The Widow’s Mite, The Poor Woman’s Dollar Bill

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I want to open today’s post as all good Christians should, with a confession.  I am, once again, breaking one of my rules.  When I started this blog the idea was to keep it separate from my local church.  I wanted this blog to be more about my own thoughts and experiences than about those of my church.  After all, no church needs it’s pastor interpreting their community’s ups and downs in a public setting.  Therefore, simply put, this is not a church blog but a Pastor’s blog.  However, something happened on Sunday so kingdom shattering and profound I couldn’t help but share it with the broader world wide web.

One of our neighbor churches is trying to purchase a property adjacent to their building. They have been in negotiations with the property’s under water owner for the last year.  Last week they were informed the city had foreclosed on the property due to back taxes and are auctioning it off this very week.  We are scrambling to get the funds together to buy it, which is a magnificent chore considering we have no idea how much money we need.

At the end of my Trinity Sunday sermon I closed by sharing with my congregation that the unity of God implies the unity of the church.  I then explained the situation of our sister church and led our congregation in prayer over the property.  I ended the prayer with a brief note that, “If anybody wants to financially contribute let me know.”

We have a wonderful saint of a woman who attends our church periodically.  I only know snippets of her story but I know life has dealt her some severe blows, financial and otherwise.  But they are the kinds of blows that sanctified her and she worships the kind of God who walks with us through all seasons.

After church, while people were milling about, she came up and told me she had left a $1 bill on the altar, noting, “It’s all I have on me right now but you make sure they get that property.”

Somehow the dollar got to my treasurer who later asked me, “What do I do with this?”

I totally understood the question.  We could create an account line for $1 but that seems like a lot of hassle.  Being just one dollar, I could have also pocketed it and taken it to the Pastor of their church.  That still seemed risky, even for a dollar.  So I muttered, “I don’t know what to do with it, but I tell you what, I love this dollar bill.”

At that moment the magnanimity of it dawned.  Nobody else had yet given me anything.  Our board would later start a conversation about how to help.  I myself hadn’t considered giving any of my person funds, not for any selfish reason but because the amount I could give wouldn’t sway the auction in any way.  We needed tens of thousands of dollars, not the measly $200 I could come up out of my checkbook.

None of that logic had occurred to the wonderful widow.  She had just caught a vision beyond herself and knew she wanted to be a part of it.  Her life with Jesus had not taught her to think practically but spiritually.  She knew the value of a dollar because she had never had too many of them throughout her life.

Me, on the other hand, well as I type I am picking crumbs out of my teeth from my $8 breakfast this morning.  I swiped my debit card without thinking twice and because it was a church meeting, my congregation will reimburse me for it.  Yesterday I threw a dollar in a machine at the mall to give my kids a fun ride.  Last week I bought a $20 video game and an $8 book.  I regularly spend money on anything from entertainment to food.  Have I forgotten the value of a dollar?

This was all she had and our Bible, nay our Jesus, tells us that it is worth many thousands of dollars, worth so much more than the coffee and breakfast and video games that I purchase regularly.

I said to my treasurer, “You know, we should just treat it like we would any larger donation.  Go ahead and make the Quick books account and when we write the check for however much we are going to give we will make sure it is +1.”  My treasurer had all ready reached the same conclusion, having been dealt similar blows in the last year.

“It is a big gift,” he said.  “We should definitely treat it like one.”

That’s what we did.  We treated it like any other gift because she, out of her poverty, gave all she had.

Still, I wish I had the dollar.  I would carry it with me wherever I go and take it out as a prop for sermons on giving.  Another part of me wanted to frame it and put it in the sanctuary.  If I had had a dollar bill on me, I would have traded it out and done so.

Instead I took the picture posted below.  My lousy phone has a really lousy camera so the picture is blurry.  But I love how blurry it is.  It isn’t fitting that a picture of that dollar bill should be like any other picture.  After all that dollar isn’t like any other dollar.

And of course by the end of the day I was reviewing my own financials to figure out how much I wanted to contribute.  Generosity is contagious like that.

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Christian Fundamentalism Part 2: Why It Isn’t So Bad

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This post is the second in a four part series based off of my very real interactions with Christian fundamentalists.  You can read post one here.

Yesterday I gave some biographical information about my experience with Christian fundamentalists and ended with a working definition of 21st century fundamentalism.  I believe its two defining characteristics are the belief in the absolute inerrancy of Scripture and the clinging to 1950s American culture as the standard for Christian society and living.

I want to begin today by repeating what I tried to say yesterday.  Often when dealing with fundamentalists I am guilty of committing the straw man fallacy where I meet a conservative Christian and immediately picture them as an angry, closed minded, sinner who thinks they are better than everyone else.   I am repenting of that sin in these posts and instead trying to engage with the fundamentalist Christians I know and explain them in a way that is more honest.

When I put aside my hasty stereotypes and engaged with Fundamentalists I found that they are nowhere near as bad at being Christians as I assumed they were.

First off they really do want to see people join the church and become Christian.  They fear becoming irrelevant and are grasping at anything (politics, movies, music, etc) that will get people to hear them out.  Although I felt panicked and awkward when they announced their latest propaganda movie, I still advertised it to some non-church youth I knew because I legitimately thought the movie would get the kids interested in God.  And so I do share and celebrate the evangelical thrust of the movement, even if that thrust turns more into a rhino charge at times (well, most of the time).

Second, the fundamentalists I know will listen to a reasoned argument from Scripture.  What they will not respond to are exaggerations and generalizations.  For example, when I make the statement, “Obviously God wants us to care about poor people” they shrug me off.  But when I open my Bible to the verses in Deuteronomy 15 about open handed care and concern for the poor, they listen.  When I blandly state, “well your sin is as bad as theirs” they roll their eyes at me.  But when I read Romans 1 and show them that gossip is next to adultery and how Paul’s argument about “their” sin suddenly turns to the claim that “you are without excuse” they seriously rethink their legalistic attitudes.  If you open Scripture with them they will pay attention and I find that admirable.  However, if you keep Scripture close and substitute it for generalizations they will turn on you.

Third, they are a very generous bunch, at least the ones I know.  They give a lot of money to a lot of non-profit organizations who specialize in social justice.  Ironically fundamentalists hate the phrase “social justice” but when I bring up sex trafficking they are the first to write a check or ask me what to do.  They donate to homeless shelters, teen pregnancy clinics, missionaries and third world farmers.  And they certainly give well above 10 percent to the church.  Their belief in the generous God in Scripture certainly encourages generosity on their part.  Unfortunately a lot of their money goes to conservative politicians, 6 day creation curriculum and Bible museums but that is not the limit to their generosity.

This brings me to a story about the most fundamentalist family in our town.  This is the family that goes to the “Fundamentalist Baptist Church,” think Obama is the anti-christ and that Jesus is coming back tomorrow because Israel fired a rocket yesterday.  They readily try to test me in conversation to see if my Christianity is strong or weak.  They turn every conversation about the weather to a heated debate about abortion or homosexuality or Obamacare.  Simply put, they have a tendency to annoy me.

However, a year ago a girl in the high school got into a brutal argument with her mom and was thrown out of her house.  She had nowhere to stay, so the fundamentalists took her into their all ready crowded home.  She went with them on family vacations.  Though they were financially strapped, they still bought her clothes and school supplies.  All this was incredible in and of itself but then they did something I did not expect.  They scheduled meetings between the girl and her mother and worked with them on reconciliation.  Their purpose was clearly stated to me: “Our goal is to see them forgive each other, get along better and have a more peaceful home.”  In the end they accomplished their goal and the girl moved back in with her mother.

The non Christians in town, and some Christians too, took sides.  They gossiped about the girl or her mother using not so friendly terminology.  They stood on the sidelines and cheered or booed their team but the fundamentalist Baptists did the messy work of peacemaking.

A few months before that another wealthy fundamentalist-leaning family in town discovered a family of six who was homeless.  THey invited them into their mansion to live for a month.  It was a very gracious act.  Another family drove an orphaned girl halfway across the country so she could get to the public university that had accepted her.  Ironically this is the same family that bad mouths all public universities.

It was these stories and others like them that convinced me to rethink my blind hatred and vicious anger against them.  It is these stories I try to remember when I meet the fundamentalists on the road and they insist I advertise their new 6 day creation seminar or side with their hatred at the Obama administration.  I will not do either but I will at least smile and nod and welcome them as the eccentric Christian cousins they are and celebrate God’s work through them.

I hope you keep that last post in mind when you read my post for tomorrow.  .  .see you then.