“But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” (I Peter 1:15)
If stewardship is an act of gratitude in which we return to God a meaningful and sacrificial gift of time, talent and treasure; and if stewardship is also the good management of all that has been entrusted to us as the Garden of Eden was entrusted to Adam and Eve, then it is most assuredly a sacramental experience of communion with God.
Yet would we ever profane in language or behavior the sacrament of baptism or the sacrament of the Eucharist, in the way that we profane stewardship?
Here’s a definition of profanity: Profanity (also called bad language, strong language, foul language, swearing, cursing, or cussing) is a subset of a language’s lexicon that is generally considered in society to be strongly impolite or offensive. It can show a desecration or debasement of someone or something. Profanity can take the form of words, expressions, gestures or other social behaviors that are construed or interpreted as insulting, rude, vulgar, obscene, obnoxious, foul or desecrating.
We rarely stoop to the level of obscene language when discussing stewardship. Yet we often indulge in a form of characterization and desacralization that demeans the sacrament. The reason we do this is because practicing generous stewardship, and for those managing stewardship, (especially raising the annual funds needed to finance the programs and ministries of the parish), it is often emotionally and psychologically uncomfortable. So we dissociate from it by profaning it.
How do we desecrate stewardship in language? We use phrases like the following:
“Let’s hit someone up for a gift” or “He’s on our hit list.”
“That family is an important target for us” or “Let’s target that guy for a stewardship commitment”
“We need to shake him down for a gift”
“At the event we can pick some pockets for stewardship commitments”
“Let’s embarrass this person into giving by telling him what others are doing.”
“Push the old guilt button; that always works”
“Let’s you and I corner that guy and put the ol’ hammerlock on him”
Another, slightly more subtle form of demeaning stewardship, is how we approach receiving stewardship commitments:
We don’t respectfully invite a person to become a charitable investment partner in the holy mission of the parish to bring light to a darkened world and hope to the hopeless through communion with God; rather, we talk about maintenance issues and deficit budgets;
We don’t act decisively, fearlessly and confidently when respectfully approaching others; we beg timidly, fearfully and apologetically for a casual or minimal gift;
We plead poverty and articulate desperate circumstances rather than advocate for a deeper, richer and more meaningful relationship with God that is enjoyed when we practice biblical and sacrificial giving;
We choose not to ask certain people fearing rejection, so we say “no” for them.
The purpose of using such language is that we dissociate ourselves from something that makes us feel uncomfortable. The effect of using profane language and adopting shame- based behavior is to transmit to others throughout the parish that we must either surround stewardship with a conspiracy of silence or treat it as a necessary evil.
Once again, would we characterize baptism or Eucharist as necessary evils?
The one sure and certain way to improve our own attitudes and behavior around stewardship is to practice good stewardship ourselves. Once we experience gratitude as G.K. Chesterton defined it – “joy doubled by wonder” – then we want others to have that experience.