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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Kansas City: A High School Reunion and an Extraordinary Charity

We know we owe you some comments about the government shutdown mess, and we will offer those in a few days.  But more immediately, good friend Chris and I are just back in Brooklyn from a visit to Kansas City, my hometown, and we are anxious to share a couple of special stories.  We attended my high school class 50th anniversary reunion (!), and we had occasion to get acquainted with an extraordinary charity headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas.

Christian Foundation for Children and Aging
Located in an unobtrusive warehouse building in an industrial district, the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging – CFCA – serves 300,000 children and elderly adults in 21 countries, mostly in Central and South America and also in Africa, India and the Philippines.  Maybe you know this group or even serve among its 250,000 sponsors, but it was new to us.  The organization was founded by five Roman Catholic lay people in the Kansas City area in 1981 and has grown to be the largest non-profit in the state of Kansas and among the 200 largest non-profits in the country, according to Chronicle of Philanthropy tabulations of donor-raised funds.  Along with my long-time Kansas City friend Chari, an Episcopal deacon, we were shown around their offices by one of the managers and we met staff and volunteers.

Aid from the donor-sponsors is directed to individual children and elderly family members; they receive nutrition assistance, clothing, health care and, for the children, assistance in staying in school.  The whole family is involved.  Mothers often participate in support groups, which may well represent their first interactions in a peer group and first efforts at teamwork.  The mothers' programming can include microloans for local business efforts, and CFCA also helps the men find jobs.

CFCA's location in a simple warehouse headquarters keeps down its overhead, and other expense controls and accountability measures mean their operating costs are quite modest.  The share of revenue thus available to go directly to programming in 2012 was 93.6%, a very large amount for any charity.

The group currently conducts its fundraising mainly through outreach by priests and lay people to individual parishes, where they recruit new sponsors.  We know one of those priests personally in Brooklyn, which is how we came to visit the Kansas City headquarters.  The foundation is seeking to attract a broader Christian coalition, both in outreach and in sponsorship, and is wanting to expand its effort in this area.  Our own visit with their leadership and hearing the success stories of some of the children made it easy to write to you about them.

We direct you to to learn more about the group and about sponsoring a child or senior citizen.  One of their current themes is about dreams, and around their office walls are a collection of "Hello!  My Name Is ______!" cards that say instead "Hello!  My Dream Is . . . . to teach school . . . . to learn to dance . . . . to make clothes . . . . to play the drums . . . . and so on".  A video available through the website shows a group of the children in a band playing a concert, feeling fulfilled and happy at the respect they sense through their achievement.

The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, 1 Elmwood Avenue, Kansas City, KS 66103.  (800) 875-6564.

The Shawnee Mission North Class of 1963 Parties Again!
The reunion event was a lovely experience, which, interestingly, also involved young people.  Our class had numbered about 450 and some 95 of us gathered on October 12 for dinner at a hotel near the school.  We were genuinely happy to see each other.  I had not been in touch and didn't know whether anyone would even remember me.  But many called out my name right away.  A reunion website contained profiles for those coming, so we were at least somewhat prepared about whom to watch out for.  I also had not considered it before, but a high school reunion is also an elementary school reunion, and there were five or six of us who had started out in kindergarten together in 1950!  Seeing those "kids" again was especially sweet.

People traveled to Kansas City from New York (me), California, Oregon, Utah, Florida and Texas, among other locales.  The class president is a doctor at the medical school of the University of Indiana.  Another of us had counted up from our profiles an estimate that about 15% of us have doctorate or professional degrees.  That particular guy always loved baseball; he became a lawyer in Houston and started a firm that manages major league baseball players' business affairs.  We had a fine conversation with one of us who is a social worker; our AFS exchange student from Sweden is a dentist – yes, she came from Sweden for the event – and someone else is retired as an accountant for TWA, the company my own father had worked for during all of my childhood.  The person seated next to me at dinner is a retired nurse who sings in a San Francisco choral group that is about to go on tour to Europe.  There are numerous stay-at-home moms with many kids and many spoiled grandchildren.

One of the points the CFCA official made to us on our tour there was how important it is to create opportunities for the kids to give back.  At the reunion we had seen this too from kids in a much more comfortable economic setting.  We were entertained during dinner by the Shawnee Mission North Strolling Strings.  When I saw the announcement that they would provide the dinner music, I expected half-a-dozen or so violins wandering among the tables.  But there were at least 50 teen-age musicians.  Four or five string basses were stationed around the perimeter of the ballroom, while violins, violas and even cellos circulated throughout the room, playing as they moved.  Andrew Lloyd Weber and similar selections filled the space with warm, flowing tones.  The kids came right up to us, smiling broadly as they serenaded each person.  They did a couple of 1950s swing tunes, and a few of the girls picked dance partners from among us 68-year-olds.  It means so much when, seemingly, the only times you hear about kids these days are when they do bad things, not lovely things like this.

Late in the evening, I ran into one of the professional photographers, also a young woman, outside the dining room, and I asked her if she was having a good time.  "Oh, yes," she replied, "I'm really enjoying you all enjoying each other!" Absolutely!

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Friday, October 04, 2013

Stewardship: God Needs Caretakers for the World

To best experience the context for the commentary here, watch this video.  The commentary – hopefully – is clear enough on its own, but will gain extra meaning if your mood is set by watching the video first.[1]

After God created the world and all that is in it, God needed help keeping it going and maintaining it.  God needed someone with specific skills and interests and talents, so God created people in God's own image.  We are farmers helping crops grow and raising animals, as in the video, while others of us live and work in many, many other facets of life.  All this helps God's dream for creation come to fruition, become a reality.

Our part in this is stewardship.  We are God's stewards.  Stewardship is a holistic concept, a way of life for us.

So "stewardship" is not just giving money to churches and other charities.  That's only one manifestation of it.

All this was introduced to a group of lay people the other night at a workshop at the Mercer School of Theology at the Diocese of Long Island in Garden City, New York.  The presenter was the Rev. Laurel Johnston, Executive Director of TENS, The Episcopal Network for Stewardship, a national organization.  We offer a summary of her remarks here on Ways of the World precisely because there are so many roles for stewards in the world.  We are currently watching – and some of us are feeling the ramifications of – the lack of stewardship sentiment among our federal government officials, so we see what happens when the sense of stewardship slackens off.  And surely we want people in business to recognize that they are stewards too.

Participating in the stewardship way of life is nurturing for us.  We have been, like the farmer in the video, called and marked by God, and we are living God's dream.  In seeing our lives this way, we acknowledge our identity as God's stewards.

What are some aspects of this identity?  We find ourselves called to be parents, managers, caretakers, teachers.  All of these facets involve trust.  We are Managers of Trust – or perhaps "Managers in Trust".  God's trustees:  a high calling, indeed.

 The Genesis creation story relates that God gave humans dominion over creation.  But Mother Johnston points out that "dominion" should not be seen as  domineering ruling like a tyrannical king; it is bringing about an environment of peace and justice.  This fosters conditions of shalom, helping all creation reach its potential.

All of this is a gift to us.  All we have is God's gift to us.  We want to be generous with what God has given us.  God's own generosity is seen in the gift of his Son.

At this time of year, the activity churches pursue is not a "stewardship campaign", but an "Annual Giving Campaign".  The stewardship campaign, seen in the broader sense presented here, goes on all year round.  At one or two specific seasons, we are more precise in asking members of our community to help us plan by telling us about their intended giving amounts.

We do need to be specific in talking about money and giving.  Mother Johnston told her own story of making her career working at the international poverty organization CARE.  At first she felt she didn't need to make money gifts to charities and her church because she was devoting her career to this work.  But she came to understand that she has resources at her disposal which she needs to share.  Her walk with God and her walk with her own wallet had become separated.  But they must be together.

She mentioned the Biblical statistics: Jesus talks on prayer 500 times; He talks on faith more than 500 times, but He talks about money 2,000 times.  This is because the role of money so frequently got misaligned in his followers' lives – and it surely does in our lives too.  Money gets in the way.  It becomes an idol and we begin to violate the 1st Commandant about not having any other god before God.  So Jesus is not opposed to wealth, Mother Johnston stated explicitly, but He wants us to keep our money and our faith in the proper perspective.  As she said, we have passion, purpose and purse, and we want to keep all three of those in the right relationship.

Giving is an act of worship, a statement of faith.  We acknowledge that God is the source of everything and we place our ultimate trust in God, knowing that in God we have ultimate security.  One of the Episcopal Eucharistic Prayers describes the offering as a "sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving", and we don't want to offer God "cheap praise".  We give to fund God's dream in our communities, and when our offerings are brought forward, they are blessed, even as we are.

For more specifics about an Annual Giving Campaign, visit the TENS website, Mother Crafton has authored one of the bulletin inserts in this year's theme program "Flourishing in Faith", about Zacchaeus.

[1]The video is a commercial by Dodge Ram trucks for the 2013 Super Bowl.  We are hardly meaning to advocate for Dodge Ram trucks, but we do applaud the creators of the ad.  The overlay speech was given by broadcaster Paul Harvey at the 1978 convention of the Future Farmers of America.

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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

What Part of the Federal Government Is Closed? A Quick List

As you are probably aware, a significant part of the federal government closed as of yesterday because the two Houses of Congress and the President cannot agree on a budget spending plan for fiscal year 2014, which began yesterday.  So legal authority for much government spending has lapsed.

In addition, the debt of the federal government is nearing the legal "debt ceiling" and no further borrowing beyond that ceiling is legally authorized. This ceiling could be reached by October 17, just about two weeks from today.

We plan a full article within the next week  lamenting these situations.  In the meantime, you will soon receive another, totally unrelated piece from us on church stewardship, surely a worthy topic in its own right.  But in view of the timeliness of the government shutdown, we want to give you some information about that.

As you would also surely know, the federal government is a complex organization with a multitude of agencies and subdivisions and departments.  A quick Google on "what government programs will be shut down" produced this helpful table compiled by CNN:  It lists program categories by their open/closed status, the agencies involved and the number of employees furloughed or kept on the job.  You can sort the list by any of these aspects.  Notes are included with a brief description of the reasons for the individual program's being open or closed or partially so.

In addition, we urge you to contact your Representatives and Senators, whatever you political persuasion or theirs, and tell them you want honest and sincere negotiations to take place.  Meetings so far have only been used to insist that nothing can be negotiated.  Some aspects of ObamaCare, the center of this turmoil, could in fact be modified, such as the exemption of government employees themselves or the elimination of the medical device tax, without altering the main thrust of that huge law.   So, whatever your views, there seems room for discussion.  Responsible governing would seem to call for at least that.

More to come on these issues.

If you need brief, quick information on your connection to ObamaCare, the Affordable Care Act, see the helpful post from Debbie Loeb on the Farm's Hodgepodge page, here:

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