Monday, September 26, 2011

Simply Living and Giving

Because Simple is GOOD!
(A sermon for our 2012 Canvass Kickoff)

Simplicity is…
(An Excerpt from Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin)

Simplicity fosters a more harmonious relationship with the Earth – the land, air, water.
Simplicity promotes fairness and equity among the people of the Earth.
Simplicity cuts through needless busyness, clutter, and complications.
Simplicity reveals the beauty and intelligence of nature’s designs.
Simplicity helps save animal and plant species from extinction; and responds to global shortages of oil, water, and other vital resources.
Simplicity yields lasting satisfactions that more than compensate for the fleeting pleasures of consumerism.
Simplicity blossoms in community and connects us to the world with a sense of belonging and common purpose.

While doing my research for this sermon, I ran across a blog posted by Rev. Gary VanderPoll, pastor of a nondenominational evangelical church in Boston.

The question at the top of the blog posting was:
What if Jesus were your financial advisor?
I read it out loud – and my “matter-of-fact” economist husband heard it and responded: “I wouldn’t want Jesus to be my financial advisor. He didn’t know ANYTHING about finances.”

And that is probably true, but he still gave out lots of advice. In fact, as this pastor acknowledges in this blog posting, there is much more advice in the Christian scriptures about money and wealth than there is about other ethical issues that receive for more attention by pastors – such as sexuality.
I read on just to see where this guy was going with this – and found his research efforts to be quite deliberate. He went through the whole New Testament writing down every reference to wealth, money, and possessions. And he has a big excel spreadsheet with all of that on there.

Then he did a pretty good meta-analysis to categorize the gist of the message of these passages. And the result was this pie graph.

From my knowledge of the New Testament, I’d say this is pretty accurate. Jesus has lots of warnings about accumulated wealth and possessions – and often encourages folks to sell it and give it all away to the poor.
Now he and his band of disciples did have funds they collected or worked for – for their living expenses. But then they put Judas in charge of that bag of money – so go figure.

In any case, I think I would concur with my husband and not choose Jesus as my financial advisor. He’s way too radical. He’s beyond socialism – even beyond Marxism.

Heck, I can’t even go as far as our own Unitarian Ancestor Henry David Thoreau did – when he moved out to the woods to simplify his life, although his words do inspire me.

Here are some quotes from Thoreau encouraging us to live simply:
"Still we live meanly, like ants; …. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest.
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
“Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them.”
“Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

Basically Thoreau was telling us that “Simple is GOOD.” And Thoreau’s a good guy – but his kind of simplicity is a regressive simplicity – a sort of utopian, back to nature throwback to an earlier time. Folks today who follow this kind of simplicity might take on a primitive lifestyle with no indoor toilet, no computer, no car – NO WAY! I like my Prius!

But I do have a simplicity guru that I can try to follow. His name is Duane Elgin – and those were his words we shared for our reading. He is the author of Voluntary Simplicity, first published in 1981 – with subsequent revisions including this 2010 publication.

I had read an earlier version of this work, and was already a fan and – I guess you could say – a disciple. Greg and I have been attempting to move to this lifeway for a quite few years now. Actually, our awareness or this need was challenged here in a UU service about a decade ago, when Guest speaker Will McIntosh asked us to go home and count the number of shirts that we owned and see if that was really necessary! It worked. And we’ve been looking for ways to simplify since then.

Yes, we’ve discovered what many others have – that Simple is GOOD.

Although there are other good books on this as well, Elgin’s earlier work had given me a framework for studying and attempting to implement simplicity in my life. I decided to get his latest edition and review it before this service.
Chapter 1 begins with the words --- “TIME IS UP!! Wake up alarms are ringing around the world with news ranging from economic breakdowns and the end of cheap oil to climate disruption, crop failures, and famines. The time has arrived for making dramatic changes in how we live.”

I think the biggest difference in this edition is the awareness that we have moved from warnings about the need to move in this direction – to a total awareness that our world is now in crisis and that we MUST learn the lessons offered by people like Elgin – and he is, of course, just one of the many folks raising awareness of this need. No longer is simplicity seen as an alternative lifestyle for a marginal few. It is a creative choice for the mainstream majority, particularly developed nations. Elgin states: “The circle has closed. The Earth is a single system and we humans have reached beyond its regenerative capacity. It is of the highest urgency that we invent new ways of living that are sustainable.”

To portray the richness of simplicity, Elgin presents eight different flowerings of what he sees growing in the Garden of Simplicity -- because Simple is Good. So what are these flowers?
1st – Uncluttered Simplicity – taking charge of lives that are too busy, too stressed, and too fragmented – focusing on the essentials. As Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail.”
2nd – Ecological Simplicty – Choosing ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly.
3rd – Family Simplicity – Placing the well-being of one’s family and other close relationships ahead of materialism and the acquisition of things.
4th – Compassionate Simplicity – Feeling such a strong kinship with others that, as Gandhi said, “we choose to live simply so that others may simply live.”
5th – Soulful Simplicity – approaching life as a meditation and cultivating our experience of direct connection with all that exists.
6th – Business Simplicity – a new kind of economy is growing in the world, with healthy and sustainable products and services.
7th – Civic Simplicity – changing every area of public life – from public transportation and education to the design of our cities and workplaces.
8th – Frugal Simplicity – By cutting back on spending that is not truly serving our lives, and by practicing skillful management of our personal finances, we can achieve greater financial independence. Living with less also decreases the impact of our consumption upon the Earth and frees resources for others.

This garden cannot be grown overnight – and takes much tending. But, it does not mean sacrifice. It means living more fully. And that means living more simply – because Simple is Good.

Now, I’m probably the Queen of Frugality. I buy mostly used clothes – giving them a 2nd chance, you know – and I’ve learned many tricks of good frugality from my mom and my grandmother. And for the last decade, I’ve lived with the King of Frugality. So that works! But it does not mean that we are not generous. I will gladly pick up your tab at lunch. Sometimes I may be a little too generous – if there is such a thing. And that leads me to the 2nd part of this sermon title.

This sermon is entitled Simply Living and Giving – because – it is indeed our canvass weekend. What we hope to do through this canvass is simplify a little ourselves – and help YOU to be able to more simply give the time, talents, and treasures that you WANT to give to our wonderful congregation!

One way we’ve simplified is to make all the packets the same – and not do these by households – with some having different numbers of pledge cards and volunteer forms, etc. If you didn’t pick up a packet at the concert Friday night, please get one before you leave today and sign one of the sheets on the back table letting us know you got a packet so that we can save stamps by not mailing one to you. And please pick one up even if you’ve recently started attending here; because we want you to see the variety of volunteer activities and other activities we have available- and get involved!
#1 – Everybody get a packet!
#2 – Please read the cover letter with the directions! It really does help. The cover letter is white and has two sides.
#3 – Fill out the pledge card with your estimate of giving for 2012.
On the back of these cards you will find UUA’s Giving Guide. This is a progressive guide. YES, one that assumes that if you are more blessed financially, you are in a better position to give a bigger percentage. But it also takes into account that you sometimes have unusual circumstances; including medical bills, childcare, costs of higher education, and other possibilities. This is a Giving GUIDE – that also takes into account that your commitment to our congregation may be at different levels. Our hope is that you will move toward being committed at the visionary level – looking with us to the future. But understandably, you may need to grow to that point in commitment. So use this guide -- or don’t use it. But it is a good way to at least start thinking about your gift.
NOW – you can give as a household – if you are in one of those households that pool their money and prefers to give as a unit – or you can give individually. If there are two or more adults who get packets (but you are doing one pledge card together) simply indicate on the other pledge cards that you are part of that household unit.
#4 –Complete the YELLOW Volunteer Form. We ask that you check one of the major committees for membership – then you can also check various activities under any of the committees. So for example – you may check the building and grounds committee, but also check under social justice that you want to participate in the MLK parade. If you are willing to give leadership to any of these committees or activities, please let us know that by writing that in the margins.
#5– If you have folks you’d like to recommend for our board – including yourself, use the blue form for doing this.
#6 – Put them all in the envelope provided and bring them back to church next Sunday or the one after that – or you can put a stamp on the envelope and mail it in.

SO – that’s how we’ve hopefully simplified the part about the packet. BUT we also want to encourage you to find ways to SIMPLY give!! Because Simple is Good.

We do not have a system in place that allows us to DRAFT the money from your account – like the Georgia Power does – but actually, I think that the BILL PAY system your bank offers is better anyway – because it allows you to totally be in charge – and when the time comes that you need to change what you are giving – like hopefully after you get that new better paying job or that raise - then you can do this without having to have someone else involved. I have my check sent automatically to the church PO Box – soon after my paycheck ENTERS my account. And that way I don’t have to worry about remembering to bring a check to church – or perhaps get in a situation where I get behind while on vacation and then have a more difficult time catching up, etc. It just makes it simpler – and SIMPLE is good. If you need help setting this up, we have folks in our congregation who are pretty good about things like that and can assist you. Just let me know and I’ll connect you with them.

Now I’m well aware that things are difficult financially for some of you right now. And I’m certainly not trying to guilt you into giving more money than you can afford to give. I’m just saying – that after you figure out what you DO want to give, we can help you figure out a way to do that in a simplified way. Because SIMPLE is GOOD.

Please know ALSO --- that we know things can happen that you can’t predict. We ask that you fill out these forms based on how things are now. But if something happens – you lose your job – a family member becomes ill and needs more of your financial assistance --- whatever – and you need to change your pledge, just let our treasurer know so we can adjust our budget --- and the same is true with your commitments of time. We understand that things can happen.

Hopefully, you will not be shipwrecked and end up on a deserted island like these guys.
But if you do, we’ll come look for you!

In any case, we do hope that you will take some time this week to consider your gifts of time, talent, and treasure to our wonderful congregation. If we all share together, we will be truly blessed.

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