Our theme for the Campaign for next year’s stewardship pledges is The Giving Tree. It actually references to a series of spiritual activities we will do in worship in the next few weeks to highlight and focus our thanksgiving on the gifts we have to share.
But can any of us who’ve read to small children miss the reference to Shel Silverstein’s eponymous book. Reread it if it’s available.
Pastors use Silverstein’s story as an allegory about Christ’s self-giving love. Environmentalists invoke it as a first lesson for young children about caring for creation. Others have seen a more complicated, darker meaning about the relationship between mother and child.
It’s made me think of Martin Buber! (OK, I make my own, peculiar connections!)
In his seminal “I and Thou,” Buber uses the example of contemplating a tree. Not looking down on a tree as a distinct object, for its usefulness or its being subject to our will or needs. Instead, Buber recommends viewing the tree for what it offers as the other side of a relationship — a relationship so real that the tree is no longer completely other and distinct.
Buber exhorts us to step up out of “I-it” relationships, wherein we as subjects essentially look down on other things (or even people!) as objects. The world becomes richer when we live connected to everything in and around us via “I-Thou” relationships. In the participative world of relationships, the tree and the person contemplating it both have a claim on one another.
Buber’s prescribing an openness wherein you are not just aware of the other, but willing to live in the relationship created between an “I” and a “Thou” (rather than the experience of an “it”). Of course, ultimately Buber was suggesting that the meaningfulness of life is to be found in relationships and that the sum of our relationships point to our ultimate “I-Thou” relationship with God.
But he meant for such “wokeness” to translate to how we position ourselves in and move through the created world, and how we act or participate in the whole and holy that surrounds us.
How does this relate to the question of stewardship?
Sometimes when we talk at church about stewardship and money and what we can dedicate to the church, people get anxious and uneasy. Or they begin to feel all the demands on their resources and the limitations begin to pinch.
Almost like some sort of philosophical “appreciative inquiry,” Buber invites us to look at everything from a different perspective. Instead of thinking about the lists of things you have or lack, Buber wants you to begin to count on the relationships that knit us into this fabric of life and unbelievable richness. It’s no longer about whether you have the latest sneakers or gadget. It’s about how you are, instead, connected to everything.
In this later understanding of our situations, our eyes and souls are opened to begin to contemplate the gifts we might share not from scarcity and limitation, but from a richness and resourcefulness that might surprise us.
I recommend the perspective Buber promotes. It is much more closely related to the largesse of God’s grace and provision, and the right attitude from which to think about your support of the church, our service to God and our living our lives.
See you in church,