Sacred Soil

Formed from Dirt
September 20, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

clayI have this great picture of Jeanie (that she has forbidden me to post, so I’ve chosen another), taken on a day spent with our friend Barbara. Barbara is a potter, and on the day of the photo, Jeanie had decided to give it a try.

Pottery is fundamentally a tactile experience–folding and kneading the wet clay, working in just enough moisture that it becomes pliable, distributing the water so that it is spread evenly throughout. It’s good exercise after a day of frustration. Once the clay is ready, it takes a steady and patient hand to coax the clay into formation.

At Barbara’s direction, Jeanie held the ball of clay steady in her hand and tossed it onto the wheel, firm and hopeful. Then she turned the wheel on with her foot and began to shape the clay–desperately seeking its center.

Turns out this is one of the most difficult aspects of pottery–finding the center. To begin, you have to move the mound of clay to that perfect spot in the middle where it can be pulled and teased into other shapes. If you’re even a little off, as you pull up on the clay, the slightest wobble will send shards of wet sloppy clay flying across the room.

As any new potter would, Jeanie struggled to find the center–and as a result, that ball of clay kept getting smaller and smaller, slipping through her fingers, splattering across the room, her clothes, her glasses. Till finally the adventure descended into a mud fight. That’s when I grabbed my camera.

In our texts for today, the disciples were also struggling to find their center. After a long day of hearing Jesus talk about how he was going to die, the disciples, tired of being confused and disoriented, they decided to talk about something they were pretty sure they understood: who was the greatest.

Though, it’s clear from our text that they disagreed about the particulars of the answer, as each placed himself squarely in the middle of that wheel.

But, Jesus knew that kind of center wasn’t going to hold. It couldn’t. Imagining the disciples jockeying for their role as the greatest… well… seems to me that that mostly a bunch of mud flinging, splattering. I think Jesus knew, we’re not going to be able to form anything out of that…

And so, he sits down, calls the twelve to him, and then places a child in the center. A kid. Right in the middle.

Now this is unexpected. Perhaps even odd. I get that these disciples (who are always messing up) shouldn’t be at the center. I get that their desires for greatness are merely egomaniacal dreams. That makes sense to me. But, what’s odd is that Jesus didn’t put himself there at the center, you know, as the son of God. Rather it is a child, right there in the middle.

Now, I think it’s tempting to view this image much as we view pictures of Santa Claus. Sweet Jesus, holding a small child in his lap for all of us to admire and adore. Cue the sappy music; find the soft-focus lens.

But I don’t think that Jesus did this to be cute or sentimental. For one thing, this doesn’t fit with any other picture we have of him. He’s not a sappy guy. Especially as Mark portrays him. Just ask that withered fig tree, or the money changers in the temple.

Instead, I think Jesus was putting vulnerability in the center. Our very own fragile nature. Our capacity for heartbreak and hope, all that makes us small. I think he was telling us that our vulnerability is the clay of greatness, the mixture of sand and dirt and water that can form beauty and possibility. All those things that leave us utterly defenseless.

This is something that parents know especially well. To love someone small and fragile, someone who needs our protection—it is as if that little one walks around with your own heart beating outside your chest, exposed, naked. Their bruises are your own, their cries for help pierce through you, as your own body echoes with their pain. To love a child means to take on their vulnerability as if it were your own. Because it is.

This is what Jesus was placing in their center. Not a cute baby. No, Jesus placed there the very thing the disciples would call “least.” The reminder that we are all as children, all fragile, all in need of loving care.

He was clear; this center is held by our brokenness, not our capacity to earn money, not our skills in time management. Certainly not our college degrees. No, Jesus places in their center, our center, our shared capacity for heartbreak and hope, all that makes us small and fragile.

And then he tells them, tells us, welcome this little one, for in so doing, you welcome me. In welcoming this vulnerable, fragile one, you welcome God.

And if you think about it, we’ve known that for a while. God is found in brokenness.

We find our God among

  • those who come here for PADS, our emergency shelter;
  • Syrian refugees who desperately hope to escape the cruelty of war,
  • those who fear their homes,
  • those whose work feels meaningless.
  • Those who rely on others for their daily care.
  • With all of the vulnerable, all of the least,

Our God is there, calling us to re-center, to refocus, to turn from our own self-serving need to be the “greatest,” and seek God among the least.

Turns out, this is why our God came to dwell with us in the first place–because God’s own heart broke in our vulnerability. God’s own self ached with our pain. The echoes of our cries piercing God’s very own body. And knowing this, God wanted us to know there is hope and possibility far beyond our capacity to imagine. Indeed, God came to us, experienced our vulnerability even to death, God’s very own death. And in so doing showed us life and beauty beyond measure.

Throwing pots is messy. Dirty. To make a pot means embracing the dirt–that which we might call the least. To make a pot means tending to its form, nudging and shaping, nourishing with water. It requires patience– prayer. It means knowing when to pull, when to push, when to rest the clay. But first, it requires a center, a grounding, a place from which to move and grow, a place from which to form.

And this is what our God has done for us, for all of us. We who are small, we who are more fragile than we would ever like to name. God has gone to the heart of our own brokenness, our own vulnerability, taking it on with God’s own self. And this is a free gift– nothing we asked for and nothing we earn. And yet, we are invited to see, to tend to the heartbreak of the world, to our own heartbreak and seek God’s very self at the center.

For we are formed from this clay. From this dirt and sand and water that God has breathed life into us that we too may go and love what God has loved.


The joys of ministry
August 4, 2015, 5:26 pm
Filed under: Sermons

I love church. I love being a minister. You probably knew that, since I’m up here in this fancy robe. But I do. I love the weird rhythm of my days, always unpredictable. I love to gather in worship, and sing these old and new songs—I love coming to this place apart, a time that is so different than anything else that we do in life. But most of all, I love that it’s my job to tell how this ancient story of God’s loving creation undermines everything that is sick and wrong about the world—though I must tell you, sometimes that’s also the hardest part of my job.

This church thing really is an odd thing we do together. Yes, I just called you odd. Because, to be honest, you are all just a touch unusual. Which makes me feel welcome and at home… But, just look at us, we’re all here, gathered in a church on a beautiful Sunday morning, in August. We are here in church at that point in summer when we begin to realize that it will end, and the call to sleep in seems overwhelming.

Yet here we are.  Reminding each other, that God’s love overwhelms all the evil in the world.

But it’s not always easy. And sometimes it’s awfully hard.

I suppose that’s also part of why we’re here.

It all goes back to the beginning– So it turns out that our creation story in the Bible, the one where the narrator says over and over again, “and God saw that it was good.” It turns out that this is one of the most radical bits of literature in the world at the time. Because, God created it good?

It’s radical, because at the time there were also a lot of other creation stories floating around, most notably the creation story that the Babylonians told–A story that has remarkable parallels to our own. But that story is marked by a conviction that the world was created by evil and violence. Indeed, according to the Babylonians, the universe was created as the by-product of a war between a God and a Goddess. We are the debris.

But the Hebrew people knew a God that created the world good and called humanity to goodness. God created the world fundamentally good, calling us back to that goodness and wholeness, calling us back to a relationship with God.

In Babylonian thinking—that would make no sense. None. In Babylonian thinking there is no wholeness, no relationship. No goodness. Only evil, and our meager attempts to make that bearable.

That kind of thinking didn’t stop when Babylon fell. We see traces of Babylonian thinking creeping into our world over and over again.

  • This is what the Israelites were doing in our passage from Exodus today—they complain against Moses, angry and hostile that he had the gall to free them. They say, we would rather have stayed in Egypt, where at least we had food.
  • And I see it in myself too. This past week, I was sitting with someone having one of those conversations about the news—you know that conversation. It begins with this lament about all the terrible things that are happening, and ends with the utter conviction that the world is falling apart and there is nothing we can do about it because everyone is so messed up. My usual tactic in these situations is to also remind the person about the good things that are happening—things like Awake! and the ways we show kindness, and how proud I am of the ways people are living their calling. But, I too had just read the news, and Babylonian thinking had crept into me—and I couldn’t do it. All I could muster was a thin reminder that God promises to bring all things together for good. The statement seemed a bit hollow in the moment.

But the story of the Israelite’s complaining does not end there—they do not wither and starve.  God rains down bread upon them, bringing quail in the evening, and they are heartened. And they remember that God created the world good. And they keep going.

And then I remember that these passages were written by a people who were in exile, a people who were actively defying the Roman government. They were cherished by the martyrs. These are texts that have sustained prisoners, refugees, people bound by slavery. Over and over again, through out all of history, these are texts that brought hope to people for whom the news was not good. A people for whom Babylonian thinking may have been far more logical.

But the stories remind us, God brought bread. The bread of life that will sustain us even when the powers of the world try to declare that Babylon wins.

There’s another thing I love about church. I love that we are here, gathered together as the body of Christ. I love that I’m not the only minister in the room. I love that we are called to ministry—each and every one of us. Yes, we all do it different—but that’s the beauty of it. We each have different gifts, but they are all important. Very important.

That’s right—you all are ministers, ministers of the good news. The Good news. The good news that God created the world good, and that God promises to bring all things together for good. You all are ministers, sharing in this work of revealing that love, revealing that goodness and hope. You and I are both are called to tell how this ancient story of God’s loving creation undermines everything that is sick and wrong about the world. We are all called to that, using the good gifts that God has given us.

You don’t need to be a pastor to do that. No need for seminary, or an ordination, or even for anyone to give you permission. That permission was given to you in your baptism.

And that’s a big part of why we come here—to remind ourselves of that, to hold onto those stories that reveal God’s loving creation. To receive that bread of life, and never be hungry. We come to remind ourselves that our calling is not to make Babylon happy, but to reshape ourselves into the body of Christ.

We come, each of us with our own gifts. Some of us teachers, artists, 2nd graders, 3rd graders, middle schoolers. Some of us organizers, some of us singers. Some of us prayers, some doers. Each of us extraordinarily gifted, by the God who created us for good.

So my beloved ministers of the Good news, where is Christ calling you? And how can we, the body of Christ with you, help?


The Jesus-Mandated Vacation
July 19, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

waterJeremiah 23:1–6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11–22
Mark 6:30–34, 53–56

I can think of few things that would be quite as awesome as a Jesus-mandated vacation. Imagine, a time away in a deserted place. A place that is beautiful and quiet, the water gently lapping against the boat. The breeze is gentle, the sun warm. Not too hot.

I should stop before you all fall asleep…

It has seemed to me lately though, that so many of us are in this place of needing a break. Needing the world to stop for just a moment, so that we can catch our breath. Summer is supposed to be a time of vacation—but there are days when it’s not really seemed that way.

  • Because those of you who are taking care of an ill spouse know, you can’t just step away from their daily needs.
  • Because grief isn’t just going to take a little break.
  • Because the job still requires you show up each day.
  • Because the taxes, the mortgage, they all have to be paid.

In our text today, Jesus says to the disciples, “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” The disciples had just been sent out to the surrounding towns and villages, teaching and healing folks. They had amazing stories to tell—but they too were tired. Exhausted. They needed a break.

Come away to a deserted place. All by yourselves and rest.

We know the desire well.

So, I’m not really into playing games about who has it worse—because, well, who wants to win that one? But, it is fairly impressive to look at what the disciples were up against.

  • The whole region was occupied by Rome, who saw the Israelite people as little more than tax revenue. Workers to be used.
  • The division between the rich and the poor was so great, that with the exception of a very few, folk were lucky to just get by.
  • Poverty was the norm.
  • And If you really wanted to be realistic, even Jesus, the son of God, couldn’t even begin to make a dent in all that need.

It is no wonder that they needed to get away.

But as we read the story, it becomes clear, that this escape is not possible. The rest is short-lived, taking the span only of a short trip in a boat. The crowds discover them, and overwhelm them. The Jesus-mandated vacation is over.

But, as Jesus sees the crowds, he is not calculating how long he’s got to keep this up until the problem is solved. He’s not scheduling his time until he gets to escape again.

No, rather, he comes to us with this wild proposition that the kingdom of God has come near, and he wants as many of us to see it, to know it, to experience it, as possible. So that we might share that joy with others.

Indeed, the people have come because they’ve caught a glimpse of it—a glimpse of the feast to come.

In other words—he is not merely working, he is revealing. Revealing God’s love for all of creation, bringing hope and healing and possibility to a people who had been treated as if they were less than nothing.

You see, Rome was following the playbook used in this and every century—in order to gain power and control, they told the people that they didn’t matter. They led folks to believe that they were worthless, and that their pain, their grief, their callings, were irrelevant. They were led to believe these things didn’t matter. All that mattered was their work, paying the bills—making Rome rich.

But Jesus came with a different message. He came to tell people that they were beloved. That their pain and their grief were held in the arms of God, and that life and possibility was theirs to have—they didn’t need to suck up to Rome to get it.

He came to say that the kingdom of God is breaking in right now. Right here. In this place. All we have to do is see it.

Think of it as a thin curtain. When the curtain is down, it seems as if the powers of Rome will always win. That the task will always be overwhelming. There will always be too much to do. The curtain gives power to hopelessness, apathy. But when the curtain is pulled away—

  • The sun shines brighter
  • Rome is revealed as powerless over our hearts
  • We see that all creation matters
  • And we are compelled, urged, cannot help but, love as God has loved.

The curtain of Rome leads us to believe we are powerless against evil. But Jesus comes to pull that curtain away and reveal that God’s love will always be more powerful.

The pain is not erased—but rather it is now held in the arms of God, in the arms of hope—rather than hopelessness.

And so the disciples go back to work. They heal, they feed, they teach. They pray. Their frenetic pace continues. But this time it is clear, this is not a task to do, but a God to reveal. It is not a hopeless penny dropped into a can, but it is a revealing of God’s love, a transforming of our hearts.

It is a reminder that it is better to live as if the kingdom of God were here now—than to wish for a way to escape. It is better to respond to that which breaks our hearts, than to run away. Better to hold each other in our grief, than to suppress and ignore it. It is better to hear the cries of the poor and respond, than to blame people for their poverty. It is better to live as whole-hearted people of God, than to let the curtain of hopelessness divide and suffocate us.

But the need is real. And it is overwhelming. And there are days where we do need that Jesus-mandated vacation. There are days when we cannot see to pulling back the curtain. These are the days when we need most to hear our fellow members of the body of Christ, we need to hear them remind us that yes:

Yes, your heart is breaking. Life is overwhelming. But do not forget, so is the kingdom of God. The powers of this world have been broken by the love of God, which calls us to love as God has loved. And it’s a love that cannot wait. Indeed, the best way to experience the love of God, is to live it.

May it be so. Amen.


Love & Power
March 8, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

tableAs the writer of John tells the story, the cleansing of the temple is the second major public act of Jesus’ ministry. The other storytellers have it toward the end—it serves as a bit of explanation for why the authorities were so upset with him. But in John, it is part of the beginning.

Right after Jesus changes some water into wine.

The first act is love. The second is power.

You may remember that the first story is when Jesus and his mother attend a wedding, and they’ve run out of wine. We can understand that difficulty. Jesus protests telling his mother that it’s not time yet. But, Jesus is good, and does what his mother says. And the wine is most excellent. It is a symbol of God’s overflowing, overwhelming love. And how lovely it is that Jesus’ ministry begins with love.

And then we get this story, this story where Jesus walks into the temple with a grand sense of power. He makes a whip and starts tossing things around, running the money changers out. He’s angry that this place of worship has become a place that serves the markets. And Jesus comes in and with the very power of God says, no. It is also so fitting that Jesus’ ministry begins with power.

Though, if I’m honest with you, I think I’d much rather be present at the wedding than there for the cleansing of the temple. I love a good party. A good celebration. Large displays of anger—not really my thing.

And I think that’s true for most of us—we’re pretty comfortable with the love thing. Or at least the idea of love. The love of God is our starting place as Lutherans. We begin there, recognizing that this love alone has the power to transform us. But the thing is, without power that love can turn to syrup. A thick sweet sappy thing that’s about as meaningful as a heart doily at Valentine’s Day. Cute, but that’s about it.

We also need power. The power of God. Love in action.

Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. said: Power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is implementing the demands of justice and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

Love and power.

I think it’s important to know that whenever God uses power, it is grounded in love and devotion to us, God’s own beloved creation. The Ten Commandments themselves begin with a statement of God’s care for us—we are the people God freed from Egypt. And Jesus didn’t make that whip just because he didn’t like folks selling stuff at the temple. He sent the money changers away because they were standing in the way of people experiencing God’s love. (explain the system)

But we have this way with power that gets all messed up. Either we forget to begin in love (authentic, genuine, mutual, compassionate love that really cares about what others experience), or we discount the fact that we have any power at all. Feeling hopeless and helpless, like there’s nothing we could do that would really matter.

I believe something else. I believe the power of God, the power of God’s love, is rising up within us. And I believe it because I have seen it.

I have seen it in:

  • The welcome we give new folks who come into this place—as if we are meeting God anew in each person. And I want you to never, ever, under-estimate the power of authentic welcome.
  • How we share in the struggles of each other’s lives, supporting each other when things get hard, celebrating with each other when things are fabulous. Together, we use our power to make this community strong.
  • And how these things come together in our ministry of PADS, Awake, and more.

These things are all because of the power that lives within us, the very love of God rising up. The very love of God that demands that power be rooted, grounded, in the love of God.

But I do not believe that God is done with us or God will let us leave it at that. God’s power is still at work in us, rooted in the very love poured over our heads in baptism. And I do believe that God is longing for us to use that power to uproot the systems that would stand in the way of people knowing that they too are beloved, honored, cherished creations of God.

  • How will we use the power of God’s love to respond to the real heartbreak in our town?
  • How will we use the power of God’s love to respond to political divisions that cut too deep?
  • How will we use the power of God’s love to respond to people’s longing for justice and equality?

I know these are huge questions—bigger than seem possible. But it’s been my experience that God’s love and God’s power are always bigger than seem possible. And it’s true, that my heart sings for the day God brings when the fires of justice burn, and every tear is wiped dry, and the world has turned—turned toward God’s love and power.

And where do we start? Right here, right here at this table, where we receive into our own hands the very love and power of God made known in a little bit of bread, and sweet wine. May it be the power of God’s love welling up in us—overflowing to the world.

Staring Down Cougars
February 22, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Mark 1: 9-15

One of my favorite places to go hiking is a trail along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. It’s called Eagle Creek. It’s one of these trails that leads deep into the small gorges on the south side of the river, walking along and through deep trenches filled with rushing water. The walls of these gorges covered in every shade of green. There were places along the trail where the waterfalls continually misted the narrow path – creating a fine layer of mud. In those particular places, I appreciated the modern convenience of rope riveted into the side of the canyon.

The place was wild—in many senses of the word. The water uncontained, the trails often merely suggestions, the vistas bound by nothing but the faint hint of mountains to the north, and Mount Hood to the south.

This is the sort of wilderness I prefer. The kind where I can feel at one with nature, but not threatened by it. There’s a bit of risk. I don’t want to fall into the cold water—but a steady hand on the rope will mitigate that problem. The thing that’s not there: any significant population of cougar. Squirrels, deer, birds. Yes. But you have to hike a pretty far distance to enter into mountain lion territory. I was never in that kind of shape.

I prefer my wilderness contained like this. I just can’t get over the fear of having another creature hunt me. Not into it.

Jesus, however, was apparently fine with that. In Mark’s version of the time in the wilderness, he was with the wild beasts. Tempted by Satan. Just after he had been baptized, the passage tells us that the Spirit drove him out, and he hung out in the wilderness for 40 days.

That’s a long time to hang out with wild animals. A very long time.

During the season of Lent, we set aside 40 days as a time to grow closer in our relationship with God. It is a time to remind ourselves how much we depend on God. It is a quieter time that opens us up to know God better, to trust God more. To live into our call as disciples of Christ.

But the thing is, that for many of us, that kind of quiet, that kind of reflection, feels dangerous. Vulnerable. Uncontained. There are too many wild animals lurking. For some this kind of space feels like an invitation to stare down a cougar, or to shake hands with a grizzly bear.

So we put parameters on it. Narrow it in. Make sure we don’t go too deep, so as to avoid getting to that country where the animals roam.

It looks different for each of us though.

  • There are some of us like to get a little wild—throw off the boundaries of expectations. Indeed, the wild places may feel more familiar, more like home. It is the boundaries of rules and obligations that feel terrifying and stifling—these things feel like the true wilderness.
  • For others of us, predictability is so important. Knowing what’s next, having the plan. Wilderness is that place where the unexpected happens—where the path bends and curves and there is not even the illusion of control.

But, regardless of our relationship to wild spaces, I believe it is so often the wild beasts within ourselves and each other that we tend to avoid. The places of sadness. Hopelessness. Grief. Impossibility.  The places where we cannot understand the other—where empathy is absent. The places where we do not understand ourselves.

I think these are often our wild beasts. And these are the beasts we get to spend these next 40 days getting to know. This is our time when the spirit drives us to go and stare down that which terrifies us most.

Maybe that wild animal is your relationship with one you love dearly—that nevertheless drives you nuts. Or perhaps it is an addiction that has been controlling you. Maybe it is the realization that life hasn’t gone as you’d planned. Or, it perhaps worry about health, livelihood.

This is our time to enter deep into that wild—and get to know those beasts. And maybe, just maybe, befriend them.

These 40 days are an invitation to do that—not so as to beat yourself up. Nor is a time to kill those beasts. We enter into this time, because following the example of Jesus, we know that this time apart is a time of preparation. It is a time of deepening relationship with God, re-acknowledging our utter dependence on God for everything. Absolutely everything.

In our Old Testament text today, we were reminded of another 40 days—40 days of water covering the face of the earth. And in the face of that time of wild water, God promises not to destroy. God creates this promise with the creatures God loves, and declares that we will have to work out our differences in a different way. No longer by drowning, now by relationship. A relationship that God so desperately longs for with each one of us.

And the reminder of this promise—a simple rainbow. Light breaking apart across the water, filtering into the beautiful colors of creation. They are ordered, not wild, curving across the earth. Reaching beyond our capacity to see.

This is God’s immeasurable-transforming love, reaching out to us in the wilderness of each of our lives.

Now just one last word about this wilderness—Remember, the Spirit did not send Jesus there to stay. No. Rather the Spirit sent Jesus there to prepare him. To prepare him to go out and tell the good news. To let people know that the kingdom of God has come near, as near as the rainbow touching the earth.

And this is our call too. We gather in these 40 days not to stare at our navels and feel guilty about ourselves. No. We gather in these 40 days to prepare—to prepare to go out in the world to share the love of God. To share the promise. To seek God in every place, within these walls and beyond them.


On Fundraising and Ice Water
August 20, 2014, 3:58 pm
Filed under: Weeds

I was once a fundraiser, sending out hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail to people, hoping that a mere 2% of them would open the mail and return a check.(1) The odds were never good, and often it cost well more to acquire a donor than we raised. It was a frustrating business, as we sought out the best way to get people to give money to a cause we knew they supported.

I got into it because I believe it is good for us to give our money away. And, to be honest, I needed a job. But it’s true, when we give away our money we are investing in a world far beyond our grasp, we’re investing in the hope that things can be better for others, not just ourselves. Generosity changes us, and makes us better people.

But that message is hard to get out. I currently serve as co-chair of an awesome organization, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, that affirms & supports lgbtq rostered leaders in the Lutheran church, because we believe God’s love is for everyone, and we are called to seek justice together. We do some awesome work. You should check it out: Thing is, raising money for this great work is hard, mostly because folks don’t know we exist. And if they do know about us, folks don’t realize they can make a difference with just a bit of money.

So, I’m imagining that the folks at the ALS Association are flabbergasted at how well this meme has done for them. The return on investment is huge. I’m happy for them and their bit of luck. It also makes me wonder what kind of meme-fundraiser we might get going for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Perhaps we could plant elm trees… Plant an elm, or give ELM $50. (That works. Let’s get started on that…)

But, we live in an age where we rather enjoy sandblasting every idea with the fine granules of our criticism, rendering us all slightly scarred and annoyed.

The ice water challenge is a waste of water.
Dumping water to avoid generosity?
This merely serves the egos of those filming themselves.

I can imagine that in drought-stricken areas, or for folks who walk 5 miles just to get drinking water, the opulence of a bucket of ice water is too much. And It seems counter intuitive that people make a show of not having to be generous (yet this meme has led to greater generosity). We should talk about these things–especially if we can do it without the grating judgment of those who’ve decided they know the best answer.

But, I find the judgment about ego a bit too much, and terribly naive.

Most of our fundraising is about ego. Indeed, the more one can connect with the ego of a person, the more you’ll raise. That’s just basic fundraising. Is that good? Frankly, no. But, it may just be the human condition, or our current human condition.

People give to the Art Museum because they want to be known as donors to the Art Museum. The parties are great, and your name gets listed with the most prestigious people in town. It’s about ego.

People like to buy chicks or pigs or goats, because they like the story, the idea that they’re giving something they’ve decided someone else needs. It feels good to imagine your generosity in the form of a cow in Africa, rather than trusting people to use the money as they determine would work best for them. It’s about ego.

People put up plaques to commemorate their generosity (oh how I remember the pain of trying to get every name just right– is it Mr. and Mrs. or Mr. and Ms., or Ms. and Mr., or are we forgoing titles altogether? And, are you even going to remember how you asked to be listed once we hang the plaque?). Right now in my church we have a plaque on the refrigerator. I’ve seen them on microwaves and lamp posts. How does spending money on a strange bit of metal help the cause? It’s about ego.

So, people pouring ice water over their heads, well, yes, it is ego. And so is most of our fundraising work.

Altruistic generosity is rare. It’s a problem in our society. We demand to be thanked, we demand to approve all the ways our funds are used. We give with strings, indeed, ropes, attached. A free gift is rare–exceedingly rare. But, wouldn’t it be great if we could cultivate that kind of generosity?

Perhaps instead of judging each other for the ways we feed our fragile egos, perhaps we could instead plant seeds that foster true generosity? That’ll involve putting away the sandblaster, and entering the world with kindness, trust, and curiosity. It’ll involve hearing other’s stories of generosity, and celebrating them. It’ll involve looking at why our egos are so fragile, and it’ll require we do that with compassion. And, perhaps it will also involve anonymously sending money to that community organization down the street, expecting nothing in return.

Anonymous always was my favorite donor.

What ideas do you have for cultivating altruistic generosity?

Matthew 6:17-18.


(1) I now repent of my tree-killing ways–which only adds to my frustration about how hard it is to do good fundraising.

My Advice to Experts: Stop
April 28, 2014, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Weeds

I’d love to give you a list of the 15, or even the 115 things that you should start doing right now to save the world. I’d even do the research to give the list a snazzy title that might inspire a bit of click-bait. But, I’m a realist, and perhaps a bit of a cynic. Because, if you sent me just such a list, I’d respond by picking it apart and daring, “Why don’t you make me?” But that’s my issue, I’m not very compliant when I’m told what to do.

Though, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only obstinate person in the room. I think most of us fall into that category, exhausted from the steady tide of people declaring what we should and shouldn’t do. In response, most of us either opt out, or strive to be deemed an Expert so that we can do the declaring.

On one extreme is the comfy position of non-expert, plaintively tossing one’s hands in the air. “There’s nothing that I can do that’ll really matter,” they say.  “I don’t know enough, or even where to begin.”

The expert then rises to the challenge at that other extreme– she writes that article: 15 things you can do right now to save the world and stop killing us all. Sometimes the expert will acquire degrees, or claim to have read 20x more books than others. But, that’s not required. All that expert status requires is a bit of gumption and the capacity to make declarative sentences with conviction. Someone must take a stand! And so, the expert, made bold by the need, rises up to take on the world.

Neither extreme is terribly helpful. Though, I’m not going to argue for a position in the middle. I’m not sure what that would even be, other than annoying. Rather, I’ll argue for a different paradigm altogether.

And it begins with my plaintive cry into the whirlwind: Stop acting as if you are doing this alone.

Please. Stop. You who throw up your hands in despair at your inability. Yes, if you were doing it on your own, of course, you’d never be able to figure it all out. And certainly, you’d never really be able to accomplish much.

And you, you who claim to be an “expert” or even if you pretend to be one, stop. Please. You may be right. Your analysis may be perfect. But, if you’re doing this on your own, if you are the most right person in the room, or if you disdain everyone else who hasn’t come around to your analysis…. well, then it doesn’t matter how right you are. You cannot, by your own force of will, change the world with the volume of your opinions.

But the problem with both of you is that you seem to have forgotten, we’re in this together. We are not a bunch of mere individuals acting in private spheres. We are intimately connected. So, let’s move forward as if we believed that were true. Because I do believe, if we did, we’d get so much more done.

So here’s my advice for the experts and non-experts of the world. I’ll limit it to three–though you know I could go on.

1).  Listen with compassion to the people around you. Even when they annoy you. Listen for what breaks their heart. Listen for what brings them joy. Listen for the places of hope, the places of despair. Treat these stories like they matter. Then ask, how do their stories connect to your own? Can you work together on that?

2). Believe in the extraordinary wisdom of a group of people who feel they are heard. The most sacred spaces I have known have been the places where a people have come together because they have truly heard each other. This hearing connects people, leads them away from isolation, and ignites a passion to make true and meaningful change in the world. There is no stopping a group of people who truly feel heard.

3). It’s not about you. Please, get over yourself. You are important, loved, and special. You’re just not more important than everyone else in the room. It is about us, about our shared humanity. Please share. Please trust the humanity of all of us. Let us do it together.

Indeed, let’s do this together, because there is too much heartbreak in the world, too much pain. And none of us should try to bear that alone.