Almsgiving is a funny old word. It means “to give money to the poor”. It is a powerful word. We can trace the root back thousands of years and through more than one language to ancient Greek – and there, “almsgiving” is a cousin to “have mercy.” This is what we do when we give our wealth to those who are poor – we give our mercy.
In 12th century France there was a debate whether or not the poor had the right to insist on their own justice. It was widely accepted that almsgiving was right and good but the action left those in poverty being seen as objects in the lives of the wealthy, and not subjects of their own lives.
I wish that I could say with confidence that our thinking had changed since then, but it’s not entirely true. So often the charity that we dispense to the poor through our public collections comes with strings attached or is done in ways that highlight the generosity and goodness of the giver. The method and means don’t seem to treat the people in poverty as subjects of their own lives but as objects of our giving.
To be merciful in the way that almsgiving asks of us, we have to look to Matthew 6, where often on Ash Wednesday, we read:
Matthew 6:1 "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
One of the ways that we do almsgiving here is truly a lived experience of having mercy and giving our wealth – in secret – to those who are poor. We do this through the pastor’s discretionary fund. $2,000 of our offerings budgeted to give to individuals for their needs – buying clean pants, food, or gas; paying past due utility bills and rent; or probably some other needs that are even too personal or shameful to share with us.
I would like to invite you to dig deeper this Lent and make a contribution to this fund as a part of your almsgiving practice. You can see the special flyer in your bulletin for more information on how. As for the why, it’s because I want to invite you to practice storing up your treasure in a new place; not in the good feelings that come when people see how generous you are or in the satisfaction of knowing that you’re part of the solution, not the problem; but in the place where mercy lives and generates life abundant enough to sustain you and the poor people you live with.
Daniel Thomas, CGS Musician
There has been a lot of conversation and consternation among artists and arts producers recently about the impact of Assembly Bill 5. This is the bill that was targeted at companies such as Uber and Lyft to get them to treat their drivers as employees rather than independent contractors. However, the bill has had some unintended consequences, as arts organizations have regularly treated their artists as independent contractors as well (with the rationale that plays or concerts or showings are seasonal and temporary in nature and involve different individuals each time, each with a high degree of creative control over their output, the artists do not fit the traditional definition of an employee).
By tightening up the definitions of who qualifies as an independent contractor, many companies are facing a 15%-20% increase in their personnel costs to now cover payroll taxes, workers’ compensation insurance, and other overhead costs. And for many non-profit arts groups whose finances are touch-and-go to begin with, this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Already two Bay Area theatre companies have announced their closure, with AB5 as a stated reason for their shuttering. My theater company faces not-insignificant increase in costs, but we are fortunate that we will be able to scramble and cover these costs for this year, and budget appropriately for following seasons (assuming the bill remains in place, although there are movements about to have it modified or repealed). There has been similar situations in other industries as well - the consequences of this bill have reached far beyond the intentions of the politicians and policymakers.
The “law of unintended consequences” can be found throughout the Bible, starting with the decisions of Adam and Eve. We’re taught that everything we say or do has a ripple effect, often far beyond our own vision or perceptions. Some of these things will come back to directly affect us or our loved ones, and some will affect people we may never meet. And each time, we make new decisions or actions based on what has happened, and these will make new ripples. As parents, as teachers, as mentors, and as friends, we try to help each other look at the potential unintended consequences of our decisions, and to recognize that, no matter how fiercely independent we may want to be, that we are all connected through our thoughts, our words, and our deeds.
I wonder, though, if we spend enough time on the other side of this: that each action that someone else takes is also influenced by the decisions and actions of people before them. We look at the disempowered and disenfranchised and talk in a lot of “pop psychology” terms – bad or absent parenting, victims of an unfair system, products of their environment – but how often do we look at each individual that we encounter, and how often do we learn their story? When the empowered and privileged, or those whose belief systems differ from ours, do something that we perceive as greedy, or narcissistic, or uncompassionate, what do we do to learn how they came to those decisions, especially when those people fervently believe that they’re doing the “right” thing?
It often feels like our society is too vast, and moving too fast, to do anything but paint in broad strokes. The “other side” is depicted as an unknowing, unfamiliar mass of humanity rather than the thousands or millions of individuals, each of whom walked their own path. We try to solve systemic problems with sweeping legislation, rather than drilling down to each industry, or company, or neighborhood, or person. We operate in a binary – “us vs. them” – because it’s just easier. We forget, or ignore, that these are decisions as well, each with their own set of unintended consequences. Right now, it seems the consequences are driving people apart, reinforcing the binary and reducing the opportunity for conversation, collaboration, or compromise.
Can we shut out the cacophony of the masses and reach out to the individuals? How can our decision to reach out to even one person with understanding, with compassion, with forgiveness, and with love have consequences for the rest of the world?
by Sarah Janigian
Our congregation is participating in Silicon Valley Safe Parking (SVSP), providing people who are living in their cars a safe place to sleep at night. More than one year ago the church council approved CGS’s involvement. Pastor Manda and a group of members have been attending meetings and working with faith communities in the West Valley/Saratoga area who have successfully been sponsoring safe and legal parking areas for homeless guests to sleep in their cars overnight. (Check out the Christian Century – January 15, 2020 issue. The Rotating Safe Car Park program in West Valley /Saratoga area was a feature article.)
Silicon Valley Safe Parking is a partnership of nine faith communities and Bellarmine College Prep, with locations in the central San Jose area. All have agreed to host for one month, up to two times per year. As a host site, we provide a safe parking space, bathrooms and trash/recycling for the guests. Host sites are then able to choose additional hospitality: phone charging stations, hospitality room, snacks, meals, etc.
Silicon Valley Safe Parking will work with Amigos de Guadalupe – Center for Justice and Empowerment to screen the applicants for the program and provide us with our guests. SVSP has also determined a set of criteria that our guests must adhere to. All guests must have a valid driver’s license and a working vehicle that is registered and insured. SVCP has other criteria for hosting guests, including no drugs or alcohol, no smoking in cars, and no open flames or cooking in the parking lot. We will also be registered with the City of San Jose, and Police and Fire Departments will be notified. All those agencies have been very supportive of the Safe Car Park program.
It will take our village to make this work. CGS’s month for hosting is October, 2020. Volunteers will be needed throughout the entire month. Daily shifts, 7:00 am – 8:00 am in the morning and 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm in the evening, will need to be staffed. As part of the program, we will host a weekly meal and provide snacks as needed.
An informational meeting will be held on Sunday, February 23rd, after church, in the Fireside Room. A light lunch will be provided.
For more information and to volunteer, contact Sarah Janigian, Chelsea Byom, Rachel Visscher, or Kevin Visscher. You can find their contact information in Breeze or by calling the church office.
Rey Lambatin, Choir Director
This is one of those really popular hymns that speak to me. It tells of one of God’s wonderful traits that bring hope and assurance to those who need it. So, understandably, it’s a favorite and widely sung in Christian churches around the world. Oddly though, I don’t remember singing this when I was going to the Catholic masses. I only started singing and playing this when I got involved in the evangelical church that I used to go to in the Philippines. I could still clearly hear in my head how the congregation would sing the chorus with much fervor. And as a choir director, I’ve encountered different choral settings of this hymn - from triumphant to meditative. However, I think because of its melody’s popularity, this becomes one the songs that the message of the words gets lost when we hear or sing it. With the following bit of history of this hymn, I hope that every time we hear the choir sings or we sing this as a congregation, we’ll go back to having a deeper appreciation of this music.
Thomas O. Chisholm, born in Kentucky in 1866, wrote the lyrics of this hymn in 1923. He wrote over 1200 hymns, such as "Living For Jesus," and "O, to be Like Thee." But the hymn we remember the most is "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." Chisholm did not write this hymn because something great and miraculous had taken place in his life. No, he wrote this because over his entire life he had learned to see the greatness of God. At the age of 75, he wrote:
"My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness."
Chisholm sent the lyrics to William Runyan in Kansas, who was affiliated with both the Moody Bible Institute and Hope Publishing Company. Runyan set the poem to music, and it was published that same year by Hope Publishing Company and became popular among church congregations. Chisholm's lyrics reference the Bible verses of Lamentations 3:22-23.
The quote above is from one of my favorite books in the world. It explains why it is so important to me that we have church. The way I am – who I am is because of all the time I have spent gathering with church people. It wasn’t always intentional but it wasn’t ever by accident, either.
The reason I believe that there is hope beyond depression is because of the language of resurrection that I heard in worship liturgy. The compassion I have learned to practice was only possible after years of seeing it modeled in long church meetings. My care for the environment is a product of potlucks without paper products and service-trips for vacations. Because I have gathered together with other followers of Jesus all my life I have been formed in the way of the cross.
In her book, Parker tells us that a number of studies support the notion that much of the time we spend in gatherings with other people disappoint us. Work, friends, conferences, family…all of it. As disappointed as we are, Parker contends that we tend to keep gathering in the same tired ways. We’re not mindful that what we are doing when we gather is shaping our own thinking and teaching others what kind of community this is.
I think about this all the time when I am with you. Worship on Sunday mornings – why are we doing it this way? Are you getting the messages through the order of the liturgy? Bible Studies – how can I get y’all to share the amazing stuff with one another that you share with me? Congregational meetings – how can we be in mission together without everyone hating it?
This past Sunday was the culmination of a long process of trying to address congregational meetings. These meeting are the second heart of this body of Christ. After worship, it is the only time that we’ve committed to being all together. It is the place where all of our biggest decisions are made: how we elect our leaders, how we change the parameters of our community, how we spend our money and resources, all things that we care about. I’m proud that over the past year, with the leadership of our council, we’ve switched off the auto-pilot and considered the way we do congregational meetings.
With the constitutional changes that we finalized last Sunday, we will now have two regular meetings of the congregation each year.
One meeting will take place in the month before Pentecost Sunday (usually May). At this meeting we will elect our council members and our treasurer. In the month that follows the new leaders will elect from among themselves the other officers of our congregation. They will then have the rest of the summer months to vision for the coming year and commission the Finance Ministry to prepare a budget for the coming fiscal year. A draft budget could be available in September for congregational discussion and input.
On a Sunday in November we will hold our annual congregational meeting. At this meeting we will vote on a budget for the coming fiscal year. We will also elect a Nominating Committee and Synod Assembly Voting Members. The council that was installed the previous spring will continue their work through the fiscal year turnover.
I’m excited because this will mean that we no longer have council members who leave before their hard work is finished. It will mean that we’re not trying to amend a budget over vacation or make financial moves before they’ve been approved by the congregation. It means our new council will have time to listen for God before proposing anything to vote on.
Generally, it means that we can gather better. I’m excited for the future when gathering for our congregational meeting will look more like what the prophets describe: God gathering her people from all directions of the compass, from the forgotten places, and the distant places, and the places separated by walls. There, with everyone gathered in the same tent the Holy Spirit blows and everyone is set on fire for the mission that they share – to proclaim God’s love in the world.
By Daniel Thomas, CGS Musician
Each year, I look for the perfect New Year’s resolutions: get just a little more exercise, eat just a little bit better, be a whole crazy heck of a lot more organized. And like most people, these resolutions have largely fallen by the wayside by the time you’re reading this (except the organized one - that fell apart about 10:15 AM on January 2).
Now, nearing the end of January, I find there’s one behavior I have picked up – and it wasn’t on my list: apparently my 2020 New Year’s resolution is to stop paying attention to the comment sections on the internet.
Now most internet-savvy people would tell you right away that these sections are cesspools of anonymous rage and trolling and very, very rarely add anything to the discourse of the article. Most are there to somehow use the article to bash millennials/boomers/liberals/conservatives/other commenters/the author/the website/etc. Many sites have removed the ability to comment for just this reason. I know the comments are useless and only serve to get either my dander or my schadenfreude up; and I know I never come away from them feeling better about myself or the world in general. And yet, I was incessantly drawn to them. What was I hoping for? That some vitriolic hate-baiter is finally going to get their comeuppance? That a lone voice of reason is going to quell the tidal wave of snark and insults?
Then, after a conversation with my much wiser wife, it occurred to me: I read the comments because I made those comments.
I didn’t make them online, mind you – I have no desire to jump into that pool. But all throughout my day I’d see human interaction – acts of good, acts of negligence, acts of ill, and all the gray areas in between – and I’d have a comments section running in my head. Judging, assuming, rationalizing, criticizing. I read the comments because I was reassuring myself that I’m not the only troll out there.
So what happened? There certainly wasn’t a revelatory shaft-of-light-from-heaven moment. I just noticed that I wasn’t doing it anymore. Then I thought about a conversation we had about modeling behavior for our son – about how even the subtle actions we may not even notice are picked up and mimicked by children. And we talked about the constant snark we heard coming from some of our friends and family members, and how easy it was for us to fall into that pattern. I recognized the less I allowed myself to fall into that behavior, the less I needed to see others engaging in that behavior as well.
It’s not perfect, and it’s only week four of 52. But I do feel a little better about myself, and a little better about the world. Maybe this is the perfect New Year’s resolution.
By Pastor Manda
Over the past year of 2019 our congregation has tackled a huge project: updating our governing documents after 10 years of no change (other than the continuing resolutions). I’m going to be honest because I think that I’m not the only one who feels this way – this hasn’t really been fun.
It hasn’t been fun mostly because so much had piled up on us. Like not cleaning out your garage or balancing your accounts – the longer you leave it the bigger of a headache it becomes until you just have to sit down and slog through it.
But here’s the good news. We’re almost done. Just one more time.
On Sunday the 26th we’ll VOTE TO RATIFY all of the votes we passed in September and November to change articles in the constitution (see handout). We’ll need 2/3 of the people at the meeting to vote yes for these to be ratified and take effect.
We’ll also vote on NEW AMENDMENTS: all the updates from the 2019 Churchwide Assembly that have been recommended to every congregation in the ELCA. If 51% of the people at the meeting vote yes on them as written, we’ll be able to adopt them with just one vote.
After this we don’t have to have these long confusing conversations about documents that most of us don’t read and voting processes that most of us can’t follow. Instead, we can do a little bit at each congregational meeting and keep it from backing up again.
I’m grateful to those who stayed at the congregational meetings each time, waiting patiently for discussion to end and votes to happen. Without you voting we would have just been kicking the can down the road and make the pile bigger. I’m grateful to council members who took the time to actually read the governing documents, consider multiple options and think of what would be best for the future of our congregation.
But mostly, I’m grateful to be the pastor of a congregation who knows that saying “we love Jesus” is only the beginning and that we show our love when we put it in to action by how we treat one another. Our governing documents are a reflection of that and I can rest easy knowing that we’re authentically living our faith at CGS.
By Rey Lambatin, Choir Director
The last quarter of 2019 has been emotionally challenging for me. In the last months of the past year, I learned that three of my close and dear friends are battling cancer. These are friends with whom I spend a lot of time and share a lot of memories. This cancer feels very close to home. I know that medical technology has advanced greatly that having this disease doesn’t necessarily mean inescapable end, but past experiences with other friends and acquaintances have shown me that it’s not an easy battle to go through. Even with just the thought of losing any of my friends, made me feel uneasy, helpless, and afraid. But, through this unexpected disorder and chaos, I always find solace and comfort from things that are constant in my life right now. My loving and supportive husband, Mike, reading simple Facebook posts from family and friends in the Philippines, casual get-togethers with friends here, and the thing that always does amazing work to help lift my down spirit, MUSIC. Singing and playing the piano is therapy for me. Almost always, I feel happy when I’m making music. After a long day of work and doing errands, rehearsing and directing the choirs continually bring joy and renew my spirit (although it may not always show).
Any of us who have sung in choirs know all too well the joy it brings not just the audiences, but also the choir members themselves. And why wouldn’t it? When we raise our voices with lots of other gorgeous voices in a big, beautiful space, it feels like we’re altering molecules. The power, the mojo that this (relatively) small time commitment offers… how is it possible? Well, according to various scientific reports, we ARE altering molecules… inside our brains, with different changes occurring whether listening to music, singing, or singing with others. (from an article by Jaime Babbitt, Your Brain and Singing: Why Singing in a Choir Makes You Happier)
A new year brings new hope for all of us, and 2020 shouldn’t be any different. I particularly hope for healing this year, for my friends who are battling cancer, and for everyone who are dealing with different kinds of illnesses. It is also my hope that the power of music help bring healing to spirits that are down, as it does to me.
A blessed new year to all.
Pr. Manda Truchinski
I remember the first year I was working with families experiencing homelessness. All my friends were working in similar jobs, with people who were surviving, not thriving. It was usually hard to muster hope for the people we worked with. Doing so was full of risk. It could be painful, fearful, and make us vulnerable every day. We would regularly lean on one another for mutual consolation and support. There were long happy hour gatherings, heartfelt phone calls at lunch, and more than one trip out of the city where we could distance ourselves and process what we experienced.
We naively thought that Christmas would be a relief, but for many of us we experienced the other side of Christmas charity for the first time. That's when the hopelessness that threatened our relationships with our clients grew to include the generous givers. Our organizations would get an utter flood of presents in December. Gifts like bicycles, clothes, vehicles, furniture, and more gift cards than you could shake a stick at. Such an overwhelming amount in a short time sent our people into a tailspin. Kids would have bikes but with no home it wasn't possible to keep them. Individuals would be gifted more clothes than they could carry on their back. One family that I worked with got a new home at Christmas from a well-known TV show and lost it a month later because there was no long-term plan to keep them there.
All the well-meaning charity that revolved around material goods and short term feelings undermined the already difficult system of assistance that our clients had to navigate. New treasures became liabilities. There was increased fighting within and among families. There was more anxiety and magical thinking than usual. It gave everyone a reason to abandon long-term goals. And all the careful structure of support that we'd been working on throughout the year crumbled like a building after a fire.
If it wasn't for the support of my friends, and the veterans who had been through it before us, I know that many of us would have quit out of despair. We worked so hard to have hope in a desperate situation and then even charity made hope more difficult.
Every year we wait with joy, knowing that Christmas will come. It always does. But those who first waited for Christ waited in faith, not certainty. They had to hope in something that they had not yet seen happen or known was possible. And hope can be painful, fearful, vulnerable, and full of risk.
Today we also wait for Christ with hope. We yearn for a fix to the problems we see around us: poverty, injustice, racism, xenophobia, corruption. Sometimes when we can't find a solution, we say "Nothing will change until Jesus comes again." And those words guarantee that the world keeps burning. They let us off the hook because if only God can save us, what use is our hard work?
But what if God is waiting for us? What if God needs us because God is unwilling to do it alone? What if we - doing the good work God has already called us to - can help God's saving work to be revealed here and now? Our stories, our songs, our service, our shelter might be the very things that welcome in the world we long for.
This is where we need one another. We need one another for the support to keep on doing what God has called us to do. We need one another to celebrate and mourn the stops of our journey. We need one another to fan the flames of hope that a better tomorrow is possible. That which we await is not yet fully here. So we keep watch, holding on to one another so we don't buckle under the world's pain.
I started singing at a very early age because there was always singing in the family, and I remember singing in a trio with my sister, Margaret, and a cousin, in an Indian Reservation close to where I grew up. Then probably when I was in 7th or 8th grade, I started getting involved in our church choir, and continued until when I was in high school. When I moved to California in 1991, I auditioned right away to sing with the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale (which used to be the “choir in residence” for San Jose Symphony Orchestra), and that went on until I retired from the group just this year. That makes 28 years of singing with SSVC! When I started coming to CGS, some of the congregation members told me that they could hear me sing good, and that I should join the choir. I think it was Joy and Janet who finally convinced me last year, 2018, so I started coming to rehearsals and started singing. I love singing in a group because of the beautiful harmony that the different voices create, and the joy of being able to sing words that deliver a positive message to those who need it. And I particularly love singing in our CGS Mixed Choir because of the closeness that I haven’t felt in a long time… and the director doesn’t howl at me!
Rey’s (Choir Director) note: It is a blessing and an inspiration for me to direct a choir with Carol in it. Despite some health issues, she is very committed and comes to every rehearsal whenever she can, and it’s very apparent to me that she loves singing. This commitment and love bring so much positivity to our group that brings even more joy serving in our ministry.
Christ the Good Shepherd
Various editorials, articles, and other items of interest.