August 20, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
The Chronicle of Philanthropy just released a new study about How America Gives. The results are fascinating. And what’s more, it has an incredible interactive website that allows you to look at the results of the study right down to your (or your neighbor’s) zip code.
For the United States as a whole, it shows that the average median discretionary income is $54,787 and the average giving is 4.7%. For Idaho the numbers are $49,606 and 6.4% and for Oregon they are $47,450 and 4.6%.
Note that this is discretionary income, not total income. Discretionary income includes all forms of income minus taxes, housing costs, and other living expenses. The median is the middle number in the range of incomes. This contrasts to the Biblical standard of giving which is 10% of everything, not just a percentage of what’s left over!
Here are a couple of findings:
- Middle-class Amer¬i¬cans give a far bigger share of their discretionary income to charities than the rich.
- Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities.
- The eight states where residents gave the highest share of income to charity went for John McCain in 2008.
There’s lots of data to mine here. Thank you for helping the folks in your care learn to be generous.
Grace and Peace,
Coming Up September 13: Ken Sloane will be presenting another in his series of webinars on stewardship. This one is titled "Five Key Elements in Successful Stewardship Strategies." Stewardship in the local church is not a "one size fits all" proposition. There are some elements that are consistently present in churches that do stewardship really well. Join us as we explore five important ones! You can register here.
Living in God’s Grace
Three years ago, we spent a day with a lively, dedicated group of United Methodists at the Western Jurisdictional VIM (UM Volunteers in Mission) Rally at Lazy F Camp. This event was especially timely given the upcoming anniversary of the day when Hurricane Katrina made landfall (August 29, 2005). During a PowerPoint presentation, we watched photo after photo of destroyed Gulf Coast homes and churches. We were stunned to realize that, at that time, the disaster was far from over: many families were still without residential homes and/or church homes (tragically, this remains the case in 2009!). Recently, UMC Bishop William Hutchinson of Louisiana said, "This is the largest diaspora of persons in the history of the United States. The evacuees have included 1.5 million people from Louisiana and several hundred thousand from Mississippi and Alabama. Those evacuees include entire congregations and clergy." It's also a diaspora for other members of God's household of creation; the hurricane devastated the habitats of countless creatures (e.g., sea turtles, Mississippi sandhill cranes) and flood waters have created environmental health hazards (e.g., Lake Pontchartrain received a mix of raw sewage, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and about 6.5 million gallons of oil) for many more.
At the VIM Rally, surrounded by people with much passion for "putting Christian love in action," we also watched photos of volunteer groups rebuilding these Gulf Coast homes/churches/habitats. These photos represented Christian love and stewardship in a most active form. To this day, volunteers from all over our region and country continue to give the gifts (skills/talents, energy, time, prayers, donations, hospitality, compassion) that God entrusts to them in order to care for the "homes" of others. As with all stewards, they do not "own" these churches, private homes, or natural habitats. Rather than ownership, love and gratitude for God's Grace calls them to care for what belongs to others and, ultimately, to God. During this time of remembering Hurricane Katrina (and Ike in 2008), we give thanks for all who have cared for God's all-encompassing "household" and, especially, for its most dispersed members.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
Image: From UM Council of Bishops site, "A blue tarp, torn by the wind, flaps over the open roof at Felicity UMC in New Orleans. The historic church was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. It is being repaired and modified to house volunteer relief workers."
While we're still in Ordinary Time, this coming Sunday presents us with the opportunity to enter "Kingdomtide." In 1937, the former Federal Council on Churches (now the National Council of Churches of Christ) recommended that all church denominations celebrate Kingdomtide as a way of highlighting "Jesus' teachings concerning the kingdom of God."* (Today, the UMC is the only denomination that still observes this season formally.) "The liturgy for Kingdomtide stresses charity and assistance to the poor"** as well as other active expressions of faith that help to unveil God's Kingdom/Kin-dom*** among us. Therefore, during this season Radical Gratitude will focus on more active expressions of Christian stewardship.
Because the liturgical color for this season is green -- and because many churches are trying to expand their notion of "Kingdom" to include all of God's creation (not only humankind) -- some churches now observe part or all of Kingdomtide as the "Season of Creation." The UMC General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) says, "September is the recommended month to observe the Season of Creation, since it leads to World Communion Sunday (October 7) and the Commemoration of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4)." (The GBOD has a helpful web page devoted to the Season of Creation.) We hope that all churches that choose to observe these seasons (Kingdomtide and/or the Season of Creation) discover new, life-giving dimensions of our call as God's stewards.
*The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 409.
** "Kin-dom" is one of several alternative terms (e.g., "Realm," "Commonwealth") that some Christians have adopted in addition to or in lieu of "Kingdom." While time-honored, "Kingdom" can convey a sense of hierarchical relatedness (with God and among God's creatures - human and others) that some Christians find challenging; "Kin-dom" attempts to convey a sense of collegial relatedness (i.e., "kinship"). We will continue to use both terms interchangeably in Radical Gratitude.
*** From Wikipedia.org.
From Inagrace Dietterich*:
"The divine economy - God's plan of salvation - is 'a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth' (Eph. 1:10). As stewards participating in the work of [God's] household, we are enlisted into God's overarching purpose: to reconcile all of humanity and to bring creation to its proper fulfillment."
Consider some of the small ways in which you participate in "the divine economy" on a daily basis (e.g., sharing time, food, a "listening ear" with others). What are some of the broader, systemic ways in which you and/or your church community are involved in this work?
*Inagrace Dietterich is Director of Theological Research at the Center for Parish Development; this quote comes from their resource, "Stewards of the Household of God"; bold added for emphasis.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for August 26, 2012: Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Three of the four texts for this Sunday make reference to dwelling places: the house of the Lord (1 Kings), God's dwelling place that feeds the pilgrim and shelters even small birds (the Psalm), and Jesus in whom all "dwell" and "abide" (John). While it's unusual to consider multiple lection texts on any given Sunday during Ordinary Time, from a stewardship perspective it's hard to resist reflecting on these "homey" words and images. It's hard to resist because so much of the foundational language of Christian stewardship centers on understanding the nature of God's household (oikos, in Greek) and our call to be caring stewards (oikonomos) of it.
The passages from 1 Kings and the Psalm refer to the temple built under King Solomon's reign. For the Israelites, it is the prototypical "house of God"; and yet this house does not "contain" God or define the limits of God's being (1 Kings 8:27).* It is a house, built by human hands, that belongs solely to God (as suggested through Solomon's dedication). And, while it belongs to God, it is meant for all -- even the foreigner, non-Israelite (1 Kings 8:42-43) -- as a means for accessing God's Grace. "[Solomon's] prayer petition is grounded in the reality that God has always made provisions for Gentiles to worship."** These reflections on the Israelite's paradigmatic household can evoke a wide variety of questions for a steward/oikonomos: What are my perceptions of God's household, dwelling place, or "Kingdom" -- is there an "earthly" dimension to it? How would I feel about the fact that God is sole owner of something into which I've poured my labor? What are my responsibilities within God's "dwelling place"? From my perspective, how inclusive is God's household? How can I help to uphold God's provision for household inclusion?
The passage from John alludes to a different (still powerfully symbolic) type of dwelling: Jesus' very being. Last week's Radical Gratitude spoke of the "scandal" of "gnawing" on Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood. This week's John passage implies that "abiding in Jesus" is even more scandalous (verses 61-62). New Testament scholar David Fredrickson suggests that this is the case because "abiding in Jesus" reinforces and radicalizes God's endless desire for household/Kingdom inclusion. In commenting on the offense/scandal implied in John 6:62, Fredrickson writes:
The phrase "where he was before" [v.62] recalls the opening verse of the Gospel where God and Word live in complete mutuality and unity. The association of this phrase with John 1:1 encourages the reader to ask why the return of the incarnate Word to the place of mutuality and unity with God is something scandalous. It is so because it is something new for God and new for the world, something that transgresses the boundaries between God and world. In what way is it new, and in what way does it transgress boundaries? When the Son of Man ascends to where he was before, that is, to his original conversation with God, he takes with him those who eat his flesh and drink his blood. This must be so because Jesus has promised that they will remain in him and he in them (6:56). Since there can be no Jesus apart from the one who remains in communicants and in whom they remain, the ascent of the Son of Man is simultaneously the opening to communicants God's life with the Word.***
As stewards of God's household, we might ask: In what ways do we help to transgress the boundaries that separate "the world" from God's Grace-filled household/dwelling/Kingdom?
*Additional comments on this point from Frank S. Frick: "Clearly Israel did not conceive of God's presence as confined to a fixed spot. But the human need for the assurance of divine availability led the Israelites, like other peoples, to establish definite places where access to the transcendent could take place. ...The 'visible' presence of God in Jerusalem was even more critical at the period of sociopolitical transition that marked the beginning of the monarchy. ...The Jerusalem temple was an essential part of the formation of the Israelite state. A visible symbol of God's approval of the monarchs' actions was needed, and the temple supplied it." (Frick, A Journey through the Hebrew Scriptures, Harcourt Brace, p. 319)
** GBOD online worship resources.
***Fredrickson is a professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary; this except comes form his article, "Eucharistic Symbolism in the Gospel of John," Word & World, Vol. XVII, no. 1, Winter 1997; bold added for emphasis.
Image source: Hermanoleon Clipart.
Telling the Story
Over the years I've encouraged pastors to follow a practice I learned from one of my mentors early in ministry. It's the practice of using the time of the offering to "tell the story." Here's a suggestion to introduce the offering this Sunday:
In life it’s not unusual to hit a rough spot where a family faces unexpected expenses. The same is true for congregations. As a conference we attempt to bridge those rough spots. One of the ways we do so is by providing salary support. Funded through Shared Ministry Giving, we provide some $100,000 each year in salary support. It’s part of what it means to be a family.
So today, as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s do so in celebration of the opportunity we have to help one another be God’s people in the world.
Awareness and Action
Do-It-Yourself, Outdoor Reflections
For groups small & large
Would you like to plan a meaningful hike with friends? Does your faith community have times of prayer outside? Are you part of a church outdoor group? If you've answered "yes" to any of these, then here are a few ideas for helping to facilitate a reflective, prayerful time in the out-of-doors; whether your group is taking an "urban hike," wandering your church's grounds, visiting a farm, hiking in a forest, strolling along a shoreline, walking through a SuperFund site or brownfield, setting off for a group kayak/canoe paddle, etc.:
- Before heading out, consider perusing resources like Nature Stations and Joseph Cornell's Listening to Nature or With Beauty Before Me.
- When everyone has reached your chosen outdoor spot, gather in a circle and welcome each other and the Holy Spirit. Explain that you are all about to enter into a time of silent reflection -- a time that's "book-ended" with opening and closing, spoken reflections.
- Begin your time together with a simple prayer and/or reading(s) (from Scripture, and/or from another creation-caring voice) that encourages everyone to open their senses to the Holy that upholds all creation.
- Welcome your group's time of silence and then walk/paddle/etc. with open senses throughout the outdoor place in which you find yourselves. Walk in silence for 5 minutes, an hour, or as long as you feel comfortable (consider "pushing" your comfort level -- you may be surprised by the results). You may even want to plan for a time when each person can venture off in silence for a brief "solo"/alone time with God and creation (you can introduce this in your opening circle).
- Reconvene as a group in a circle (perhaps at your original gathering place).
- Gently draw the silence to a close by inviting everyone to offer one word (literally, one word) that comes to their hearts/minds from the preceding time of silence.
- As the Spirit moves your group, conclude this time of sharing with an "Amen," a song/hymn, another reading, a prayer, or something else that seems to bless the moment.
“So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘do you also wish to go away?’
Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
--John 6:67-68, NRSV
Iran’s Revolutionary Court recently upheld Pastor Farshid Fathi’s six-year sentence for “political offenses,” forcing him to complete a prison term that began more than 18 months ago. Farshid was arrested in December 2010 for his Christian work, but authorities continue to cast his activities as political offenses. He has become much beloved among inmates in Tehran’s Evin prison.
“This move once again displays great injustice towards Christians in Iran,” the Rev. Sam Yeghnazar of Elam Ministries wrote. “However, Farshid is a man after God’s own heart, and God will be faithful to him.”
Farshid’s trial was postponed repeatedly by judicial authorities until early 2012. To pay his bail, Farshid’s wife, Leila, relinquished the deed to their home, but Farshid was never released. The couple has two children.
According to Elam, Farshid’s lawyer was denied full access to the case until a few days before trial. Farshid was convicted for allegedly being the chief agent of foreign organization in Iran and for administering funds for foreign organizations, a charge often used to arrest and convict Christians.
Elam, a ministry founded by Iranian church leaders in 1988 to serve the growing Iranian church, reports that Farshid has ministered to others in the prison.
United Methodists observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on a date of their choice. It is a time to remember the sacrifice of people like Farshid Fathi.
--Adapted from Elam Ministries, Christian Solidarity Worldwide
In China, members of the Shouwang house church continue to face harassment from Beijing authorities. Recently, security officials denied the church’s student group access to two sports facilities in Beijing. The 1,000-plus members of the Shouwang church have met outdoors for 14 months, in protest against officials who have prevented them from acquiring facilities for a worship space.
The student group met in June to play basketball at Beijing Institute of Technology. When they arrived at the court, they were surprised to find it closed. They moved on to the gymnasium at Beijing Normal University, but that court also was closed. Then they noticed security agents following them.
Since they couldn’t play basketball, the group decided to play a kicking game in an open, grassy space. Almost immediately, campus security guards surrounded the Christians and seized a banner they were carrying, which read “Shouwang Youth Fellowship vs. Student Fellowship Basketball Game.” Nevertheless, the students are determined to meet.
On the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, remember these faithful Christians.
--Adapted from China Aid Association
Your Scripture reminds us that we abide, we dwell, we make our home in You.
For this, we are profoundly grateful --
for truly, we are and have nothing apart from You.
Scripture also reminds us that we're not simply guests of Your household;
we are Your stewards, Your household keepers.
For this too, we are profoundly grateful --
for truly, this blessed work brings sweetness and meaning to our days.
Please bless this time of offering for what it is:
our recommitment to live as members and stewards of Your household.
In Your name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
Dear God, strengthen Farshid Fathi and others who bring light in the midst of darkness. Give them endurance to persevere and to continue to share your love through their testimony. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Relentless God of love and grace, you gave the greatest gift of all when you sent Christ into our midst to rescue us from our rebellion and to teach us the way to your Kingdom. When the teaching is hard, there are still many who will turn away. Yet here we are, God of eternity, asking that same question: "Where would we go?" May you bless and consecrate the gifts given this morning, and may they remind us that our sacrifices can never outshine what you gave us in Jesus! This we ask in his holy name. Amen. (John 6:56-69)
from General Board of Discipleship
"Now I understand that questions are at the heart of faith, and certainties about God can flicker on and off, no matter what you think you know."
-- Sara Miles, Take This Bread