Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book 5 of 2012 -- Not Your Parents' Offering Plate

I picked this one up at a book display last year, read a bit in the summer but then got distracted.  Today I picked it up and read it (which shows that it is a fairly easy read). 

The subtitle is "A New Vision for Financial Stewardship".  My thought is that a better subtitle would be "HOw to Fund Raise in the Church". And that speaks to one of my main objections.  This is a how-to of fundraising, cometimes (but not always) couched in stewardship language.  There was no discussion of a theology of stewardship other than saying that a pastor has to have one.

There are many helpful things in those hints.  THere is much in this book that I can utilize (though much of it was a restatement of things I had read elsewhere).  THe book is well worth working with.  BUt it is also flawed.

In addition to the flaw mentioned above, I found myself vehemently disagreeing with Christopher's understanding of how the church actually operates.  The church he describes has not been the church of my experience.  Certainly we can learn from what other non-profit organizations.  But the church is NOT just another non-profit organization, no matter how many times he wants to intimate that we should act the same way.  And part of that is the role of the clergy.  I am not "in charge" or the CEO or the person best able to make the congregation's vision come to reality.  I have a dream for what this congregation could do.  I play a major role in helping them work out how they will live their vision.  But I have little actual authority or power (beyond being persuasive).  In fact in some  congregations the clergyperson has the least authority in these things.  Some of that may be due to the fact that there are radically different models and understandings of church polity between different denominations.

OTOH, I agree that the clergy should be acquainted with the giving patterns in the church -- but not nearly to the degree he suggests.  ANd his words about the clergy needing to be involved in preaching stewardship, in taking a lead role in addressing monetary questions in the church need to be required reading (or at least words like them) for all in ministry.

I also take issue with the claim, made repeatedly, that a person who does not give monetarily to teh church is spiritually sick, that the soul is jeopardy.  My objection to this goes along with the assumption that we can assess the giving capacity of an individual/family merely by looking at where they work or live.  We do not know, unless it is shared with us, what the real financial situation of anyone is.  We also do not know, unless it is shared with us, where else a person may be directing their giving.  At the beginning of the book Christopher does a wonderful job of explaining that churches need to do a much better job of re-learning how to convince people to give or else they will be convinced to give elsewhere.  The church does not "deserve" people's money.  SO to turn around and say that they are spritually sick when they give nothing (which they may literally not be able to afford, or they may give elsewhere out of a sense of mission, or they may give anonymously [yes that happens, in amounts big and small], or they may not feel they can give "enough" to make it worth while) seems contradictory.  THis is where a better explication of a stewardship theology would come in helpful--particularly a theology of stewardship that is far more inclusive than money raising.

But on the whole I would recommend this book.  THere is a lot to use here.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Book 4 of 2012 -- Still

A while back there was a post on this blog inviting members of the blogring to put their name in for a free copy of this book. And since a free book is always worthwhile...

I am glad I put my name in.  This is a hard book to describe.  It isn't a narrative.  It isn't an academic book or treatise.  It is a collection of "bits".  Yeah that seems to be the best description.  A collection of bits about working through what Winner calls a "mid-faith crisis".

I am not sure what it was about this book that grabbed me so strongly.  I think it is because I know what it feels like to live in the "middle".  Near the end there was a piece about the middle tints, the colours that are neither really bright or really dark but which make up the majority of the picture.  Winner suggests that thisis where life is lived.  I would tend to agree.

If you get a chance take a look at this book.  Not something I would say "you should really read this!" but something that I think many people might resonate with.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Biblical Assumptions....

We all make them.  And they can cause "issues".  As is proven quite regularly in this forum (most recently for me in a debate about whether there are 2 separate Creation stories or not).

Do we assume that the words we read in Scripture are direct from God or another person's (people's) account of their experience of God?
Do we assume that we are interpreting as we read?  Do we assume that our interpretation is the only way to see the passage?
Do we assume that everyone has the same assumptions about the nature, history, and content of Scripture that we have?  Or at least that they know what our assumptions are?
Are we willing to be open to the assumptions others make as we attempt to see where they are coming from? (whether we agree or not)
Do we read the passage for itself or do we carry understandings from other experience of Scripture with us?

And perhaps most we ourselves know what our assumptions are?  Can we explicate them to others in the interests of clear communication?

A memory surfaces that deals directly with assumptions we bring to the reading of Scripture.  And how those can radically change what we see.

In my first year introductory course on the Christian Scriptures we had a mix of students.  Some of us (maybe 2/3 of the class, likely closer to 1/2) were seminary students from the United Church and Anglican colleges.  The rest were Religious Studies students from the University--some of whom, it became obvious as time went on, had little or no background experience with Scripture.  The task in the first class, once we went through the syllabus and the list of required texts etc, was to read and discuss the letter to Philemon (a good choice because it is so brief).  There was an extra limit though.  We were to read and discuss as if this was the ONLY piece of Scripture we had ever seen.

That was a challenge.  It is harder than you would expect to forget everything you "know" about the story(ies)  of Scripture, about the background from which Paul is writing.  One person in the class, who honestly had no background but was very eager to learn, took the "brother" language as referring to actual blood relatives and the "slavery" language as purely metaphorical.  And in fact you can make sense of the letter with that reading.  It was a great way to begin the course because it showed us how much we assume we "know".  The next realization was that some of that needed to be unlearned, or at least challenged as the course progressed.

We all make assumptions.  But we are often better at naming the assumptions we see others making than the ones we make.  ANd that can get in the way of open and clear discussion.  Refusing to
acknowledge that there is more than one valid approach to Scripture also get in the way of that discussion -- and people on all sides of the Christian spectrum can be guilty of that.

Some of the assumptions I bring to Scripture are:
  • it is impossible to read Scripture without interpretation, none of us simply takes the words of Scripture as they are and applies their plain meaning (all the more so since we are reading translations and every translation includes interpretative choices)
  • there are things we can learn from historical, source, redaction and literary criticism/analysis of the Scriptures--even (or perhaps especially) if that analysis causes us to rethink how Scripture came to be in the shape we now have it
  • Scripture does not tell one story, or one version of the same story.  It sometimes contradicts itself, it sometimes offers mutiple versions of history (even in the same book), it sometimes offers theological visions that appear mutually incompatible (the passage in Ezra where foreign wives are to be put aside in the name of cultural purity and the genocidal passage in Joshua vs a book like Ruth or Jonah which are openly welcoming of foreigners being part of GOd's community.)
  • there is no one proper interpretation of any passage.
  • what we see in Scripture is shaped by our background:  what have we been taught before, how widely have we read within Scripture, what life experiences do we bring, what are our political opinions, how do we understand God, how do we understand human nature, what is our understanding of this collection of books we are reading
Those are some of my assumptions.  On specific passages there will be specific assumptions.

What are some of the assumptions you bring to Scripture?