Written for Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation, Vol. 22, No. 1, By the Ecumenical Stewardship Center

Living Closer to the Hub of the Wheel

 Year-round stewardship is not about repetitive, one-time church programs. It’s about helping people become more generous in many dimensions of their lives. This includes becoming more joyful and faithful as stewards of our relationships – initiating, nurturing and strengthening the ways we interact with friends, family members, our church, community, and world.

“In the new [faith] community all members relate through their connection to God,” says seminary professor Dr. Thomas Thangaraj.1 But such findings do not apply solely in modern settings. In the mid-300s A.D., the Christian philosopher, Augustine of Hippo, used the metaphor of a wheel, with God as the hub and people as the spokes. As in that image, he said, the closer we come to God, the closer we come to one another. When the love of Christ unites us, we experience the inner unity of our souls.2 As we see in Chapter Four of my book, Growing Generous Souls: Becoming Grace-Filled Stewards, Augustine understood our souls as not divine, but rather the place we go to experience the Divine by turning “in, then up” to God.3

This analogy of the wheel fits with St. Paul’s concept of our relationship with God and with one another, when he says the people of Macedonia first gave themselves to “the Lord” (Jesus Christ) and then to Paul, as he sought to raise funds to feed starving Jerusalem residents during a famine. (2 Corinthians 8:5) Because they gave their first allegiance to Christ, they were willing to give their full trust to work with Paul as Christ’s ambassador.

A key characteristic of stewarding, or managing, our relationships is “an act of giving that enables another person to manifest his or her own strengths and gifts through love.”4 The psychologist Erik Erikson called this generativity. It is not merely giving time, involvement, or some other gift to another person, but doing so in such a way that he or she seeks to help others, as well. Such ripple-out giving can take many forms, from mentoring a student or raising a child well, to listening to or supporting others so they grow in self-confidence and hope.

In the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, authors Stephen Post and Jill Neimark share some exciting scientific findings showing the lifelong effects of generativity. They cite a fifty-year scientific study of high school students who gave in a way that helped others use their gifts to help yet others. Interviewed extensively every ten years, the subjects showed a link between their pattern of giving and strong psychological health. They tended to create or reinforce warm family relations; have better health habits in middle age; and show the social skills, empathy, and self-esteem that are necessary for social competence.

“For Paul, stewardship rests on relationships, not only individual relationships, but our communal relationships,” says Stephen Paul Bouman, Executive Director of the ELCA’s Congregational and Synodical Mission Unit in Chicago.“[This is] what it means to be interdependent; what it means to live from and for others.”6

Living from and for others tends to change us on the inside, as well, transforming our old social patterns. Psychologist David Benner says, “Christian spirituality involves a transformation of the self that occurs only when God and self are both deeply known.”7 This knowledge of God is not knowledge about God, but rather knowing God in the sense of a personal relationship: seeking to know God’s heart, being grounded in relationship with the One who is both far beyond and also present deeply within us.

Question for Reflection

What can I do now to experience community, generosity, and joy more deeply? How can I draw closer to my companions in faith, as I seek to live closer to God?

                       

1 – M. Thomas Thangaraj, “New Venues of Obedience,” The Upper Room Disciplines 2015 (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2014), p. 88.

2 – Phillip Cary, Lecture 11: “The Development of Christian Platonism,” Philosophy and Religion in the West, Compact Disk set (Chantilly, Virginia: The Teaching Company, 1999).

3 – Phillip Cary, Philosophy and Religion in the West, Course Guidebook, p. 56.

4 – Stephen Post and Jill Neimark, Why Good Things Happen to Good People (New York: Broadway Books, Doubleday, 2007), p. 46.

5 – Paul Wink of Wellesley College, in Stephen Post and Jill Neimark, op cit., p. 50.

6 – Catherine Malotky, ed. How Much is Enough? A Deeper Look at Stewardship in an Age of Abundance (Columbia, SC, Region 9 of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America/Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary Council on Stewardship Education), p. 31.

7 – David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 20.