the stewardship of our silences


The candle was developed by the Chinese 200 years BCE. It was made in India by boiling Cinnamon for use in temples and in parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle East the candle was delayed in its arrival until the middle ages because it was so much easier to use the handy olive oil in small clay bowls.  I have made these bowls.  They are small saucers with the two sides folded in to the middle and joined at one end.  The wick simply lays in the bowl holding olive oil and burns off the end.

When I was a child we went to Williamsburg a lot (my mother seemed to single-handedly support the budding sale of colonial housewares in the 1970’s) and saw tallow candles in iron holders which were soaked in fat and burned with a terrible stink; and there were beeswax candles like the ones I make from my bee hives.  Beeswax burns beautifully. it is a clean and quiet flame. This is one of my cadres in the photo.

I have often been asked what will turn the tide in stewardship in our country. I guess because I wrote the book on the subject, people turn to me when they want more money from their people for their budgets. Makes sense.

I generally tell them that the best way to raise money in a congregation is to buy them each a candle and teach them how to pray.

I get annoyed looks.

It happens a lot.

Churches want better pledge cards, more parties, more creative kickoff events and nicer signage so that people will give more.  They want to be impressive and attract confidence and thereby money. And sometimes it works. It works for Apple and for …well Apple is all I have at the moment.

Sitting silently with a candle in the darkness of a morning is harder than one would think.  To do so one is faced with one’s self and with one’s God.  If you believe in an angry God then it is even harder.   Alone with a candle one is faced with the accomplishments and failures of the previous day. One smells one’s stinky heart bits.  Alone with a candle one is faced with a savior whose radical life-choices make us uncomfortable.  What do we do with a Jesus who chose poverty and gave himself away?

People want to know about fundraising techniques and then I go and drag “Jesus” into it.  It annoys them.  It especially annoys church leaders and shoppers. Being annoying is just part of the job of being a voice for giving away money in our culture.

Alone with a candle, God can whisper to us that we are loved.  We don’t want to hear that!  We want to hear we will be rich enough to never be vulnerable. Alone with a candle we are not rushing around self-anesthetizing against our fears and griefs.  If we fill our days, our lives, even our worship with enough stuff to do, then we won’t actually have to sit and listen – to our hearts – to our conscience – to our God.  We won’t be able to hear hard questions about how our lives square with the kind of person we say we worship.  Do we follow Jesus or are we simply members of a church?  I could go to a weekly meeting about Willie Wonka without having the meetings much change my life – though the chocolate after the meetings would be a draw.  I love chocolate.

So I sit with my candle and I listen and then I ask a lot of questions and some of them are really angry ones and some are just really sad ones and some are very hopeful ones.  And then I listen again and I hope that I am setting the stage in my heart so that throughout the day I can – because of that time with God and that candle – discern between the voices to which I need to listen and the ones to which I can simply politely smile.

Discerning voices is not judgmentalism – it is just good time-management in a world in which prophets and missionaries are needed during the day every bit as much as mystics and needed in the wee hours of the morning.

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