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Growing Generous Souls -- About the Book

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Tired of the harried life?

Even the most energetic people can get tired of compulsive activity that doesn’t add meaning to their lives. They yearn to make a closer connection between their faith in God and their daily rhythms, such as how to:

  • Resist the lure of always wanting more: more time, more money, more something to make life feel worthwhile;
  • Deal with money limits and the pressure to constantly consume;
  • Let go of repetitive church programs and fundraising that hide under the cover of “stewardship;”
  • Put God first in their relationships and hectic schedules; and
  • Discover the joy of generous-hearted living, with a balance between work and rest, honoring themselves and giving to others.

 

Growing Generous Souls: Becoming Grace-Filled Stewards invites church leaders and inquiring individuals to stop racing from one activity to another and instead to focus on being rather than on compulsive doing and consuming. The book offers reflection questions and resources to help communities move toward becoming more fully grace-filled stewards of all that God has provided.

 

Growing Generous Souls reminds church leaders and inquiring individuals of their God-given identities; helps them experience the freedom of generous-hearted, gratitude-based living that Christ offers; and equips them to embrace a life lived in alignment with God's design. Challenging the ethic of scarcity, it invites people to adopt an ethic of enough and find a deeper sense of contentment. The book reorients stewardship from a church program to a way of life that nurtures grateful people. It identifies unbridled consumerism as a spiritual challenge. The book prompts readers to reconsider the use of money, relationships, and ways of caring for one another as spiritual issues that can instead be powerful tools. Vital, passionate generosity can become the key to "soul making," as part of a sparkling, lifelong, whole-life adventure.

Excerpt from Growing Generous Souls: Becoming Grace-Filled Stewards

By Betsy Schwarzentraub

Doing, Doing, Doing

Let’s face it: there’s so much doing in life that it takes deliberate intention to keep from being frenetic most of the time. When did you last feel frenetic – wildly excited or active, frenzied, and consequently distracted? 2 For millions of people, the frantic lifestyle includes what job ads call “a fast-paced work environment.” Translation: Do not assume you’ll have a minute’s peace. Be prepared to multitask constantly and shift gears quickly. In a Fortune study 3 of career coaches, recruiters, and other job experts, one typical response was, “This means that the employer wants high productivity at all costs, and you’ll be fielding a steady flow of emergencies.”

Productivity is a key word in Western culture, where the do-it-yourself mentality runs deep, constant achievement is a virtue, and accomplishment is most often equated with success. Despite the reality of collaboration in many work settings, Westerners especially are encouraged to think individualistically, to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” Employees are evaluated solely on their latest efforts, and they fear being edged out to the sidelines if their productivity slows.

Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast notes that without realizing it, we can get trapped in a perspective in which only the useful counts.4 In such a utilitarian world, we may lose our enjoyment of life – in music, in mountain climbing, or even a kiss.

“Much of Western culture is based on work and rewards,” says Carl Hoffman, Presbyterian pastor:

If we are not careful, our identities can be forged in this alchemy. We become what we do, and we are what we earn. Before we know it, our titles, diplomas, portfolios, roles, responsibilities, salaries, homes, and possessions begin to define us. We’ve worked hard to earn them, but they end up owning us. 5

The philosopher Martin Heidegger believes that many of us have become so lost in “average everydayness” that we barely comprehend our more deeply authentic possibilities.6 Whether or not we agree with his assessment, several recent studies tell us that unlimited use of technology can misdirect our attention, taking us away from being present to the people around us.

Technology itself is not the problem. In fact, a number of tech companies have had great success balancing work with play, some including profit-sharing and flexible work schedules. 7 Many Internet-related companies encourage employees to integrate different aspects of their lives by providing onsite child care and parental leave. The issue is how well we, the end users of their products, limit technology for our own purposes.

Constant work can box us into prearranged categories in the name of productivity, progress, and speed. 8 When people focus more on their electronic devices than they do on the people around them, they can become less attentive at work, slower to react defensively in their cars, and less attentive to relationships. They can still be “at work” electronically on an airplane or on vacation, and consequently miss out on being present to their family or friends. Their employers or supervisors also may assume they are available any time of the day or night, and so invade their personal time at home with incessant electronic demands.

We can choose another route for living. We can engage regularly in prayer, meditation, or worship. With consistent practices, we can learn to focus more on being than on constantly doing. In those moments, we realize that death is real, and each moment of life is precious. As we acknowledge our mortality, we may discover a greater freedom to explore our true possibilities and seek the opportunities that otherwise lie hidden in our lives. 9 This attitude opens us up further to “being–in–the-world,” where we recognize the value of our involvement with others and are able to interact more meaningfully with our environment.

Clearly, just because we are busy does not mean we are living an inauthentic life. We can choose to live fully whether at a slow or fast pace. But at whatever speed we choose, how do we keep attentive to our relationship with God, which is the center of life’s purpose? With the right priorities we are like a work of clay properly put at the center of a pottery wheel. But when we allow a zillion activities or mental and emotional distractions, we slip off-center on the wheel. Then the inevitable happens – the centrifugal force of our busy lives can unbalance us or even push us over the edge.

With more than thirty-six years as a pastor and church leader, I know some of these centrifugal forces firsthand. A combination of addressing regular ministry crises and my personal choices threatened to destroy personal boundaries and create a 24/7 work schedule. In my desire to “do it all,” I often confused God’s call as a Christian with an always-at-work mentality. The relationships and interactions were good in themselves but were not meant to take the place of God. Whatever our occupation, it takes effort to shift one’s spiritual focus from compulsive doing to the quality of being present to God, to ourselves, and to others in a balanced way.

In the book Death of a Hero, Birth of the Soul, John Robinson identifies an emerging social movement of choosing “the consciousness of being over the compulsivity of doing.” He draws on his experiences as a psychologist and psychotherapist when he says:

Being means knowing subjective experience in a perceptually pure and feeling way. It occurs, for example, when you simply feel into what you are, into your capacity for love. From this kind of awareness streams the natural rhythms of activity and rest, openness and closedness, work and celebration, introversion and extroversion. Compulsive doing, like the machine it emulates, violates this natural energy. 10

While feelings are important, they may not be enough in themselves to inform our being. We need to reflect on our situations and choices, as well. In fact, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, says that the process of good decision-making involves not only personal experience (including feelings) and reason, but also tradition, and how we understand the core messages of the Bible. He believes each of us relies on our unique mixture of these four factors – Scripture, tradition, reason and experience – as we gradually become the persons we were meant to be. 11

As I write this, I am reflecting on my own past years of compulsive doing in pastoral and extension ministry, as I worked with individual congregations and across my denomination. But trying to make one’s mark in the world is not limited to ministers or to Christians. People in a wide variety of careers feel the drive to be a success, and to make substantial accomplishments. They can become potentially disappointed when they look in vain for that new, magic program or daily spiritual practice that will cure all their ills.

As human beings, we may want to get off what seems like an enervating treadmill. At whatever age or stage of our lives, we might yearn to regain that sparkling sense of God’s call to the persons we are and who, by God’s grace, we can grow to become.

                       

1 – See Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011).
2 www.thefreedictionary.com.
3 – Cited by Brad Tuttle, reporter for Time magazine, in “Decoding Job Ads: Why to Avoid a ‘Fast-Paced Work Environment,’” February 29, 2012, http://business.time.com.
4 – Brother David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984), p. 218.
5 – Carl S. Hoffman, “The Identity and Mission of God’s People,” Upper Room Disciplines 2014, (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2013), p. 32.
6 – Stephen Erickson, “Heidegger on the Meaning of Meaning,” Philosophy as the Art of Living, Course Guidebook (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2006), p. 82.
7 – A job search site analyzed more than 72 million reviews to assess which companies are the best at encouraging work-life balance;  https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/01/the-15-best-companies-for-work-life-balance-in-2018.html. See also: https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/tech-companies-work-life-balance.
8 – Stephen Erickson, “Heidegger on Technology’s Threat,” Philosophy as the Art of Living, CDs (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2006).
9 – Stephen Erickson, “Heidegger on the Meaning of Meaning,” Philosophy as the Art of Living, CDs (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2006).
10 – John C. Robinson, Death of a Hero, Birth of the Soul: Answering the Call of Midlife, (Tulsa, OK, Council Oak Books, 1995, 1997) p. 317.
11 – “Building on the Anglican theological tradition, Wesley added a fourth emphasis, experience. The resulting four components or ‘sides’ of the quadrilateral are (1) Scripture, (2) tradition, (3) reason, and (4) experience. For United Methodists, Scripture is considered the primary source and standard for Christian doctrine. Tradition is experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures. Experience is the individual's understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discerning and cogent thought. These four elements taken together bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian faith and the required response of worship and service.” (A Dictionary for United Methodists, by Alan K. Waltz, cited under “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral” at http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=258&GID=312&GMOD=VWD.