Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cutting costs at church

At "Dear Lucy" a blog at the Financial Times, a manager writes that he's been getting grief for cutting coffee and biscuits, or was it tea. Some of the comments weren't sympathetic, saying it would make little difference. Our church earlier this year stopped offering donut holes at the coffee urn on Sunday morning. Maybe it's a rumor, but I heard the savings was $17,000 a year (we have 3 locations, 9 services, and lots of children whose parents don't keep an eye on the cups they fill up with donut holes). There was always a little collection plate for suggested donations, but apparently some didn't use it. Then I heard they also changed coffee brands, and saved another bundle. Then the huge shock came that affected our ministry (visual arts), but probably not a lot of others: they decided to go to a four day week, 10 hour day, and close the buildings on Friday and Saturday. Again--rumors, but I heard that's a savings of $50,000 just on utilities. These cuts have probably saved some jobs and/or programs. Maybe those Brits at FT just hadn't looked at food costs recently.

The real problem for church budgets, not only at our church, but your church, is the 80/20 problem--20% are giving 86.4% of the total donations to the church. Church Ethos, a blog, debates whether a tithe is commanded for NT Christians, but notes
    "if only the “committed” Christians (as defined in the research) would give 10% of their income there would be an extra $46 billion dollars a year for kingdom work in the American church alone. Again, regardless of whether or not you think people should tithe or that the church will actually be faithful to spend that money wisely…just think what that kind of money could do. A few examples given in the research reveals what that much more money could provide: food, clothing and shelter for ALL 6.5 million current refugees in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East or enough resources to sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide."
Or enough for donut holes and coffee at UALC, to keep the buildings open and enough to run our human service programs without government grants.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gift suggestion for an artistic friend

Lilias Trotter was a student and friend of John Ruskin in the 19th century, but she gave up fame and a sure career as an artist among his circle of disciples to become a missionary among Arabs in north Africa. But she never forgot the pull of her art, and continued to draw and sketch along with writing devotionals and travel diaries. Her small, hand size books beautifully illustrated were quite popular for over 30 years, then as missionaries and vision statements changed, she sort of dropped out of view. I discovered her this year in a recently issued book "A blossom in the desert," compiled and edited by Miriam Huffman Rockness (Discovery House Publishers, 2007). The author's preface of how she first became the recipient of Trotter's little devotionals and then tracked down her paintings and original manuscripts is a story worth a book in itself--at least a librarian might think so.

Fortunately for those of us with limited funds--or attention spans--the Gutenberg project has scanned one (or maybe more, I haven't looked much farther) so you can see her beautiful, delicate watercolors and read her words, Parables of the Cross.

Look at the beauty and message she finds in a humble dandelion:
    "This dandelion has long ago surrendered its golden petals, and has reached its crowning stage of dying--the delicate seed-globe must break up now--it gives and gives till it has nothing left.

    What a revolution would come over the world--the world of starving bodies at home--the world of starving souls abroad, if something like this were the standard of giving; if God's people ventured on "making themselves poor" as Jesus did, for the sake of the need around; if the "I"--"me"--"mine" were practically delivered up, no longer to be recognised when they clash with those needs.

    The hour of this new dying is clearly defined to the dandelion globe: it is marked by detachment. There is no sense of wrenching: it stands ready, holding up its little life, not knowing when or where or how the wind that bloweth where it listeth may carry it away. It holds itself no longer for its own keeping, only as something to be given: a breath does the rest, turning the "readiness to will" into the "performance." (2 Cor. 8. 11.) And to a soul that through "deaths oft" has been brought to this point, even acts that look as if they must involve an effort, become something natural, spontaneous, full of a "heavenly involuntariness," so simply are they the outcome of the indwelling love of Christ."
Trotter certainly offered up her own life for God, leaving family, friends and fortune to settle in Algiers not knowing a word of Arabic, and the next forty years established 13 missions, called the Algiers Mission Band. According to her biographer, "she pioneered means, methods and materials to reach the Arab people [now] considered to have been a hundred years ahead of her time."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A sermon on preparing to die

Martin Luther wrote some very practical material. This might be a good one to read while listening to Henry Paulson and other government officials try to explain all the bailouts that will ruin us while watching the stock market struggle. Luther actually makes 20 distinct points, but only the first three matter, because 4-20 really expands on three.

Unlike a lot of his material where he begins with the Gospel, then moves to every day life and relationships, in this advice he reverses the order. He first suggests you get all your worldly affairs in order so that in the event of your death, "there won't be occasion for squabbles, quarrels or other misunderstanding" among the survivors. "Second, we must cheerfully and sincerely forgive, for God's sake, all men who have offended us" and seek the forgiveness of others we have offended. Then the third thing is "we must turn our eyes to God, to whom the path of death leads and directs us." Here he makes the interesting comparison between the passage "from the small abode of the mother's womb into this immense heaven and earth, that is, into this world." So when we depart this life, which seemed so big after the womb, we pass through another narrow gate into a large mansion and joy will follow.

Points four through twenty expand on grace and the believers relationship with Christ, particularly in the sacraments.

Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings, ed. by Timothy F. Lull, (Fortress, 1989), Ch. 28, p. 638

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The coming threat to religious liberties

". . . in a society that redefines marriage to include same–sex unions, those who continue to believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman can expect to face three types of burdens.

First, institutions that support the traditional understanding of marriage may be denied access to several types of government benefits, and individ­uals who work in the public sector may face cen­sorship, disciplinary action, and even loss of employment.

Second, those who support the traditional understanding of marriage will be subject to even greater civil liability under nondiscrimination laws that prohibit private discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status, and gender.

Third, the existence of nondiscrimination laws, combined with state administrative policies, can invite private forms of discrimination against religious individuals who believe that marriage involves a man and a woman and foster a climate of contempt for the public expression of their views."

Same–Sex Marriage and the Threat to Religious Liberty by Thomas M. Messner

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Speaking of clarity, what does this say?

“Over the years, from many struggles, triumphs, and mistakes we began to articulate how that vision of love gets fleshed out, and the things that hold us together. A statement of faith (“our commitments”) and a statement of practice (“Foundation”) and a list of house rules (“Functionality”) were created to put words to the things we share in common, and to make room to celebrate the things we don’t. These documents are sort of the DNA or charism of the community. Community structures such as “the Onion”, defining the various layers of commitment and responsibility within the community life, were created to help people grow into the intentional community and reproduce the spirit of its founders.“

I spent a lot of time at this web site and its links, and was still mystified after about 45 minutes, so I gave up trying to guess what they were and why. It looked to me about the same as what we do at Hilltop, the food pantry, the Clothes Closet, mentoring, etc., but I wasn't sure.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Where is Martin Luther when you need him?

Pastor Eric Waters mentioned Thursday night that it was 491 years since Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door (October 31, 1517). No modern Christian has the clarity and common sense of Martin Luther--there doesn't seem to be anyone close in the ELCA. I've been reading through the Sept. 30 Council Minutes of our church and see that IF the ELCA decides to ordain gay and lesbian pastors and bless unions of gay and lesbian couples when it meets August 2009, our pastor will lead us away from the ELCA. That sounds pretty vague, especially since everyone knows if it isn't August 2009 it will be 2010 or 2012, but they aren't going to quit, give up or go away. I analyzed the last document at this blog and the language was just bizarre. Imagine writing about biblical sexuality and never mentioning "husband and wife" or "mother and father" with only one reference to a married man and woman. Where in the world do they find writers like that? Obfuscation. Reinvention. Goobledegook. Nonsense.

There are enough of these movements in Christendom among the Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc., that they could all pull out of their respective denominations and form their own church based on their sexual orientation first, their own concept of family second, and the word of God a distant third. Why, they could form a denomination of at least several thousand and leave the other millions of Christians to obey God! Why are we even messing around with this? If they aren't going to leave the Christian church, then we should leave them. I think UALC has been fiddling with this issue at least eight years. Come on guys, LEAD US OUT!