Another Way for Congregations To Strategize about Money

Bill Baar asked me how Sam Eliot defines a financially stable congregation. The answer turned out to be, in Bill’s opinion, worthy of a post all its own. So here it is, pretty much a cut-and-paste, not a rewrite.

Submitted on 2012/09/24 at 12:01 pm | In reply to Bill Baar.

Eliot did tend to look at balance sheets, so that if you were small but managing to balance your budget every year, he admired your initiative. This came out of the Harvard University dictum toward each of its several schools: “every tub on its own bottom” –and has been shown to militate badly against the Divinity and Education schools, whose alumniae do not earn enough money to give large gifts just as the final accounting comes due. In the congregational world, this also gives large donors undue influence.

But what is more important to me is the mindset it creates in congregational culture, which is anti-entrepreneurial. There’s a reason we don’t have the money to give our div schools, and it’s because we refuse to participate in the well-known business statement: you’ve got to spend money to make money. I would prefer to see 2 -5 year accounting cycles, which in my view would support more assertive “planning for growth.” But what we are actually doing when we grow is serving larger numbers of people in ways that satisfy more of them, so in my mind, it is immoral not to put our religious selves out there. We could even start risking some product diversification beyond our minimal current offers of RE/Social Justice/Worship/Building Maintenance.

However, to get back to Dr. Sam, his definition of affluence was more than just a balanced budget. He identified four ascending areas of society in which he wanted to see UU congregations established — and yes, we can say UU, because he was a major visionary for the merger and did good work to get it going. His four areas emphasized universities and suburbs — exactly the places where we find ourselves today.

I’ll get back to you on the other two, but not very soon. (I’m working on the self-publishing of my book.)

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The Less Comfortable Diversity

Let me just start with the disclaimer that it is not the goal of this post to eliminate anti-racism as something all of us need to work on, both in our personal and public lives.  But while anti-racism needs to include seeing race as one dimension of power, it also needs to engage the opposite dynamic, of removing race to look at power more deeply.

Here is what some scientists have found by looking at a group which lacks power as conveyed through the medium of education:

Life Expectancy Shrinks for Less-Educated Whites in U.S.

Published: September 20, 2012 (New York Times)

The purpose of this blog is to comment on the religious institution in which I am an ordained minister, The Unitarian Universalist Association, using our basic principles as a corrective. This often leads me to attack our imbalanced emphasis on institutional educational excellence as a detriment to discovering what we call the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Usually I position that critique in the larger world of employment and education itself, and call for greater application of what we now know about the many ways of being intelligent. My challenge usually bemoans the few avenues for enough economic stability to nurture self-fulfillment for everyone in a family and community. This is certainly no lonely prophetic mission: our religious educators and UUs for a Just Economic Community are coworkers who educate and sustain what little I can say.

But too often, in making this effort, I feel thwarted by an over-emphasis in displaying the more comfortable diversity of anti-racism. And why is anti-racism “the more comfortable diversity” for us?

That’s because from 1900 to 1927, in the first era of corporate academic expansion, American Unitarian Association President Samuel Atkins Eliot undertook an active campaign to shut down less affluent congregations. Equating the association’s future stability with the environment in which he had grown up — Harvard University, of which his father was president and virtually everyone he knew was a professor and/or graduate — he actively closed out small congregations that eked out their livings on the bottom edges of prosperity.

There are certainly congregations that ought to be closed, all the time and in every faith community. But using economic criteria to find them was a mistake. And to some extent, it may have been a smoke screen. A green velvet curtain concealing the more humble reality that the folks in such congregations often live life differently: they have a higher degree of hands-on contribution than financial largesse. In one of my favorite passages from his speeches, Eliot praised the women of one now-departed congregation for the industriousness — but his measure was that they were putting on food sales and such to raise money.

When folks got together to do gardening, painting, patching… this he tended not to see. Like me, he had a scholarly temperament, and, in fact, I very much advocate that all of us pay more attention to his praise of the role of scholarship in religious self-definition. But let’s not go overboard, like he did. Let’s use the one gift we get from the passing of time — the wisdom of hindsight — to see the bell curve of his perspective. His generation can and should be praised for opening books to so many who had not had the opportunity to enjoy them (he was even a strong advocate of prison and post-prison rehabilitation education and ministries), but they attempted to universalize that definition of human excellence. This led him into the cultural cleansing of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and many of his peers into the horrid false science of eugenics, and the forced sterilization of folks with mental retardation or the social underdevelopment that results from generations of total deprivation.

Those are still the folks who make us uncomfortable, and race does not define them. They are not the objects of occasional charity, but neighbors who need consistent and unequal engagement from our best selves. Our growth will always keep us ahead of their growth. But if we do not connect with them — when we cut those social ties to local parish — we get what these scientists are describing: a group which is actively falling behind in the raw statistics of life and death.

I have written before that anti-racism — a laudable long-term value in Unitarianism and much of Universalism — served us as an internal unifier during the difficult years after Reverend Stephen H. Fritchman was removed from Unitarian (pre-merger) leadership for allegedly using the denominational publication to promote Communist Party goals. It was my privilege to serve as researcher for Reverend Charles Eddis’s comprehensive reexamination of this subject. Inevitably, as my wind-up reading delved into the fallout, I was stunned to see how the emerging Civil Rights movement allowed any former AUA Communists– who had been the strongest voice against racism — to carry on part of their conviction in harmony with mainstream Unitarianism and progressive national vision.

But let us never forget that the leader of the Civil Rights movement was DR. Martin Luther King. The ranks he led most effectively were folks who already had achieved the military and educational background — often over many generations — to enter the middle class from which they were being excluded. As Dr. King extended his reach to the more intractably underprivileged, his movement began to fall apart. We will never know what would have happened to that Poor People’s March on Washington if he hadn’t been assassinated — while crusading on behalf of garbage collectors.

But we do know what happened to the UUA. We lost the narrative of comprehensive progress and became fixated on the whiteness of our culture. Yet by doubling down against that whiteness, we remain stuck in the first stages of the Civil Rights movement, looking for people of color whose educational attainments bring them quickly and comfortably into the educational milieu Dr. Sam had laid out in an era which is rapidly passing into the dim dust of time.

There is no question that when you look at studies within every demographic community of this nation — from the Republican Party to African American leadership –you see the same dilemma. Every single group is stuck trying to figure out what to do for the folks in its ranks who have lost the education race. We are not alone in this, and we are not particularly guilty in this. It’s a national — indeed, an international problem.

But my particular group is a religion, and what little I know about religion tells me this: we will be judged guilty if we just walk by. We must quit looking past these people, rendering them invisible to what little privilege we retain — just because they happen to be the same race as ourselves and our far more privileged founders.

God Considers the Taxation Debate

Over the last few months, years, decades… indeed, it would appear from this literary selection, millennia … questions have been raised about the relative financial obligations of rich and poor.

Here is one of my favorite passages from the Bible.

It lacks ambiguity, which is probably why no one is quoting it during a close electoral contest.

Nathan Rebukes David (Second Book of samuel)

12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for[a] the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

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One difficulty in using this passage is that the form of property David is criticized for stealing is a wife. A woman. That is why the prophet Nathan recasts the ethical dilemma away from the complex realm of marriage.

Another difficulty is that David is not being punished for adultery. In fact, 1st Chronicles 3 lists multiple sons by six different wives without blinking.

 The Sons of David

3 These were the sons of David born to him in Hebron:

The firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel;

the second, Daniel the son of Abigail of Carmel;

the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;

the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith;

the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;

and the sixth, Ithream, by his wife Eglah.

These six were born to David in Hebron, where he reigned seven years and six months.

David reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years, and these were the children born to him there:

Shammua,[a] Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. These four were by Bathsheba[b] daughter of Ammiel. There were also Ibhar, Elishua,[c] Eliphelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet—nine in all. All these were the sons of David, besides his sons by his concubines. And Tamar was their sister.

So you’re not gonna see the Left quoting this — lest we be accused of being soft on marital fidelity — and you’re certainly not gonna see the Right quoting it — since it’s soft on marital fidelity and hard on greed.

And that is why the clergy need to keep a certain distance from electoral loyalties and consequences: our job is to remember the prophets (those who have heard the voice of G-d) and as they did, speak sacred truth to worldly power.

I Know It When I See It

It’s 9:15 a.m. on the East Coast of the USA. While drinking my morning tea, as always, I caught up on the day’s headlines. All the news today all over the world stems from pretty much the same issue: cyber-bullying. And the front page of the http://www.NYTimes.com shows that I’m not the only one who thinks so: various articles explore the limits — once again –of freedom of speech. Personally, I still think Justice Holmes had it right so long ago. That’s because the mother of a friend of mine was a survivor of a real fire in a crowded theater — and 135 other people were not:

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Unregulated speech on the internet seems to be getting people killed. But no one wants to shut down the Free Market of Ideas.

My first thought is, let’s look at the dynamics of speech. It seems so simple to identify legally protected hate speech, the kind that  expresses a personal opinion.  And everybody feels hatred — it’s part of the inner mix.  If you think you’re against racism, take a look at the memes you’re sharing about The Tea Party and GOP. You think you’re among friends.

Are  you egging each other on?

 

Do you really know everyone who’s reading and sharing your post?

And what about when you express your contempt in such a way. and in such a forum, that reasonable minds might anticipate someone with less social discretion and personal self-control than yourself will see it and respond with explosive vengeance?

Would it matter if they believed they were acting in self-defense?

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Not hard to be against.

But what is it?

I asked my dictionary and thesaurus.

Is it poking?

Here are two kinds of poking.

The physical action is exactly the same.

Should we ignore the race and gender of the people involved?

If race was the first thing you noticed, the answer is no.

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Are the intentions the same?

How can you tell?

Do the likely outcomes matter?

If you can guess what they are, the answer is yes.

But really, in most cases, how CAN you guess the likely outcome?

Here is a summary of some other explorations of poking, using Poking on Facebook as a focus device.

Did You Just Poke Me?

And here’s an interesting caution about overreacting to a poke.

Poking Someone on Facebook Can Land You in Jail

And what about third-party placements that deny they intend to poke someone?

One sympathizes with Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, as she and Prince William sue to stop unauthorized photos of a private unclothed moment going public. But really, is this not somewhat trivial, in a world that’s on fire for other reasons?

What if she’s a four-year old girl whose photo has been lifted from a Facebook birthday party shot — and now has been redone for people who like to masturbate using pictures of very small children to get themselves off?

Why do these publishers really think people want to buy bare-breasted pictures of a woman famous for her public dignity? Do you think it’s any different from these folks buying baby nudes for hundreds of dollars and putting them out there?

I’m not posting photos for this group of questions, but if you want to, I’m sure you can easily find them.

Again with Facebook, one of my favorite ways of staying in touch with people.

Facebook Is Filled with Third Party Aps.

And apparently now you also have to specify to Facebook that you don’t want it to share your “Likes” of products or services in advertising you might not be aware of.

Admittedly, this is pesky rather than dangerous. I get annoyed when I have to delete posts telling me who shopped where over the weekend. 

But is it only a nuisance? Since Facebook started using unauthorized third party “likes,” I have started instinctively wondering, when I see a “like” from other people, whether they really hit a button to recommend this product. Part of me worries that a moment of exuberance on their timeline just got raided.

The integrity of their name has been diluted, even with someone like me, who checks in with them several times daily.

Would it be unreasonable to guess that cutting into the value of what someone says to their friends would make them mad?

Which brings me back to my primary question:

What is the difference between playful pokes (some people say there’s no such thing) and the taunting, goading speech and gestures whose easily-anticipated outcome is violence by the recipient against the party they blame for jabbing them?

And if your only reason to feel safe from a violent response is that you believe this target to be too physically far away, or highly restrained in their character and actions, have you done anything different from taunting, goading, poking other folks with known propensities to violence?

Isn’t this why the Israeli right insists on a massive military response to every threat of violence to their homeland: so no one will ever again mistake the Jews for people who will let themselves be victims?

If so, this suggests that all of us ought to be willing to sometimes respond to goads and taunts not with pacifism, but with violence.

The other alternatives are, setting and enforcing regulations on all forms of free speech — or accepting that the nicest folks will always be the ones who get attacked.

Strange World

On the surface, this Democratic National Convention keeps reminding me of the Republican National Convention in Miami in 1972. “Four more years! Four more years!” they chanted. Silly hats, buttons for their nominees, good mood all around.

Democrats aren’t like that. Patrick Murfin has just finished remembering the debacle in Chicago in 1968. Four years later, I was crossing the country with a rag-tag group of lefties, and stopped in a national park lodge (I think Grand Canyon) to play pool and see how the Democrats were doing. It was about 2 a.m., and we watched in amazement as George McGovern delivered his acceptance speech into an hour when many tv stations had already gone off the air.

And it went downhill from there. Jimmy Carter eked out his victory, which Ted Kennedy –with the help of progressives like myself — helped Gerald Ford take away four years later. Denver, only four years ago, looked much the same.

Amazingly, though, the GOP that frolicked in the Miami Beach Coliseum, is the one whose nominating speech fell victim to a televised mishap. The Dems are the ones in the silly hats, chanting “Four More Years” and applauding a beloved First Lady. We are even keeping our Vice President, something I never expected to see either party do in my lifetime.

So it’s kind of weird, really, to be in the Four More Years situation. I don’t expect anything like Watergate from Obama, but Gitmo is still open and Wall Street has too much influence with him still. Nevertheless, we could have done a lot worse, and in many ways, we’ve done quite well.

It’s a whole new thing, being a Democrat in this kind of political party. It’s gonna take time to get used to it.