RCL: All My Mites

It is election time in the United States, and I have been thinking about this text–Mark 12:38-44 all week, before even I was conscious that it was the lectionary.

I will start by admitting that I didn’t remember that those in political & religious power are devouring widows. I remembered thew widow giving her all, but I didn’t remember that it was in such sharp contrast to those in power.

My gaff makes sense, however, because too often we forget that Christianity is not about power. Or rather, that Jesus Christ is all about empowering those who have none. Thus being in power and being Christian is tricky at best.

As a Presbyterian in the United States this is a hard pill for my particular denomination to swallow. We used to be the power brokers in the US, we are the Catholics in Rome, we have our Reverend Witherspoons and our Aaron Burrs.

I think about this often because, in my context, my denomination has the least amount of money it has ever had. And its panicking all levels from the local church to the national governance. We are spending down our reserves as less and less money is coming in and membership is “declining.”

I think Jesus Christ is telling this story not only to point out the differences in power, and to remind us who it is we should be standing by. But I also firmly believe that Jesus tells this story because its true. Those who are the closest to being poor given the most to those in need. Those who are in the most precarious place, tend to practice their faith closer to the church and in a quieter manner than those with money and power and prestige.

And I’m convinced that those who have experienced poverty give the most because they understand what it means to have nothing, and that they, we, appreciate what they have more. I say we because I have experienced the grief of poverty and debt, and as I rise in prestige, power and money I hope that I never forget what its like to pick which bill you aren’t going to pay this month, to scrape together all the change in the house to send your child the money for a school activity, to carefully put all the baby food and milk back in the fridge to be used later.

But our God is a God of abundance, as is evident of 1 Kings 17:8-16. I have seen God make something out of nothing multiple times. I have had it so that the thing that was going to break my bank was miraculously paid for by someone else. I have received timely gifts of items we have desperately needed, that the person didn’t know we needed, but somehow the winter coat came just after the zipper from the old one broke, that a free day of play at a kids entertainment center appeared right when we couldn’t afford to do anything but the kids desperately needed to get out. I’ve seen politics and power at its worse and but I have also  seen how Medicaid and Therapy Care provided by the state of New York has saved our sanity and provided the structure our son with autism, and really our entire family desperately needed. And though the structure that comes through is the government, I cannot help but believe that these gifts came through my trust in God. Because the reason are in New York in the first place, in an epicenter for autistic care, is because I came here to serve a church. We thought we were just coming here to serve God, but of course, God called us here to help us.

I give to God not because God needs my money and my goods, but because God can increase them tenfold. I give to God because God can do way more with my stuff and talents than I could ever imagine.

Both widows have little

Both widows give

Both widows experience miracles.

Psalm 146 puts it well, I do not trust in the power and principalities of the world–as Nadia Bolz-Weber notes they are but footnotes in the story of Jesus, because God is the true power. So when I pray, when I trust, it’s God.

Because I want my God to be the one who executes justice. That’s who I want to worship and that’s who I want my God to be. I want a God who wants me to feed the hungry and set prisoners free, the one who opens the eyes of the blind and lifts up the burdened.

I want the God who teaches be me love the righteous, watch over the strangers/immigrants, and to uphold the orphan and the widow.

I want to know this God, and in knowing this God I want to be able to do this work.

Because I want to love God with all my heart

all my soul

and all my mites.

Thanks be to God


Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY for over eight years and blogs at katyandtheword@wordpress.com When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.


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My Fairy Tale for 20 somethings….

http://fairytalesfor20somethings.tumblr.com

Wizard of Oz by Katy Stenta

Dorothy thought that chasing the first tornado would have landed her the weather job. Instead she kept having to travel. Meanwhile her parents wanted her to click her heels and come back home, problem was no work there. She was not moving back in with her parents (again). She kept following the yellow brick road, and following and following. 
 
Finally a TechWizard convinced her and her three traveling companions to Kickstart a book about her journey.

Thanks!

I have reached 250 posts and 100 followers about the same time! Then today (midafternoon) I’m already up to 51 views! The blog has seen amazing growth in the last month, and sustains a VARIED audience (wahoo!!)

Thanks for all the reads, likes and comments!

One Millennial’s expectations

Here’s a great article about expectations

I think that expectations might be really high, but on the other hand, most people I know are struggling to pay the bills. Its deceptive because I will never starve–we were on WIC in seminary–

so I don’t look that bad off, but on the other hand my debt is more and more a problem, and it feels like I’m barely staying afloat (nevermind paying stuff off)……….Its hard, because I guess I could have made different choices (ie not have 3 children and a grad degree, maybe one or both of these things should not have happened) but I’m not sure that I had UNrealistic expectations (that my husband would be able to work fulltime somewhere?) ….and the ONLY thing we spend money on for fun is eating out (and with kids sometimes thats a survival technique)…….

In a completely informal survey among friends, it appears there was this change between the babies born before the 80s and after…..apparently those born before the 80s got the “work hard and you will succeed” line and those after got the “Work hard and you will succeed and be happy.” But my observation is we aren’t succeeding, we aren’t happy and in reality we aren’t even making it……so I disagree about the exceptional expectations thing…..

The “whole you guys think your TOO special line” is a little annoying—“you guys are delusional” is angering……(and your solution to this situation is to change us? Is there a way other things can change too?). Adults who have careers, children and houses and are talking about retirement, those who get to refinance houses they actually own and that their kids are in a hard place that they don’t understand….. (those who tell me about how they worked part time to make it thru  college where I worked 2 or 3 part time jobs seeming to make almost no difference, and I had WONDERFUL HELP paying for college)………

Then there’s the whole you need two parents working fulltime now to pay for kids–which is a socio-econmic problem.

But seriously other adults talk about refinancing and retirement, and meanwhile my ONLY capital (my car) got totalled by another driver which means no I have absolutely no capital, and lots and lots of debt…….

Here are my expectations

I expect my children to choose college based on their own finances and debt decisions, because we have no means to save to for them….

I expect Social Security to be gone by the time I am older, and I should not count on it

I expect to have nothing saved for retirement

I expect to be 100K in debt at least until my youngest starts school

I then expect that if my husband needs to live somewhere else to work fulltime, that we will be able to somehow manage it after my youngest starts school…….so that we can actually start paying down our debts….

I expect my two cars to last at least 5 more years as I am currently making payments on both

I expect my husband and I to continue tutoring, to trade off babysitting as much as possible to save money. I expect to rent out our car, trade favors and otherwise barter as much as possible to save money.

I expect to continue to never buy movies, books or clothes for myself or my husband unless we have an interview, or the shoes are leaking profusely

I expect to garner clothing for my children through wonderful grandparents and extended family for as long as possible, the same being true for extracurriculars, and the majority of toys received during birthdays and Christmas (because we can’t afford much more), and am SO lucky this is the case

I expect to continue to miss out on movies, shows and adult activities due to lack of funds/babysitting and to continue to do introverted/at home activities because they are cheaper and require less coordination

I expect if I ever am out of work to have to move the entire family back with our families because we are barely making it as is…

I expect that all the people my age will continue to look for second and third jobs to help finances–making our chances of being able to socially hang out all the less…(everyone I know my age is looking for fulltime/second/more work)

I expect to be unhappy whenever I think about money, but happy because I am in a steady career that I like and that I got to have a family

I expect never to own a house, ever.

I expect the library will continue to be our best friend.

I expect my kids will play outside a lot, because its free and because its good for them.

I expect Netflix, free arts and crafts and recycling, I expect a lot of creativity as we figure out how not to buy things (ex: I jimmied together a Spiderman Costume today, because my son wanted one)

The snarky part of me wants to ask “Do you think I’m setting expectations too high” Read: I am SO not a GYPSY

The realistic part of me wants to say “What do you make of my expectations?”

Everyday I’m a Pastorin……

Recently the Presbyterian Church tried to address the issue of health care. Basically, they wanted to start charging a higher percentage to families than to pastors without families. (Note a higher percentage, so the families were already paying more)….This is an issue because we try to do something we term “Call Neutrality” which is the idea that we pay everyone a living wage (so we have minimum’s) so pastors can be free to go to the church that best fits

People freaked out (including me)

This raised a whole lot of issues, which are really the issue.

1. Ministry jobs are hard to find. In PCUSA the stats are 3 pastors for every job out there.

2. Most ministry jobs aren’t fulltime anymore

3. Benefits aren’t that generous

4. The Economy is hard–and if your married your spouse needs a job

5. Most ministries are shorter–7 years is the reported average of a ministry, which is way different than the 30yrs that used to be expected

6. Pastors are younger and churches are older…I’m the youngest person at all of my churches by at least 12 years………talk about generational divide

7. The call process is long and hard

8. Call Neutrality is a myth. Young pastors go to small/poor/rural churches, women even moreso. Women get less paying jobs and are more often associates. Children “do” influence a church’s decision to get a pastor even though they are theoretically neutral

Ok, so here are the real issues, on the table

Now how does a call to ministry need to transform?

We talk about how churches need to change, maybe we need to start working on what a pastorate is

Can we be MORE supportive of part time ministries? 

Can we try other models of ministry (more part time ministries)?

Can we work more with all of those ministers who are called to specialized (i.e. untraditional ministries)?

Can the call process be more open or more streamlined?

Are there ways to support small churches doing searches in meaningful ways?

Can we work to get older pastors and young family pastors the stability they need?

Here are the real issues, lets get to it…

Money, money, money

 

This is a conversation I had with my sister earlier today….

Izzy: I don’t want to be a grownup anymore
Me: I’ll be a grown up as long as I don’t have to worry about money all the time anymore.
Izzy: Ok, deal…

Student Debt (“According to the federal Reserve Bank of New York, almost 13 percent of student-loan borrowers of all ages owe more than $50,000, and nearly 4 percent owe more than $100,000. These debts are beyond students’ ability to repay, (especially in our nearly jobless recovery” read more in the link)

Student Debt is a national issue–if you don’t have crippling debt, chances are your child or grandchild does. I recently got told by an older pastor that she just “couldn’t relate” to my debt issues even though her daughter was stuck in the position I was describing…

You know the situation where you are working as hard as you can (usually not even in your field) and you are receiving neither self fulfillment, nor enough money to pay your bills….

I’ll say what I’ve said many times before–almost everyone I know is looking for work. Either they are looking for a better paying job, or they are looking for another job on top of the one they are already doing.

Look, if I knew I was at least on my way to paying down my/our family debts…I would be ok with this whole adulthood thing…but until I can, I feel like a failure as an adult–and if that’s how I feel how does the rest of the millennials deal?

Open Sourcing and Laziness

katyandtheword

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Ok, so what if this open source movement which started with the music companies and the digital downloading (actually it started with the record button on VCRs but I’m too youngImage to remember that). Was a cultural shift today? If you look at communities sharing businesses, etc. this generation is into open source

Examples include Relayrides, carsharing, CSA, community gardens, couchsurfing, firefox, anything Wiki and of course probably the most famous and one of the first Linux

Opensource means sharing information freely so that the community benefits. Granted making money by sharing your car isn’t a direct example of open source, but the free sharing of when you use and don’t use your car helps to free it up so others can use it (see what I mean). It also can hint at laziness because your are using someone else’s work/resources to get information. You didn’t do the work yet…

View original post 503 more words

When your in debt…

Maybe this is really obvious to other people, but apparently its not really helpful to go to a big stewardship conference when you are about $100,000 in debt. (at least it not if your me….)

There I’ve gone and said it. My family and I are over $100,000 in debt, and the end seems nowhere is sight. We live paycheck to paycheck, my husband works three part time jobs, I work one fulltime job. I try to tutor (although I’ve let that fizzle recently). We rent out our extra car, and we have wonderful people who we pay (not very much) to help us to take care of our 3 boy-boys. We try to stay off the credit cards, but when bills come they come. And maybe we could have put off having children, but every time we’ve had a child someone has been home (first two were during our summers at grad school and the third was when my husband was looking for a job by my new church) so we know we are saving a TON on childcare. We are done with that (we think) and I guess we could have not had kids, but honestly that so does not work for us. So we can’t really see what else to do……

Here is the part that gets me…We’re not alone. Most people my age are struggling with debt. I’m lucky that I have a job with benefits (which frankly is why we have 3 kids) but really, we aren’t really “making it” so to speak.

So when I went to the kaleidoscope stewardship conference, I really wanted to hear about the United States’ problem with debt, in the context that we pray and promise the forgiveness of debt. I wanted intellectual conversation, theological discussion. I probably would have settled for the fact if someone (besides me and my big mouth) had raised the issue…

What the conference was: A great bag of tricks and tools, and a new set of language to think about stewardship–a training for stewardship teams or world-weary pastors, a way to address money in (primarily) big churches or churches with undergivers.

A nice way to think about these situations are like this (your planting the seeds of stewardship)

328 × 272 – colsdioc.org

What it discussed: Healthy financial practices–including giving, personal relationships, thankyous, ongoing stewardship (instead of a once a year thing), and some reflection about where people do put their money and why it isn’t church (instead). For thoughts about wealth and how it effects judgement read this fascinating article..

575 × 300 – staparish.net

What it didn’t include:

ways to leverage Time and Talent as well as money, (much) theological discuss, what to do if you were in financial distress (or are already in debt), and the fact that we are moving on from institutional religion to something else in Christianity….

The story was pay your debts and then you can get on with your life…..apparently I will never be able to get on in my life.

I guess I pictured the conference to be more about this…

and less about this

367 × 224 – salempresbytery.org

If your interested in my theology of debt read my brilliant post about Ruth here!

But here is the long and short of it.

American’s Don’t God to Church (this report notes that “overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”)…ok so again an indication our “stewardship” approach should probably be more about sharing what we’ve got rather than raising money for the instituion….

All Americans have to deal with debt (sequester anyone??), ESPECIALLY those Millennial/Nones we (us religious people) are so desperate to connect with….

We pray for, Christ promises and we attest to the forgiveness of debts.

Anyone else notice that Christianity is dropping the ball here?

I vote we find a way to REALLY address debts and the feeling of worthlessness it induces (again read my Ruth post for more on this)

And since I’m one of those in deep debt. I pray we do it soon!

 

Graph from the fascinating article linked above

Think One Person Can Change the World?????

We do too

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That’s where they got me. I mean I was pretty sure that Oberlin was the undergraduate program for me. I had talked to the dweeby guy, stood up to my counselor “You sure you want to move that far away” (um…DUH I hate high school), and all, but when I got the packet with Oberlin’s old motto, it got me.

I also probably should have realized that I was going to be a minister then, because I was kind of like one person has changed the world (ie Jesus) and he has totally empowered me to do the sameImage

…ah the confidence of youth….

But if you know me, I am the eternal optimist, so I hopefully haven’t become too cynical since then, even though the world keeps on giving me worst and worst news….bad economy, little jobs, sucky compensation for work done, the evaporation of pension funds, the need to put off life (marriage, house, children etc) due to the aforementioned problems, wars, fiscal cliffs, national debts and taxes.

However I believe there has been a cultural shift in the last election–it hasn’t really to do with the president but more the fact that racism and bigotry has been limited due to the backlash for some representatives comments Re; gays, women, abortion, etc.

Part of that change was examined in my last post Open Source Culture (Go Millenials!)

Thanks to a recent conversation with my philosophical compadre Charlie, I have crystalized some of what I have been writing towards in the last couple of posts. (PS he totally pointed out that at least in a democracy we all have a vote that is value–talk about power)Image

Churches need to do the following to Change the World

Build a Community that

1. Forgives Debts: That’s right, be proactive, do a kickstart, open donations, find some way to address indidividual’s debts in your community–I suggest starting with student debt since that is the least questionable kind of debt. What if we as the church worked to communally Forgive as many debts as possible?

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2. Be multigenerational: Church is one of the few places where different generations interact who are not related. Embrace this. Keep young people in church, give them a special space to be look at one example. If we make those connections that otherwise can’t be made, then we are providing a service. (and of course this means making worship accessible to those spiritual but not religious people).

3. Finally Educate, educate, educate. Why are people in debt? In pursuit of education. What if church’s provided free community education: relieving debt and bringing generations together in one fell swoop (HA, wouldn’t that be wonderful?) I would love to spearhead a million different educational opportunities for my community, because that is a concrete way of helping people.

THink one church can change the world????