To all the accountants, mathematicians, statisticians, bean counters, lovers of numbers and those who know what the sin, cos, tan and Rand buttons on calculators do….
And, to all the dreamers, the poets, the playwrights, dramatists, lovers of language and literature, those who know Wordsworth, Keats, Dickinson, to those who have read even James Joyce….
Here’s the good news: you’re all right.
For the lovers of numbers, you’re right: we have plenty of reason to count. In the Bible, the people of Israel counted themselves and their offerings so intensely, they even have a book we call Numbers. In Exodus, when the Israelites left Egypt and set up the tent of meeting, when they built the altar, they recorded the measurements (7.5’ x 7.5’ x 4’) and set forth the minutiae of materials (Exodus 27:1-8). After the Babylonian captivity, when Cyrus of Persia allowed a group of Israelites to return to rebuild, the first thing they did was to receive and count an offering (Ezra 2:68-69). In the Christian era, the counting didn’t slow. In Acts, we read of 3,000 converts (Acts 2:41). All four gospels report that Jesus fed five thousand people with exactly five loaves of bread and two fish (Matt. 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:1-14). For those of you who love counting and numbers, the Bible is full of both. If we take Scripture seriously, we probably should be pretty good at counting.
On the other hand, the Bible is also pretty clear, God is bigger than any number we can produce. From the whirlwind, God interrogates Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me if you know? Who set its measurements? Surely you know” (Job 38:4-5). The Psalmist wrote poetry, making it clear that God’s knowledge is simply “too much” (Psalm 139:6). And, then there’s Qoheleth and the observation that everything is “pointless,” that all our efforts to understand, to control, to know are always in vain (Eccles. 1:1).
Both are right. And both, without the other, are also wrong, or at least insufficient. God has shot the created world through with something magical, transcendent and beyond human comprehension. We can try to count all we want, whether its money, worship attendance, small group participants or mission volunteers, but we’d do well to remember that in the end, our efforts really are pointless. Yet, there’s an orderliness to God’s work in this world. More accurately, God’s creative and redeeming work seems to be a form of ordering, and in this world, that probably means some level of counting and accountability.
We need order, the ability to count and describe, but also transcendence and the things that are beyond words. That’s the point I want to make with this blog, with my website, with all my teaching and writing. I’m a finance guy, a lawyer, a natural administrator. I work in an office full of numbers every day. I encourage pastors and laity to make sure they are keeping good track of money, attendance and metrics. Yet, I’m also deeply suspicious of attempts to reduce ministry to head counts. I’m downright skeptical of those who try to operate a church’s finances like a business, especially one that’s run miserly.
My mission is to always hold both extremes in tension, not to reject either, but to accept them both as one of the paradoxes of living in the world we’ve been given. Periodically, on this blog, you’ll read about concrete ways of improving financial and administrative practices. I’ll talk about what it is to keep dashboards of numbers, to comply with U.S. tax law, to establish healthy financial practices in both personal and congregational life. But, on the same blog, in other entries, you’ll read of the importance of literature. You’ll read about my experiences in trying to write and publish my own fiction. You’ll read of poetry, art, music and whatever I think is beautiful.
My hope is that you’ll find both sorts of entries helpful, that you’ll read and explore my resources I’m making available, that you’ll check out my book(s) and maybe pay me a visit whenever I’m speaking near you. My hope is that you’ll find a way to let your life be what it is, but that you’ll care for it with an eye to measuring, counting and establishing order, even as you find a way to express the inexpressible, to search and to enjoy beauty without worry about the next number. That’s my prayer as I start this blog and launch this website, that I find a great conversation with both the counters and the dreamers, and that periodically, the people who classify themselves one way or the other, will try their hand as the other.