Giving It Back
I've been thinking about giving lately--not just because it's November, which in church-speak means "Stewardship month." Stewardship, boiled down to its essence as a theological principle, is merely taking care of the gifts God has given to us, so that they may be used in ways pleasing to God. Those gifts include, but aren't limited to, our money.
God gives us time, for instance. How do we use that gift? Where do we spend most of our time? The answer to the latter question is both scary and illuminating. Stewardship asks us, first to be mindful of how we spend our time, but then to begin to make adjustments that align our actions with our words about loving God.
God also gives us this spectacular gift called creation. Christians, as Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, use the designation "creation" rather than "nature," because we believe that the universe has a purpose. Stewardship asks the question about how we honor that bequest. How do we lovingly take up the task of tending to it?
Moreover, God also gives us talents. How do we employ those gifts in ways that honor the trust placed in us, trust that God demonstrated by presenting us with them? In addition to our corporate need to gather for worship and to have opportunity to be together in community, are there ways for us to put to use the gifts God gives us to feed the poor, encourage the downhearted, support the addicted, embrace the marginalized? In other words, can we use our smarts, our organizational skills, our cooking abilities, our caring natures, etc. to ministry to others? That's stewardship.
This year we tried something radical at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. Yes, we started the Douglass Loop Farmers Market, which was a big enough leap on its own. But beyond that, we tried to do something that churches are often guilty of not doing; we decided to give the market to the neighborhood without expecting anything in return. Now, I don't mean that we did it not expecting to make a profit (profit wasn't our motivation). Nor do I mean that we did it not expecting to get publicity (we figured there'd probably be some of that). Instead, we started the market without the expectation that it would be anything more than something we could give to the people in the Douglass Loop neighborhood and to the vendors who sell their wares. Through the friends we've made, however, we've discovered to our surprise that we received a much bigger gift in return. Stewardship is like that.
Stewardship, I want to suggest, is taking stock of how much we've been given, and then making informed decisions about how to give it back--not so much with a view to getting something out of it, but simply because we're thankful God cares enough about us to give to us in the first place.