Churches and Bank Loans

Churches in debt are in the news as of late. Crystal Cathedral declared bankruptcy and a local church here in the Boston area is suing a bank because it should have known better than lend money to the church. No kidding.

Two great enemies of ministry are debt and endowments. Debts drive ministry decisions. The bottom line is what decision about ministry will help a church most be able to pay its bills. This is often very different from what would in and of itself be the best decision. Endowments protect churches from having to face the reality that the congregation is unwilling or unable to give at a level that sustains the ministry of the church. In both cases, no money and easy money sap the church of its vitality.

How many church leadership teams are beholding to interest groups in the church whose giving is necessary to pay back loans? If those loans were not there, there would be fewer opportunities for the leadership to be leveraged. Pay as you go doesn’t completely alleviate the problems, but it does ratchet down the stress. And it keeps the church on the road to live within its means as a lifestyle.

Is it realistic to build buildings without debt? It has been done. It is still being done. My home church will not borrow money to build buildings. Over 60 years of time and innumerable building projects, it has kept its commitment to not leverage ministry to the bank. The savings has indeed been in the millions.

Let the words resound in your head again and again – debt is not good. Debt is not good. Debt is not good. Debt is not good.

The Firing of Juan Williams-not justified but an issue was at stake

I am a Juan fan. He presents mostly the liberal side of issues but in a way that makes room for discussion. He is a gentleman but with backbone and a willingness to fight when fighting is called for.

I do believe his comments about fearing people in Muslim garb when about to board an airplane were inappropriate for a news analyst. A professional does not comment on personal states of being when covering an issue or group in the news. He can interview people on how they feel, summarize what research shows, analyze their fears. Whatever… But as soon as he personally identifies how he feels about a situation or person, the perception of him is changed.  When the listener is aware of the personal inner workings of an analyst when listening to the news, it is a distraction and the analyst becomes part of the news.

Juan should not have been fired, but his protestations that his feelings are real and therefore a fact are not relevant to the case. He is a news analyst who is not hired to report the facts of his personal experience. That other NPR figures are outrageously partisan is true, particular Nina Tottenberg. She should have been fired many times over. But that does not vindicate Juan. His case stands on its own.

I will look forward to seeing Juan on Fox News. I need to hear his side. But I wish he was still at NPR and not caught up in the firestorm that shows like Fox News encourage and stoke. I listen to NPR more than any other station just so I won’t have to hear all the screaming and planned antics to fire ratings, like Bill O’Reilly appearing on The View. He knew what an outrageous performance on that show would do for his exposure. And so did Whoopi and Joy. These are performers, not participants in a serious adult conversation. They are the story, and many times more so than the story they are covering.

One Apple and Two Snicker Bars-My Day at the Boston Book Festival

A beautiful Fall day in Boston at a book festival – I thought it was heaven. I took the T to Copley Square and spent the entire day in the presentations with no break for lunch or browsing at the large number of booths.

A word about the venue. One of the events I attended was at Old South Church and one was at Trinity Church. Wow!!! Real church!!! Sorry to you home church people. I loved being in those places. Magnificence and majesty. The very places encouraged wonder and openness to the unknown and the surprising. Another workshop was at the Boston Public Library, in and of itself an architectural setting that overwhelmed the senses and gave a feeling of transcendence.

I attended four presentations.

1. Allan Dershowitz and Susan Abulhawa on the place of the novel in places of conflict. That is what it was supposed to be about until Ms. Abulhawa launched a screed at the Israelis. You don’t do that to Dershowitz without expecting nuclear warheads to be lobbed into your backyard. And it was nuclear war!! The irony to me is that Ms. Abulhawa is most famous for placing playgrounds in Palestinian territories and refugee camps. Seems Dr. Suess enough, but she demonstrated an attitude of hate and vitriol that made you wonder how the word “playground” could even occur to her. They both have novels that describe life in the zone of conflict and that was supposed to be the topic. Dershowitz presented first and did so without any reference to politics or sides. Abuhawa just couldn’t hold up her end of the bargain and launched into the “Israelis as butchers” mantra. That ruined the event, at least in terms of the announced topic. Dershowitz was more than ready to take her on if that is what she wanted to do. He combines the mouth of a megaphone and a mind like a computer. She was completely outside her level of competence.

2. I next attended “The Ancients” with presenters Caroline Alexander, Stacy Schiff and Sir Peter Stoddard. All have penned books about the ancient world of the Romans and Greeks and Egyptians in areas where we have precious little information – the war against Troy, Cleopatra and Spartacus. So the question was about how reliable is our information about these ancient episodes and how big books can be written about things for which we have so little information. Intriguing. I will have to read the works of these authors.

3. I quickly walked the street to the next venue to hear Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, talk about going from page to screen. He is pure Boston, hoodie and all. Thousands of people were at this event, and I was reminded how much a book can affect so many people and catch their attention. He described the process of going from a book of some several hundred pages to a screen play of 150 pages. So much has to get cut and to make the film work so much has to be added that is not in the book. Very interesting.

4. The last presentation was “Talking About Justice.” One of the presenters was Michael Sandel, a Harvard prof whose course on justice is one of the most popular at Harvard and which is all online. I use his stuff on my course on ethics I teach at Eastern Nazarene College and Massasoit Community College. He asserted that “private” moral convictions should be brought into the public square for discussion if there is to be a vital and relevant discussion about justice. This is the opposite of what so many believe. The public dialogue will be enriched and the hard work of moral decision making will be exposed to critique and kickback, both of which are necessary for truth to emerge.

The day was so busy that there was no time for a resting lunch. I found that an apple and two Snickers bars could get me through the day

Brian McLaren’s future

At Return to Rome:

Brian McLaren, for example, is just Henry Emerson Fosdick who listens to Steely Dan on his iPod. He’s rougly a decade away from becoming the ecclesial equivalent of another victim of a bad 8-track album cover photo-op.

It is amazing to me how faddish McLaren is. I guess you have to be my age to have seen his kind of writing come and go. He is one a number who find orthodoxy just too boring. It’s not enough for a Christian to act politically responsible as a citizen. He is the kind of  utopian the 20th century saw too much of.

Today’s Money Shot 10/11/10

“When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. Your prayers, and praises, and doctrine will be sweet and heavenly to them. They will most likely feel when you have been much with God: that which is most on your hearts, is like to be most in their ears.”  Richard Baxter

Today’s Money Shot 10/9/10

Without the gospel there is nothing but desert on earth and no confession of God and no thanksgiving. But where the gospel and Christ are, there is Bethlehem abounding in grain, and grateful Judea; there everybody has enough in Christ and there is nothing but thanksgiving for God’s mercies. But the doctrines of men [ie legalistic attempts at justification with God through pious duty] thank only themselves, and yet they permit arid land and deadly hunger to remain. No heart is ever satisfied unless it hears Christ preached properly in the gospel; when this happens, a person comes to Bethlehem and finds him; then he also comes and stays in Judea and thanks his God eternally; then he is satisfied; then, too, God is praised and confessed. Apart from the gospel there is nothing but ingratitude and we do nothing but die of hunger.  Martin Luther

For churches with a significant set of sr citizens

Elderly with Cognitive Decline Offer Excellent, Hurtful Advice
According to a posting at The Scientific American, elderly people with loss of executive function–lessening of inhibitions–are more likely to offer useful, but tactless, advice.
You know how grandma’s always criticizing your new haircut or choice of clothing? Well, it might not hurt to listen. Because old folks who can’t hold their tongues may give the best advice. That’s according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Researchers recruited 19 undergrads and 32 adults in their 60s and 70s. They split the older adults into two groups, based on the adults’ abilities to control their behaviors and impulses—called executive function, which naturally declines with age. Then the researchers showed all three groups a photo of a visibly obese teen, along with a list of her complaints, like trouble sleeping and lack of energy—symptoms associated with childhood obesity.
What advice could they offer this girl? Well, only half of the higher functioning adults and a third of the college kids brought up the girl’s weight as the possible source for her problems. But 80 percent of the adults with cognitive declines mentioned weight. They also gave twice as many helpful tips, like more exercise, a better diet, and delivered them with more empathy. So next time you need advice, try grandma or grandpa. But be prepared for brutal honesty.
—Christopher Intagliata