Friday, July 26, 2013

Books that stick

Thirty-some years ago, I was the program director at a conference center. Calvin Miller was the week’s speaker and one day we were sharing lunch with Calvin and his wife Barbara. Calvin was one of those larger than life characters, a preacher, poet, painter and more. He could possibly sing and dance, too, I don’t remember. For a short time after we met, I was on his Christmas card list, meaning that I received a card with a hand-painted picture — hand-painted by him!
Calvin was going on about some popular movie he had recently watched (this was around the dawn of the VCR era — ask your parents if you don’t know what a VCR is) and how the actual story of the movie, if you knew how to watch it, was all about Jesus. At some point he took a breath. Barbara gently moved her hand in front of Calvin’s, maybe a sign to let him know it was her turn.
“You have to understand,” she said. “Calvin can find Jesus in any movie. I think it’s his excuse to watch every movie.” After shared laughter, Calvin returned to being the center of attention and finishing his movie story.
In my own way I find almost any book has a sense of the breath of God.  I think all life stories are guided by some sense of trying to find and connect with or move away from God. Novels and biographies can range from subtle to overkill, but it’s always there. I can be captured by the finest literature or by some trendy, simplistic, sappy story, whether fact (the author’s version) or fiction (again, the author’s version). When I finish a book — a nearly perfect one, one which has burned itself into my soul — I take a deep breath and delay the start of the next. To begin another too soon seems to be trampling holy ground.
To talk about books and how they have changed my life borders on impossible. In one way almost every book I have encountered has left its mark, for good or ill. I struggle to make a list of my favorites, top ten or whatever. That type of list seems like more of a moving target, shifting with the mood or the moment.  Ah, but the question of the day is which books (or which type of books) do I carry everyday and everywhere? Which ones speak to my soul, through whispers or shouts, as the moment dictates?
If I were to begin a rough list of significant authors and possibly my favorite book by them, here are some that would be in that realm:
  • Frederick Buechner, Godric (but how can I pick one?)
  • Henri Nouwen, Wounded Healer
  • Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering
  • Madeleine L’Engle, Many Waters
  • Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow and all that followed
  • Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies (of course)
  • Lauren Winner, Girl Meets God
  • Richard Rohr, Quest for the Grail
  • Sara Miles, Take This Bread
  • Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
  • Walter Wangerin, As For Me and My House
  • Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor
  • Calvin Miller, Philippian Fragment
  • John White, Daring to Draw Near
  • Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Until Justice and Peace Embrace
  • Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence
The words of these authors have carried me over the years or they’ve been recent find, thereby being more quickly remembered.  Some of their works have transcended time to haunt me with holiness at each new step. Others have been the cup of water for a dry moment and might feel disconnected if I attempted to bring them into my life today.
I have devoured almost everything written (or at least published) by Garrison Keillor. It’s cliché, but I laugh until I cry. His fanciful stories are so close to real, yet so impossible I can’t wait to see what’s next. His characters seem to be stuck, shallow, arrogant, confused and without substantive goals or direction — just like real people — and yet they are heroic, alive and beautiful.
Frank Schaeffer’s thinly fictional trilogy of the life of a European missionary kid is hilarious. His more recent Crazy for God and the following books are fascinating. He opened doors on evangelical Christianity that few have dared to crack or even knew existed. He angered many and probably confused more. But I am thankful for his beginning many conversations that were long overdue.
I love books about history, specifically American history, including the cruel, bloody greed of westward expansion and the tragic family feud we call the Civil War. I want to understand who we were and what we were thinking and doing during my childhood as lived out in the crucible of the Civil Rights Movement.
Now I come to the time of true confession. I am going on my annual solo camping trip next week and I have my books selected. I think I have eight to choose from and will probably read three or four. Of the eight, four (or maybe five) are baseball books. I love baseball books. I really love books about baseball history. I’ve read books about other sports, but they lack something, kind of like the functionality of a football stadium or basketball arena compared to the mystical beauty of a ballpark.  For me, a beautiful ballpark is like a cathedral. Somehow the structure enhances the experience, making the moment more.
In baseball I see the American story of the shift from an agricultural landscape to a machine-driven economy — the movement of boys from the farm to the city. Civil rights are central to the story and the Negro Leagues story central to understanding the whole. And when it comes to pure simple religion or subtle spirituality, baseball is overflowing with imagery and examples. I will read historical overviews of certain eras, teams or players. I read fiction with baseball as the setting. I read biographies and players’ memoirs. It may sound utterly ridiculous to many, but baseball books feed my soul.
I started keeping a list of books I read over twenty years ago. A quick glance at my list reveals that about a quarter of the books I read are somehow about or connected to baseball. While the following books are not my favorite baseball books (again, I’m not sure I can articulate which are my favorites), they all breathe life into the reader — at least they did for me:
  • Summer of ‘49 and October ‘64 by David Halberstam are can’t-miss.
  • Wait ‘til Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin brings together family, baseball and growing up in America post World War II.
  • A Great and Glorious Game by A. Bartlett Giamatti completes the cycle by graciously revealing how baseball is more than a game — much more.
Looks like I’ll be having a great time next week.
May God have mercy on us all…


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fundraising 101

have spent most of my near-forty career years in non-profits. That translates to nearly forty years of fundraising. I have been a part of everything from nickel and dime begging to multi-million dollar organizational relocation, from passing the plate to pledges, from campaigns to coffee and lunch meetings, from banquets to car washes. I’ve been a staff member, board member and donor for more organizations than I can list or remember without extensive brain stretching.
At one point I was hired to help an organization with a focused, short-term funding project. In a few months we outraised our goal. Guess what? Some people thought I was a fundraising genius — not a perception I was anxious to live up to.
In my last long-term staff role, I was an executive director of a local ministry. As the ED, I was responsible for overseeing and implementing the needed fundraising for the daily and ongoing needs. Through varied methods we were able to keep things balanced. There were a few tough stretches, but for the most part we paid salaries, bills and kept a cushion in the bank. Often when people would ask about fundraising I’d say, “I want to be good enough at it to keep things together, but not so good that they want me to do it all the time.”  My experience is that most people who are in positions that require them to raise money for organizations would rather be doing something else — not another job, just not the fundraising part.
The current buzz is to talk about sustainable funding, which is really nothing new. Twenty years ago we didn’t sit around and say, “Hey, let’s set up a funding system that will evaporate in a few years and leave the next set of leaders floundering.”
I now focus my time as a consultant and coach. I help people and organizations, and one of the things I help with is fundraising. True confession: I prefer helping others do fundraising than having the primary responsibility.
When all is said and done, fundraising is about trust. Do people trust the person who is representative of an organization enough to give their money for support?  There are numerous techniques and programs that can be implemented to raise money. If you are a financial mercenary, you can follow the P. T Barnum approach: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Find enough suckers and you stay in business. Best case, it’s a two way street. People who are doing fundraising need to be ethical, honest, trustworthy and sincere, seeking the best for all involved. These kinds of fundraiser view donors as partners in the ongoing life of the organization.
The ideal is for donors to be responsible in vetting organizations before jumping in — to build a relationship with the program and the people. Check out the Donor’s Bill of Rights from the Association of Fundraising Professionals for help in researching organizations.
The reality is that there are many ways to raise money, many people who want our money and many organizations that we can be involved with (and give to). The stories of non-profit financial abuse are many and the results of broken trust tragic. If you are responsible as a fundraiser, do a self-evaluation. If you are not the right kind of person, get out of the role. Save the organization and yourself the grief of the damage you may do.
If you are a donor, be wise. If you are better informed, you can have the deeper satisfaction of being a part of an organization that is doing work that matches your commitments, values and passions.  The best fundraising and giving grows out of open, honest relationships of trust and respect.
May God have mercy on us all.
previously in catapult magazine VOL 12, NUM 14 :: 2013.07.05 — 2013.07.18: