The other day I took a friend to the doctor for a check-up. Parking was difficult so after obtaining a parking place, I remained in the car since my friend had already gone in a few minutes earlier to her appointment. I sat, waiting, and actually was able to make the time a bit extraordinary. So, in answer to the person who asked “Can anything possibly get done if you have to sit around all day waiting on others?” my answer is yes. As I sat waiting, I did a bit of stewardship and found a way to make what would otherwise be a dreary upcoming November day out of the ordinary, all as I both volunteer and attend a concert.
For many in different denomination of faith, November and December is a time called Stewardship. They define stewardship as raising money, getting pledges of tithing from their membership which creates a stream of income for the coming year. Many view their attendance at their house of worship as a stewardship of prayer, a type of “praying it forward” to earn extra points for those times they mess up or do not live their faith.
Let’s take a detour for a second and discuss the term “brownie points. Like most slang terminology, there are several opinions about its origin. In the 1960’s a system of brownie points was created in the Girl Guides/Scouts program. In order to earn a badge, Brownie Guides or Scouts had to complete a certain number of tasks concerning the particular badge in question, usually six tasks. As each undertaking was completed, they were said to have earned a “brownie point
After World War II the practice of issuing stamps based upon the amount of purchase became prevalent in many retail businesses. The stamps would be accumulated and then exchanged for household items that were often a luxury for the average household. The first such stamps were brown in color so the consumer was said to earn Brownie points while supporting the local economy. In New Zealand a utility company still uses what it calls Browniepoints in their marketing.
Although the earliest reference of brownie points in print is found in a 1960’s article in California, it is much more likely that the real credit for the term belongs to an American railroad superintendent, George R. Brown. In 1886, Brown developed an innovative system of merits and demerits for railroad employees who worked for the Fall Brook Railway in New York State. His system of rewarding and punishing employees was written about in business publications and it garnered great fame as other railroads began using it. Railroad employees referred to the merits and demerits as “brownie points” and the slang term worked its way into our common vocabulary.
An important thing to remember is that brownie points are imaginary and are not free. One earns them either through effort or by paying a monetary price. Their imaginary existence is the result of very real action. The concept of “paying it forwards” is a concept suggested by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book “In the Garden of Delight” in which a person does a good deed for a stranger instead of the original benefactor from which they received something favorable. Paying it forward involves at least two or more people and usually can become a bit contagious with others following the example. Its basis is generosity of spirit and thinking outside of self.
Many donate or tithe during Stewardship seasons based upon the knowledge that they are not perfect and will need forgiveness from their supreme spirit to which they believe they are accountable. This use or practice of giving money as a type of “fine paying” treats forgiveness and being blessed as something that can be bought. Indeed, there are some denominations and religions that still purport this concept. It is, in fact, the reason many suicide bombers detonate their bombs; they believe it is the ultimate payment for the ultimate resting place for their soul.
I will not even get into the theology or lack thereof of such concepts. The fact is that stewardship has really very little to do with money or even earning favor. How often have you visited a busy shopping mall or large office complex and seen someone mopping up a spill or emptying the waste cans? While the majority of such cleaning is done by a custodial staff after hours when the general population is not present, there are those little mishaps that require constant attention. This is the real definition of stewardship, the caretaking of the establishment. Do we stop to thank those stewards, those custodians or do we simply walk around them, maybe acknowledging their presence with a quick nod or the briefest of smiles?
Almost every culture has a flood myth and during Pentecost last year we discussed several of those, the most famous of which is the story from the Abrahamic faiths of Noah and the Ark. What we fail to realize is the stewardship required of Noah and his family in this story. Anyone who has had a household pet or lived on a farm or ranch knows the efforts required by owning animals. Imagine doing that on a boat in the middle of nothing but water. The mucking out of cages and stalls, the sweeping up of shedding hair…you get the picture. All of a sudden the mythology of this story takes on a very different meaning than simply a man saving his family and two of each species so they can repopulate the planet. Providing sustenance, a source of staying alive, a healthy environment…these are the realities of stewardship.
It is that “I haven’t the time”, the subconscious “NO!” playing in our heads that keeps us from actively making the ordinary time of our lives something more, something extraordinary. Anywhere can become a sacred space as we discovered during Advent 2014 with the series that explored all the different sacred spaces on earth. It is up to us to create that sacred space in our own lives, that time no matter how brief and that place no matter where it is that allows us to be faithful stewards.
As I sat waiting for my friend to complete her appointment, something I would call ordinary stewardship, I used my electronic device to click on some websites to earn monetary points for several charitable organizations. I also signed up to volunteer for several events in my area. How? VolunteerMatch.org was launched on April 20, 1998 as a merger between Impact Online, Inc. and Volunteer America. There is an interactive map now on their website and you can click on events in your area that offer volunteer opportunities. You can offer to assist with area art or craft conventions, concerts, speakers … anything and everything. You can lend a hand to a great organization, attend these events free of charge, and help others while having a great time. Extraordinary stewardship is just a click away!