Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Faith Works 1-2-16

Faith Works 1-2-16

Jeff Gill


Finances of a New Year



The Ghost of Christmas Present asks Scrooge "have you met my brothers?" He claimed some eighteen hundred in that story set in 1830s London, and each of them unique but related. "Have you ever seen the like of me?" he could proudly boast, knowing there never had been nor would be again a Christmas quite like the one he represented.


Almost two hundred more into the family since "A Christmas Carol," and they all have a tie (no matter how tenuous sometimes) to a birth in Judea some two thousand years ago, and they all are as unique as the times they appear in.


This Christmas has seen the increasing impact of some trends that we all see happening, but have mostly been slow to deal with, for reasons that are both sensible and unfortunate, often all at the same time.


A billion packages delivered in the couple of days before Christmas; think about what that entails. So much cardboard and bubble wrap, so many trucks and delivery crew, twist ties and heavy vicious plastic covers which fight back against being opened. And not just those practicalities, but the implicit changes of what doesn't happen: fewer trips to brick-and-mortar stores, less shopping and more shipping, almost no cash changing hands, but clicks and beeps and passwords transferring sums from one account to another.


Which also means an even more indirect, but very real and visceral problem for charitable programs. In many places, the traditional "Toys for Tots" and firehouse drives and red kettles have seen a marked downturn.


For those efforts to help people in need to get their children a nice Christmas, many of them have for decades been built around an assumption that the path of least resistance is to get people to buy one more thing at a toy store or department store, and then deposit the charitable gift as you walk out with your other eleven items. But if Christmas shopping is more of a spot-fill process, and you are buying more specialty stuff and less of it at that, you could expect to see less of the "and get one more for the kiddies" reflex, and we have.


Then there's the cash factor altogether. As in, we don't carry it. At all. How do those Salvation Army bell ringers appeal at their tripods to people who have nothing in their pockets but tissues and car keys? In some areas, they've developed a kettle that has a card swiper built into the lid, but I've not seen one yet in central Ohio.


The bottom line is that getting people to make spontaneous gifts of cash and coin is only going to get harder, at grocery entrances and malls and yes, at churches. Giving is easier in some ways today, with smartphones and texts becoming a way that millions get raised for a special cause well known in the media – a crash, a tsunami, a famine – but for more local and personal and ongoing needs, we're simply going to have to become more intentional about helping people give intentionally.


Some of that is finding expression in the rise of "sustained giving," where you make a commitment at a certain point of the year to give an amount "automatically" each month or so. It's that word "automatically" that many church folk don't like, since it feels somehow unauthentic, illegitimate, not like putting your check in an offering plate . . . but it's not artificial giving any more than putting a symbol of a dead president in a passed tray is not a true representation of your time and resources shared.


In the end, all economics is symbolism at work. How will the economics of charity and church and community sharing be put to work, given the changes in our "symbol systems" of how we hold and use and share our substance? We don't carry the first sheaf of wheat from our fields into worship anymore, either, but that's not a lack of commitment, just a change in circumstances.


How can churches change how we teach and support stewardship and giving in 2016?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about innovations in asset sharing at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 12-16-15

Faith Works 12-26-15

Jeff Gill


'Twas the Night After Christmas



Yes, yes, children in bed, not even a mouse, all that.


But we're talking about the night after, not the night before. Jolly old elves are off to the Caribbean by now for their long winter's rest after a manic night of activity. There's no chance of one of them showing up, not pulled by magical miniature reindeer or coming through the hearth that we don't have.


There may be visions of sugarplums, or at least odd dreams from consuming too much sugar, but there's no snugness in bed tonight.


Bloom County has already pointed out (in its new online series) that the new Star Wars movie can't, in fact, bring meaning to our lives, no matter how good it is. And it turns out all the presents and packages and well-stuffed stockings don't bring much happiness, either.


The morning after Christmas morning you start to say "hey, it's time we clean up some of this wrapping and plastic scraps and . . . um, is this a broken toy or a part of the packaging?" The reaction was a mix of irritation and obliviousness. No one cleaned up anything; you picked up some of the litter across the floor, but stopped after a while and left it as it was.


Food sat out in the kitchen, some of it probably just needing to be thrown away now, others waiting to be rewrapped and stowed in the cupboards.


You ladle out a mugful from the dregs of the wassail on the stove, now cool but still spicy. Shoving aside some partially assembled toys on the sofa, sitting is the plan but the purpose is more uncertain. You don't want the TV on, really, but you're not at ease with the silence, either.


What was it all about, anyhow? Was anyone really that happy with what they got? For all the shopping and shoving and sliding of credit cards through scanners, the unwrapping and unveiling and opening up of presents took about two minutes, tops. Then the awkward assembly and activation and application of all the stuff, actual and virtual, then a sort of weary pause before "can we go see a movie?"


Was seeing a movie what all the build up was about? If it wasn't to get the thing you hoped for, or to have the stuff in your hand you'd only read about or seen on TV, if being together wasn't the main point of all the driving around and cleaning up the guest room and having people over . . . what was it all about, anyway?


There was just such a weariness to having it done, more than in the work it took to do it. So much energy and effort and now it just all has to be put away, or found a place for.


That's what they said in church, wasn't it. It's not about the stuff. It's about the baby. "The reason for the season" and all that. You could hear that, hear it a dozen times and more, but it didn't quite register. Now, though . . .


The night after Christmas. Maybe it's only now you could really think about Christ, about the baby, about the mother and . . . father? Whatever you should call Joseph, poor guy. But he did his part. But Jesus, the baby and the boy and the man who becomes something more, something he was always meant to be: that's who we're celebrating, isn't he?


So you lift your glass of room temperature wassail, you look around at the sagging decorations and the still glittering tree, and you look up, and think – pray? – Happy birthday, Bethlehem baby. Happy birthday, Jesus. Happy day for you, for your folks, for us. With you in the picture this all makes a little more sense, doesn't it?


The baby is the beginning of it. Christmas is the start, and it's not done. Somehow, knowing there was more to do that was worth doing makes you feel a little less worn out and empty. It's time to get into a new year with that new birth and give the child some thought. Maybe even give him something more.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your day after Christmas at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.