End-of-year giving: good choices and a particular option

I stand for fiscal responsibility in non-profit organizations. Money entrusted for the common good should be used wisely and efficiently. Donors should — and increasingly do — seek out organizations with desirable missions and with the capacity to work efficiently.

I’ve been critical of churches that function like clubs as betraying this calculus; why, for instance, should a snug and private concern be tax-benefited? Church leaders have a responsibility to review their program against the public good they provide; in other words, through the eyes of taxpayers who support common infrastructure and other good organizations who are natural rivals for contributions. By which I mean general funds, building funds, organ funds.

That said, I have a warm place for ministerial discretionary funds. I’ve given them, given to them and received funds from them. (I graduated seminary so broke I didn’t have gas money from Texas to Georgia. Tough times.) World change won’t be funded through ministerial discretionary funds, but they do (or can do) a good job with the kind of emergencies that need a social net but for which there is often no kind of appropriate service organization. Money to pay for a prescription, travel funds to see a dying relative, transit fare for someone returning to work . . . very often that kind of thing.

As a matter of practice, I’d like to see financial controls in place, but in the end if you don’t trust a minister to be a good steward of the funds, then no amount of control will do much good to what end the funds are used.

So I’m getting my checkbook out and suggest you do too. That said, and not thinking of anyone in particular, there’s no rule you have to give to your minister.

A friendly letter from Peter Morales

I’m encouraged by a change of tone in the new Unitarian Universalist Association administration. Peter Morales, the new president, has been writing letters to his constituency without them being “pastoral”. This habit of his predecessor — who was never called to be the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Association; no such role exists — grated on me for years. They also struck me as a bit condescending and puffed-up.

I’ll take a letter addressed to “friends” any day. Especially this one on health care.

And I’ll say what he might not say, given the rules about grassroots lobbying: please call your lawmakers and politely insist on a public option for health care, and be clear that you will not be satisfied on a plan that leaves any American without at least basic health coverage. If you have a “Blue Dog” Representative, your input is especially valuable.

Web media should be accessible, too

Piggybacking on Kim Hampton’s first-things-first approach (do read it) to ability and accessibility, let me humbly ask that all producers of online audio or video media create a text transcript to accompany it.

This is a matter of access in these ways:

  • Some people cannot see and other cannot hear. Text allows people to read, to hear automated text reading and even to use Braille readers.
  • Some people cannot understand spoken words when mixed with music, recorded in a noisy space or with inadequate equipment.
  • Some people do not have sophisticated hardware or capacious bandwidth to receive media. Indeed, a text can be printed and carried without immediate access to an electronic device.
  • Some people cannot recall where a resource lives. A full text allows for (better) web searches.

It’s more work, of course, but it makes the media more valuable and probably more enduring. And while I wouldn’t expect it to be simultaneously published say, at General Assembly, I would want it to be part of the final copy.


Quaker “cross cringe” — ah, sounds familiar

Unitarian Universalist Christians use a few terms — Christophobia, cross cringe and ABC (“anything but Christian”) — to describe the reception we get in unfriendly settings.

A posting today at QuakerQuaker shows that the problem — or perhaps a like problem — isn’t uniquely Unitarian Universalist. A shame that. Perhaps, too, an opportunity.

Liberal Quaker Problem” (QuakerQuaker)

Quiet worship in a public place

Anglican priest and blogger Andii Bowsher (Nouslife) outlines a service of worship conducted around a table, say at a cafe or restaurant. The key is low-volume, shared participation. Which isn’t too strange: people hive off to coffee shops for meeting all the time here.

I don’t know if I’d come up with what he did, but the idea of worship in a shared public space is good theologically and practically, and may be an early way for bootstrapping congregations to get started, when even the cost of a room rental would inhibit it.  If you have experience in this kind of worship — or even practical tips for holding meetings in a restaurant — please comment.

(That said, I’ve preached to congregations in venerable churches that weren’t any larger than a kaffee klatch.)

Oh, but if you do that, plan on spending money on food or drink or both. And don’t forget the waitstaff. ‘Cause you know the difference between Christians and canoes, right?

Canoes tip.

Keeping Web sites light

Blogging minister (or ministering blogger) and friend Victoria Weinstein — PeaceBang — noted that she posted only a few pictures from her sabbatical visit in Romania because of the cost of bandwidth.

This truth cuts both ways: heavyweight Web sites take a long time to download when the connection is slow. And if the connection is expensive, then you’re costing your readers money. Or, more practically, writing off readers.

If you have a significant readership outside North America — perhaps also Western Europe — or want to, you need to have a site that makes the most of bandwidth, and not assume their service will catch up.

Such a site needn’t be ugly. Indeed, the structure implied in a good low-bandwidth site is more likely to make the site more elegant.

For implementation ideas, I recommend Aptivate’s Web Guidelines for Low Bandwidth.

Use your voice, less electricity to save mountains

Cranky Cindy wrote about mountaintop coal mining, and the environmental disaster is causes.

Universalist fun fact: the much-reported town deluged by coal ash, Harriman, Tennessee, was the site of the church extension project of the Young People’s Christian Union, a predecessor to Unitarian Universalist young adult ministries.

Not-so-fun fact: coal is not clean. It pollutes the air, and in mining districts it pollutes the water and soil.

And if you use grid electricity in the United States, you’re probably a part of the system that allows this to happen. That includes the power that runs my computer. So I try to use less, and learn more about mountaintop mining. Next comes the advocacy.

Last week, I attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco for work. One of the sessions I attended was about online mapping tools. One of the presenters was from iLoveMountains.org, which uses maps and video to make the connections between mountaintop mining and your electricity.

Learn those connections. Use less electricity. Advocate for cleaner technologies and mining communities.

“Can my boss do that?”

Interfaith Worker Justice tomorrow launches a Web site called “Can My Boss Do That?” — a worker-oriented resource that uses a question-and-answer format to address labor rights. Some sections are state-specific. The facts can be a bit depressing, at first view. From a design point-of-view, I like how (1) it warns workers that employers might know that they if read it from work, and (2) how it formats properly for print-outs. Important for someone who prints and passes-along information.

I had a chance to talk to IWJ executive director Kim Bobo about the project and her organization a few months ago — before the scope of the economic meltdown was well known. I’m convinced that her mission against wage theft and other outrages against working people are going to become even more important in the coming months and years. If this subject inspires you, be sure to buy or borrow a copy of her book, Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid—And What We Can Do About It. (Powell’s World of Books link)

Unitarian Universalist interest: IWF gets or has gotten direct UUA, UUCF UUSC and Veatch funding. I consider that a serious endorsement.

Spread the word.

“Christmas Under Fire”

For years I have been fascinated by Christmas celebration during wartime, especially British observances during the First and Second World Wars. How do you make merry — should you? — when your lives and civilization are in peril? Keeps things in perspective, I think, now that Christmas has earned excessive and vulgar lows, or (as I suspect this year) lugubrious cries from those who can’t keep up with 2007. Again, the trampled Walmart worker comes to mind.

This 1942 clip comes from the Crown Film Unit, in time for the first post-Blitz Christmas: a time of “holly and barbed wire.” The childhood militarism shown is understandable given “England [was] fighting for her life”. Left me with a lump in my throat. A good corrective.

From the British Film Institute, “Christmas Under Fire”

Where a home is a bench

Reader NDM takes me to task on Christian terms for my call to boycott Utah for organized Momon California Prop 8 actions. That’s put my thinking in a biblical bent today.

So when I read that a Ohio judge has allowed homeless voters to use the address of a bench or other non-building as a residence, I thought of this:

As they were going along the road, someone said to him,  ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. ‘ (Luke 9:57-58, NRSV)

A vote isn’t a substitute for a home or a healthy life, but it’s a place to start . . . .

Hattip: Towleroad