Friday, August 25, 2006

On church fundraising

A story:

There once was a small town by the name of Podunk with a small Church of the Nazarene. Two men named Jason and Fred were members of the Podunk Church of the Nazarene. There were also other members, but not many. The church was small. The offerings were small. The building was old.

And it came to pass that one bright and sunny day, the pastor of the Podunk Church of the Nazarene saw water where no water ought to have been. He looked at the old copper pipes and sent for a professional. The owner of Podunk Heating & Plumbing walked around saying, "Hmm..." and "Ahh..." and "Interesting ..." for a short while which seemed long and then handed the pastor an estimate for $500. The pastor looked in the treasury box. There were only a few coins in the bottom of the box. The pastor reluctantly cranked the water valve shut and waited for Sunday.

Fred and Jason were in church the following Sunday as was their weekly habit. They heard the pastor announce that the water valve was closed until $500 could be collected for repairs. The regular tithes and offerings were barely sufficient for regular expenses. The extra $500 would need to be gained in a way that would not reduce the regular giving. Jason and Fred were sad because they each had only $40 to contribute toward the $500 plumbing repair leaving $420 for their fellow church members, a daunting figure. How could they do more?

And behold, Jason and Fred were friends and had together attended a birdhouse-building workshop at a craft store in Nabrington, a nearby town. They both discovered hidden talents in this area. They talked together and decided that they would make and sell birdhouses and give the money to the fund for the plumbing repair. And so, they each took their $40 on Monday and purchased supplies for 10 birdhouses. With quick yet careful work, they constructed and painted 20 beautiful birdhouses.

"Fred," said Jason. "I propose that we put up a table in the town square with a sign announcing that the proceeds from the birdhouses will be used to repair the plumbing at the Podunk Church of the Nazarene and thus sell them to our friends and neighbors." However, Fred was not in agreement with this proposal and the discussion became so sharp that they parted ways, Jason to put together a birdhouse display on the town square and Fred to take his birdhouses to the craft store in Nabrington where he proposed to the storeowner that the birdhouses be sold for $10 each, with a $1 commission. The storeowner was pleased, for the birdhouses were beautiful. They were thus put on display.

Five customers came to the store on the first day. The first customer looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! But, alas, there is no room in my garden to display such a marvelous creation. I must pass these by."

The second customer looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! But, alas, there is no money in my pocket. I must pass them by."

The third customer looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! However, the $10 in my pocket is for the offering plate at my church. I must pass them by."

The fourth customer looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! I will buy one for my garden." And he did.

The fifth customer looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! I have no place for one but I will buy one for a friend." And he did.

On the second day, the same occurred and on each day thereafter until the last birdhouse was sold. On Saturday afternoon Fred returned to the shop and the shopkeeper placed in his hands $90 for the birdhouses, keeping $10 for commission. He offered space in his store for 10 birdhouses per week if Fred decided to build and sell more.

Meanwhile, Jason set up his display on the Podunk town square with a sign reading, "Please support the plumbing repair at the Podunk Church of the Nazarene."

And people came past. The first passerby said, "What marvelous birdhouses! But, alas, there is no room in my garden to display such a marvelous creation. Still, the Podunk Church of the Nazarene needs repairs and Jason is my friend and neighbor. I will buy one anyway." And he did and put it in storage in his garage where it gathers dust to this day.

The second passerby looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! But, alas, there is no money in my pocket. I am unable to contribute to the plumbing project at the Podunk Church of the Nazarene or to purchase a birdhouse. I must pass them by." And he went away sad because he could not purchase a birdhouse and participate in the fund-raising project.

The third passerby looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! The money in my pocket is for the offering plate at my church. However, I see that the Podunk Church of the Nazarene has a great need. I will buy a birdhouse with the money. It will still go to the work of the Lord and I will be able to carry home one of these marvelous birdhouses."

The fourth passerby looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! I will buy one for my garden." And he did.

The fifth passerby looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! I have no place for one but I will buy one for a friend." And he did.

And in this way, Jason was able to sell birdhouses to 80% of passersby and quickly liquidated his inventory and packed up and went home with $100.

On Sunday, Jason and Fred brought their money and laid it at the feet of the elders. Fred said, "Behold, I took $40 and built 10 birdhouses and sold them on their own merit at the craftshop in Nabrington for a commission. The Lord has blessed me and I am overjoyed that I can now give $90 instead of $40.

Jason said, "Behold, I took $40 and built 10 birdhouses and sold them in the town square to our friends and neighbors whom I asked to help us fix our plumbing problems. By investing only $40, I can now contribute $100 collected from the community.

Which of these men most blessed his church and community?

To many, there may be no difference. To me, there's a big difference. Fred received the joy of giving his own money multiplied by labor invested. All his profits came from uncoerced, willing buyers in a free market. Jason gave other people's money and collected it by using the church name to persuade community members to take on the needs of the Church of the Nazarene in addition to their own churches. The church became a charity project for the community.

I can see that sometimes having the church name attached to a fund-raiser is less to persuade people to give where they otherwise would not than to give name-recognition to the church in the community. I'm still not comfortable with it, however. It reduces the joy of bringing our tithes and offerings into the storehouse as a personal sacrifice and an act of corporate worship. And some who might have given will be content to let the community meet the needs of the church, rather than the church meeting the needs of the community, thus losing the blessing of giving to both the church and community.

I'm not ever comfortable with fund-raising for the church, but find it less offensive if it is limited to children and youth who have no marketable skills to use to earn money to give to the Lord and who, thus, must depend on the charity of adults either in the church or in the larger community to fund their activities. In those cases, fundraisers can help the child with less financial support at home participate in activities from which he or she would otherwise be excluded. As for the adults:

When a group of Christians come together for worship, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry they are blessed in the pooling of their resources to support the activities of their fellowship. Asking the community to support the needs of that fellowship group poses a significant threat to the health of the church they have formed together – in my opinion.

Since this is my blog, I suppose I'm allowed to express that opinion here. But if you're ever in Podunk, be kind to Jason, all right? He's really a good guy doing his best to support the church. We just have different ideas as to the best approach to doing that.

What do you think? (Feel free to add a comment expressing your own opinion.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On Brevity

I was looking around at some blogs by writers this week and noticed that most of them contain frequent, short posts.

How do they say anything?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Melancholy evening

What makes for melancholy days? Hormones or lack thereof? A chemical imbalance? Is it more a product of physical forces or psychological? Is it entirely caused by internal disturbances? Do external disturbances have anything to do with it?

I tend to hover not far short of euphoria. I enjoy my life. I enjoy knowing that I am loved and have love to give to others. I love being competent for at least some percentage of the tasks I face. I love being self-determinate to some extent. I enjoy thinking that I am in relationship with the God of the universe. Even if my faith someday turns out to be totally in error, for right now it seems that following the law of God as recorded in the Bible produces blessings not rivaled by any other path. I have no complaints about where life has brought me. Most days.

Then there are days like today. Chris Rice has a song that speaks of the good days and asks, “Why should any day be like today?” Then it speaks of the bad days and asks the same question: “Why should any day be like today?” Both are good questions. I certainly don’t deserve the good days. But given that most days are good, what is the source of a melancholy day?

Today didn’t start off blue. I think it was late afternoon when it started to go downhill. Ironically enough, the initial trigger might have been someone asking how I was with genuine interest. “Are you okay? You seem ...uhmm...”

I don’t know what word would have come next. Rather than waiting for however long the search for it might have taken, I stepped in after a brief pause to affirm that I was fine. And I was. But the question went with me as I moved on to my next interaction. I felt that my assertion that I was fine rang empty. Isn’t that what people say when they simply choose not to share their grief? Wouldn’t it have been more considerate to share whatever was bothering me? But what was it that made me seem ... uhmm ...? I couldn’t imagine. Particularly since I have no clue as to nature of the elusive adjective.

A while later, I found that two communiques I had written had been misunderstood by two different people. When I pointed out one misunderstanding and took credit for not communicating clearly, the response was “You probably think you write well.” Well, yes, I must admit that I have sometimes entertained the idea that I might communicate better in print than verbally, not because of my own evaluation but because of unsolicited positive feedback from independent sources. But today all those positive words seem empty against the evidence of my failure to communicate and the mockery I thought I detected in the assessment that I only think I can write effectively.

How many positive words does it take to balance negative words? The positive words could be spoken out of kindness or pity or someone’s desire that I like them. Negative words seem so much more honest and substantial. Perhaps they represent what the majority of people are thinking but are too nice to say. It takes independent thought to speak the negative when others are voting together in a positive manner. Isn’t it likely that it’s the unkind people in my life who are most willing to speak the truth to me, since they are obviously the least concerned about whether I like them or not?

Time to sing the blues. I didn’t actually sing, but I did dig out some old piano music. Neil Diamond had a point in “Song Sung Blue” about how blues music can sometimes make you feel better. I distinctly dislike Neil Diamond music so I didn’t play that one, but there are plenty of others. It was nice, but didn’t last. As the chords faded away, the cloud of melancholy crept back in again.

Writing. Sometimes that’s a good antidote for the blues. Even if my communication skills are lagging, I know for myself what I’m trying to say and enjoy wrapping words around my thoughts. So here you are – a melancholy post for a melancholy evening. I had to do it quickly. The borderline euphoria is already threatening to disperse the clouds and by morning light is likely to have sent the blues packing.

I'm glad that there are sad songs and empty lines waiting for print when the blues come along. I may as well enjoy being melancholy while it lasts, which is seldom long.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Seasonal amnesia

After long days of stinking hot weather, the window air conditioner is turned off tonight and the whole-house fan on with windows open. The night noises coming from the woods outside my bedroom window are those of late summer -- the loud and incessant songs of crickets, locusts, and whatever.

If you asked me in March about the characteristics of August in southern Indiana, I would tell you it tends to be hot and humid without a lot of rain. The rivers are low, the garden overrun with weeds and overripe cucumbers. I would not mention the crickets. That’s because I forget about them when it’s not late summer. I don’t even know when they start their season of singing or when it ends. In fact, I don’t know during which hours of the day and night they perform their serenade. It’s 9:15 pm (Central) right now and they’ve been singing for several hours.

The seasons come and go and bring me surprises. I forget how loud the morning birds are in the spring. When I long for warm weather in the winter, I forget about the bugs that are part of summer. I also forget how difficult it is to keep up with housecleaning during summer break. When I long for cooler weather in the summer, I forget about having to keep the fire going and dealing with outerwear and mud. When I look ahead to spring, I forget about the capriciousness of March and the tornado warnings that come with April showers. My focus is on the flowers and those rare days of perfect spring weather.

Every season brings pleasant moments. And unpleasant. I tend to remember the pleasant part of each and forget the unpleasant aspects. Sometimes. Other times I focus in on the unpleasant and forget some of the pleasant side effects, such as the smell of summer rain after a dry spell.

Perfect days are rare enough in southern Indiana to be treasured. A week ago I spent half a day in a canoe on a river that was just the right depth and the right width, with a pleasant mix of sun and shade and a good sampling of wildlife on a perfect sunny day with temperatures in the high 80s and a pleasant partner in a pleasant group. A sudden dip in the river when the canoe hung up on a rock and tipped us over, was not at all unpleasant. (At least not the first time.) It had been many years since past canoe experiences. My memories of those times are fringed with frustration and maybe even some tears in connection with a canoe that refused to respond the way I wanted it to. Is my memory focused in on the unpleasant side of those times? Were there pleasant moments that I’ve forgotten? Those past experiences could not have been nearly so satisfying overall as this recent one or I think I would have remembered more about the good parts.

School starts this week in the local public school systems. My college kids will be heading back in the next couple of weeks. The nest will be empty again. There will be opportunity to reestablish daily routines. Household chores can be scheduled with less likelihood of interruption. I might even be able to post blog entries on a more regular basis and finish up some books and update my reading list. This seems like a very good thing to me. I think I like fall. I think I like it a lot. But I’m probably forgetting something.