When summer arrives, or anytime really, it’s time to relax, refresh and be who we really are, as our featured author would have us be. Betsy Schwarzentraub’s Growing Generous Souls was released in summer and the first question I asked her was “What is the book’s key idea?”
A: The main idea is that you and I don’t have souls – we are souls. Plato to the contrary, we are not divided into mind versus body versus soul. A lot of misunderstanding comes out of compartmentalizing our lives like that. In the book, I’ve tapped into some helpful alternate perspectives from Augustine, Aristotle and other Early Church Christians about the soul, in addition to some modern folks like Jung, Merton and Rohr.
The soul is our authentic self, in contrast to the persona that hides behind status and roles. I hope readers will be able to let go of continual striving to have more, do more, achieve more, beyond what is healthy in one’s early adult life. They can concentrate on being present to God’s presence with them, and be the unique, authentic selves they are – generous souls in God’s sight.
I have an autumn image on the book cover, since these are often more midlife issues. When we explore these “second half of life” issues, we’re freed up to be made more “in God’s image,” as Genesis puts it: the way each of us was uniquely created to be. As we come to know this more deeply within ourselves, we can let go of our continual striving to have more, do more, consume more. Whatever we do can come out of who we are and who we are becoming.
Q: What prompted you to write Growing Generous Souls?
A: I grew up in the Presbyterian church; my parents were very active lay members, all the way up to the national church. I became a United Methodist minister and served for 36 years – half of that as a local-church pastor, and the other half as Stewardship Director for 400 congregations in California and Nevada and for our denomination. In all those years, I saw a lot of repetitive programs, especially around what they called “stewardship.” For a lot of people it became “the S word,” a cover-up for “Give us your money!” I saw plenty of pastors fall into that, too. What a contrast to the real, biblical understanding. It’s such a drain on church leaders as well as members, and a terrible twist on what Jesus had in mind!
Q: What is different or distinctive about Growing Generous Souls?
A: It invites people to stop racing from one activity to another and instead focus on being, not compulsive doing. Instead of redoing endless surface programs on stewardship, how about growing generous stewards, helping people become the generous-hearted receivers and givers we were meant to be? This is so much bigger than just money or just the church. It’s what I call “soul making,” a vital, whole-life adventure! The book starts from our faith, not from what the church needs. It begins with how God sees us and who we are.
Q: Who are your intended readers? What’s the struggle or dilemma that might prompt them to welcome this book?
A: The book has three readers in mind. The first is a church leader or pastor who has been in the church long enough to be looking for a more spiritually satisfying way of doing ministry. He or she is tired of simply repeating programs, and weary of asking for money like any other organization instead of engaging people in faith-based issues.
The second reader is an inquiring individual Christian who is looking for spiritual growth. A lot of people want to dig into the Scriptures for themselves, personally or in a group, prompted by substantive personal reflection questions.
The third reader is a stewardship professional who works with congregations. He or she wants to hear about the best resources in each dimension of stewardship (use of time, volunteer engagement, family money management, planned giving, care for the earth), all within the context of Christian faith, without having to rely on secular sources or comb through every new program that comes along.
For all three types of readers, there’s a companion book website, www.growinggeneroussouls.com. It includes a seven-week Small-Group Study Guide, a book Index of People and Ministries, and other resources to be able to engage with the themes in their own unique situations.
Q: This is your third book about stewardship and generosity. What draws you to that subject?
A: My understanding of “stewardship” is whatever we do with the Good News of God’s love through the way that we live, in every dimension of our lives. It includes how we nurture our relationships and use our time; nourish our bodies and apply our abilities in life; give, save and spend our money, and allocate our possessions; focus our priorities, passions and values; and the ways we care for the Earth and all creatures. It’s huge! It’s whatever we do with all that we’ve been given.
“Generosity” is all that in three dimensions. It’s our passion for giving out of who we are and what we have, based on gratitude for God’s relationship with us. Did you know there’s actually a science of gratitude, which shows its benefits, aside from a religious angle? Gratitude is both a learned attitude and also something we can practice and develop into a habit. I think that’s fascinating.
Q: What surprised you the most in the process of writing Growing Generous Souls?
A: I was amazed at how much there is to learn! In my first book, Afire With God: Becoming Spirited Stewards, I shared a foundational understanding of stewardship, using the story of Moses and the burning bush. Then the booklet called Stewardship: Nurturing Generous Living gives nuts-and-bolts guidelines for a local-church Stewardship Team. But in Growing Generous Souls: Becoming Grace-Filled Stewards I dealt with over-activity and consumerism head-on, and what it takes for us to counteract the lure of constantly wanting “more.”
Also I was surprised at how many ancient and modern theologians and philosophers point to the same understanding of the authentic self, what we call the “soul.” I hadn’t realized all of this dovetailed into such a rich nexus of meaning.
Q: People often imagine an author as a lone writer typing away up in an attic somewhere. Was this a solitary experience for you?
A: No, not at all. In fact, that’s the other thing that amazes me – how involved and generous people have been all along the way! Seven years ago, Peter Stafford, Debbie Griffin and I formed a critique group, and we’ve been critiquing one another’s books ever since. I am hugely grateful for their patience and skill with this book. In addition, a number of stewardship professionals, colleagues from around the country and different denominations, were willing to read the manuscript and give endorsements. And throughout it all, members of Gold Country Writers, in Auburn, California, have encouraged me to keep going and helped along the way.
Q: As a writer and an author, what did you learn from doing this book?
A: The biggest thing was how to publish a book! With Growing Generous Souls I got to form a publishing imprint, choose the cover photo, a cover designer and interior formatter, and determine the cost and the rights. IngramSpark and Amazon distribute it. It was a whole new experience!
This is where other people’s generosity continued! John Reinhardt is an outstanding interior formatter. He did a beautiful job, and gave his work for me for free! What a gift. Fred Abbott, the cover designer, also practically gave his services, and was so encouraging and collegial.
Last but not least, I would never have had the courage to self-publish, or even know the steps to do it, if it hadn’t been for my mentor, who coached me through every decision I had to make and guided me through the decisions that had to be made with IngramSpark. I have learned an author can have a lot of freedom and involvement by self-publishing, as long as she’s willing to accept the responsibility and take the risk.
Q: How can other writers or readers contact you?
A: They can contact me directly through www.growinggeneroussouls.com, subscribe to my weekly blog and find other resources on www.generousstewards.com, or connect with me through www.goldcountrywriters.com.