Thinking Out Loud

August 12, 2017

For the Forty-Somethings

 and some Thirty-somethings

 plus a few Fifty-somethings

It’s time to step up.

By that I mean, it’s time to get out the checkbook (or chequebook if you prefer) or grab the credit card and go online.

I’m not talking about giving to your local church. I’m sure you already do that. Maybe you tithe. Maybe you’re what Andy Stanley calls a percentage giver.  Things are stable financially and you’ve recognized that responsibility. Your local church thanks you, and wouldn’t exist without you.

No, this is about giving beyond your local church. It’s about the parachurch organizations, the faith missions, the Christian social service agencies. It’s about hospitals in third world nations, adopting orphans, and teaching literacy to jungle people, and preparing translations of the Gospel of Matthew.

Here’s the deal: A generation that founded many organizations — many formed in the post-war years 1945 to 1950 — and then funded those organizations is dying off. These generous patrons need to be replaced.

At the same time, as Christianity loses its ground numerically in Western Europe, Australia/NZ, and North America; awareness of the faith mission organizations is decreasing. Those of us who populate the pews on the weekend do not have opportunities to hear about the vital things different groups are doing, either domestically or in far-flung mission fields.

Some of these organizations are watching their donor base shrink and shrink to the point where everyone from office staff to field workers face cults. It’s now or never…

…Writing an article like this without mentioning names of potential objects for your philanthropy is difficult, but that’s what I pre-determined this piece would be. I do however suggest a few questions:

  1. Am I interested primarily in proclamation of the Christian message, or I am okay with organizations who serve the needy in Christ’s name?
  2. Do I want my money to stay here at home, or do I want to give to overseas projects in the most economically disadvantages parts of the world?
  3. Do I want to give to a major, longtime, well-established Christian charity, or do I want to partner with a newer, upstart group?
  4. What causes tend to resonate with me?
  5. If my gift means I end up on a mailing list, are these organizations I genuinely want to read about and learn how and what they’re doing?
  6. What particular ministry opportunities or places in the world am I personally aware of which may not be as familiar to others?
  7. Do I want to scatter some funds among a handful of Christian organizations, or go long and deep with one particular cause?
  8. Are there ministries where I have personal contact with a particular worker and will thereby know that the job is getting done; the money well-spent?

You might need to do some research. If you’re married, make sure your partner agrees with your choices, especially if you’re writing checks on a joint-account. And decide if you want to be a monthly supporter — which the organizations love because it provides them with a stable financial forecast — or if you’re doing a one-time thing.

People in the middle of a variety of ministry contexts are watching for your contributions.

February 6, 2017

What it Means to be a “Christian Country”

Canadian and U.S. dollar coins

Greg Boyd’s book The Myth of a Christian Nation notwithstanding, many people believe that the nation whose currency proclaims ‘In God We Trust’ is indeed “a Christian Nation.”

Canada has no such illusions. Religious pluralism is normative across most provinces. We refer to ourselves as “a cultural mosaic.”

However this past week we saw an interesting inversion of national stereotypes. In a front page article Saturday in Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, The Star, Robert Benzie writes:

Ontario is flinging open its operating-room doors to provide health care for foreign children whose life-saving surgeries stateside have been cancelled due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

In the wake of Trump’s temporary immigration ban against citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which has affected thousands of families, Health Minister Eric Hoskins offered a prescription to help.

“This is a particular subset of children who require life-saving surgery, so, absent that surgery, they will certainly die,” Hoskins told reporters Friday afternoon at Queen’s Park…

…“What we’re saying is that Canada is a country that has always looked to ways that it could reach out and support vulnerable people around the world.”

Hoskins, a former aid worker in the Middle East and Africa and co-founder of War Child Canada, a non-governmental organization that helps kids from war zones, said Toronto’s world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children is on the case.

“SickKids has been approached by a number of hospitals in the United States with regard to a number of cases,” he said, noting most are for “highly specialized cardiac care” for infants as young as 4 months old…

…continue reading the full article at TheStar.com

Obviously this is a developing story and the United States is making concessions in many cases, but in the meantime, the Canadian province is acting consistent with the federal government’s posture of an open door as indicated in the Prime Minister’s tweets:

This at the same time as a prominent Christian author, familiar to readers here, Ann Voskamp shows up in Washington, DC:

Back to the children needing charity, it does appear that the not-so-Christian nation is espousing Jesus-like charity, while the Christian nation is simply sending a confusing message to the rest of the world as to its commitment to compassion.

November 6, 2016

If God’s Name is on the Shop Door, Customer Service Should be Exemplary

closed signAnyone who has worked retail knows that closing time can be a challenge. Staff are tired and want to go home, but store policies do try to put customers and their needs first.

In the bulk food environment my wife worked in, staff were not allowed at all to do anything to communicate the store was closed. Not a word. Not a hint. The door would be locked quietly, but customers in before that closing — by which I mean the exact posted closing time — could continue to complete their purchases.

In the Christian bookstore environment I’ve worked in our commitment to our customers has always been superlative. I found it took me at least 15 minutes to balance the cash anyway, and I often kept the door unlocked and the sign on “OPEN” until I was actually leaving. When I see the end in sight, I might cut the sound system, and if it doesn’t impede the part of the store they’re shopping in, I might cut one of the light circuits after 30 minutes. I’ve also been known to say, “You can stay as long as you wish, but just let me know if you’ll be paying by cash or plastic.” I’ve also kept open for a few minutes only to have another person walk in who turns out to be the biggest sale of the day.

So I’m a little surprised at the approach taken by a chain of Christian thrift shops in Canada that is clearly identifiable as a Christian organization. (No, not St. Vincent de Paul and not Salvation Army.)

We entered at 3:43 for a 4:00 closing. We were told, “We’re closing now, but you look like you can power-shop.” I checked the sign on the door. I pulled out my phone. “It’s only 3:43;” I grumbled to myself and a guy looking at CDs overheard and said, “She’s always mean.”

Mean? That’s her reputation?

At 3:48 a guy came and was told the store was closed. He walked out. Another incident at 3:54 with the same result.

“Actually, you’re still open;” I said to another staff member, pulling out my phone.

“We don’t go by your phone;” she said, “We go by the clock on the wall.”

I looked at the clock on the wall. “They’re the same;” I told her.

What matters here is that this is a mentality that exists in some thrift shop environments that has no place at all in a Christian institution.

In the Christian bookstore I mentioned, our abiding principle is that we want to be “a place of grace.”

I asked the woman if she felt that this closing policy reflected well on the organization whose name appears in the store’s name. So then (sorry about this) I played the WWJD card. Would Jesus turn people away at 3:48?

“Everyone is free to set their own policies.”

I asked her — very pleasantly — if she was a Christian.

“That’s irrelevant;” she said. I was not expecting that answer, served up in the way she delivered it; but I was done pressing her buttons.

I called the staff associate that was working for us that day. “Don’t ever pressure anyone to leave, unless you’re facing a personal emergency;” I told her; “I will pay you for however long it takes to meet their needs.”

July 12, 2015

The Charity Fundraising Paradox

dollar signAmid last week’s news, you may have missed a small tempest that was created when it was revealed that former U.S. President George W. Bush received a $100,000 fee for speaking at a fundraising gala for the Veteran’s Administration. The charity also paid $20,000 for a private jet to fly him to the event. Interviewed on ABC News, one veteran was particular upset that Bush had sent many soldiers into war, and was now reaping a personal profit from speaking at the charity which assists the wounded assimilate back into society.

The New York Daily News noted this as well:

Former Marine Eddie Wright, who served on the charity’s board and lost both hands in a 2004 rocket attack in Iraq, told ABC he didn’t think it was right for Bush to have been paid to raise money for vets through the group, which provides adapted homes to service members who became disabled in combat.

“You sent me to war,” Wright said of Bush, according to ABC.

“I was doing what you told me to do, gladly for you and our country and I have no regrets. But it’s kind of a slap in the face.”

While you might wish to join the ranks of the outraged, it’s worth noting that this particular gala event tends to raise at least one or two million dollars annually. It’s chairman is quoted at Huffington Post as saying,

“The event raised unprecedented funds that are putting our nation’s heroes into specially adapted homes throughout the United States. His presence was appreciated by the veterans and supporters of the organization.”

And therein lies the crux of the problem. In charity, as everywhere else, you have to spend money to make money. Recently here, we wrote about a situation that came to light in the Family Christian Stores hearings, that the bookstore was paid up to $185 for each fresh child sponsor the bookstore chain signed up. At that time we wrote,

Let’s do some math here.  The sponsor is paying World Vision $35 per month per child. That means that for the first 5.28 months, the organization has yet to break even. It’s really into the 6th month that the sponsor’s donation is free and clear, but of course there are also overhead costs in that $35 that we don’t know. 

In charity parlance, this type of thing is known as “development costs.” There are organizations that carry out this function in different ways; one of the most common is having someone on staff available to older donors for things like “estate planning” or “writing a will.” Years ago, I knew one large church that had a staff member for this purpose, though the modern megachurch tends to attract younger adherents, many of whom haven’t totally embraced the possibility they might someday die.

World Vision in particular is known for having a very high percentage of its operational costs committed to fundraising. For charities like them, the George W. Bush story is a no-brainer: You bring in whatever political figure, actor, singer, author, or sports hero that will attract the right crowd. You do it at whatever cost.

 

April 21, 2015

World Vision Paying Bookstore Up To $185 For Each Child Sponsor

Free Press

An article published Sunday in the Detroit Free Press on the receivership/restructuring of Family Christian Stores (FCS) carried information not seen to this point, including the amount of kickbacks the chain received from World Vision for each child sponsor recruited. 

We can attest to the solicitations personally; going through the FCS checkout there is a litany of pitches including bonus buy offers, but also charitable causes including placing Bibles in prisons, and child sponsorship:

The one which was most shocking was the amount of the “bounty” paid the company each time someone signed up to sponsor a child through World Vision:

Family Christian has also benefited from customers who sign up to sponsor a third-party group called World Vision, which provides food, clothing and shelter to impoverished children throughout the world.

The chain solicits sponsorships from its customers and receives a $150 fee from World Vision for each customer who signs up and pays the monthly fee, according to records obtained by the Free Press. Family Christian receives another $35 if the customer signs up for automatic payments.

Again, you’re encouraged to read it all at The Detroit Free Press

Let’s do some math here.  The sponsor is paying World Vision $35 per month per child. That means that for the first 5.28 months, the organization has yet to break even. It’s really into the 6th month that the sponsor’s donation is free and clear, but of course there are also overhead costs in that $35 that we don’t know. 

In our part of the world, we’ve seen special events like Couples Night Out and Ladies Night Out which are used to attract potential donors to hear a pitch for sponsorship. These evenings feature special speakers, giveaway prizes, and printing costs for posters and tickets. The cost per sponsor recruited is possibly equally high or higher. 

Still, the idea of the charity paying bookstores such a large incentive to get cashiers to make the appeal is somewhat disturbing, don’t you think?

 

August 18, 2014

From the Diary of Isaac Wotts, Church Janitor

Filed under: charity, Church, writing — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:47 am

Isaac writes:

One of the things I hate is when someone comes up to me on Sunday morning and says, “There’s something in the men’s room you need to see.” I try to dress up a little for Sunday, but there’s a great deal of wisdom in actually attending a different church than the one which employs you, especially if you’re the church custodian. (But if you’re the pastor; then it doesn’t work out too well.)

Short StoriesIn the handicapped stall, someone had carried in a chair from an adjacent Sunday school room, propped it up underneath the ventilation grate and then apparently knocked the grate down, bending it somewhat.

“Would you like to know what happened here?” I asked the man who had located me. He nodded so I continued. “This happens every two years. A bunch of middle school boys are in here and hear the sound of the toilet flushing in the adjacent women’s restroom. They realize the rooms are not totally soundproof and then they recognize the voices of middle school girls they know talking loudly. They are determined to either hear more or see more and so they climb up here only to discover the vents point away from the floor and the whole exercise is pointless.”

I thanked him for letting me know about the problem, and then, since the chair was already in place, I climbed up to see if the grate could be fitted back on and when I determined it wasn’t too badly bent, I opted to go get a soft mallet so I could deal with it right away. Just before I climbed down, I discovered firsthand how clear the sound is when you are close to the ventilation system…

“…I don’t know how she manages with all those children.”

“I know, and she wears that same blue and white outfit to church week after week after week. Like, doesn’t she have anything else in her closet.”

“Well at least when those brats are acting up they don’t have to put her number on the screen; the ushers can always find her in that same white shirt and blue vest thing…”

At that moment someone came into the restroom and I thought it better to climb down lest I be accused of the very thing the middle school boys were up to.

About three minutes later I was back standing on the chair, ready to hammer the grate in place, and just as I was about to strike the first blow I realized there were different people in the rest room next door…

“Hi, Wendy how is it going?”

“Well, my brother Tom is being released from the hospital on Thursday, so then he says he’s ready to take the kids back over the next month; so we’re going to very slowly work our way down from six kids to just my three.”

“It must cost you a fortune to feed them.”

“Yeah, and they’ve all grown over the summer and need back-to-school clothes, and the hand-me-down thing doesn’t work because of the girl/boy distribution. I’ve got $75 to spend on all six of them. And that leaves me with nothing. I’ve got three changes of clothes to wear to work, and I don’t know how many times I’ve worn this one to church.”

“Why don’t you come by the thrift shop?”

“Oh I practically live there, Olivia; but not the one you work at, we go uptown because there’s free parking.”

“No, I want you to come to mine, downtown. I’ll use my manager key in the cash register and authorize the cashier to give you 50% off everything; I’ll explain it in the log somehow. Come next week, and park in the Jefferson Street lot, and bring the parking receipt into the store and I’ll get it authorized.”

“That would be awesome. I’m not gonna turn you down. I really appreciate…”

…And then they must have walked out the door.

Church CustodianI banged the ventilation grate into place, picked up the chair and emerged from the men’s room, noticing the two Grade Seven boys on the opposite hallway looking at me and laughing. Suspicions confirmed.

Inside the maintenance room, I replaced the mallet, and then grabbed a roll of masking tape from a nearby shelf. I reached in my wallet and pullet out a gift card from Sears that I knew had about $48 left on it. Not much, but still…

I placed two strips of tape on the card, and on the first I wrote, “$48 — Treat yourself;” and on the second “Use this for YOU.”

Wendy was easy to spot. She was wearing the aforementioned blue and white thing. “This is for you;” I said, “From someone who wishes to remain anonymous.”

She read it and said, “Oh I’ll bet this from Olivia.”

“No, I said;” It’s not from Olivia; when were you talking to her?”

“In the women’s room this morning.”

“No, Wendy, this totally predates that.”

I walked away. It predated it by about three minutes to be sure; it was part of the earlier conversation I overheard, so it wasn’t a lie, right?

 

 

 

August 16, 2014

How Do We Know What We Know?

David Peck - SoChangeIn many ways David Peck has lived several different lifetimes.

I met him years ago through the Christian concert scene in Toronto. At that time he was an apprentice electrician. Oh yes, and a magician. Dave did a magic show at our wedding. One of our favorite wedding presents. But later on he jumped into academics, getting a masters degree in philosophy, something that I majored in as an undergraduate until my head exploded in third year and I had to change my degree in my final year.

In his first book, Real Change is Incremental he draws on his background as an electrician and as a magician to create analogies to philosophical models of who we come to know what we know. While the book is a series of essays collected from different life stages, its general theme is epistemology, and the largest essay, based on his university thesis, is about tacit knowledge, the things we know that we don’t even realize we know. In many respects the title doesn’t directly betray the book’s content, while in other respects it is a rallying cry.

Real Change is Incremental.gifThe book also draws on his extensive travel which is a byproduct of his current work as founder of SoChange, an organization based in greater Toronto that works mostly with non-profits, including some very recognizable charities, to help them meet their objectives; something that fits my personal adage that every major institution should employ at least one philosopher, because they see things that others miss.

Real Change therefore occupies a middle ground between story anthology and philosophy text.

Usually the books I review here are supplied by Christian publishers and authors, and there is a frame of reference that readers here can connect with. David Peck has frequently guest-hosted “Canada’s most-listened-to spiritual talk program,” The Drew Marshall Show, but other than a couple of passing references to the faith in which he was raised, the book makes no pretense to be a Christian, religious or even spiritual title. However, what you read within in no way conflicts with that perspective.

I tend to go through review books with a blank half-sheet serving both as bookmark and a place to record observations while I read. Knowing this would be a different journey, I simply allowed the book to play like an album of ideas, some of which reminded me of things I have considered at different junctures in my own life. So it’s no surprise with that album theme, that an analogy about music stuck with me:

Consider the creative opportunity found in a piano octave: twelve simple notes, but a vast musical landscape waiting to be discovered.  This is open structure.  There are sharps, flats, major chords and minor chords, harmonies and dissonances, this scale and that scale.  There is an array of starting points and intervals giving rise to an infinity of tonal sequences that constitute melodies.  The pianist travels through the scale, returns and resolves.  Musical tension is created.  There are any number of tempos – adagio, allegro, largo – and any number of rhythms, combined in different ways.  There are texture and dynamics, crescendo, decrescendo, pianissimo, dolce, con brio, cantabile.  The structure is restricted by a finite number of keys, but is open and presents limitless possibilities.

In many respects that’s how I feel about David. Limitless possibilities. Our contact over the years has been somewhat sporadic and each time there are surprises. When I spoke with my wife last night at midnight about this, we decided the term ‘Renaissance Man’ probably best suits him. In addition to electrician, magician, philosopher, and agent assisting so many organizations that pursue relief, development and social justice; to all that he can now add writer, and good writer at that.

From time to time, everyone needs a philosopher in their life.

April 28, 2014

Community Presence versus Ministry Support

Offering PlateIn the community where I live, a transformation has been taking place over the last few years in how we approach charitable giving. Historically, the mindset that I was raised in suggested that we give toward those organizations which only church people will give to. That’s been my response to canvassers and telemarketers, “Our giving is directed toward church-based charities;” which is slightly inaccurate because we’re talking about parachurch organizations, but it gets the point across.

Recently however, the churches themselves have been turning over the proceeds from some large gatherings to broader community causes. It’s showing that we are supportive and willing to invest in those causes as well as doing our church thing. I think this is a worthy concept.

The problem is, in so doing, Christian ministry organizations serving our community aren’t receiving the proceeds from those annual gatherings. Furthermore, the number of parachurch organizations operating in our area has grown from 12 to 14 in the last two years. Many are under extreme financial pressure at the same time as the size of donations being made to the non-religious charities are rather huge; amounts that would go a long way to fuel various ministry efforts.

Is there a balance to be had here? Is it necessary for the pendulum to swing to the opposite extreme first, before coming to rest in the middle? Should Christians show our support for causes that already enjoy wide community support, or should we stick with organizations that mix compassion with gospel proclamation?

March 28, 2014

The World Vision Story Irony

Despite my frequent rant that more balanced journalism comes with the luxury of time, I wanted to quickly document some of the early reaction to World Vision’s reversal of their hiring policy change before suppertime on Wednesday night. Okay, let’s be honest, I just wanted to be one of the first out with the story. So you ended up with this quick post, which was frequently updated, not the least of which updates were to include my wife’s observation that this was, within 48 hours, a microcosm of the “New Coke” story. I do believe that this is the religious news story of the month, and will certainly end up in the top five for the year.

Bene D. went down the same paths as I did and took the time to copy some extracts that give you a more readable story.  But a quick note from Bene this morning alerted me to the excellent piece at Internet Monk by Michael Bell (which includes an excellent David Hayward cartoon).

Without overly dumbing down what Michael wrote, I want to give you Cliff’s Notes version so you don’t miss this. Here are the bullet points:

  1. The issue for Evangelicals here is homosexuality.
  2. A discussion of homosexuality invariably leads to the use of the term sodomy.
  3. Many Bible commentators would have it that the sin of Sodom was neglect of its poor.
  4. On Monday, some Evangelicals withdrew their support from World Vision over the issue in (1) above, and thereby were guilty of (3) above.

Get it?

If nothing else, it’s interesting to think that (again, according to many interpreters) if you pulled your child support between Monday and Wednesday night, you were guilty of sodomy. I don’t however recommend you actually telling that to anyone who withdrew their support.

(Of course, this take doesn’t eliminate other Bible passages on the subject that cannot be so interpreted.)

Then, Michael goes on to note the interesting timing on this vis-a-vis another recent religious news story:

Do you know how much these young people are repulsed by Fred Phelps sign “God hates Fags”? Well, in the minds of many you have just held up another two thousand signs. Fred Phelps died last week, and many said “good riddance”. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that so many would step up so quickly to take his place.

If the shoe fits…

Let me hasten to add here something that I placed in a comment on Wednesday. It was because of the very high percentage of donor money that World Vision spends on fundraising that I/we never sponsored a child. But a few years ago, my oldest son decided to sponsor a child through Compassion.

Seeing the relationship he has through the mail with someone on the other side of the world has made me realize what we missed out on. We’ve already sent two donations to Compassion’s unsponsored children fund and I do encourage people to consider sponsorships through Compassion, Gospel for Asia, Partners International, etc. Most of these agencies place a high, or perhaps higher priority on the proclamation of the good news about Jesus alongside their humanitarian relief and development efforts.

 

 

August 13, 2012

Jumping Off the Precipice With Kay Warren

Today you’ll have to hop over to Pete Wilson’s blog for an amazing interview that he did with Kay Warren, author of Choose Joy and wife of Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren.  The interview centers on Kay’s decision to take on the AIDS orphans in Africa as her personal cause, and leaves a somewhat ‘wowed’ Pete Wilson committing his church to get involved.  Here’s your jumping off point. If you know about Rick, but not Kay, you’re in for a surprise.

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.