A few weeks ago I mentioned that the church could do a better job of sharing testimonies that have to do with our relationship with money. I just got a great link from my sister to a little article that ran recently in People Magazine about some friends of ours. Take a look!
Two good reads from this morning:
I was cruising through my regular blog reads yesterday when I came across the following. In describing an upcoming mission trip to Russia that her husband is taking, Llama Momma writes this:
I’m thrilled to see my husband go on this trip. As a young college student at Urbana, he felt a distinct call to missions. Not to go, but to send. When we began dating seriously, he shared this call with me, as it would affect our life together in a major area––our finances.
I got chills when I read this. I meet my fair share of people who are pursuing some specific call to serve, be it in an urban setting or overseas. I work for a mission agency that sends folks like this across the globe to plant churches in the world’s slums and I live in a missional community in South Central, L.A. so I am pretty familiar with those people called and convicted to go. I am less familiar with what Llama Momma describes here: a person, a family, committed to sending. And not committed in the casual send a check once in a while way, but in the way where it is something that has to be discussed prior to marriage because it will have that much impact on a family’s finances.
I have learned a great deal this past year about what generosity can look like, and I have seen its many shapes and forms. And reading Llama Momma’s post reminded me of how that kind of generosity can be a calling. It is often appropriately unseen, the sending. It is easy to identify those serving in the field. It is a much more hidden work done by the many who pray and give and offer housing and cars and network on behalf of those who go. And because of that hiddenness, it is perhaps the harder faithfulness to model. Lots of people can point to a missionary hero. I imagine that many would be hard-pressed to name their “giving heroes”. While I totally support quiet giving (scripture clearly speaks of the need for this), I also would like to see more giving testimonies in the church: people sharing the stories of how they are worshiping God with the resources they have been given.
In our church, we speak of “living simply”, and that is a membership commitment we all make to one another. This has a lot to do with dealing with combating our love for things, freeing us from something, but it has as much to do with what it frees for. We say it this way: “Live simply so as to practice generosity”.
I hear a lot of people talk about simplicity and this seems like a popular theme. I don’t hear the same level of conversation when it comes to generosity.
Doug and I have a very dear friend who works with Servant Partners in their internship program. It is her job to train and pastor classes of interns over the course of their two years, with the goal of preparing many individuals for service overseas or in urban communities here in the U.S.. She herself was an intern in the program five years ago, and as part of her training, she was mentored by Doug in the area of worship leading. I can still remember gathering in my sister’s living room in those early days of our church plant and listening to Jade’s voice fill the room as she and Doug led us in singing. We just got an email from her while on this trip describing her critical need in the area of finances. All of our staff members at Servant Partners fundraise their salaries, and our dear friend is in dire need for new financial partners if she is to continue her work. After receiving a generous gift from someone, we were able to tithe that money to her and help her out in the short term, but we are now joining with her in praying for new supporters to come alongside her in her work.
On this day of considering hopes and dreams for the year to come, I wonder if there might be someone called to a mission like Llama Momma’s husband who would feel prompted to join us in supporting the work of our friend for the sake of the kingdom. The thing about blogging that has surprised me the most is how genuine, life-changing connection can happen through this unusual medium and it is in that spirit, and with a conviction from the Spirit, that I put this need out there. Contact me using the contact form in the sidebar if the Spirit is speaking to you too.
“Buy green. Shop here.”
This was the message on a sign out in front of a thrift store we passed in Seattle. I marveled at the truth of this simple message and at how unimaginable the concept of buying used stuff is to so many. I have always been fond of thrift stores. During my college days in Chicago I was famous for my shopping prowess at the Amvets thrift store a few blocks from campus. I was the girl who could regularly find amazing high-end stuff for $1.25 and I married someone also known for his thrift store skills. In fact Doug just accomplished the all-time thrift store coup at his favorite Union Gospel Mission thrift shop in Portland (Hugo Boss Black Label cashmere/wool sport-coat with four figure price tag in pocket–he wins). I guess we really are made for each other!
All that to say, it is no stretch for us to buy used clothes, and we are comfortable with our home of second-hand furniture. And my 1890 wedding ring is more beautiful than any ring I have ever seen (today is the six year anniversary of the day Doug proposed to me with that ring among the snowy peaks of Hurricane Ridge)! But I am quite aware of how very few things people are willing to buy used. And let’s be honest: in the midst of the retail nirvana that is the Christmas season, the prospect of shopping for not new stuff seems just slightly off. During college, I got away with giving Amvets finds as gifts, but now would rarely consider giving someone secondhand stuff.
I am afraid that there are just too many places where we no longer question the necessity of having “the new”. And in the midst of so much discarded stuff (I think of how many times the Salvation army truck has visited my home this past year alone), a great deal of which is in perfectly good condition, it is strange how unwilling we are, for the most part, to buy what has been bought before. We are so attached to whatever it is that packaging and plastic wrap and store hangers provide.
The Bible has much to say about our relationship with material goods and the comfort, security, and status we extract from them. What would it look like for a community of faith to really challenge this mentality among its members? In the history of my own church, it used to be that for any purchase over $50, an individual would have to bring that decision to one or two other members of the community for corporate discernment. At some point the amount shifted to $75, and now people choose when and how to involve others in the community in the life of their finances. Certainly that early practice deeply impacted how people spent their money, and I imagine would go far in reorienting attitudes that demand always buying new.
Underwear and socks aside (even I have my limits), it would be fascinating for a community to embrace the decision to only buy secondhand for a year. There is too little that we do corporately when it comes to creatively re-imagining our finances, and this one simple step could go far in helping to circumcise hearts taken captive by retail.
Without even touching the environmental and justice issues related to how our things are manufactured and what our patterns of consumption do to our planet, and simply considering the battle most of us wage daily against our love for stuff, I think that sign could also have read: “Be Christian. Shop here.”
Today we accomplished what I thought was the impossible: successfully posing all five Haubs for a family portrait. My mom had a portrait package at Yuen Lui, so she gave us the chance to go and have a free sitting and get a a free 8X10 as part of the deal. After almost calling and cancelling the whole thing this morning (we were forty-five minutes away from our appointment, Elijah was still in his sleeper, Mercy and Aaron were in the bath, and Doug and I were trying to hunt down the Carney-family hair clippers to give him a trim), we ended up making it to the Lynwood studio on time, AND our sitting was smooth and without any incident!
Elijah never cried once, and unlike the time when my sister and I tried to have portraits of her son and Mercy taken, there were no fits, escape attempts, or attachments to dumb photographer props to contend with. Since it is all digital now we were able to preview our proofs and while the number of actually good pictures was small, we only needed one to turn out. We ended up with about three good ones to choose from, and we went ahead and placed our order. Truly a miracle in my book.
The photography studio is located nearby a large mall, and so for the first time this season I found myself in the heart of retail-dom. We thought about actually going into the mall (which would probably be the first time in over a year for any of us), but ended up in the nearby Red Robin instead. But we talked about our Christmas shopping lists and what we needed to buy and for whom.
I have heard more than a few people comment on abstaining from or reducing the amount of store spending for gifts this year, perhaps favoring hand-made items as gifts or using the time, energy, and money that shopping and giving requires and putting that toward service opportunities instead. Great thoughts, of course. All of our rituals deserve to be regularly examined, and the ease by which they can quickly become co-opted by powerful, and often well-disguised, forces should not be taken lightly.
But as Doug and I discussed our plans for gift-giving this year, I realized that the act of shopping and selecting gifts for our family members does not feel driven by any list of “isms”. Rather, it is that chance to use a material gift to express our care and joy. It doesn’t seem to me that there is anything wrong with that sort of symbolic gesture. It would seem to me that what makes Christmastime gift-giving feel creepy is what is happening, consumption-wise, the rest of the year. I read something recently that said there were people who, in some fashion, shopped every day. I found that suggestion inconceivable and scandalous. But after thinking a bit, even of people I know, I realized that that might not be as impossible as it sounds. And with that as a back-drop, of course shopping for someone feels absurd!
I am not a shopper, and our family budget does not even have line items for clothes for us or the kiddos. With those realities, the giving that happens at birthdays and Christmas is a fun way for us to get the couple of things we do need each year. But again, it is the backdrop of a commitment to simplicity the rest of the year that makes those material gifts at Christmas feel completely appropriate and quite welcome. I wonder, then, if it isn’t much easier to talk about reigning in our impulses to consume over these next few weeks rather than deal head-on with the ways that we bow to materialism the rest of the year? Again, I applaud the initiatives I have heard promoted recently. May it be that they not be relegated to holiday trendiness but rather become the trends by which the rest of our lives can be ordered when consumption and materialism are off the collective radar.
I really appreciated Julie Clawson’s honesty in looking at the issues surrounding the choice to pay pastors for their work within a faith community. I have had many conversations with many people about whether the whole “professional clergy” model is worth keeping, and whether using a community’s resources to support a paid pastor is the best stewardship of the church’s money. I talk to a lot of people who hold onto an ideal of the faith community functioning with no pastor, and while I often appreciate what they are reacting against, I am not always comfortable with their conclusions.
As a theologically trained individual who would love to serve the church vocationally, I know I am not coming at this totally objectively. I would not have done what I did in pursuing seminary studies if I did not think service to the church as a paid minister was a valid calling. That said, neither Doug nor I have received paychecks for our ministerial work for years now, nor have many others who serve alongside us at Church of the Redeemer. So I do relate to the other side of this argument as well.
In my experience, there comes a time within a faith community where someone in the body is called to a particular area of service and leadership. That person may serve and lead for some time as a “volunteer” or “lay leader”. And sometimes that is entirely doable. When I was single, for example, I was able to serve as a lay pastor without receiving a paycheck for my ministry. I lived on nothing, my time was my own, and I was energized by the commitment. At this stage of life, that would not work for me and for my family to the degree that it did back then. Something about having to make sure there is actually food in the refrigerator…
Often it is also the case that the ministry of an individual serving as a layperson grows to the extent that it is the desire of the community to see them released from other obligations (the kind attached to paychecks, for example) so that they may more fully invest in the service to which they have been called. In the history of our church, for example, when it became clear that one member was especially gifted reaching out to youth in our community, it was the will of the group to pool their resources to cover some of her expenses so that she might be freed up to love and serve the kids of our neighborhood in some more formalized capacities.
I had a similar experience the summer after my freshman year in college. I came out to Pomona to participate in an InterVarsity summer urban project. Eighteen of us lived communally in an old Presbyterian church in downtown Pomona. Some of us worked full-time. Others of us worked part-time at the local YMCA, and taught ESL classes and ran youth groups with the rest of our time. Still others did not work at all and were released financially to pastor and lead our community for that summer. That was the first time I had ever lived out that kind of an expression of shared resources, and I was fascinated.
I think the questions being asked by those wishing to re-image church with new models of leadership and a lack of hierarchy are the right ones. I am eager to see the ways different communities explore the answers to them, and it is obviously a conversation that carries great weight for me in my own sense of calling. Ten and twenty years down the road, I wonder how the landscape of pastoral ministry will be changed.
I am struck today by how inadequate I can feel in my ability to truly offer my thanks and gratitude to those who give so much to me and to my family. A few examples come to mind:
After two long and I am sure exhausting weeks of helping us out, my mom left last night to return home to Seattle. For two weeks she has risen with the sun to start the day with Mercy and Aaron; she has cooked more meals and washed more clothes and dishes than even she could have imagined; and she has patiently and lovingly served me throughout my not always easy recovery. How do we adequately honor her sacrifice and servanthood? Those simple words, “thank you”, can feel like such a small thing to offer in the face of so much love and generosity.
We saw a friend today who has consistently chosen to love our family with astounding generosity. I have learned much from this friend and her husband about what it looks like to have access to resources and yet to hold so loosely to them. In a culture of so much accumulation and hoarding, they have been a witness to us of another way to live. We recently received a gift from these friends that was the answer to an outrageous prayer whispered with mostly disbelief that such a thing could come to pass. As I sat with this friend this morning, I was struck by how impossible it feels to say thank you for their kindness in sharing our family’s burdens as if they were their own.
And lastly, when we found out that I would once again face a six-week recovery period where I would be restricted from lifting my big kids, one of my friends here responded without pause: “Sign me up for two days a week!” This is the same friend who has tirelessly shopped for us, who has spent two days a week at our house (and sometimes three!) the entire span of my bed-rest period, and who always made sure we had enough fans when the heat got bad, etc. This is also the friend who is herself displaced from her home right now due to a remodel and who leads the board of a non-profit while running our church nursery and hosting monthly block club meetings. And all of this on top of being a great mom to a busy two-year-old. When I think about all that she gives up and the ways she chooses to inconvenience herself and her family for the sake of serving ours, I again find myself speechless. There are not “thank yous” enough.
In thinking about this, I was struck by how worship feels (or should feel). Do we regularly experience worship as a time and place where we are left speechless in the face of generosity and sacrifice that is incomprehensible? And do we know how to experience this together, as a community, a people, and not as an auditorium filled with dimmed lights and closed eyes and lots of individual reflection?
I guess the harder question even is whether our entire lives as Christians are marked by this awareness, this recognition of what we have received? And too, what are the ways that God wishes to be thanked? Singing songs where we say “thank you” is certainly good, but it dare not stop there. There is a way that those whose debts are forgiven live differently because of it.
Jordon Cooper has a great post on simplicity. A lot of people write on this topic, but I really appreciated his tone: one of humility and, well, simplicity in talking about what some of the basic issues are.
I resonated with his descriptions of his family’s home, and the adequacy of their space. Doug and I live in a two-bedroom apartment with our two (soon to be three) kids, and anyone with children and any imagination can guess that we have some challenges in the space arena. This is compounded by the fact that Doug is a musician/worship pastor (think large instruments, amps, and speakers), as well as a student, and I work from home. For us, the living room is also the family room, the library, the playroom and home office. And in a couple of weeks, our bedroom will need to become a nursery, study, recording studio–and master bedroom. We are a Real Simple/Oprah/every home decorating show on cable nightmare…
Lately, spending as much time as I do perched on my couch, I have given a lot of thought to what we really need to have, materially. How many toys? How many books? What and when is enough?
I have friends with enormous houses, and I really mean enormous. I think of them often enough when I am feeling especially cramped and crowded here. But what I realize, and Jordon’s post touches on this as well, is that they struggle with space and storage in many of the same ways I do. I think it really is like wedding planning: we are prone to fill however much space we are given.
UPDATE: After posting this, I meandered over to Scot McKnight’s blog for my daily visit and found his excellent post addressing a similar theme: “might need it someday…”
Rarely do I find myself speechless here, and it is with ease that I write my (usually) daily posts. Today, however, I am simply too overwhelmed to speak, and if I even try to type the tears flow. They are tears of immense gratitude for a gift undeserved; they are tears of awe over a God who hears the cries of his children; they are tears of knowing that the words of a song I loved to sing as a child are true:
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
This past weekend, I was thrilled to receive a bulky envelope from a good friend up north. Inside were two smaller envelopes: one held a stack of Kroger grocery store gift cards in varied amounts, and the other held a single gift card with a note and scripture verse attached. These were sent to us by a friend who has made a commitment to decrease her own family’s food budget a bit for the sake of freeing up some money to share with a family in need in my neighborhood.
In addition to their regular gift, this month they had also creatively enlisted the help and generosity of their family and friends. As they celebrated their son’s first birthday this past week, they invited people to give a grocery gift card in his honor instead of the usual stuffed animal, new outfit or toy. Thus, the generous stack of gift cards I now have sitting before me, ready to be used to help those in need we encounter among us.
I love it when we can see people creatively, tangibly expressing their love and submission to Christ in ways like this. I thank God for my friend, and for the testimony her son is witnessing in his earliest years about what it means to love and serve God.