Monthly Archives: September 2012

‘Tis the Season

No, not that one (although our local Hobby Lobby’s Christmas aisles were already in full effect in August).

If you’re involved in the leadership of a church or have attended church for more than a year or two, you know the season to which I am referring is “Pledge Campaign Season.” This year I’ve refused to call it “Stewardship Season.” My reasoning is simple: stewardship–that is, the care of the resources with which we’ve been entrusted–is a year-round responsibility. To set it aside four to six weeks a year as a “special season” doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. So let’s just call it what it is: a pledge campaign. Yes, we discuss sharing our time and talents–and we need these gifts every bit as much as we do money (in some cases even more so)–still, everyone knows the primary focus of most annual church pledge campaigns is money. And to me, that’s OK.

See, many church boards are tasked with, among other things, developing an operating budget. These teams are also tasked with the fund development necessary to finance that operating budget. Conducting a pledge campaign gives these teams an idea of how much of that funding will come from members and friends of their communities of faith, how much of that funding will come from other sources such as fundraisers and building use fees, and how much of our budget is “faith-based.” That is, while we don’t have funding for everything in our budget, we’re going to step out on faith and budget for as much of it as is reasonable; knowing that we may have to make adjustments along the way.

Yes, I know there are churches who focus on money way too much. I also know there are people who push the whole “God loves a cheerful giver” and “God will give a hundred times more to you when you give to God–just test God and see!” (didn’t Jesus say something about not testing the Lord your God in the New Testament?). I am not, however, focusing on those extreme–and yes, intellectually and spiritually insulting–instances in this post. I’m focusing on the everyday realities of what it means to be part of a community of faith.

For me, conducting an annual pledge campaign simply makes sense. It is part of what it means to be in community. If we want a community to be there for us, we do what we can to be there for the community–and that includes being there financially as we are able to do so. If we are supportive of the mission and vision of a particular community and want to help it live out that mission and vision, we support that community with our gifts of time and financial support as we are able to do so. For a first century example of living in community, just read Acts 2:42-47. Yes, I know our culture and times are different from those of the first century. Still, I think at least one message we can take from that passage is: mutual support in a community setting–it’s a good thing!

For me, supporting our communities of faith is not about securing God’s love and favor both in this life and the next life (concepts we cannot empirically prove, anyway). Nor is it about securing the favor of our pastors and other church leadership. It’s not even about paying the pastor’s salary (said the pastor with fear and trembling who is in the middle of his church’s annual pledge campaign). 🙂

In my opinion, supporting our communities of faith is primarily about losing our lives. And if you happen to be a Jesus fan, he taught that it is in losing our lives that we actually find ourselves–not heaven, not earthly rewards–we find ourselves. And it is when we find ourselves that we can begin again to move forward in ways that reflect the light, love and peace of our highest selves. Call it “the holy Spirit,” the “Divine Inner Light,” whatever you choose.

So whatever community you support, why not love, live and give on the edge–why not risk “losing your life” in service somehow. You just might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

Blessings on your journeys!

Agnostic Hell

I recently read Michael Krasny’s “Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic’s Quest.” In this book, Mr. Krasny traces his spiritual journey from believing in a God who watched over him to observing a personal code of ethics that respects all forms of belief and non-belief as long as they are not forced upon him. As far as God, heaven, hell, etc. go, Krasny correctly–in my opinion–holds the view that we simply cannot empirically prove nor disprove their existence. His book is well-written, well-reasoned and accessible. Mr. Krasny also does an excellent job of relating the positive and negative aspects of religion, agnosticism and atheism.

At the same time, I felt a certain sadness in the book. Mr. Krasny admits that he longs for “a God he can believe in,” and that he “simply wanted to have God in his heart.” Those statements make sense to me, too. That is, it seems a lot simpler to believe or not, right? It has to be difficult for people to live in limbo–neither completely buying into belief in God ala (insert the religion of your choice), nor completely writing off belief ala (insert the atheist organization of your choice).

Call it “Agnostic Hell.”

I will admit the feelings I’ve experienced during my spiritual journey have been quite disorienting at times. After all, I’ve gone from being a pre-teen Pentecostal who was most certain I was on the one correct path for all time–and too bad for the rest of you–to being a Unitarian Universalist who feels I am on the correct path for me–today. Don’t ask me about tomorrow; it’s not even 2:00 p.m. yet.

Now, there are things I carry with me from the faith of my youth: a sense of taking responsibility for my actions, saying I’m sorry (and meaning it) when I’m wrong, and standing for those values which I hold close to my heart. And for those things I am thankful to certain members of my family–both biological and church families.

What I don’t miss about the faith of my youth is the image of God looking down on me, watching my every move, and continuously either writing my name in the Book of Life (think “Guest List for Heaven”) or erasing it when I messed up (which was often). So if you think about it, while I was a firm believer in a certain image of God, I was still in a very personal “hell” of not knowing–not knowing whether or not I was good enough to make the final cut for a sweet afterlife.

The not-knowing I experience now is very different from the not-knowing of my youth. Most of the time it brings me a sense of peace and freedom, rather than fear or dread. Sure, I still wonder about things like the existence of God, the nature of Jesus, the existence of an afterlife and so on. At the same time, these issues are no longer my primary focus. I prefer to remember the past, live in the present and look forward to a future filled with light, life, love and peace.

To reach that future means learning from our past, both individually and collectively–taking the values and teachings of all faiths–and of no faiths-which point to a bright and peaceful future and then adjusting–yet not losing–those values completely to today’s realities. That is, we must learn to live in the present in ways that seek to establish a sustainable and peaceful future for this world, rather than try to figure out how fast we can escape this world–our reality–for a world which may–or may not–exist.

So what does God think of my comments? I don’t know. Will these comments prevent me from experiencing a blessed afterlife? I don’t know.

What I do know, however, is that by caring for one another, our planet, and ourselves we are following at least some of the teachings of the world’s great religions. And if at least part of the reason for those teachings is to encourage us to experience the Great Mystery many people call “God,” then I don’t think such a God would be too upset with me for voicing my opinions–as long as I backed them up with appropriate actions.

Can I be sure? Nope. Still, I think it’s worth a shot.

What about you?

Blessings on your journeys!