By Jim Singletary
Many years ago, as a twentysomething transplant from the Twin Cities to Boston, I started attending church in Cambridge, MA. Unlike most of my peers, I hadn’t abandoned church-going entirely during my early adult years, but like most of my peers I was still pretty commitment-phobic, at least when it came to organized religion. I kept church at arm’s length and my attendance could be described as sporadic at best.
That said, I liked the church in Cambridge and quickly developed a friendship with the pastor. After about a year, I invited him to the shared home I was living in to have dinner with my roommates and me. Upon his arrival, he asked rather apologetically if he could possibly use the telephone to make time-sensitive long-distance call that he was unable to make before leaving his house. Those old enough to remember the days before cell phones were commonplace will remember that out-of-state “toll calls” could add a few dollars to the monthly phone bill, thus his embarrassment about having to ask. As he was dialing he joked that I could always deduct the cost from my church pledge.
The mention of a “pledge” caught me by surprise. Since my commitment to the church was tenuous, and being only recently out of graduate school and living in a notoriously expensive city on a lowly arts administrator’s stipend, I didn’t feel flush enough to contribute more than an occasional “widow’s mite” to the offering plate. Besides, pledging was, to me, something older people did, like my parents. It was for the folks who had a real stake in and commitment to the well-being of their congregations. You know: grown-ups.
A few years later I found myself joining a different church as part of a couple, with my now husband, Jim. Having recently left full-time ministry for a different career path, pledging seemed perfectly natural for him, and soon enough it did for me too. I guess I became a grown-up.
Ironically, I probably enjoyed less disposal income as a part of a couple than I had enjoyed as a single guy because despite having two salaries in the household there were now new expenses such as car payments and child support. Nevertheless, the amount we pledged never really seemed burdensome to me. And it was only in retrospect that I realized that by not contributing to my previous church I had more than anything deprived myself of a fuller experience of faith. I had rationalized that what little I would have been able to contribute wouldn’t have made much of a difference to the church. But as Darren Hochstedler reminded us in his sermon, God doesn’t really need our money, and that’s not really the point of giving, at least from a faith perspective. No, I hadn’t deprived the church community of my resources so much as I had deprived myself of a deeper connection to that community. I’ve since come to realize that of the many barriers to giving, the most pernicious are probably those of our own making, or perhaps I should say of our own imagining. And any barrier to giving is, sadly, a barrier to the joy of giving.
I know that some people derive enjoyment from giving without feeling a need to pledge, and I respect that when it’s a well-considered principle. But for me the appeal to pledging is that it makes the spiritual discipline of giving easier by reducing the number of decisions I need to make (when/where/how much) and freeing the act of giving from the mood of the moment.
This year, our stewardship emphasis is on inclusion. That is, rather than asking our most dedicated and stalwart contributors to increase what they can commit to giving, we want to encourage everyone to be a part of the Stewardship process, whatever their means. So if you are a part of the SFBC community, and have not pledged before, we hope you will take this opportunity to consider doing so as an exercise of your belief in, and commitment to, the great work of Seattle First Baptist—in our congregation, in our city, and in our world. Consider it not just for the ways it helps us in carrying out our mission, but what it can do for you in your faith journey.
By Susan Blythe-Goodman
This summer break, I had the fortune of stumbling upon a wolf sanctuary called Mission: Wolf. Their catchphrase was “Education v. Extinction,” so they were eager to teach my family and I about these beautiful and inspiring creatures.
Communication – The tour guide said the caretakers who stay at Mission: Wolf have to be honest and open with one another. If one worker has a grudge with another, the wolves can sense the passive aggressiveness and avoid the worker with the grudge. The caretakers have to talk through their problems with one another, be willing to confront someone, and ready to hear feedback.
Authentic work – With rocky dirt roads that are piles of mud and snow through southern Colorado winters, Mission: Wolf has to be as sustainable as possible from October through May. Gardens are planted on a slope below a pond so they are irrigated through groundwater. The greenhouse vents have beeswax in them, so they automatically contract and expand when needed. Every piece of the sanctuary is built to be as self-sustaining as possible, so the folks who stay can focus their energy on taking care of the wolves.
Our guide informed us we could bring our own tents and set up camp - and the temptation was certainly there. Every day, every task goes directly to taking care of the wolves, or feeding and nourishing the community.
Interconnection – “How does a wolf bring cold water to a fish?” our guide asked. We took a few guesses with simple answers to her riddle. They kill the beavers, the otters?
When we gave up, she told us the wolves that were re-introduced to Yellowstone got rid of the coyotes, bringing back smaller rodents, who brought back the eagles and hawks who hunted them. Simultaneously, the antelopes who had lazily been standing around eating all the small brush had to run again, making them healthier. As the antelope ran, they aerated the soil, making it healthier, and creating hoof print pockets where water could collect and move through the forest better. The small brush could grow into tall grass, shelter the small rodents, and create bigger pools connected by the small rivulets created by the antelope, bringing cold water to the fish.
Meeting those wolves and learning about what they can do for the ecosystem was the happiest day of my life. But instead of pitching a tent in Colorado, I left feeling rejuvenated for the coming year.
On our “Journey Home” together, the wolves have me thinking: How do we want to communicate with one another? What is the meaningful work we want to do together? How are we connected to each other? I look forward to seeing what our pack can do together this year!
By Jim Ginn
I'm writing this as I fly westward over the Rocky Mountains. This evening I will be reunited with my husband, Jim, and my lovable special-needs mini schnauzer, Otto. We will all be together again in our comfortable Seattle Madison Heights house after a week away visiting my mother. I'm going home. It's just that simple, except...
Just a few hours before this flight my mother, Frances, slept peacefully sitting on her living room sofa. I didn't want to disturb her, so I quietly loaded my bags into the rental car. A week prior, when I arrived at her house in Liberty, Missouri, she greeted me with a smile and said, "you seem so much bigger! Or maybe I'm getting smaller." She is. She seemed fragile as she slept with her head bowed, her iPad in her lap and her walker near at hand.
We spent a good week together eating out at her favorite restaurants: Red Lobster, Long John Silver's, Red Robin, and El Sombrero for taco Tuesday. We had fun with my sisters, brother-in-law and great niece who live nearby. Mostly we did projects around her condo. I repaired water stains on her ceiling, vacuumed, cleaned her nearly empty garage, trimmed her shrubs, took her shopping, and carefully reassembled, under her watchful eye, the Swarovski crystal butterfly that I had given her years ago.
Mom is adjusting well a year after Dad's death. She seems to be emerging from her time of peaceful introspection. She quilts, plays her mountain dulcimer, and faithfully attends functions at her church. But the absence of Dad is still palpable. We took his remaining clothes, primarily his suits, to the thrift shop. Then I carefully cleaned years of dust from the closet where they had hung. It's all her space for now.
I rarely cry when I say goodbye. My youngest sister, Martha, always does. But this time tears began to flow as I drove away. This had also happened 34 years ago when I backed out of the driveway in my little Chevy Monza and a tiny U-haul trailer, the largest my car could pull, and steered towards Texas. Mom stood waving on the porch trying to hide her tears for my sake.
I was leaving a life that exceeded every good definition of the word home. I had to go. It was time to build a life that would push out my former boundaries. I was excited by the potential, a little anxious about the unknown, and deeply sad to leave my home.
What I have learned over these years of joys and sorrows, bounty and bruises, is that no matter where I am at any point in my life, I am at home. I carry home within me. I surround myself with home. But I will also always seek a deeper spirit of home. And that is the paradox.
Why the tears this time? I know in my heart that a person can never return to a former place of nurture, nor should we want to. But as long as Mom breathes, she will personify at-home-ness. And someday I will be left to seek and find home without her.
Mom's love will always live on in the lives of those she has touched. I truly believe that. The love of my family, friends and my church will likewise go on. Together we seek home, you and I. Together we are home.
By Jim Segaar
Bring your scattered people home.
When we sing our heritage hymn Bring Us Home, I cry. Maybe not as much as Pastor Tim, but I cry. I first sang the song at Seattle First Baptist years ago with a stirring accompaniment and descant written by organist Dick Woodruff. These days I look forward to singing the song on Homecoming Sunday. Jim G and I chose to sing it at our wedding. And every time we sing it, I cry. Why?
Perhaps it’s because I’ve struggled with the concept of home my entire life. It has so many layers of meaning. At times it’s been no more than the spot where I currently am sleeping – I’ve even referred to our tent as home when we’re out backpacking. It can mean the place I live, like my first house on 35th Avenue in West Seattle. Initially I thought of that place as home, but ultimately couldn’t stand the noise and the location. No tears were shed when I sold it and moved on.
My struggle might be due to never feeling truly at home as a child. I was born in Montana and we moved to rural Washington State when I was nine years old. I never liked our house there – located on a state highway and surrounded by agricultural businesses and potato fields. I moved to Bellingham to attend college, and never even considered moving back.
My parents also seemed to struggle to find home. They were married in Minnesota and started their family in a farming community there, but after 10 years they packed up and moved to Montana. The reason isn’t totally clear. Some say it was for Mom’s health. Others claim she couldn’t stand her mother-in-law. And some point out that those two reasons are not incompatible with each other. Whatever the reason, they moved, and a decade or so later they moved west again to Washington.
My parents finally found home after all us kids moved out. They bought a small house in town and were happy living there for nearly 20 years - longer than anywhere else. Mom especially loved it. It was her sanctuary, her place of belonging, her home.
But one day it couldn’t be any more. Mom’s dementia was to the point where she needed near-constant supervision, and Dad, already in his 80s, couldn’t keep up with her any more. He could no longer prevent the burners being left on, the pumpkin pie made with salt instead of sugar, the casseroles with too many or too few ingredients and then burned forgotten in the oven. At Dad’s insistence they sold the house and moved into an assisted-living apartment nearby.
Mom was never at home again. She grew to tolerate the apartment, but she always talked about moving back home to her house. As her dementia worsened she needed even more care, and when she died it was in a small room in a locked ward. Not at home.
So what is home anyway, and why do I cry when we sing about it?
For me, home is not necessarily a physical location. It’s more of a convergence zone or a state of being. It’s where I find welcome, acceptance, freedom, safety, and most of all love. Home is where I can be honest about who I am, even on days when I’m not exactly sure who that is. Home is where I belong, no matter what is going on around me.
I’ve certainly been scattered during my life, physically, psychically, and spiritually. But these days I am thankful that I often feel at home. I am at home in the house I share with Jim G and our dog Otto. I feel at home at Seattle First Baptist. And some days I am even home while hiking through a mountain pass or riding bike on a quiet country road.
I am home when we sing together:
Bring us home on love’s renewing tide
To the place of our belonging
Bring us home to your redeeming side
Bring your scattered people home.
I have to stop writing now. I’m having difficulty seeing with these tears in my eyes.
Note: Bring Us Home by Rodney R. Romney is one of Seattle First Baptist’s heritage hymns.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist