|Intention To Give|
|Have you misplaced your Intention to Give Card? Don't worry! Just click on Intention to Give Card and print one at home. Fill it in with your Intention to Give for the upcoming 2013-2014 fiscal year and return it to the church. We do not have the capability for you to submit your pledge electronically, but we'd love to see you at worship, so bring your completed pledge card when you come on Sunday! (Or mail it to the church office in care of Roberta. That will work fine, too!) Thank you!|
|FCC - It's A Wonderful Church|
|We are a generous church. We are generous with our time by volunteering for many tasks, we are generous with our talent, and we are generous with our financial support. |
Christmas time is really my favorite time of year. One of my favorite Christmas time activities now is sitting back for 2 hours and watching It's a Wonderful Life. As probably most of you know, it's a movie about the life of George Bailey who is played by Jimmy Stewart. We get to watch him grow up and we see how selfless George is and how he puts everyone else's needs before his own. Later in life on a Christmas Eve, George is in a desperate situation and wishes that he was never born. His guardian angel named Clarence, grants him that wish. They then get to see the town and his friends and family as they would be if George never existed. It's really a nice story because it shows what a positive impact George made in the community and even the world.
This past Christmastime, through tears, I had an Ah Ha moment. As I was thinking about George's impact on the world, I also thought about what a difference FCC has made in my life and what the impact that FCC has had on our community and world. How would our lives be different if FCC didn't exist? What difference does one church make? What services or missions does FCC provide that would be missed if it weren't here? I am here to tell you that FCC does make a difference in our community and in the world. Because of our generosity, we are changing people's lives.
I know that when I leave Church on Sundays I usually feel pretty fulfilled with the spiritual message that we receive from Budd and Arn and Dave. And I am uplifted by the music that Ann and the choirs provide. In December I asked Toni if the bell choir could play Carol of The Bells for us as I love that arrangement. She politely told me No, and then they blew me away with Hark the Herald Angels Sing. In November, we were moved by the Cantata performance of The Calico Angel. These kinds of things really are the magic that this church makes by our giving.
I'm also a Stephen Minister. I tell Arn and Sharon and Ann all the time what a difference Stephen Ministry has made in my life. I know that the 50 hours of training that we all go through has made me a better husband, father, friend and co-worker. Arn and Linda McCutcheon started Stephen Ministry here in 1994. Since that time, there have been 6 Stephen Leaders and 66 Stephen Ministers. We have served over 300 Care Receivers. Some of the CR are members of the church and some are referred to us from outside the church. Hopefully, we are helping our church family and community members cope with whatever it is that is troubling them. Again, this wouldn't be possible without all of your support.
I think of the work tours and their impact on our broader community. I know that each year, FCC members volunteer and usually travel to a more depressed community than Crystal Lake and help people and families with some of the more basic needs like fixing a leaking roof or getting them a working kitchen. The same goes for the dedication to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Again, these things don't happen without our support.
Both of my daughters have been on PF work tours and those have made a big impact on their lives. They both felt good about being able to do something for somebody simply because they could. I think they also gained some appreciation for how fortunate we are as compared to some others. Both of them want to get into the helping professions and maybe part of that is because they had the work tour experience and they got a lot of enjoyment out of helping others. Again, this may not happen without all of our support.
4 years ago, one of my daughter Kristen's very good friends was in a horrific car accident. We watched while the jaws-of-life cut the car that she was trapped in. I personally will never forget that Saturday night in April. The following day, Sunday, Kristen couldn't wait to get to PF to be with her support group. Again, FCC was there.
Scott Hagadorn told us in December that we have sent over $3000 through the outreach committee to support the relief effort for Hurricane Sandy. He also said that 15 volunteers helped put together cleaning buckets and ship them to the East Coast. Again we are a generous church.
Hopefully you have been thinking about other missions and projects that you have worked on at FCC that make our church better, our community better, and our world a better place. I know that we have a great church that does great things and they only happen because we are generous with our time, our talents, and our financial resources.
I'm going to wrap up with a comment that Clarence, the guardian angel made to George. He told George, "It's strange, isn't it. Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole."
FCC, It's a wonderful church. We are changing Lives.
|It may cost $22, but I think the view from the Empire State Building's observation deck is worth it! My son and I made a quick visit to New York City this spring, and on a sparkling March morning we gazed out across Manhattan. I particularly like the view to the south, with the forest of skyscrapers spread across Lower Manhattan. We could pick out One World Trade Center, under construction at the new World Trade Center site. When completed, it will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at a symbolic height of 1776 feet. Beyond the skyscrapers, way out in the Hudson River stands the Statue of Liberty. Unless you're 86 stories in the air, it's easy to forget how wide the river is, how much water surrounds Manhattan, easy to forget that Manhattan is....an island!|
And then I remembered "Boatlift". Narrated by Tom Hanks, this 12-minute documentary produced and directed by Eddie Rosenstein tells the story of the sea evacuation of Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. In an incredibly moving series of interviews with boat captains and crewmembers, we learn how a half million people were safely evacuated in just nine hours. It is a story of courage and compassion in the midst of death, destruction, and the unknown.
But it is also a story of stewardship.
The evacuation was not planned. It just happened. It happened because individuals with boats at their disposal looked on from the water or from the New Jersey shore as Manhattan burned and said, "I must do something." One by one, captains sailed their boats--ferries, tugboats, private boats, party boats--to the seawalls at the tip of the island. They loaded as many people as they could carry, sailed away, and came back for more. The Coast Guard realized what was happening, and made a call to all available and willing ships. Hundreds responded. As one man said in the documentary, "There was no training. It was people doing what they were supposed to do." Another said, "It was the greatest thing I ever did in my life."
I am moved to tears by the bravery and humanity of these extraordinary people, but mostly I am moved by their gifts, freely given. They did not serve others out of compulsion. They did not meet their quota and then sail home. They did not withhold their offering to make a point. They gave what they had of their own free will.
And it was the greatest thing they could do with their lives.
Jennifer P. Streit
June 6, 2012
"Boatlift" can be viewed on YouTube.
|Stewardship of the Unanticipated|
|Doug Holck suggested that because today is Pentecost I should speak in tongues. Anything is possible, but in case that doesn't happen, I'll do the next closest thing: I'll speak about baseball. This past week I watched my final baseball game after seventeen consecutive seasons. As many of you know, my three sons played baseball. At the peak, when they were all playing at the same time, the Streit boys logged about 250 games in one year. It's been a lot of baseball. I have spent an unbelievable amount of time watching baseball games.|
The thing is, I never saw this coming. In my own youth I didn't have any interest in sports in general, nor baseball in particular. When I was little, I spent hours playing with my dolls. I did art projects, and took music lessons, and read books. If I looked toward the future, and thought of raising my own children, I envisioned doing craft projects with them, and helping them plant flowers, bake cupcakes, and do science projects. Believe me, it did not occur to me--not once--that baseball would consume 17 of my springs and summers!
But, I stand here today mildly transformed. I know what a dropped third strike is. I know you mark a backwards "K" in the scorebook when the batter strikes out looking. I can explain the suicide squeeze and the infield fly rule, and I even understand the theory behind a balk, although I cannot reliably identify it in the field. (You see, I told you baseball is a lot like speaking in tongues!)
But what is my point? I believe that sometimes we are called to care for and nurture--steward--the unanticipated. Sometimes we are responsible for things we don't completely understand. We get called to take care of something or someone, and only later realize that we didn't know all that was involved. Sometimes, we don't even like or agree with parts of the very thing we're supposed to be caring for! We sign up and commit on the front end--often with enthusiasm--and later realize, "Oh my goodness! Are you kidding me? This is going to involve what?"
We have all committed to FCC. Did we choose the church, or did FCC choose us? Sometimes I wonder. FCC has been a living presence in this community for nearly 175 years. We have been called to be its stewards for this little slice of time. FCC has rolled through the decades with the momentum of its ministry, but as its current stewards, we determine FCC's future path, momentum, and ministry.
The new fiscal year begins in a few days. Only about half of our membership has pledged their financial support for next year. The Stewardship Ministry always wonders why half our members don't believe they need to support the church with a financial pledge. We find this absolutely baffling. We have all committed to membership, and even if there are things about FCC that we didn't expect, or don't understand, or didn't see coming, we still--each and every member--have the responsibility to support this church.
Last week our Treasurer, Brian Markison, shared numbers with you. At the annual meeting in two weeks, we can all analyze more numbers, to our heart's content. Today I want to emphasize the ideal--the ideal that our members uphold their promise to the church--the promise to care for FCC during this particular slice of time. If you have not turned in a pledge, please do so.
Maybe you didn't see it coming. Maybe it's not what you expected. But you get to determine if we're in the bottom of the ninth, or if there are many innings left to play.
Jennifer P. Streit
May 27, 2012
|Just Start Typing!|
|In the movie, "Finding Forrester", an American teenager, Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), with a lot of street smarts and basketball skills, befriends a reclusive writer, William Forrester (Sean Connery). In utmost secrecy, William prods and goads Jamal as he unleashes his considerable writing skills. There is a scene, early in their relationship, where Jamal is suffering from writer's block. Forrester sits Jamal in front of his manual typewriter, threads a piece of paper into the roller, and shouts, "Just start typing! Punch the keys, for heaven's sake!"|
I think of that scene whenever I'm stuck. Inertia is tough to overcome. But why am I writing about inertia when this year's stewardship theme is "momentum"?
For all the momentum of our ministries, we have an inertia issue at FCC, as well. As of this writing, only one third of our members have pledged their financial support to the church for next fiscal year. How will the remaining two thirds of our members overcome their inertia?
I believe that the best anecdote for inertia comes from within. Like Forrester, the Stewardship Ministry can goad, cajole, wheedle and persuade. But ultimately, each and every member of FCC must "just start pledging! Fill in the card, for heaven's sake!" Or, to quote Nike, "Just Do It!"
Does pledging and supporting the church satisfy a personal need? Is there some intrinsic reward or fulfillment to be gained by pledging? In the movie, Jamal gains the satisfaction that comes from producing something of value (his written work). In Nike's world of sports, "just doing it" brings the fulfillment that comes from taking on a challenge and overcoming the obstacles to beat a personal best. What is to be personally gained by pledging and supporting the church?
When we respond to God's call to be generous with the blessings we have received from God, we know we are honoring our commitment to Christ. Maybe that seems too esoteric. On a more practical level, we know that with the privilege of church membership comes the responsibility of church support. We know in our hearts it is not right to let others contribute, while we merely take. There is dignity in the act of giving.
To all the members who have turned in their pledge card, thank you for accepting your portion of the responsibility to support the church. For those who have not yet pledged, "just fill it out and turn it in." You will find that once you overcome your inertia, your momentum will carry you forward in generosity!
Jennifer P. Streit
March 7, 2012
|The Trust Fund|
|Several months ago I received a mass-mailing postcard from a charitable foundation, and instead of tossing it into the recycle bin, I kept it. It has been nudging me ever since.|
The postcard subject was "The Eight Levels of Tzedakah". I had never heard the word tzedakah before, and I certainly hadn't considered that there might be eight layers of it! Curious, I did a little research.
Tzedakah means literally "righteousness" in Hebrew, but in the Bible tzedakah refers to justice, kindness, and ethical behavior. In post-Biblical Hebrew, tzedakah refers to charity.
Jewish law and tradition require that one give to those in need. In fact, it is unjust and against the law to refuse to give to charity. For that reason, charity toward others is viewed as an obligatory self-taxation rather than a voluntary donation. Sharing and helping others isn't optional.
During the Middle Ages, philosopher and physician Moses Maimonides lived, worked, and studied in Spain, Morocco and Egypt. He was one of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, and a prolific author. One of his major works is a huge code of Jewish law, the "Mishnah Torah". Within this code, Maimonides dissected charity or righteousness into eight levels. Accordingly, some types of charity or righteousness--whether obligatory or voluntary--are more honorable than others. From least honorable to most honorable:
8. Donations are given grudgingly.
7. Donations are given cheerfully, but in an amount less than is right.
6. Donations are given directly to the poor upon being asked.
5. Donations are given directly to the poor before being asked, in anticipation of their need.
4. The recipient knows the identity of the donor, but the donor does not know the identity of the recipient.
3. The donor knows the identity of the recipient, but the recipient does not know the source of the donation.
2. The donor and the recipient are both unknown to each other.
1. The donor sustains a person before he becomes impoverished or dependent on others, by extending a loan, or entering into a business partnership, or helping him find employment.
I could probably write eight separate articles expanding on each step of this Charity Ladder, and I do think it's an extremely thought-provoking stratification. However, I want to focus on something else that I came across while researching the Eight Levels of Tzedakah. On the web site "Judaism.About.Com" Rabbi Shraga Simmons writes: The Almighty provides everyone with income, but it comes conditionally: Ten percent is a trust fund that you're personally responsible to disperse. God is expecting you to spend His money wisely.
Think of that! A trust fund--given to me by God--and God is expecting me to manage and disperse that money wisely. Talk about a responsibility. Oh my goodness! That ten percent isn't mine. I'm just the trustee. The donor--God--wants that chunk of "my" income to benefit somebody else. The poor, the downtrodden, the sick and illiterate are the beneficiaries. Dare I even think that there might be an audit? Could I justify my expenses, investments, and dispersions from that trust fund? Do I apply skill, energy, and cleverness to make possible God's desires?
If the idea that God has given each of us a trust fund to manage for the benefit of the world's needy isn't enough to make us sit up and take notice, consider that this role of trustee isn't optional. It is required. It is the right thing to do. It is righteous.
Now...take a deep breath before I toss one more thought your way. All of the above--the idea of tzedakah, and charity having different levels of merit, and a 10% trust fund from God--is based on Jewish law. Jesus takes the concept further and pushes it to the limit. Jesus tells us that 100% of our lives are a trust from God. Not just 10%, but all of it.
That is certainly worth giving some serious consideration.
Jennifer P. Streit
April 17, 2011
|Did you see the news brief about Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's speech March 3rd at Wheaton College? Mayor Daley, freed from the constraints of re-election realities, was remarkably candid when asked a question about how to restore America. "We have become a country of whiners...." He went on to say that a few decades ago we whined about the Japanese overwhelming our economic power. A few years later we started whining about Mexico and all the jobs moving south across the border. Now we're whining about the Chinese and the Indians. He then summed it up: "We should have enough confidence that we can compete if we all sacrifice a little bit for the common good."|
I laughed when I first read the article. Not that Mayor Daley is noted for his restraint, but I felt for the guy--finally free to just tell it like he saw it. Quit whining!
Economics, foreign competition, debt, profit, tariffs...those are subjects for another venue. I keep coming back to the idea of whining, followed by the idea of sacrificing a little bit for the common good.
Do we justify our lack of financial support or our unwillingness to volunteer time by whining about something we don't like at FCC?
I like this Stewardship Prayer from the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, California.
My church is composed of people like me.
I help make it what it is.
It will be friendly, if I am.
It will be holy, if I am.
Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them.
It will do great work, if I work.
It will be prayerful, if I pray.
It will make generous gifts to many causes, if I am a generous giver.
It will bring others into its worship, if I invite and bring them.
It will be a church of loyalty and love, of fearlessness and faith, of compassion, charity, and mercy, if I, who make it what it is, am filled with these same things.
Therefore, with the help of God, I now dedicate myself to the task of being all the things that I want my church to be.
Quit whining! Be the change you want at FCC!
Jennifer P. Streit
April 7, 2011
|Give God What's Right--Not What's Left|
|I can't take credit for the clever title; I saw it on a church marquee right here in McHenry County. It reminded me of my third Stewardship lesson for our Confirmation class.|
The article below--"How Valuable Is It?"--discusses the first two lessons for the Confirmation class. The third lesson was inspired, in part, by a sermon given by Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. Mr. Stanley's sermon argued that our personal finances should be managed in a very specific order: 1. Give 2. Save 3. Live off the rest
When I teach the Confirmation lesson, I fan out ten $1 bills. I ask the 8th graders to imagine that they have these bills in their pocket on a Saturday evening, and they are going to the movies. They pay for their $8 ticket, buy their $2 popcorn, and enjoy the show. The next morning at church, they have no money to put into the offering plate.
Once again I fan out the ten $1 bills. I ask them to imagine that it is Saturday afternoon, this is the money they have earned during the week, and they plan to go to the movies with their friends that evening. Before they leave the house, they peel off one $1 bill and set it aside for church the next morning. They go to the movies, pay for their $8 ticket, but can only afford a $1 small drink. Still, the movie is pretty good, and they didn't really need the popcorn anyway. The next morning at church, they put $1 in the offering plate.
Because they think ahead, and consider their Giving as a greater priority than any other use for their money, the money is available on Sunday as a tithe for church. They don't spend it on popcorn, because they set it aside ahead of time for a greater use.
Before I fan out the ten $1 bills a third time, I ask them to consider some big expenses they will face in just a few short years. Are they planning to go to college? Will they want to own a car? Where will the money come from for these very important things? Unless they plan ahead, and set aside some money each week for the next few years, they won't have any money to pay tuition, or buy books, or buy a car, or pay for car insurance.
We repeat the thought experiment. It's Saturday afternoon, they have $10, and they want to go to the movies that night with their friends. I peel off $1, and set it aside for church the next morning. I peel off a second dollar, and set it aside for the college or car savings account. With $8 remaining, they can buy a ticket to the movie, but they can't buy any popcorn or even a drink. But is church more important than popcorn? Is a future college education or a car to drive to work more important than a soda? Self-discipline, delayed gratification, and a spiritual practice of tithing require practice, but they're the right thing to do.
This simple visualization has applications for us all. The median household income for our zip code is $69,000. Do we "peel off" $6000 each year and Give to the church and charity? Do we "peel off" another $6000 each year and Save for future needs? Do we Live Off the Rest?
We can quibble about the amounts and the percentages, and argue about pre-tax and post-tax income, and nit-pick over the definition of charitable giving. This concept isn't really about the math; it's about a mindset. Do we give to God, off the top, an amount that is right? Or do we give to God what is left over?
Jennifer P. Streit
April 2, 2011
|The news reports during the first week in March about the live sex demonstration at Northwestern University felt surreal to me. If you somehow missed it, the demonstration was held in late February as part of an optional after-class presentation for a psychology course on human sexuality. If you Google it, you'll find no shortage of articles and opinions about academic freedom, consenting adults, morality, and tuition rates, among other associated topics. I do have opinions about all those issues, in conjunction with the live sex act demonstration, but I keep circling back to opportunity cost.|
Because those 100 students--and remember, these are Northwestern students, so they are presumably among our best and brightest--were attending the demonstration, they weren't doing something else.
They weren't reading Shakespeare.
They weren't trying to comprehend particle physics.
They weren't doing molecular biology lab work.
They weren't tutoring an underprivileged student from Evanston's public schools.
They weren't learning Arabic.
They weren't studying the Bible, or praying, or serving at a soup kitchen.
There are so many mysteries of the universe to be solved, foreign policies to be determined, medical cures to be discovered, illiteracy rates to be reduced, and technology to be invented. But accomplishing even tiny segments of those broader objectives takes intelligence, hard work, persistence--and time.
Time. The most precious gift of all. I would argue that those Northwestern students were not particularly good stewards of their time. It is finite, after all. The incident does prompt me to reconsider again whether I am a good steward of my own time, however.
In Philippians 4:8 Paul writes: ...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Although Paul isn't talking about how we spend our time in this passage, it has always been a "stewardship" passage for me. Whether thoughts, or money, or time, this passage reminds me that I have a choice. And what I choose indicates what I value. What I choose to spend time on does have consequences for me and for others. What doesn't get done because I didn't do it? What problem still exists because I didn't spend time trying to solve it? What person is still lonely because I didn't take the time to visit? What hurt still festers because I didn't make time to address it?
The pundits can debate the Northwestern demonstration endlessly, but I do believe one point is not debatable. Because those students were attending the demonstration, they were not doing something else. Absolutely everything we do has an opportunity cost. Am I spending my minutes wisely? Am I being a good steward of the finite time allotted to me? My to-do list reflects what I value. Do I need a new to-do list?
Jennifer P. Streit
March 10, 2011
|How Valuable Is It?|
|For the past three years I've presented a series of short lessons to the Confirmation Class about stewardship. Designing the lessons for 8th graders forced me to distill concepts such as tithing, giving and philanthropy into something more tangible. I'd like to share the results with you.|
I begin by asking the Confirmands what they spend their money on. Starbucks, junk food, movies, iTunes, clothes, and games...the list has been pretty consistent each year. Then I ask where they get the money for these things. Some ask their parents for money each time they want something. Others get allowances. Still others have jobs. Then we talk about intentionality. Do they plan ahead? Save for purchases? Do they ever decide that something isn't worth the cost? Or can they always get money for anything and everything they want? Most claim they get as much money as they need or want from their parents. Budgeting seems to be a foreign concept to almost all of the teens.
I leave the topic of spending money and, without any transition, I ask how they spend their time when they're not in school. The predominant themes are hanging out with friends, sports, Facebook, music lessons and ensembles, computer games, Scouting and homework. We talk about how many hours each week they spend on these activities. Most are shocked when they realize how many hours they're spending on sports, in particular. I ask if they're intentional about how they use their time. Do they think ahead? Do they realize how many hours they put into various endeavors?
This leads us nicely into the real point of the first lesson: The way we spend our money and the way we spend our time reflects our values. What we spend money on and what we spend time doing tells us and others what we think is important. Given that reality, I ask them to consider how much money they put in the offering plate each Sunday. I ask them how much time they spend at church. I ask them to compare what they're putting in the offering plate with what they're spending on movies and iTunes. What does it say about what they value? How do the hours they spend at church--whether in worship, Confirmation, choir, JF--stack up against the hours they spend doing other things? Do those hours accurately reflect their values?
My second lesson give the Confirmands a chance to think about various models for paying for goods and services. I have them describe the iTunes process: pay for a product; receive that product. We discuss why it's illegal to not pay for recorded music, and we discuss what would happen if people shared music without paying for it.
Next we discuss the YMCA or Lifetime or Healthbridge model. The majority of the teens' families belong to some sort of fitness center, so they understand the concept of a membership fee. We discuss why membership fees are necessary, and why people can't just walk in and use a facility without paying for it.
The third example is the fire department. I ask if any of the Confirmands' families have ever needed to actually use the fire department. The large majority of them, of course, have not. Since hardly anyone ever actually uses a fire department, I ask them if it's worth having one. Yes. Do they know how it's paid for? Most do realize that taxes pay for the fire department. I ask why we can't just pay for the fire department if we happen to need it. That usually generates some interesting observations.
Then I bring up FCC. I have them brainstorm the things we spend money on at FCC. We list staff salaries, electricity, hymnals, cleaning supplies, insurance, computers, candles, and interest payments to the bank. Then I ask them how we pay for all that stuff. Is it like the iTunes model? If we want to talk to Rev. Dave, do we pay him for his time? If we want to sing out of the hymnal, do we drop a quarter in the pew rack? Maybe we pay for FCC like Healthbridge or the YMCA. Is there a membership fee? Or maybe it's like the fire department; maybe to belong to FCC and participate a family is required by law to pay for the privilege.
Some of them have no idea how we pay for things at FCC, but some of them realize the FCC model isn't like any of the previously discussed models. We talk about voluntary giving. We discuss what happens if enough money isn't given voluntarily. Just as the fire department could not exist without revenue, just as Lifetime Fitness would close its doors without revenue, just as the music recording industry would fail without revenue, FCC cannot exist unless members voluntarily give it money.
And we circle back to the idea of value. How valuable is FCC to each of them? What does their gift of time and money to FCC indicate about the importance FCC has in their lives? If most people don't consider FCC valuable enough to contribute money and time, what will happen to FCC?
Jennifer P. Streit
March 2, 2011
|The Slide Show|
|Do you remember the days when family pictures were saved as slides? The slides fit into round carousels which, in turn, fit into the slide projector. My father was meticulous about labeling the slides themselves, and dating the boxes that stored the carousels. We had stacks upon stacks of those cream colored boxes in a particular closet of my home when I was growing up. |
Every now and then (maybe if my grandparents were visiting or it was someone's birthday) my dad would ask, "Do we want to watch slides tonight?" He'd set up the slide projector on the table at the end of the living room, set up the screen at the other end of the living room, and we'd pull the drapes to further darken the room. Then he'd turn on the projector. Vacations, or baby pictures, or family reunions would light up the room. I can still hear the whir of the of the projector fan, smell the dry smell of the screen, feel the warmth of us all reliving whatever Dad was showing that night. There was "love shared among us". We'd laugh and reminisce and marvel again at a scene from the past.
The digital age has certainly changed photography. There is no need for a closet devoted to boxes of slide carousels. Photos can be sent to a friend on the other side of the world in a second. The imperfect shot can be made perfect with a few clicks of a mouse--just photo-shop out that "mistake". I think it's all a great improvement.
But I am nostalgic for the nights when we gathered to watch slides. Could we do it now, connecting the laptop to the T.V.? Yes. Do we? No. Each one of us can look at all the photos we want, whenever we want, without gathering the family. But the gathering was nice. There was something about sharing the experience--driven, certainly, by the lack of any easier way to view pictures--that enhanced the experience. We weren't just sharing pictures, we were sharing the experience of viewing pictures.
So it is with church, and worship services at FCC. Is it possible to worship God alone? Of course. Is it possible to pray alone, study the Bible alone, sing alone? Obviously. But the experience of worshiping God is enhanced when the experience is shared.
"Let There Be Love Shared Among Us" is the Stewardship theme for 2011. We've taken it from the song we sing each week at the benediction. Please join us in worshiping, and join us in supporting the work of God through First Congregational Church. Pledges for the upcoming 2011-2012 fiscal year are being accepted now. For a pledge card just click. Print the pledge card and return it to the church office as soon as possible. Let There Be Love Shared Among Us and share in the experience of worshiping God.
Jennifer P. Streit
February 25, 2011
|My grandmother was a magnificently generous person. She was generous with her time, her knowledge, and her possessions. I loved to stay at her house where she would spend time with me in the kitchen, teaching me to bake or make candy. An artist and a musician, she was the first person to mark a "C" on a treble staff for me and show me on the piano where to find middle C. She let me use her paints, canvases, charcoals, drawing pencils, and then encouraged me to arrange still lifes and try my hand at painting and drawing. She always had enough time. Was I curious about the plants in her garden? She had time to help me repot something from her little greenhouse. Was I struggling with arithmetic? She had time to teach me to play cribbage so that I would be able to add numbers quickly in my head. When I went to Iowa State University, she would drive up from Des Moines for my concerts or sorority events. She always had time.|
Her generosity of time extended beyond me. Grandma had time to teach my mother (her daughter-in-law) to sew, time to reupholster furniture for us, time to babysit when my parents traveled. When her daughter died suddenly, leaving two little, little boys (my cousins), she helped my uncle raise them for many years. When my brother came down with mono while in college, Grandma took him home with her and cared for him until he recovered.
It might be easy to dismiss my grandma's generosity of time as a luxury she could afford once her own children were grown, but my father describes his childhood in much the same way. Often nephews or friends, down on their luck, out of work, in between successes, would move in and stay with my grandparents. It was always all right. There was always enough.
My grandfather traveled the state of Iowa selling textbooks for Harper & Row Publishers, and he never earned more than a minimally modest salary. But my grandparents were frugal, they never spent beyond their means, and they were wise and steady savers and investors. Some of my grandfather's compensation was in the form of Harper & Row stock.
In 1987, a year or so after my grandfather died, a rather amazing thing happened. Another firm acquired Harper & Row Publishers. In one day, my grandmother's modest stock portfolio surged in value, her financial situation vastly different than it had ever been. What did she do? She remained generous--extravagantly generous. She began to systematically give away her money. She had always donated to her church, and shared with others what she had. But now! She had so much fun! She loved to hear how people or organizations used her gifts. She increased her giving to her church, Plymouth Congregational in Des Moines. She increased her support of the design scholarship at Iowa State in memory of her daughter. Great grand babies received generous gifts to begin their college savings plans. She had such joy in those final years of her life, as she managed her finances and gave them away.
Luke 6:38 says: If you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. How true this was of my grandmother. She endured many tragedies in her lifetime: the death of her own mother when she was still a little girl, the unexpected death of her dear daughter, the long and lingering death of her husband, my grandfather. And yet, she was a woman who radiated love and compassion and joy. All that she gave--in time, shared knowledge, loving care, and yes, even money--came back to her. Pressed down. Shaken together. Running over.
Last March Darrell Boone wrote a devotional for the publication, "The Upper Room". He talked about an older man in his congregation who supported man church and community ministries on a significant scale. Darrell thought, "If I had more financial resources, I would really like to do some things like that." But then Darrell realized that the source of benevolence--the source of generosity--is not the checkbook or the bank account, but the heart. The key is cultivating a generous heart.
That is true for all of us. We all have been generous at times in our lives. For some, like my grandmother, generosity is integral to all of life. For others, generosity is an acquired--and maybe intermittent--state of being. But generosity brings so many benefits to the giver as well as the recipient. Like a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, exercise and fresh air, cultivating generosity in our hearts yields blessings we can't even begin to quantify.
--Jennifer P. Streit
|The Customer vs. The Shareholder|
|I'm quite analytical by nature. I come from a long line of business people and I have a curiosity about economics so it should come as no surprise that I've been considering various economic models for FCC. Because I serve on the finance committee, I think about church expenses; because I chair the stewardship ministry, I think about church revenue.|
This morning I was contemplating the difference between giving and pledging. More specifically, I was thinking about the argument I have heard for not pledging. The argument goes something like this:
Church to Member: We would appreciate your pledge commitment up front for the coming year so that we can plan our budget.
Member to Church: In a regular business, the company doesn't have customers promise purchases for the upcoming year. In a regular business, the company makes forecasts and hopes the customers like the products in the upcoming year.
That's interesting, isn't it? What if our members just paid for the products and services they like at FCC?
--"Good sermon today; let's put $50 in the offering plate."
--"I liked the anthem; here's $20."
--"I don't like that a) color b) coffee c) carpet d) committee e) insert your pet peeve here. Let's not contribute."
Maybe the church needs to be more responsive to its customer base. Free market competition!
But are our members customers, or are we shareholders?
Shareholders invest in advance. Shareholder investments underwrite product development, marketing, capital equipment, human resources. Shareholders take risks. They put up money in an act of faith because they believe in the company.
When we think of ourselves as shareholders instead of customers, our relationship with the church changes. We're willing to invest our time and money in this venture we call First Congregational Church. We understand that we need to be competitive in hiring the best people. We keep the building and equipment in good condition. When we don't care for the product, we work to change it instead of just refusing to buy it.
FCC needs more shareholders. Let's change the conversation.
Church to Member: We would appreciate your pledge commitment by March 15th so that we can plan our budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
Member to Church: I'd love to invest! Count me in. Here's my pledge card.
--Jennifer P. Streit
|Have your children or grandchildren ever participated in the Flat Stanley school project? The child mails a paper doll ("Flat" Stanley)to a family friend in another city or state. That friend hosts Flat Stanley as a guest for a few days, and then mails him back, usually with accompanying photos and souvenirs from his visit. In this way, students learn about other parts of the country or world.|
In the fall of 2000, our middle son sent his Flat Stanley to our friends who were living with their four children in Beijing. Flat Stanley had a wonderful vacation, and he returned with a photo album filled with pictures of him at the Great Wall, at the international school, at Tiananmen Square. The descriptions of his adventures were priceless. It was all so enticing and we were captivated! We contacted our friends--would they host our family of five 3-D people?
Today many more people travel to China, and so the trip doesn't seem as exotic as it did even nine years ago. But in 2000, China was still a pretty remote destination for a family from Illinois. And our children were young--five, eight, and eleven. We had our moments of hesitation, but shortly after the New Year we purchased five airline tickets for a triangle trip--Chicago to Hong Kong to Beijing and then home--to be taken in late March. And I had no sooner paid for the tickets than I began to be anxious, very anxious.
For the next two months I worried. How would the children cope on the 18-hour non-stop flight? What if someone needed emergency medical care in Beijing? Could I trust a hospital? I didn't worry about actual starvation--I figured the boys could eat three meals of rice each day and make it through a week--but I was concerned about their willingness to eat foods very strange to them. I even worried about being a pedestrian in a city where everybody drives on the left side of the road! Could I grab the youngest one fast enough if he stepped off the curb into the path of a bus? Language, directions, customs, the unknown... I lost sleep. My heart raced. I lost my appetite. Mid January to the departure in March was a period of constant second-guessing. Eight weeks of my life were consumed by worry.
Finally the moment came to walk onto that non-stop flight to Hong Kong. And what happened? The most magnificent week unfolded--remarkable, thrilling, exotic experiences to remember over a lifetime. Yes, the flights were long, but the boys handled them well. No one needed emergency medical care; we enjoyed interesting meals; no one stepped off a curb into the path of an oncoming bus! Why had I worried? Why had I given up two months of my life to anxiety?
In Luke 12: 22-31, Jesus says, "And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?" Why indeed? I didn't expand my life by worrying; I shrank it. I lost a lot of time to worry, and for what result? Even if the trip had been a complete disaster, what possible benefit would I have gained by spoiling the preceding eight weeks as well?
As we live through this period of economic malaise, anxiety crouches at the perimeter of our lives, waiting to pounce. Faith and gratitude, replenished by our life together at FCC, are the antidotes for worry. As you consider your pledge commitment to the church for the upcoming year, be reassured by the words of Jesus: "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life."
In retrospect, the lesson I learned from the eight weeks of worry may have been expensive but worth the lost time. Psychoanalyst Fritz Perls (1893-1970) said, "Anxiety is the gap between the now and the later." When I find myself slipping into anxiety, I try to shift my mindset to one of gratitude for the present. I move from pointless and unproductive worry to focused and productive action. The trip to China may not have added one cubit to my span of life, but it expanded my life, and for that, I am grateful.
--Jennifer P. Streit
|A couple years ago I decided to get serious about exercising at least some every day. I take a yoga class and I lift weights at the Y, but my favorite choice is to walk. For various reasons, the best time for me to walk is a little before 6:00 in the morning. In the spring and summer, this is a delightful time to be out. The air is cool and filled with the sound of waking birds, the lake is still, and the sky is glowing with new light. In the autumn and winter, however, it is just dark, dark, dark. My route has very few street lamps and, quite frankly, unless the moon is full and still hanging low in the sky, I really can't see the street surface. I just trust that my balance and reflexes and memory are good enough to keep me from tripping or stepping into something I shouldn't.|
This past November as I walked through a particularly dense and dark section of my route, I had an "ah-ha" moment. "This is faith. This is literally stepping forward in faith. Faith in God to keep me safe? Faith in myself? I don't know, but I cannot see where I'm going, and yet I'm still intentionally moving forward."
Isn't this the proverbial leap of faith? Isn't that what the Bible calls us to do? Walk on the water. Ride out the storm without fear. Take a chance. Step into the unknown. Risk. Embrace (figuratively) a God we can't touch (literally). But when does it become recklessness instead of faith?
I do have my limits on these walks. I've decided it's foolhardy to walk when the thermometer reads below zero. And if there has been ice or freezing rain overnight, I've decided it's reckless to trust my balance and reflexes to save me. I stay indoors and ride the exercise bike.
The more complex issues in life require deeper contemplation than my choice of the day's exercise. We are faced with so many choices and decisions, and most of the time we have imperfect and incomplete information to guide us. Life is full of too many unknowns and unknowables. When should we take a leap of faith, and when should we stand on the edge of the cliff and search for a path to scale down into and then across the valley to the other side? Where is the line between faith and recklessness? How do we know?
Let me be even more specific. How do we know how much to pledge to our church? We'd love to be extravagantly generous, but what if we lose our job? Or the roof has to be replaced? Or our medical bills exceed our insurance policy? Does God want us to be hungry, wet, cold, or sick? Surely we are expected to be prudent and budget for our temporal needs.
Matthew 7:7-8 says: Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
In my own life, I have found that the best way to understand what God wants from me is to ask Him. I pray. I'm pretty direct. "God, what should I do? God, where am I going? God, I'm confused. Help me figure this out." I pray for judgment and discernment. Of course the next problem is to wonder whether the answer that comes is from God, or perhaps is just my own consciousness. Are God and my consciousness inextricably woven together? Am I kidding myself? How do I know? Faith is scary business.
But I keep asking, and seeking, and knocking. Even when I can't see the road ahead, I continue intentionally walking forward doing the best I can in faith. May your own asking, seeking and knocking reveal to you the answers to life's questions--even the question of how much to pledge to FCC.
Jennifer P. Streit