Monthly Archives: September 2015

Faith Story: Generosity

Shared in worship by Tud Steene, Executive Director of Carpenter’s Shelter

Good morning, my name is Tud Steene and I’m here to share my faith story on the theme of generosity. As the Executive Director of the Carpenter’s Shelter, I feel blessed by my vantage point.  It lets me see generosity on a daily basis.

I didn’t start out intending to be a “professional do-gooder” (to borrow a tag from my friends). Over the years, I’ve worked with people that are struggling or disadvantaged. That has included working with people that have intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness, helping families in crisis navigate back to stability, helping the homeless and a stint on staff at Lutheran Services in America, which is one of the largest human service networks in our country that serves 1 in 50 Americans. Amid all of those experiences, here are three lessons that I’ve gleaned about generosity.

  • It’s a two way street
  • Fit matters
  • The more you do, the more you see

First, being generous is not simply about giving. That is half of the equation. I most easily see generosity when I am the overt giver. I am better and feel most comfortable in that role. But, when I give, I invariably receive more, coming in forms I didn’t recognize or expect initially. It takes humility and vulnerability to open myself up and receive.   Recently I watched a short video that demonstrates this perfectly. It is of a young man named Malek. He approaches a person that is homeless and sitting on the sidewalk. Malek gives the man money and the man asks Malek to wait.  The man disappears. Malek is confused but he waits as requested. The man reappears and is carrying a plastic bag. It includes two takeout dinners, one for Malek and one for himself.  What ensues is Malek realizing that his gift to the man wasn’t really in the form of money – it was the attention and companionship that would come from eating and talking together as human beings. The gift was really a human connection.

I see this regularly at Carpenter’s Shelter. If you talk to our regular volunteers, they relay a similar reality. The Carpenter’s residents just want to be seen and acknowledged as people. All new residents get orientation and tour of the building. As they walk past my office door, many attempt to avert eye contact. I intentionally look them in the eye and welcome them. That simple word of welcome usually helps bring down a barrier and they often times give me a relieved and wholehearted grin. I feel better seeing their level of comfort being raised.  Generosity is a two-way street.

Second, fit is key – and finding that fit is important. It isn’t as easy as simply finding an opportunity that looks good and assuming you are done. Try it out; try out lots of different things. Some will seem better than others. Have you ever grabbed something off of a clothing rack that is your size, the right color and style, and you head into the dressing room to put it on? As you look in the mirror you realize it is fine – – but it isn’t HELLO! or that look that you wanted. Find what really works for you. I spent two years on staff at Lutheran Services in America. Most everyone I knew (including me!) was excited that I was in a position so tailored to my background. When introducing myself I would say “I’m a Norwegian Lutheran from Minnesota”…and if there was still any look of hesitation, I would follow with “and I graduated from St. Olaf College.” Boom! Slam dunk. Drop the mike and walk away. There wasn’t one box on the This Should Be Awesome checklist that I couldn’t fill. And yet despite loving some aspects of the position and admiring the work of our members, it didn’t feed my spirit. I missed working deeply within a local community. It wasn’t the right fit, and learning that led me to Carpenter’s Shelter where I was closer to seeing a mission in action.

Third, the more you do, the more you see. I’m blessed to have known Joyce and Sue, who came in and made grilled cheese sandwiches to feed the homeless every Thursday for 25 years. That is tens of thousands of grilled cheese sandwiches. And when they recently hung up their spatulas and retired, what did they do?  They thanked me! Their hands were busy with bread and cheese, but their hearts were open to those being fed – Joyce and Sue were being fed in a different way. A consistent refrain from volunteers is that the more you get involved, the more inspired you are to do and give more.

These are all things that I have learned about generosity over the years. Every day I see a mission in action, and work hard to engage others in serving people in need. My personal motto is to “make doing good fun”. That motivates and feeds me. Doing that work allows me to be generous and to receive generously.

And, as a shameless plug, the November 8th Adult Forum is on the topic of homeless and I’m happy to share more about the need in our community, including Carpenter’s Shelter to that need, including ways that you can get involved.  I hope you will join me for it.

As I close, let me recap the three things I’ve learned about generosity:

  • It’s a two way street
  • Fit matters
  • The more you do, the more you see

Thank you.


100 Acts of Generosity

IMG_0217100 Acts of Generosity

Mark 4:1-20

September 27, 2015

Metrics seem to be everything these days…

We want to be able to measure everything –

not only business results,

but personal results.

Hey, if I’m going to work out,

I want to know exactly how many steps I walked,

How fast and how far I went,

And especially how many calories I burned.

And so I wear my fitbit

To keep track of the metrics,

To watch my  numbers.

What’s really cool is

That you can graph all this data,

Comparing it week by week,

And even compete with friends!

It’s all about metrics these days.

It’s all about measuring (and then trying to figure out if we’ve measured up!)

A sower went out to sow some seed…

And he didn’t measure it at all.

Continue reading

To Be A Pilgrim

pilgrimTo Be A Pilgrim

A patient came to me a decade ago asking for medical advice in preparation for a pilgrimage. She is Muslim and was planning to make the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca which is required of all Muslims once in their lives if they are physically able and can financially afford it.

I asked her how she decided that this was the time to go. She said that it was intentional. She and her husband waited until their two daughters were old enough to be on their own if something should happen to them. She said that one does not make the Hajj until one is prepared for the fact that one might die along the way.

I thought about that encounter this week as over 700 pilgrims died in a stampede while making their sacred pilgrimage to Mecca. It takes courage to be a pilgrim.

It takes courage to be a pilgrim in most world religions, because faith entails an element of risk.

For some it incurs physical risk – like the sacred obligation to make a pilgrimage. For others faith involves at the very least intellectual risk – to hope and trust in something that cannot be proven. For still others it is an emotional risk – to love those from whom you receive nothing in return.

All of us are pilgrims. Grant us courage for the journey.

In Christ,
Pastor Jen

Love Generously

auction440x265Love Generously

Matthew 25:13-30

September 20, 2015

I was at a conference on Friday and was able to listen to

someone who’s probably the most popular Lutheran pastor after Martin himself:

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally),

she also happened to be on NPR last week.

She was introduced by the host of “Fresh Air,” Terry Gross,

as a woman who does not look (or act) like a typical church leader:

heavily tattooed and with a tendency to swear like a truck driver,

she was once a standup comic with a big drinking problem.

Pastor Nadia was giving an interview about her new book

which is already number 8 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Can you imagine?

A book by a Lutheran pastor on the NY Times Bestseller list!

One of the things Nadia said to us on Friday which got tweeted out quite a bit was,

“We’ve all heard that ‘Hurt people hurt people,’

Well, we Christians know that it is also true that

Loved people love people;

Forgiven people forgive people;”

And she also said, that “people who have been given much are generous people.”

Continue reading

Women Are Speaking

imageI am at a theological conference today and all the speakers are women.

Perhaps in 2015 this may not seem a big deal to you, but it is to me. I grew up before women were pastors in the Lutheran church. I grew up when women were not allowed to serve on the church council or vote in congregational meetings. (My father assured me that women could share their opinions with their husbands…)

When my pastor told me when I was 13 that I could not be an acolyte because I was a girl, I didn’t make a fuss. I didn’t object. It was just the way it was.

Change came slowly to our church.

It was only later that I came to appreciate the women who did make a fuss, who did object. Their refusal to accept the way things were opened doors for other women and me. And it opened doors for men who would be given the opportunity to listen to women in leadership roles in the church for the first time.

All the speakers at this conference are women. It’s a big deal. There are 1000 men and women with me in the audience eager to hear what they say.

Women are speaking and teaching and preaching in the church. Thanks be to Hod that we can finally hear them.

In Christ,

Pastor Jen

God Moments from Detroit

Sermon from Denise Steene, Katie Steene, and Katie Medina

Denise Steene:

Sharing stories is one way we can build bridges, break chains, bear burdens, and bring hope.  Our story of Detroit started with Lutheran Hands—the organization that coordinated the 2-day mission trip we participated in before the Gathering, where we helped in a Michigan Urban Farming Initiative garden located in a section of Detroit that needed revitalization and access to fresh food.  We can share many stories about our gardening experiences—picking lettuce, pulling weeds, using chainsaws to clear brush, and going out into the neighborhood to help Ms. Doris and a few others around the garden by clearing their yards of overgrowth and debris.

It was Jesse—one of the founders of Lutheran Hands who taught us to look for God Moments.  At every large group gathering, we were encouraged to stand up and share a moment when we especially felt God’s Presence or experienced a sense of doing God’s Will during the day.

Jesse shared part of his own story—a story that he said was filled with “a lot of baggage.”  Jesse told of growing up in a not-so-great situation, of being the guy who bullied other kids–especially the band geeks, of spending his time bumming around by a neighborhood church and getting yelled at by the Pastor for skate boarding where he wasn’t supposed to be.  And then he shared how his buddy Mike—the other founder of Lutheran Hands—invited him to come to a youth group activity at his church, to just chill out with other kids and belong.  Eventually, Jesse started going to church, where Mike’s mom happened to be the Pastor.  Jesse was able to start unloading some of his baggage, asking for forgiveness and finding new purpose.  Pretty soon the boys were going on mission trips and doing other cool youth group stuff and Jesse found a place where he was welcome and could be a part of something meaningful and important. Continue reading

Faith Story for ELCA’s Commitment to End Racism Sunday

Reflection shared in worship by Bruce Purdy

Good morning,

Growing up in East Toledo, I lived in the working class part of town. Diversity was honored and celebrated at home and at school, or at least that is how it seemed in my world. I recall, the big issues that were on the news were Iran, the Soviet Union, and the Space Shuttle program. Racism existed, but it was always someplace else – just not in my small world, or so I thought.
As I grew older, my eyes were opened to see that racism was real, but again it seemed to always be in other places. I didn’t know anyone personally that was impacted by racism. In reality, everyone I knew was impacted in some way, no one wanted to talk about it. My rose-colored glasses were shattered when a friend confided in me that he had been beaten up once just because he was black. But still, what could I do?

Continue reading