Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, June 10, 2011

Asian Spirituality of Christian Stewardship

(Keynote Address of the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara,  Missioner for Asiamerica Ministry of the Episcopal Church Center at the diocesan EAM Consultation of the Diocese of California,  held in Christ Episcopal Church, Alameda, California on June 10-11, 2011)


This gathering today, here in this Diocese of California has a triple significance for me: first, it is here, in this diocese where the first national Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Consultation was held in 1974; second, it is here, in this Diocese, where I was installed as the second missioner for Asiamerica Ministry in 2004; and third, it is here now, in this Diocese that this first diocesan-wide EAM Consultation is ever held.

The end of all exploring,” wrote the English poet, T. S. Eliot, “will be to arrive where you started and know the place for the first time.” Or as one Chinese proverb says, “If you just stay in the same place for as long as you can, you will finally see the world coming back to you.”  So I feel like, today, it is “dejavu” – all coming back again, as if, for the first time.

You’ve assigned me to speak on “Asian Spirituality of Christian Stewardship.” Let me arranged this theme on three chapters: first, what is spirituality; second, what is Asian; and third, what is Christian stewardship. Then, I will sum up on how we can arrive at a contextual teaching on Christian Stewardship.

First, what is Spirituality?

A story is told of a parrot which was fond of speaking bad words. The nuns  brought it to the convent and trained it to pray. They were so successful that they  were proud to invite their priest to come and to see how well they converted the parrot. When the priest arrived, he saw that the parrot had a string attached to each leg. When he pulled the left leg, the parrot prayed the Lord’s Prayer; when he pulled the right leg, the parrot prayed the “Hail Mary.” So he thought to himself, what if I pulled the two legs together? He did so and the parrot shouted, “crazy priest!”

Spirituality is a word that is easy to know but hard to explain. It is like time. St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “I know perfectly what time is until someone asks me to define it and I am at a loss.” Or it is like rhythm. Duke Wellington, a famous jazz musician, once said, “ If you get it, you don’t need no definition; if you don’t have it, ai’nt no definition gon’na help.”

So I think the way to define spirituality is to know it in its root word “spirit.” In Hebrew, it is “ruach”; in Greek is it “pneuma”; and in Latin, it is “spiritus” ---and all these words suggest the same image: the spirit is a wind, a force, a breath---that creates, vitalizes and revitalizes whatever it touches.

In Scriptures, we encounter the spirit as a creative force in Creation (Genesis 1); as a vitalizing force in the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37); and a revitalizing power in Pentecost (Acts 2). Moreover the Holy Spirit is personified as the third Person in the Triune God: Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. God, the Creator; Son, the Redeemer; and Spirit, the Giver and Sustainer of life. In the context of the Christian faith, the spiritual person is one whose spirit is in tune with the Holy Spirit.

What is Asia?

Asia is different things to different people. For geographers, it is the vast land mass from the Middle East to Northeast Russia; for historians, it is the cradle of faiths and civilizations; for economists it is a mélange of developed and developing countries; for political scientists, it is an emerging new superpower; and for many Europeans, Asia is a way of life, different from the West.

Asian spirituality is deeply rooted in the theology of suffering and hope of Asians in history-nature. The Philippines “theology of struggle” was born in the context of Spanish and American colonialism; the Japanese “pain of God theology” was from their experience of being the first and hopefully, the only victims of atomic bombs; the “Dalit theology” was born out of the struggle of the Dalits, the oppressed and marginalized people who are outside the caste system of India; and the Minjung theology, is the continuing struggle of the underclass from Korea’s rapid modernization.

 I believe, however, that by virtue of their being the most populous nations in the world,  Asia is virtually represented by China and India. Asian spirituality is therefore, a blend of the practical philosophy of China and the wisdom mysticism of India. It is between India’s Mahatma Gandhi seeing “God in the loaf of bread” and China’s Prime Minister Deng Shao Peng saying, “It does not matter black cat or white cat, so long as it catches mice.”

In some strange way, I imagine Asian spirituality in similar to basic Anglican theology of via media. As former Archbishop Robert Runcie once said, Anglican theology is “passionate coolness.”

Christian Stewardship and Asian Cultures

If culture is defined as the sum total of what we are and do, then for me, stewardship is a culture. It is “whatever is good, whatever is lovely, whatever is worthy of praise” in our faith. Stewardship is how we understand and use the gifts that God has given us--- the time, talents and treasures entrusted to us.

Christian stewardship is the way in which Christian live, love, learn and grow. Christian stewardship shapes the values we share; directs the message we impart; and determines the impact we have in the world. How do we learn stewardship from the Asian culture? How do we intersect the biblical stewardship with that which we learn from Asia?


Asia has myriad and diverse cultures but within these cultures, there is a belief that all we are and do are influenced by five elements of life, namely:



1. Fire –         fo

2. Water –     sui

3. Earth –     tei

4. Wood –      muk 

5. Metal -       thit





I would like to posit that they are adaptable to teaching stewardship in the Christian Church.

This “five elements” theory, more pronouncedly in Chinese philosophy, permeates in many fields of human endeavor: medicine, business, politics, architecture and religion.

The Five Elements theory posits that wood, fire, earth, metal, and water are the basic elements of the material world. These elements are in constant movement and change. The complex connections between material objects are explained through the relationship of interdependence and mutual restraint that governs the five elements. 

Earth is the nurturing environment that enables seeds to germinate and grow; water is the flowing river that touches and nourishes everything; wood is a walking stick that guides or a spear that wounds; fire can bring light and warmth or can explode and erupt; metal is the solid ability to contain and sharpen objects. When all these five elements are in sync and when proper relationship of interdependence is shared, then health and harmony are produced and life in all its fullness and balance in achieved.

How do we adapt this Asian culture into the teaching of Christian stewardship? Let me adapt the following as arbitrary symbols:

  1. Fire, because of its intensity, can be applied to Mission. We must have a strong sense of mission to save the lost, free the oppressed and care for all of God’s creations.

  1. Wood, because of it being a guide stick or a spear, can be applied to Theology. We can either have a constructive or destructive theology of money (or time, talent or treasure.)

  1. Metal, because of its ability to sharpen and contain objects, can be applied to Vision. Without vision, people perish, the Book of Proverb says. Vision sharpens the community’s ideal of itself.

  1. Earth, because it germinates, nurtures and nourishes the plants, can be applied to Management.  Management needs to train, empower and equip leadership for life and growth.

  1. Water, because it flows like a river or drops like rain, can be applied to Worship. Worship is like a symphony that draws our community’s culture to God and vice versa.

Teaching Asian Christian Stewardship
I suggest that you arrange your Stewardship Season with a series of sermons, testimonies and dramatization using the five elements of Asian Stewardship Culture:

Week A: Fire Mission:

We are standing again in the edge of mission in the 21st century, characterized by four great imperatives:

  1. There is a new challenge for obedience to the Great Commission of Christ.  (Matthew 28:19-20)
  2. There is a great yearning for our souls to listed to the Great Compassion (Matthew 9:36) of Christ.
  3. There a great possibility of results in soul conversions and community creation because of the Great Demographic Change (immigration & multiculturalism).
  4. We have the extraordinary tools to seize this Great Missionary Moment (globalization and diaspora).

Week B: Wood Theology:

How do we teach money attitude and values to our congregation? What do we really believe when it comes to material things?

1.  Scriptures: Prayer is mentioned in the Bible 500 times but money 2,000 times. What does it say about biblical spirituality? We are not of the world but we are in this world. Will the love of money be the root of all evil or will the message of love be spread out because we have the resources to do it?

2. Tradition:  How will tithing in the Old Testament be approximated in the contemporary culture? What constitutes giving of our “first fruits”? What is the practicality of “setting aside an amount” in the first day of the week for God?

3. Reason: “Money is the manure of the devil but it is good fertilizer.” (Cardinal Jaime Sin).  What is the relationship between giving and receiving? Money is called “currency.” Affluence (from Latin ‘afluere’) means “to flow to.” Therefore money is not to be hoarded but allowed to flow. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin. (Deepak Chopra)

Week C: Metal Vision

 What is the unique vision of your church?  Christ’s vision of the Kingdom of God is described in the Hebrew word “shalom.” Shalom is not only peace as the absence of war; it is the healing of all ruptured relationships. Shalom means life in all its fullness. How do we envision our parish in light of this ultimate vision? How can our parish be a shalom in the community? How do you get hold of this vision?

Week D: Earth Management
Parish Management is like running a city: government must provide services but it needs revenues (taxes) to make it happen. The parish does not have taxes but pledges (tithes and offerings) from its members. Its services (ministries) is beyond its members. Where there are more resources, there will be more services; and where there are more services, there will be more harvest. The needs of the outside community to receive must be matched with the need of the inside community to receive.

Week D: Water Worship
1. A worship extolling Grace: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty,  you might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9. Abundance is having everything you need; scarcity is having none. Jesus on the cross, has taken the curse of scarcity and promised us abundance.

2. A sermon affirming Gratitude: It is not the saying “God gives and forgives but man gets and forgets.” Rather , it is “Yours, Lord is the greatness, the power and the glory. All things come from you, O Lord; and from your own do we give you.”

3. An Offering of Generosity: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  God loves a cheerful giver.

Concluding Summary:
Asian spirituality on Christian Stewardship, can therefore be summarized with these five basic elements:
1. Fire Mission that burns with compassion for the poor and reconciliation for the lost;
2. Wood Theology that balances scriptures, tradition and reason;
3. Metal Vision that holds shalom in community;
4. Earth Management that nurtures leadership and growth.
5. Water Worship that flows with life and creativity;

As Asian Christians we have so many wells we can draw water from. Christianity in Asia dates back from the early apostles like St. Thomas who planted churches in India and the Nestorians who introduced Christ to China.  As Asian Episcopalians, our challenge is not to follow and to follow far behind but to walk in pace and to lead. Let us dig from our own wells and contextualize the Christian faith to contemporary Asian cultures. May this example from the stewardship culture help our churches from dependence to interdependence, from maintenance to mission and enable us to grow from grace to grace, from glory to glory.

The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara

The Episcopal Church Center

Second Avenue
, New York, NY 10017

Telephone: 1212-922-5344

E-Mail:  wvergara@episcopalchurch.org

Website: www.episcopalchurch.org/asian.htm


I. Asian Spirituality Readings:
1. What Asian Christians Are Thinking, edited by Douglas Elwood, c.1978
2. The Human and the Holy: Asian Perspectives, edited by Emerito Nacpil, 1977
3. Asian American Christianity Reader, published by PAACCE
4. Mainstreaming Asian Americans in the Episcopal Church, W. Vergara, 2006

II.Stewardship Book Suggestions:

(Compiled by The Rev. Laurel Johnston, Program Officer for Stewardship

     The Episcopal Church)

1. More Than Money: Portraits of Transformative Stewardship (Money, Faith, and Lifestyle Series) by Patrick H. McNamara.

2. Giving to God: The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life by Mark Allan Powell.

3. Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by
Charles Lane

4. The Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri J.M Nouwen (purchase at www.henrinouwen.org)

5. Money and Faith: The Search for Enough by Michael Schut (Environmental Stewardship officer for the Episcopal Church).

6.  Transforming Stewardship by The Rev. Charles K. Robertson (Canon to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church)

Websites to Wander & Ponder

1.The Episcopal Church/Office of Stewardship: New Resources


2.The Episcopal Network of Stewardship:


3. The Stewardship of Life Institute:


4. Generous Giving:


5. Ministry of  Money/Faith and Money Network 


6. Three Simple Rule (Living Wisely Program/Personal Budget Program)


7. Stewardship for the 21st Century (Luther Seminary)


8. The Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire


Note: Almost Every Diocesan Website has a section on Stewardship.

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