“Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule…all the living things that creep on earth.”
_Curators and Caretakers
The church often uses the word “stewardship” to generalize things that have to do with resources that we share in common. We have stewards who take care of our budget, our building and other resources that we have. But it might be a little misleading in that when I think of a steward I think of as someone who brings me meals on a plane…or at least used to, now they bring me a little bag of wheat-thins. In our culture today we often think of a steward as something like a waitress, someone who waits on us. This makes it sound to one-sided.
The truth is that we are all, everyone here, to be caretakers of one another, of what we have and of what we share in common together.
I like the word caretaker because it reminds us that we are to care for what has been entrusted to us. Just as in Genesis 1, we have been entrusted with much that is good. And we are the interim, the stand-ins, the curators for what God has been doing through this meeting for 75 years. Have you ever considered that as people a part of this community you are a caretaker or a curator? Being a curator reminds me of the call that God speaks directly to humans in the creation poem of Genesis 1:
Gen. 1:28 God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”
The Hebrew word used here is Kabash. Sometimes translated rule or dominion – I think it is better understood to mean taking responsibility, taking care of or even curating the what God has created and blessed.
As human beings we are all called to be caretakers of animals, plants, water, air, earth, our families, our work, our money, resources, our bodies, our knowledge. Everything that we have been blessed by, we are called to take care of, to tend to, to rightly order. It is not up to a select few “stewards,” but in a participatory community like ours all of us are curators – in one way or another – of what God has given us and this church. We get to be the people who oversee its heritage, and its creative future.
One query might be: How are we doing being caretakers and curators of the treasures God has given us?
Now that I’ve give you an image that hopefully sticks in your mind I want to close by suggesting that a central way that we are caretakers or curators of one another and our resources is through the Christian practice of giving.
_Giving as a Practice
If we are to be caretakers of what we have, to think responsibly about what we have been entrusted with both as individuals and as a faith community, then I believe that the central practice we should consider is giving.
Matthew Colwell in his booklet “Sabbath Economics: Household Practices” says that:
“Giving is the practice of making our life, work, and financial resources available to others.”
We call it a practice because learning to give and give well is not something our culture is good at. Giving is more of an art than it is a science.
“Learning not just to give, but to give well can require a lifetime of practice, study, diligence, creativity, and passion. It is a task requiring discipline and nuance. But learning this art can transform lives and bind communities together.” (p. 40)
I like this recognition that this is something we have to work at, now matter how new we are to the church, or how mature we are in our faith.
The Christian practice of giving understands that first-and-foremost God-the-creator is a giving God and we are recipients of God’s abundant gift (Ps 24 -> “The earth is the LORD’S and all that is in it…”). Before we can give, we first most reorient ourselves in right relationship to what we have and recognize that all belongs to God, and all we have is gift and all is meant to be shared and passed along. Giving is a practice that mirrors God’s own doings in the world, it is our way of participating in God-like activities.
Here are three basic things that can be said about the Christian practice of giving.
Giving is a sign of trust (or requires trust):
I like that Colwell says that giving transforms lives and binds communities together. It is hard to put yourself out there, to give something to someone or to a group of people and know that they will receive it kindly.
How many of you have given something — a gift, money, or time — and felt that vulnerability?
Consider when we play music, bake a pie, or offer a prayer. All gifts that can be received or denied.
But that act of vulnerability and trust, as I give you something of mine, a piece of me, can actually build trust and bring communities together.
Giving always is rooted in freedom and consideration
Giving requires discernment, knowing how much I have and what should be kept. If you are being forced to give, guilted into giving, or if you feel that you have no other choice to do or give this or that – then you are not being asked to give in the way I am referring to here. Giving as a Christian practice comes from a freedom of the heart, a thankfulness both for what one has, and for what or who one gives to.
We must always check that what we are giving is out of this freedom and generosity, or it can become a sticking point, a place of resentment. Christian giving is giving without strings.
- Bullies taking our lunch money on the playground is not giving.
- Paying taxes is not the same as giving. It is a tax and I am fine with that, but it is not what I am talking about here.
- Sending out a thank-you card for a gift only because you know if you don’t, you will never hear the end of it from your grandmother is again, not giving.
- Having a preacher tell you that unless you dig real deep into those pockets, you will not have a seat in God’s heaven is a sin, not a message on giving.
Thus, we have to consider what is right for me to give and at this time. No set standard is available. We are all asked to contribute different things at different times — money is only part of the equation. But even money must be given under your own prayerful consideration and not anything else.
Giving is a counter-practice to greed
[Rich Young Man grieves in Mark 10] I don’t know about you but I understand why the rich young man that Jesus asked to sell all of his possession went away grieving. I get it. I want fancy stuff just as much as anyone else
Every single time a new gadget comes out you can bet I am wrestling with these questions. Every time Burgerville announces some new potato they’re frying, I’m on my knees.
But my ability to give — knowing this is a practice I am to engage in as a Christian and as a Quaker lead me to queries such as:
- What do I really need?
- Do I know when I have enough?
- Do I order my finances and time in such a way that I have enough to freely give to others?
Giving is a counter-practice to our culture of consumption. It is easy in our day to prioritize our lives around working so we can shop, and shopping so we can have nice new things, that ultimately clutter up our lives. We can do this with sports, and with entertainment, and education, or just about anything else too. But giving our time, our talents, our money can actually help us learn to re-prioritize what we have around the values we want to have.
Giving takes time and it takes practice but it is an essential part of who we are as Friends and followers of Jesus. And we must remember that we are all in different places and can give differently. What is essential is that we all engage in the practice of giving, the gift that is given left to your own discernment.
I invite you over the next few weeks to consider you own practice of giving both in relation to Camas Friends and also in relation to the rest of your life.
Open Worship and Queries:
- Do I give freely as the Lord guides me?
- Do I know when I have enough?
- Do I live in a way that I am free to give when there is need?
- What ways can I practice giving this week?
- The image of the curator can be found here.