are the stewards of God’s household, God’s possessions, whether nature, children, buildings, time, talent, or money. If we realize that all the stuff of our world belongs to God, and we see ourselves as stewards of it, then we hear a call to mindfully use it as God would have us use it. All of it. This makes a lot more consistent theological sense to than “giving 10% back to God.”

Tithing

Nonetheless, the ten percent thing is a good guideline, a good first goal, especially when it comes to giving away our money. And it is biblical. It comes from the spirit of Jacob’s promise in Genesis 28:20-22:
‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.’

It is quite clever actually, because giving away 10% of our income each week or each year it is just enough to be really challenging, even painful. Tithing is a discipline. It is also an extraordinary faith statement, a way of reminding ourselves that God is God, that we are God’s people, and that God provides for us, even when the household budget is tight.

But the tithe is limiting. Limiting in its focus – money – and limiting in its amount – 10%. The ultimate goal is not 10%, but rather that we have a spirit of abundant generosity with all that we have, with all that we do, all the time.

The phrase, the concept, of “giving back to God” can also be limiting. And confusing. If someone gives me a gift of a box of chocolates, I don’t feel obliged to give them back one-tenth of a box, but I might feel moved to share it with others, because it was so freely given to me. Or when my grandmother sent me a check for $10 every birthday and Christmas, I never was told that I should give $1 back to her. Rather, I was told that it might be thoughtful for me to use that $10 for something she would approve of.

Ideally, we give ourselves to God, 100%. And we also give generously from the resources we have been given. We are God’s stewards, the means, the conduits, if you will, for God’s stuff to be used for God’s purpose.

Tithing is giving away10% of our income, either to individuals in need or to organizations that make known God's compassion, justice and transformative power. For several years now, the Episcopal Church has declared the tithe to be "the minimum standard of giving.” Realizing that many Episcopalians are far from giving away 10%, the Church encourages people to “strive to tithe”, or to work toward ten percent by giving a percentage rather than a set dollar amount, even if it’s just two percent to start with, and working to increase that percentage year by year. And while the Church has not said so explicitly, there is often an understanding the that tithe we are striving for, or the percentage we give, is to be given to the local church.

Giving to the Local Church

But stewardship and tithing are by no means limited to the local church. In truth, the church is in real competition with other good and faithful organizations for financial support.

Clergy and staff are dependent on the financial support of people in the congregation in order to earn their living. People can therefore confuse giving to the Church or giving to God with giving to the priest or the to beloved organist. At the same time, clergy and staff can consciously or unconsciously encourage ten percent giving to the church simply because they want to keep their jobs. The challenge for the church and for those who are employed by it is to keep the terms clear and also the goal: the faithful stewardship of the individuals households of the congregation and the faithful stewardship of the congregation as a whole.

Faithful stewardship includes generous and abundant giving to those people and institutions that give witness to God's compassion, God’s justice and God’s transformative power. If the faithful ministry of the local church is not evident, then rhetoric of tithe and stewardship may work for a while, but ultimately rings hollow.

Making a pledge

Pledging has little to do with stewardship. Rather, it has to do commitment and with budget planning. To pledge to a particular organization is to make a commitment to support that organization. When people are able to estimate their giving ahead of time and pledge a particular amount, then leadership of the church is able to determine a budget for the year and establish certain commitments and expectations. Even people who are averse to pledging can be convinced of its merits when it comes to making commitments to staff and program. The church needs to be transparent and clear about its needs.

It gets complicated, too, when we realize that more and more people are living in times of fiscal uncertainty. And they are living with large debts. I wonder if it is faithful to encourage people to make pledges to the church under these circumstances. I wonder if it is good stewardship for church ask people to defer paying off their loans and therefore pay more interest in order to give to the church. I wonder if it is faithful to encourage people to tithe borrowed money. I wonder if it is wise for churches to tempt people to take on more credit card debt by giving them the option of paying a pledge online by credit card.

The local church compromises itself when it teaches or asks its people to give ten percent to the local church, and calls it stewardship. The local church does not model faithful stewardship when is asks its people to give and trust that God will provide, while clergy receiving those gifts are living with the promise of health insurance and remarkable pensions. As much as the local church needs pledges and funds, the goal is not to meet the budget, but rather the transformation of souls into the Way of Jesus. Clear and open teaching about stewardship and the tithe, about giving and pledging, helps to get us there.


The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck is the Vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a 21st century mission in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Charitable giving: what's in it for me?

by Maria L. Evans

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. --Hebrews 13:16 (NRSV)

Normally, I don't read the comments with articles, but the comments I found in this one, about "redefining charity," as brutal as some of them were, reminded me of a place where we in the church are still horribly snarled up in empire--the charitable contribution as tax deduction. I thought about this in light of a recent article from Atlantic Monthly that brought up some very sobering research--that people in the lowest 20 percent of income levels give a larger percentage of their money to charity than the upper 20 percent.

In other words, the people who are least likely to benefit from the charitable tax deduction are the people who financially give a greater piece of themselves.

I don't doubt this research simply because of an observation I've noticed from almost a quarter century of working around hospitals--it's the families who can least afford to take off work that rally around patients' bedsides in the ICU, or when someone's going to be told a grave diagnosis. If they are that generous with their time, my hunch is that they are that generous with their money, too.

When I was in Lui, and some of our mission team visited the village of Mediba, the gift of our time and a few items for Sunday School give-aways resulted in Father Francis returning the favor with a gift of a live chicken--generosity that folks in constantly protein-malnourished South Sudan can't afford. When I have spent time at the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation in South Dakota, I am extremely careful not to compliment someone's necklace by saying, "I like that"--or else it will end up around MY neck.

Yet our American way of life ties generosity with empire in the charitable tax deduction so that those blessed with a certain level of financial abundance have a "reason to give." We have moved towards a culture where we lump "charitable loaning" into the same category as "charitable giving."

To bring this down to the level of Father Francis' chicken, it would be like saying, "Here's a chicken. I'll give it to you if you give me two chickens back next year."

Don't get me wrong--there's a wisdom in that. Collectively, everyone stands to benefit. I'm all for charitable giving to create opportunities for micro-loans for people in developing countries and people in transition from one way of life to another. It certainly does qualify for a good work. But I think it's a mistake when we believe it to be the equivalent of "charity."

True Biblical charity, I believe, has a transformational aspect, and one that will never make sense to our friends, family, or accountant. The only way this can be understood is by doing it. True Biblical charity involves allowing one's self to be in a situation where the giver is changed as much or more as the people we presume to "help." It means we do what we do with no expectation of gratitude or perhaps even acknowledgement in the way we think we deserve. We do it because it is the right thing to do, and we prayerfully wait to see what the answer is, as evidenced by a change in ourselves that we will not know the nature of until some time after we've done it.

Our culture, however, is steeped in the notion that giving preserves a top-down benefit. Unfortunately, I believe it encourages us to hang on to those little thoughts of "What's in it for me?" To take on the task of being "poor in spirit" in a Beatitudinal sort of way demands each of us to answer that question within ourselves with "Maybe nothing, on the surface--but I'll have to wait and see that answer over time."

As we begin to gear up to that annual event in our churches called Stewardship Season, perhaps each of us needs to ask ourselves the crucial question--"What holds me back from being as generous with my clock, my cleverness, and my checkbook as Father Francis was with his chicken?"


Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Stewardship and Fundraising: Nine myths that hurt your parish

by Eric Bonetti

Stewardship covers a wide range of issues, from mindful use of natural resources, to caring for our churches and other physical assets, to ensuring that we have in place adequate internal controls to prevent theft or malfeasance. But one aspect of stewardship almost inevitably brings sighs, groans, and worried looks, and that is fundraising.

Even the word "fundraising" is often avoided in our parishes and related organizations. Too often, asking for money makes us feel like moneychangers in the temple. As a result, we hid behind phrases like "pledge campaign" or other euphemisms, as if we were talking about something dark, dirty, or mysterious.

But the reality is that our parishes need money to operate, to pay salaries, to keep the lights on, and to serve our communities. These are all good things, so it follows that the fundraising, which makes all of these possible is also a good -- and properly approached -- joyous thing.

What causes this disconnect between how we feel and the need to fundraise? Coming from a nonprofit environment, I have seen that all too often the issue relates to the various myths that surround fundraising. With that in mind, here are nine major myths that all too often trip up even the most faithful and diligent parishes and vestries:

Myth 1: Build it and They Will Come (Otherwise Known as God Will Provide)

This one is bad news. Too often, we look at our parishes and see the love and caring and think, "Of course we will have the resources we will need. How could a place this wonderful not get what it needs?"

The reality, of course, is far different. We have only to look at teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement to see that value does not automatically equal revenue. This is even more the case when we are talking about food pantries, homeless shelters, and other needed community services. And things get still worse when you're talking about something like funding a parish, in which spiritual growth, caring, and compassion often are intangible services that are easy to take for granted.

The reality is that fundraising is an essential part of life for our parishes and dioceses.

Myth 2: Fundraising is all About Asking for Money, and I Hate to Ask

How often have you heard this one? I hear it all the time.

The reality, though, is that "the ask" is the smallest part of fundraising.

Good fundraisers know that it's all about giving, not getting. And while that sounds counter-intuitive, those who give are those who are engaged. They have their needs met, their questions answered, and they understand the issues. They view church as a positive, caring place, worthy of their time and support long before the discussion ever gets to money. In short, the folks who give you money are most likely to do so if they are onboard long before "the ask."

Sadly, all too often our parishes confine fundraising to an annual pledge campaign. As a result, vestry members and others wind up calling on folks out of the blue, who not surprisingly treat the calls just like other telemarketing. Most of us are good at getting rid of this sort of unwanted intrusion, and if this feels awkward to you, it should. The personal connection needs to exist long before you ever touch base to talk about stewardship.

Myth Three: The Internet and Social Media Have Changed Everything

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Social media have an important role, no doubt. As we work to tell a story -- the story of how our parishes serve parishioners, friends, family and community -- which in turn leads to giving, the social media serve as just one of myriad channels through which we tell that story. Indeed, how often do we see clergy or parishes who talk about the importance of outreach, but their last Facebook post was several months ago? Clearly, ignoring the social media or the Internet is a recipe for disaster.

The best fundraisers are out and about in the community. They teach college classes. They speak to countless civic groups and organizations. And they remember that real-life stories and human faces remain the most compelling parts of fundraising. In short, they recognize the value of the human touch.

Another thing that hasn't changed is the level of labor required. Fundraising is hard work, and automation only takes you so far. Building effective relationships requires persistence and hard work, and that is not likely to change any time soon.

One important caveat: The social media and the Internet have led to one big change, and that is in how information is presented. Pictures are in. Words are fewer. Vibrant colors count. If your materials are more than five years old, take the time to ask a variety of folks in your parish what they think of them. The answer may surprise you.

Myth Four: It's All About Who You Know

No, no, no and no.

Connection count, for sure. But it is not who you know. It's who knows you.

What's the difference?

The difference is that people give because they know and trust the person or people involved. So it's not a matter of somehow just magically finding the person with the deep pockets, or the person who knows a couple hundred others with deep pockets. It's about giving people a chance to engage with you and your parish, to learn about you, to like you, and to care about your success. Once that happens, resources will tend to come your way, without even asking.

Myth Five: Times are Tight, so Money Will be Too

Like most myths, there's a certain component of truth here, but it's still a myth.

For years now, giving has no longer been normative. Gone are the cozy days of forty or fifty years ago, when folks automatically joined a church, supported it generously, and served in volunteer roles when asked.

Today, donors want transparency. They want to know that their money will be used wisely. They want accountability, and they want to know that their resources will produce tangible results. In short, donors are more educated consumers, and this is never more the case than in an economic downturn.

Ironically enough, many nonprofits have found that the downturn has resulted in increased giving, particularly for organizations that know how to tell their story and provide needed services. For instance, nonprofits that provide homes to those who are homeless due to job loss or foreclosure have, in a number of areas, experienced record levels of giving in the downturn. Donors recognize the need, they trust these organizations to meet the need, and they are willing to put resources behind these organizations.

Myth Six: Pledges are Down, So My Budget Must Go Down

This one will get you every time.

Of course, this sounds like a sensible thing. Less revenue must mean reduced expenses, or bad things will happen in relatively short order. The problem is that, all too often, it means you've asked for pledges before you've developed a budget.

Think about it. As a parish, you have certain things that are essential. You must provide pastoral care. You must provide opportunities for worship. You must pay your bills.

There also as things that you would like to do, and arguably must do as an ethical matter, such as feeding the sick, caring for the indigent, and working to end injustice.

All of these things cost money, and chances are you can not only predict what these things will cost, but can readily produce a "dream budget." A dream budget is one that essentially says, "If I had all the money I needed, here's what my budget would look like, and here's what I would do with that money."

In short, why are you asking folks to pledge first, and telling them what will happen with the money second? Why don't you develop a target, show people how hitting that target will make a difference, and help them get to that target?

Of course, some parishes, especially in areas of changing demographics, may find that such an approach is not possible. A great many cities have downtown parishes that were located in once affluent residential areas that are now nothing but offices. Or they are in rustbelt areas in which carrying costs may simply be too high given the regional economy. But for suburban parishes in affluent areas, you're making a big mistake if you don't take the time to dream a little.

Myth Seven: If I Screw It Up, Bad Things Will Happen

Not so much.

Every fundraiser -- whether he or she admits it or not -- has backed over a landmine or two over the years. But the reality is that, if the relationship is solid and people know you're trying to do good, most people will give you a pass.

For me, that moment happened a few years ago, when I made an offhand comment to one of my primary funding sources about the importance of another funding source to my organization. Little did I know that the specific issue I mentioned was the source of serious tension between the two donors. But I learned of my mistake quickly when I got back to the office. The phone was ringing as I came through the door, and the decision-maker from my earlier meeting was on the line saying, "We just don't say that, and here's why."

Needless to say, I apologized profusely and was grateful to learn about this issue. I was also very careful never to repeat my error. As for the caller, she treated the situation as a lesson learned and has been gracious about the issue ever since, and there's never been any fallout from my error.

So, don't look for trouble. But if despite your best efforts, it finds you anyway, accept responsibility, learn from your mistake, and move on.

Myth Eight: Good Fundraisers are Those Who are Naturals, and That's Not Me

Okay, so not every painter is going to become Rembrandt. Not every high school quarterback winds up playing in the NFL. And not every fundraiser is going to be world class. That's the reality.

At the same time, there are many introverts who are highly successful as fundraisers. Sometimes, this means that they have to make more of an effort to be outgoing and to build relationships. But introverts often have a depth of perspective and insight that may be lacking in extroverts, giving them unique skills that can be put to good use.

It's also true that there are many fundraisers who think that they are good, but who aren't. For instance, certain hot issues tend to raise money, regardless of the fundraiser's underlying skill set. These include military issues, hunger, and certain specific diseases.

At the same time, there are many fundraisers who are putting tons of energy into campaigns that may be lucky to break even--so much so that they'd be better off just writing a check. Yes, fundraising is labor-intensive, but if you are working so hard at it that writing a check would be more cost-effective, you have issues, either with your cause or with your fundraising skills.

The bottom line is this: Fundraising is a learned skill that can be improved over time, and while there are some traits, including persistence, that correlate with success, there are few true naturals. You can learn how to raise money, and you can learn how to measure results. The latter is particularly important, for if you don't know what success looks like, you will be unlikely to know it when you see it.

Myth Nine: Fundraising is Misery, Pure and Simple

If you've read this far, you probably already know why this one is a myth. You likely are someone who loves The Episcopal Church, has close ties to it, and you care about its success.

You know that fundraising is about far more than sending out pledge envelopes or cold-calling. (In fact, if you are cold-calling for money, stop. Now. Instead, call that person to learn a little bit about them, and go from there.)

Fundraising success requires that you tell a story, and if you're like me, it's a story that you find deeply compelling and easy to tell. It's about being part of the lives of people that you care about. It's about engagement, positive change, transparency and communication. It's about building for the future. Yes, there are times you have to ask for money, but if you're doing it right, this should feel, both to you and the donor, like a very natural, positive thing. So go out there, enjoy the opportunity to support the growth of your parish and diocese, and have fun. It truly can be a joyous thing.

Eric Bonetti is a nonprofit professional in Northern Virginia with experience in change management and strategic planning. He is an active member of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria VA.

Urban stewardship: an incarnational approach

by Sarah Raven

I was taken aback when I recently posted a comment on Facebook about being a steward over the earth and a fellow Christian remarked that I was trying to redefine “stewardship”. Stewardship as a concept often comes up in our churches and people offer a variety of definitions for this term. One might hear a sermon about being a “good steward of God’s creation” in church on Sunday and the theme of said sermon could be about environmental protection, loving one another, or perhaps more often; tithing. A steward could be an employee on a ship, train or plane, someone who is the financial advisor for an estate, or the person appointed to care for an entire household. Simply put, to be a steward means to take care of what has been entrusted to us. When talking about sustainability and our collective responsibility to the environment, I do not believe that it is a stretch to talk about stewardship. As Roman Catholic priest Fr. Robert Sirico points out in his forward to Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, the creation account found in Genesis reflects the nature of the relationship between humanity and God’s creation.

Genesis presents a radically different picture of how the world is put together. In this account, God is the source of all values-in truth, he is the source of everything, calling it into being out of nothing by his powerful word. Man is part of this order essentially and, what is more, by the virtue of his created nature is placed at the head of creation at its steward. Yet this stewardship can never be arbitrary or anthropocentric, as the old canard goes, for this notion implies that man rules creation in God’s stead and must do so according to his divine will (Sirico, R. 2007)
.
Father Sirico’s assertion begs the question, “If humans are only to look after God’s creation according to God’s divine will, how can we discern the will of God with respect to our environment?”

If you expected that I would attempt to answer that question, you are giving me far too much credit! After talking to Fr. Robert Hendrickson (Missioner of Ascension Church, Curate at Christ Church New Haven) I realized that if we believe that money, plants, and animals are entrusted in our care, then we must have responsibility for the milk we consume that comes from animals. If we are responsible for the milk, then we must be responsible for the used container. Now, holding the container we face a commonplace yet critical choice. The fact that we often do not see this as a critical choice reflects our inability to seriously wrestle with the question of divine will and our environment.

I would argue that the divine will as described in Genesis urges us to ensure a sustainable environment for all life on the planet and future generations. Stewardship and sustainability are intimately connected in the life of the church. We are urged to bring a percentage of our financial trust back to God during annual stewardship campaigns. Simultaneously, we should be thinking about our organic trust, the very planet on which we live, breathe, and take our last breath.

As humans across the globe are increasingly flocking to urban centers, urban stewardship is on the hearts and minds of many. But how do we Christians who live in cities and inner cities, connect our story to a text filled with agrarian and pastoral images? How do we encourage urban sustainability or remain confident that it is within God’s will, when the bible is replete with stories of cities being damned, cursed, or utterly destroyed? I think the answer to this, lies in humanity itself. In our society there is an economy of worth that is too often applied to the value of human beings. How much a person can contribute to society by working and paying taxes is counted, measured, and categorized. We often find people in urban environments being discounted. Every once in a while a “rags to riches” story catches the American imagination where a once downtrodden individual has some undiscovered talent and becomes “valuable” overnight. We know that these children of God were always valuable, always precious in God’s sight. Priceless in fact, because each one of us bears the imago dei, and reflects God’s very image wherever we go. As Father David Cobb asserted, the promise of the carpenter from lowly birth who became our king and savior, is that even when humans mistake the true value of what we see; God, in the person of Christ knows our true worth.

People are sometimes over-looked as we walk briskly on our way to work; rarely pausing to acknowledge one another. It is no surprise then that plants, animals, and inanimate things often get tossed about it our cities as if they have little value. When I worked in downtown New Haven I would often walk to work instead of taking the bus. On one of these wayfaring voyages, I stopped for a second by a trash can on the sidewalk and noticed a bright-copper contraption sitting on the very top of the bin. I picked it up by the hook on its apex and immediately was drawn to this odd double-helix shaped piece of metal refuse. When I looked at this rescued item, I did not see a piece of garbage; I saw a world of possibilities. My first thought was to turn it into a wind-chime, then I thought I might keep it as it was and just patch up the few spots of rust. I proudly walked to work having hooked my shiny discovery on the outside of my coat pocket. It was not long until I generated inquisitive stares and even shouts from people I passed.

“Nice earring!”

“What is that thing?”

“What are you going to do with that?”

I was both amused and confused as to why my simple act of municipal waste defiance was causing such a stir. By the time I arrived at work I had made the decision to give my found treasure away to the administrative assistant.

“This is awesome!” She proclaimed. “It goes perfectly with my new lamp!”

I did not realize it that day, but this simple act of recycling that brightened my co-worker’s day, would help to solidify my determination to listen even closer to God’s still small voice, and to take very seriously the call to urban stewardship.


Sarah Raven is program director of GARLiC and graduated from the Iliff School of Theology in 2011, with a concentration in Anglican Studies. After graduating from Iliff, Sarah moved to the Hill neighborhood in New Haven and completed an internship with Christ Church at St. Hilda’s House and is now a member of the Ascension House intentional community.

Stewardship season - choose Me

by Maria Evans

Almighty God, whose loving hand has given us all that we
possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with our
substance, and, remembering the account which we must one
day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
--Prayer for the Right Use of God's Gifts, p. 827, Book of Common Prayer

Ah, yes...it's "Stewardship Season" again, isn't it? That time that the late Rev. Terry Parsons called the "October Beg-a-thon." I've always wondered if the folks who put the Revised Common Lectionary together knew that full well when they started stringing the various texts for October and early November.

I say that because this year, the Gospel for proper 23B--Mark 10:17-31--you might know it as the story of Jesus and the Rich Young Man--just won't seem to leave my head even though that Sunday has come and gone. Of all things, it took a skunk to make me see why this story can be so troubling.

I tend to be a bit of a night owl, and my two dogs, Boomer and Little Eddie, have more or less adjusted their bowel and bladder habits to that fact. Around midnight on the night before my parish's annual Blessing of the Animals, I was happily playing with the computer, the dogs outside doing their business, when suddenly I (unfortunately) smelled a familiar smell coming through my registers--the perfume of Mephitis mephitis, aka the North American Striped Skunk. (For what it's worth, the Latin name of the striped skunk literally means "bad odor, bad odor." Saying it twice says a lot between the lines, doesn't it?)

Sure enough, when I rushed outside, I discovered that my dogs had tangled with a skunk, and lost. They both reeked. The yard reeked. I was starting to wonder if just standing out there was going to add me to the list of things that reeked. Within nanoseconds, the thought that flew into my brain was not "I hope the dogs are okay," it was "You are NOT getting on my new sectional sofa."

As I've started to repatriate the house after the great house remodel, I purchased one nice piece of furniture for my living room--a sectional sofa with a chaise lounge and two full sized sofa sections. As one of my friends said in that I'm-joking-but-really-I'm-serious way, "It's the last piece of living room furniture you will ever need in your adult life because it is a good brand and you can always have it re-covered." Although I am notoriously cheap, I bought a good sectional in a classic style and color because I knew it would last.

That said, I've never been picky about dogs and furniture. Mi casa es su casa. My dogs have always enjoyed any stick of furniture in my house (with the exception of the kitchen table) throughout my life. Any couch or bed that my dogs would not want to sleep on is probably not a very good piece of furniture. Yet, I immediately barred my skunky dogs from not only the new sectional, but from the house entirely. They slept outside in their doghouses even after being as de-skunked as I could get them. The dogs who normally sleep with me (and they have slept with me in a de-skunked but with a slight residual odorous state in the past) were suddenly canes non grata. I could not risk them getting on the sectional while I was asleep. I didn't care that it started to rain outside. I didn't care that it was a little chilly. I didn't care that they were a bit distressed themselves about being skunked. In a heartbeat, I had summarily banned my two best companions.

The speed at which I banned them was a stark reminder about how possessions change our attitudes about generosity, charity, and love. That little nagging voice in my head whispered, "Maria, if this is how fast you'll choose your possessions over the love of your canine companions, then how many times have you just as quickly chosen your possessions over God?"

As I lay in bed (sans dogs) the Gospel story in Mark seemed to have my name on it. The Rich Young Man was me. There were things I realized I would not do even if the Kingdom of Heaven were at stake. But it wasn't just me. Everyone has his or her limit. Jesus didn't tell the Rich Young Man that to get him to play a giant game of Truth or Dare. He told him what he did simply to illustrate that none of us can earn eternity with God on our own merits--that it's all about grace--and that these sorts of challenges are there to get us to stretch our limits a little more in that relationship as a show of gratitude for that grace.

God's message is simple, consistent and persistent--choose me. But God doesn't bully us into that choice, God patiently sits on the sidelines like the kid who never gets picked first when choosing up teams. It's only with time and insight that we discover we really didn't pick anything, God owned the whole playground.

Choose me.
Choose me over your delusions of security.
Choose me over what feels safe.
Choose me over your best-laid plans.
Choose me over your most precious possession.
Choose me over your reputation.
Choose me. I can't promise you a single good thing from it, but I can promise you a new way of seeing this life and a bigger picture.

What is hanging out in the forefront of your mind this stewardship season that is pushing at you to choose God?


Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Advertising Space