At the Alaska State Museum in Juneau a few years ago, I came across a case of small figures that caught my attention. They were called “Billikens,” or “gods of the way things ought to be.” Each little figure had similar devilish features: slightly pointed ears, a wry grim, and eyes that seemed to say, “Are you sure you want it that way?” These are little gods to which we might all relate, for we each have an ideal of the way things ought to be.
It turns out Billikens were created by American art teacher and illustrator Florence Pretz of Kansas City, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. She obtained a design patent for his elephant-like face, pointed ears, mischievous smile, and tuft of hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he was generally sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him. For some time they were quite a fad. For some reason, Alaskan carvers began producing them en masse for tourists, and they have become so ubiquitous in souvenir shops there that today they’re identified with the state.
I began thinking of these “gods of the way things ought to be” in terms of how we create a congregation when so many of us have different ideas of “the way things ought to be.” The perfect size? How our children should be educated? What’s a good sermon? How do we spend our resources? It comes down to identifying our shared values and living into those, rather than our own personal needs. Our Billiken is honored often enough, but over time, we learn to be generous and let other Billikens have some playful space and run a little wild. We all have a god of the way things ought to be!
Billikens make real trouble when we let them handle the resources. Rather than “hold a little back” for a project that captures our imagination (leading to a cycle of perpetual asking for money), we focus on pooling as much of our generosity as we are able once a year, and then trust our leaders to put it to good use as we’ve outlined.
Last year we had somewhat of a laundry list of exciting things we wanted to do with our stewardship drive. There were a lot of Billikens represented. This year, we’ve focused on a single thing we’ve heard you want most: have our justice outreach reflected more clearly in the budget. Moving to a full Share the Plate program will, literally, double the amount of funding we provide to our partner organizations through our weekly offering.
This year we’ve gone through an intentional process to identify the common values of our congregation — from which we’ve crafted poetic ends statements. From these ends, we are building the plans and programs of the coming year. This is the time of year when we examine our hopes and dreams for the church, look at the vision cast by our beloved community, and give as much as we are able. No matter if it’s the widow’s mite or a king’s ransom, may what you give bring you joy.