Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stewardship and our need to give

Although Christian stewardship is a year-round enterprise, it peaks in intensity at this time of year. Letters are written, witnesses are given, visits are (sometimes) undertaken – and pledges are solicited. Stewardship is a spiritual discipline, but as the end of the year looms and next year’s budget is prepared, there is a tendency to shift the message from our need to give to the church’s need to receive. Which is understandable. At every level of life today, there is a lot of anxiety today about money.

But stewardship isn’t about money. It is about our need to give.

When I was newly ordained, I pledged to the church what I could afford. I knew the church needed money, but so did I. And since I didn’t think I had much, I didn’t give much. Then I learned about proportionate giving, which involved figuring out how much you give away in proportion to what you earn. It required setting aside some time to think this through, and engaging in the rudiments of calculation. And committing to the idea that this is holy work.

It was my wife Marilyn who recommended that we add up our combined incomes and then decide on a percentage that we would give away. It was somewhat embarrassing to see how little we had been giving. When we established a percentage and pledged that percentage, our giving tripled. When we reached a tithe a few years later, our giving tripled again.

While this process had the concrete effect of giving more money away, the spiritual dynamics of it all introduced me to a level of gratitude I had never known before. When my giving was based on what I thought I could afford, I gave with an undercurrent of resentment. When I gave from a percentage of what I had, I found that my giving was in fact a gift. I wanted to give. And I discovered that I needed to give in order to fully appreciate the corresponding gift of joy.

Stewardship is what we do with what we have – all of the time. At this peak stewardship time of the year, the practice of Christian stewardship presents us with an opportunity to experience deeper spiritual levels of gratitude and joy by living into our need to give.

Friday, October 8, 2010

New Jersey Episcopal bishops respond to Tyler Clementi's suicide

A joint statement by Bishop Beckwith and the Rt. Rev. George E. Councell, Bishop of New Jersey.

We write as Christian pastors who are privileged to serve as bishops of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Newark and in the Diocese of New Jersey in order to express our grief, alarm, compassion and outrage over the suicide of Tyler Clementi. We join our voices with the voices of all those concerned in Ridgewood, where Tyler grew up, at Rutgers University, where he was a freshman and across our nation. Another gay young person has died by suicide. This tragic loss of a promising life would appear to be directly related to an invasion of Tyler’s privacy and a violation of his personal life. Much remains to be considered by law enforcement authorities and the courts in order to determine whether this is also a case of bullying, a felony or a hate crime – or a combination of the three. Whatever that legal determination may be, we join with other Christian and religious leaders, with the LGBT community and with all people of good will who take their stand against hatred, bigotry and bullying; against every expression of physical and verbal violence; and against any violation of the dignity of LGBT persons. When the rights of any – especially the members of vulnerable groups who have so often been scapegoated – are threatened, the rights of all are endangered.

We want to call attention to another, potentially deeper, issue here. It is the invasion of intimacy. Intimacy is a holy place within every human being; an innermost sanctuary where we develop our ultimate beliefs and values, nurture our closest relationships and maintain our deepest commitments. No one has the right to disclose that intimacy for someone else without consent. Such a violation is tantamount to the desecration of a sacred space. It is, in fact, a sacred space. It is the territory of the soul.

Technology, however, now provides tools to record, seize and disclose the most intimate matters of our lives without our consent. Identities can be stolen, hearts broken and lives shattered. Technology has placed powerful tools in human hands. Will they be used for building-up or for breaking down our neighbor? Tyler Clementi’s death certainly poses some important legal issues, but it also raises some critical moral concerns. Hubris has outstripped humility. And that is a serious problem. We can do better. We must do better, with God’s help.

In our Episcopal tradition, whenever we reaffirm our faith in worship, we are given a challenging question: “will you respect the dignity of every human being?” And we answer, “I will, with God’s help.” It is an important commitment. Whatever our religious tradition, we can agree on the need to respect one another’s dignity. With God’s help, we can stand together and stand up against bullies who would damage and destroy the lives of LGBT persons, their partners and families and friends. With God’s help, we can offer safety, support and sanctuary to all LGBT persons who are at risk. With God’s help, we can remind our society that every LGBT person is made in the image of God. The world needs our witness.

The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of Newark
The Rt. Rev. George E. Councell, Bishop of New Jersey