Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No Fear

The following quote by Nelson Mandela came from the current copy of Networking, the newsletter of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our light shine; we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Comment: Shrinking is not a Gospel value.

Update: This quote is not from Mandela, but Marianne Williamson. Read the comments for more.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Bigger Stewardship Picture

The season of fall brings to mind many things. School starts and all the attendant activities commence as well. Most churches begin a program year. It is also the beginning of the annual stewardship drive.

I suspect most of us consider the annual drive as a season that passes, like fall. For a few months, we hear stewardship presentations. We read letters crafted by the group spearheading the drive. Many of us take stock and make our pledge. Then, it is over until next year.

While the annual drive is an important and necessary element of stewardship, it is not all of it. I think of stewardship as a much more holistic approach to my life as a person of faith. For me, the pledge is a mark of commitment to the Church and God. It is my “Yes!” to God’s invitation to be an active participant in the Kingdom. The pledge has a sacramental quality; it is a tangible sign of God’s work in my life. The sign is important and necessary, but it points beyond itself to something more.

As Christians, we claim that God is the source of creation and the material world. As creatures, God entrusts us with the management of creation and our possessions. On a daily basis, we make personal decisions about allocating our attention and resources. Jesus’ ministry is one of calling us to direct our hearts and minds in God’s direction. Jesus inaugurates a new day of communion with God and one another. Stewardship is our daily investment and cooperation with Jesus’ ministry.

The annual drive is underway. Churches are asking for pledges and support in meeting Jesus’ Kingdom objectives. Stewardship doesn’t end with the signed pledge card.

God, thank you for what I have! God, where do you want me? God, how can I serve you in bringing about the Kingdom?

Monday, September 14, 2009

How We Pray

There is an ancient quote, and I will spare you the Latin, that indicates how we pray actually shapes what we believe. Initially, we might be somewhat resistant to this idea, but it is hard to deny that forms become deeply planted. The use of language, terms and overall structure shape our theology in incredibly profound ways. If doubt remains, consider the differences between the Eucharistic prayers from the various rites in the Book of Common Prayer. They represent different approaches to the same content; the different approaches leave us thinking and feeling differently as well.

As we consider the importance of how we pray, we might consider the collects of the Church and the shape they share. Most collects tend to have three movements: the opening address, the petition and the concluding doxology. Each movement is significant.

The opening address cites the person to whom the prayer is directed. It also does a bit more. The opening address, often, lists attributes or features of the person being addressed. When we refer to God as, “most holy, eternal or heavenly Father,” we are making theological points that inform our thoughts, feelings and hopes.

The petition is the substance of our request. It is what we are asking of God at a particular time. Specificity is important, not because God doesn’t know what we desire, but because prayer is also about conforming our will to the will of God. When we make a specific request, we are entering into an agreement to wrestle with God about the righteous quality of the request. Often in prayer, I discover my will needs to be redirected.

Finally, we close in praise of the Trinity or an individual member of the Trinity. This piece is more important than it might appear. Closing our prayers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit places our prayers within the life of the Church, past, present and future. It provides context for us and our prayers. The concluding doxology places us within that larger context of the Church and coming kingdom.

When you next pray alone or aloud, consider the components of the traditional collect. It is a formula that gives structure to our thoughts and beliefs. Hopefully, consideration could also reduce anxiety about praying aloud in groups.