For millions of American churchgoers, the approach of autumn means that we are going to hear a lot about the “S” word as our congregations rally members for a new year of service and donations. This year, the convergence of Jewish High Holy Days and Ramadan in September means that Jews and Muslims are going to be hearing a whole lot about giving and service, as well.
Last week, I traveled to Washington D.C., where I always am amazed by the power of the symbols arrayed throughout this one spot on the planet — the most powerful capital in our world today.
During my visit, I stopped by a vast rally of pro-life evangelicals and Pentecostals that unfolded on the Mall with a stage and enormous video screens set up near Capitol Hill and loud preaching and rock music blasting all of the considerable distance to the Washington Monument.
Thousands of praying, singing and occasionally dancing men and women wore blood-red “LIFE” stickers on their shirts. They devoted one entire hot-and-humid day on the Mall to professing the sacred value of human life.
Wherever your faith leads you on the specific question of abortion, what fascinated me about their rally was this: During my time on the Mall and in the media coverage I saw of the rally elsewhere — I did not hear preaching about the need for our Superpower nation to hold life sacred with: adequate support for education, job retraining for those tossed abruptly out of work this year, care for our growing millions of senior citizens, health care plans to protect the millions who are tumbling out of employer-funded insurance (or who never had those benefits in the first place). Preachers may have made these points somewhere during that long, hot day and I just missed that portion of their message — but it certainly wasn’t a message that jumped out at me in the rally.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not taking one side or the other on the debate over abortion, here. I’m simply pointing out that there is a gap as wide as the Mall itself between our professions of sacred values — and where we devote both our weekly schedules and the dollars that we earn.
Thousands — one estimate said “more than 100,000” people — spent considerable time and money to stage that rally for “LIFE” on the Mall. But they seemed to hold back so much of themselves and their resources from the total support of human life that millions of people desperately need today.
This isn’t a message that’s new to me, today. It runs throughout the writings of the late Pope John Paul II, for example. It’s in best-sellers by Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne and so many others.
I’m only raising this as one small example of the spiritual problem we’re all facing this autumn: There are so many critical issues ahead of us that we either become myopic, focused on single issues, or we become spiritually lethargic, giving up all hope of making a difference.
Nevertheless, this autumn in hundreds of thousands of congregations nationwide, clergy and lay leaders will muster the courage to make fresh appeals for money and service. And, I’ve heard from many of our readers this summer wondering how they are going to accomplish this feat in the fall of 2008 — in what appears to be a hot spot in a year already sizzling with economic anxiety.
One approach that makes sense, I think, is to draw upon religion’s ancient spiritual treasures: ideas like mindfulness, faithfulness, compassion, commitment to community and a realization that all we have in life, ultimately, is as fleeting as the ancient Psalmists described over and over again.
Really, the pathway to spiritual fulfillment lies in wholeness — in fully integrating our mind, heart, spirit and actions so that when we say we hold life itself as sacred — we act that way in all phases of our lives.
The Washington D.C. symbol that nearly clunked me in the forehead with a reminder of this timeless idea was a poster for a World War I fund-raising drive at the Smithsonian museums. In the depths of that war, when most American households already were stressed to the breaking point — and many already had sacrificed sons, husbands and fathers to the war — our leaders went back to the people to raise millions more.
This poster helped to fuel that campaign.
Its message must have been a body blow to families already mourning lost loved ones — but its message also was spiritually timeless and true: “Shall we be more tender with our dollars than with the lives of our sons?” Just as this story today really is not about abortion — it’s also not about WW I or the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This story, today, is about spiritual wholeness in deeply challenging times.
This story is about how — if you’re among the millions facing stewardship appeals this fall — you can make sense of these appeals that should say to you, quite honestly, “Shall we be more tender with our dollars than with our lives?”
The fact is that, for good or ill, we’re all hurtling ourselves somewhere at break-neck, stressed-out speed. Our list of household “necessities” — the things we “have to have” to get along — is now longer and more expensive than at any time in U.S. history. We’re all worried about the future of our jobs, our savings (if we have any), our health care, our communities. The ReadTheSpirit E-Mailbag overflows with notes from readers using words like “melancholy,” “stress,” “fear” and “anxiety.”
Here’s a simple exercise to measure your own level of spiritual anxiety: First, quickly list the half dozen most important things in your life. Quick. What are they? Faith? Family? Your home? Time with a friend? Your profession? Jot them down — the half dozen most important things in your life.
Then, sit down with a pencil and paper and, start with “Monday” and sketch out your daily schedule through the following “Sunday” — then add up the hours that you devote to each category in your life. Most of us quickly discover that we’re spending our lives on a list of weekly activities that are disconnected from our sacred list — our list of life’s most important things.
The distance between our two lists is a good barometer on the spiritual anxiety in our lives right now. This fall, in the heart of these troubling times, let’s draw those two lists a little closer together.
Let’s treat our dollars and our lives — tenderly — and mindfully place them where we truly want them to go. That’s the heart of stewardship.
I often turn to the powerful cadences of the King James Version in my own daily reading of scriptures and, this past week, I reread the line from the KJV Psalm 90: “We spend our years as a tale that is told.”
Thousands of years later, we’re still asking ourselves: What tale am I spending my life on?
Am I being more tender in spending my dollars than in spending my life?
CARE TO READ MORE?
CHRISTINE MOVES TO DR. BAKER’S SITE: We’ve heard from you loud and clear that these themes we’re exploring matter to you. Last week’s series by Christine Gloss about making daily connections with other people touched a lot of readers’ lives — and also inspired the University of Michigan researcher, Dr. Wayne Baker, to explore Christine’s ideas this week on his www.OurValues.org Web site. (You can click on this link — or there’s also an easy-navigation tab to OurValues at the top of ReadTheSpirit.)
AND, COME BACK TOMORROW:
Throughout this week, we’re going to publish a wide range of reflections from people trying to pull our lives and our communities into closer connections.
Our Tuesday Quiz returns tomorrow on this same theme — but with a clever twist you’ll find fun, I think.
Wednesday, we’ve got a Conversation With Dr. David Myers, one of the nation’s leading scholars in psychology, on his new book about why faith continues to be a healthy pursuit, even in troubling times.
Thursday, we’ve got a remarkable guest writer, also from Washington D.C., who has a message about the spiritual power of Facebook.
And Friday — it’s your page again — a Reader Roundup. So, PLEASE, add your thoughts. Click on the “Comment” link below — or drop us an Email with your thoughts. We love to hear from you.