Gift, gifts, and gifting

I got a cryptic DM from #2 son today… “hey, looking for something related to gifting, guidance for a co-worker…”” 

I replied, “Say a little more.  Are you talking about tax implications, gift certificates, or spiritual gifts?”

He said, “spiritual…why people give gifts, gifting with strings attached, that kind of thing”  I managed not to go down the Spiritual Gifts rabbit hole of 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and Romans 12, and asked for some more clarification.

He replied, “so, (his company) has been giving to org A, but several people don’t believe in that org any longer, so looking for another org, and people want to direct who gets gifts or how they will spend it…”

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.  First I tackled the question of how do we decide who gets our gifts.  This is what I said, “The answer is “it depends”… If the gifts are being made with payroll deduction, it has to continue to go to wherever the person specified. If it is a company gift that the employees voted on, you have to take another vote unless the company just wants to stop giving altogether. If it is matching funds, the employee can stop any time they want just like the company can.”  I thought that pretty well took care of that question.  It’s completely up to the donor who gets their money. 

Then he hit me with what the real question was in the first place – directed giving – and once it’s given, who decides how the money can/should be used?

My answer was…

“You (the donor) can direct that money be used for a specific purpose.   The not-for-profit can then either choose to accept the gift with those strings attached or not take the money.  Usually designated funds (the official name for that) are for things like – can only be used for building fund, or can only be used for scholarships, or can only be used for repairing housing.  

“If funds come in in response to a pledge drive or something like that, they are almost always undesignated, and can be used as the recipient prefers.  The main thing to remember is it is not good to designate funds that may cause the organization to have problems.  It doesn’t do a college/university any good to have an enormous endowment for the library, that can only be spent on books, when the college can’t make payroll, or repair the dorms, and consequently, the college goes bankrupt and has no students to use the “wonderful” library.  (Just an example of how designated funds can tie an organizations hands.)

 “Also, remember that if funds can only be used for books (using the same library example), then that’s where the funds will be used, but that doesn’t mean that money in the budget that would ordinarily go to books, can’t be used for something else.  You just switch the line item.

 “Basically, if you believe in an organization or a cause, you have to also believe that the people who are running it have its best interests at heart.  If you can’t trust them, then maybe you shouldn’t be giving them money in the first place.”

This speaks directly to some of our churches who withhold Presbytery head tax, or General Assembly money because they disagree with some stand taken by the board.  Sending designated funds to General Assembly, saying “Our money can’t be used to overseas mission if the doctors talk about abortion,” for instance, is counterproductive as well as mean spirited.  In any case, the General Assembly will simply move other undesignated funds over to that mission benevolence, and use the money that is designated not to go to that mission field for another line item.

It makes for difficult bookkeeping, but doesn’t basically change anything.

Vision, Mission and Goals

I spent the morning working with Jim Finley and Russell Jonas on the Session goals for the current round of Strategic Planning.  I think we’ve nailed down the success criteria for all of the goals (although some seem to be anecdotal rather than emperical) and we have people identified to track same.  Now if we can only get past the session meeting on Monday night without a MAJOR bruhaha and more change, I’ll feel like we’ve done yeoman’s duty!

I’ve done it again

I promised I would write a little something here every day, and now it’s been since Monday since I’ve written a thing.  Sorry.

Tuesday evening we met a Twitter friend face-to-face for dinner.  John Harrison (@tragic_pizza) is an insurance salesman, and commissioned lay pastor from Alabama.  He was in Allen for training with his company so Big Al and I picked him up and took him to Tokyo One for dinner.  We had a really nice time.  He had never had Japanese food before, so we figured a buffet was the way to go.  He said he really liked the sushi and the kimchee (or however you spell it).

Yesterday I was up bright and early (actually earlier than bright) and took myself to Dr. Parker to have the basal cell skin cancer removed.  They have quite a little assembly line there.  I was the third one in at 8:00 a.m. and I was down in the cafe eating breakfast at 8:30.  I sat down there and read my mail (I LOVE my iPhone – sorry Sprint), and played a game or two, and then I went back upstairs to get the results.  Right at 10:00 the nurse called me in and told me they got it all the first time, so I could go home – and I did, with a nice little bandage.  I go back at 12:15 today to get a stitch or two put in.  Zero pain or discomfort.  The only complaint I’ve had is that the tape from the bandage is itching the corner of my eye, but all things considered that’s pretty minor.

We went to bridge in the afternoon, and I bid (and my partner made) a grand slam.  I asked the director, and nobody else had bid it on that hand!

Last night, I finished Ray’s Christmas present (if you don’t want to see it ahead of time, Ray, don’t look at the picture!)  I’m pretty proud of it because I made it without any pattern, just by measuring one of Al’s sweaters, adjusting, and the rest was from memory.  I think I’m going to make one for Al, next, and then maybe a cardigan for me.  Does anyone else want a sweater?  I’d love to knit one for you.  For family I’ll pop for the yarn, for anyone else, it you buy the yarn – I’ll knit it.

Now what?

I talked to Sprint and told them all my problems, and that I had already ported my number to an iPhone.  They were disappointed, and wanted to know if there was “anything” they could do to keep me as a customer.  I basically told them my problems from last Thursday, and reemphasized that it was too late.  Somebody should have been more forthcoming last week instead of not caring then.  Anyway, Big Al is still on Sprint until his contract is out, and I’ve bought out the Netbook’s contract. 

I have a lovely little iPhone 4, 16 Gig that I will probably be boring everyone about while I learn how to use it. 

I’m already having fun with it.  I’ve figured out how to get Twitter, Facebook, and TweetDeck on it, so I’m set.

The real estate agent that nagged and nagged me to let him come by and sign us up finally did his homework.  He had an appointment for 1:30 today, but called about noon and asked to slip it to 5:00 p.m.  That was fine with me, but he just called back and said never mind – he couldn’t help us if we wanted to sell it at our price.  Well, duh!  I told him that when he first called.  We’ll just wait until either the market improves or until we pay off more of the principle.  We’re in the last half of a 15 year note, so it’s going pretty fast ($600+ a month) now.

John Harrison, one of my friends from Twitter (@tragic_pizza), will be in Allen tomorrow for a training session, and Al and I will be taking him out to dinner tomorrow night.  I asked him what kind of food he liked and he said he had never had Japanese but that he liked Oriental food, so why didn’t we try that.  I can’t decide whether to go to a Japanese Hibachi place, or to Tokyo One, the buffet that has sushi, salads, tempura, soups, and stir-fries. 

I’m leaning toward Tokyo One because it will give him a better idea of the variety.

Wednesday is my surgery on my skin cancer.  I’m not worried, but I’m going to milk the sympathy from Big Al as much as I can.

Other than that, I guess I’ll just look forward to the Congregational Transformation Conference in Ft. Worth in October, and also look forward to #unco11 next May.

Erika and the kids are coming for a long weekend over Columbus Day.  It will be nice to see them, and hopefully the weather will have improved by that time.

Why #Sprint gets a BIG #Fail

I am and have been a good Sprint customer for over 10 years.  In fact I’m a Sprint | Premier customer.  I first joined Sprint when I had my first PDA – a Palm Pilot, that my husband gave me for my birthday shortly after I went to work in a “real” job in Accounting.  I have been reasonably happy with my service and the products from them I have used.  Over the years I’ve had several Windows Mobile devices, and an air-card; my husband has had two or three smart phones; I’ve had one of my kids on my account and it’s worked.  I got the Windows Mobile 4 when it was first out, and I also got the Windows Mobile 6 very early.  This last HTC, Windows Mobile 6, has had two batteries and has finally reached the stage where it won’t hold a charge any more.

So yesterday afternoon, about 3:30, I went to the big Sprint store and repair center at Mockingbird Station.  I figured they would know about the new offerings and would be able to help me get it set up and connected with my Outlook.  When I got there, I was next in line – they really weren’t busy at all, you see.  The girl/woman who waited on me asked what I wanted and I told her I was looking to replace my current phone.  I asked about the EVO 4-G, and she did everything she could think of to discourage me from getting it, saying that “Not everywhere in Dallas has 4-G yet,” and “You know, your monthly rate is $10 higher with 4-G”, and “You have to pay extra for tethering.”  So, okay, I thought, she’s really looking out for me.  We looked at another phone, the Samsung Intercept.

It looked pretty cool.  I said, up front, that my only requirements were decent battery life, ability to connect to my Outlook, Facebook and Twitter.  Oh, yes, she assured me, no problem with any of that.  She looked up and saw that I was eligible for an upgrade bonus $$ off with a new contract, and it sounded pretty good to me.  The whole time she was working with me she seemed to be looking at someone else at the other side of the store, but I figured she just was making sure everyone was being taken care of, and she seemed a little distracted in general because she had to ask me three times for my phone number and several times for my pin so she could look up my account.  She took my old phone, and I started reading through all the contract disclaimers and checked all the check boxes and signed the sales slip.  Then she remembered that accessories had a special of 20% off if you bought two, so I got a car charger and case.  All total the bill came to $265+.  Okay, I was getting a $100 rebate, as well, so not too bad.  She switched my phone number to the new phone, and I told her I wanted to make sure it would connect with my Exchange service, so she started trying to do that.  It was about 4:30 then, and I thought it would be great and I could get home and fix supper with time to spare.


This is where the afternoon started to go south.  She had both my old phone and the new one and couldn’t figure out how to look up the connection information for my Microsoft OnLine Exchange account.  She fiddled with it for 15 minutes, and then she took both phones to the back to the repair facility.  Well, I figured, there’s bound to be somebody back there who knows what he/she’s doing (as this one patently didn’t).  Finally, she came back out and asked me what my domain was.  Microsoft OnLine doesn’t have a domain.  It’s in the cloud.  I patiently explained that to her, and she went back.  Over the next HOUR we went back and forth with her asking me for more information and telling me that I HAD to have a domain, and me telling her that I didn’t have one – look at the old phone – no domain there – and it works just fine.  I called both of my sons – both IT gurus – both on the same Microsoft OnLine account – one with a Droid and one with an I-Phone, and they both said, “No domain” “it should just connect!”

When I started calling the boys, she apparently completely lost interest in helping me, and started helping another customer.  After about 15 minutes of being ignored, told her that that phone would obviously not be acceptable since no one there seemed to be able to make it connect with my Exchange account (remember THAT was one of the first criteria that I had).  She got a little huffy, but finally reversed my sale, but because the other customer was also still standing there, all she did was reverse the sale.  It took me interrupting her again to get her to reactivate my old phone to finish the transaction.  It was now 6:30!

Now we come to the second problem.  One of the reasons I had gone to the main repair center was because I have a Netbook that I bought in July 2009.  It has an internal modem that is supposed to act like an air-card.  In fact when I bought it, I transferred the number of my old air-card over to it, since it was going to be my computer that I used on the road.  It worked fine, and I was very happy with it, until after Christmas, when I accidentally left it in my backpack and the battery completely discharged.  When I powered it back up, it had lost the modem.  I don’t know where it went, or if it was just a software modem, or what, but I couldn’t find it.  It works fine at the house or anywhere there’s wi-fi, so I didn’t even realize the modem wasn’t there until some time in March.  I brought it home and hooked up to the internet with the wi-fi, and tried to download the drivers again.  I went to HP and got their HP-Connect (it’s a Compaq machine), and that didn’t work, so I went to the Sprint site, tried there, and it still didn’t work, so I took it to the Sprint store.  They said, “It’s a hardware problem – take it to Best Buy” (where I had gotten it).  So I dutifully took it to them, and they charged me $120 to tell me that it was a software problem, and Sprint was the only one who could fix it.  So back I went to Sprint.  Now, I’ll grant you that I didn’t just run from store to store; I took it home and used it on the wi-fi and on vacation and used it on the motel wi-fi, between visits.  But I took it with me yesterday, for its second trip to Sprint.

After I was already thoroughly irritated by the phone incident, they came out and said “We’re downloading the software now.  It’ll just be a few more minutes.”  (That was 6:30, and I’m getting hungry.)  So I sat, and I sat, and, of course, my sales person is too busy helping other customers to bother to check in the back for me.  Finally at 7:30, I said, “Could you just give me a receipt for the Netbook, and I’ll come back and get it tomorrow.”  She couldn’t understand why I wanted a receipt, 8-O, but she went back into the repair shop, and sure enough, here came the tech with my poor little Netbook, saying that he couldn’t get it to work.  So I said, “Is there any reason that I should keep paying $59.95 plus tax, per month for it then?” and he said no, he didn’t think so, but wait – “It’s still under contract for another 9 months!”  He was able to look at my account and see that I had already not had the use of it for at least 6 months (I think it’s been 8 months since I’ve had any minutes or bytes or however they count data service.  But no data service.

Needless to say Sprint is getting a call later today, and I’m pulling out.  I’ll buy out my data contract (better than to continue paying $59.95 + tax a month for nothing), and I’ll drop Big Al’s phone plan to the minimum, and I’ll get myself an I-Phone, and the devil can do what he wants to with Sprint.

Social Security SNAFU!

You’ll remember me snarling and snarfing at the Social Security Administration because of their stupid rules about birth certificates (if not see Hooray and Well Done, my post from June 20, 2010).  They changed their minds about HAVING to have a birth certificate only AFTER I had paid the state for a new one. 

So, I toddled down to their office early in July with my VOIDED check for the bank account I wanted to have my Social Security check deposited in.  There were a MILLION people there waiting, and all I wanted to do was give them my check, so they told me to just put it in their drop-box and it would be taken care of.  I did.  THEY DIDN’T!

I got a paper check today (my first) from them.  Gag!  Now I have to go BACK down there tomorrow and wait to make SURE they do what they said they’d do in the first place!

Typical SNAFU.

Parenthetically, we had a good time this morning on Twitter talking about various euphamisms for the “F-bomb”.  I couldn’t believe it!  There were a couple of 30-somethings who had heard SNAFU but had to go to “Urban Dictionary” to see what it really meant!  Talk about feeling OLD!

Reframing Hope by Carol Howard Merritt – a Review

Already a known quantity in the world of post-modernism in American Christianity, Carol Howard Merritt (author of Tribal Church:  Ministering to the Missing Generation) has just published her second book Reframing Hope:  Vital Ministry in a New Generation.  Although the titles sound eerily similar, this is not a rehash of her previous work.  Rather it builds and expands on it.  In Tribal Church, Merritt was primarily concerned with “Where are the young people?  What do they want?”  In Reframing Hope, she emphasizes the need to stay grounded in the traditions of our mainline churches, while looking for additional ways to “be Church”.  She encourages us to quit obsessing about the numbers decline in our denominations and instead to “shift our focus, take into account where we have been, and imagine what God is calling us to be.”

The changing currents in “technology, organizing, communication, and spirituality…deeply affect the way we minister and form community.”  We can make two mistakes in dealing with this societal change.  We can ignore what is coming, or we can dismiss what has passed.  Both of these options will lead to our eventual demise.  But we have faith that God is doing something in the world right now.  It is up to us to discern what that is and what our role is in bringing it about.

Merritt discusses the opportunities available to us by redistributing authority, re-forming community, reexamining the medium (electronic communications), retelling the message, reinventing activism, renewing creation, and retraditioning spirituality.  Using both biblical and personal examples and stories, she leads us to look again at our world and at our churches.  As a 30-something pastor in a mainline urban church, she speaks with experience and insight into the needs, wants and desires of the world around us.

In her conclusion she says, “Looking over our pews, many of us see the faithful remnant of a congregation from a half-century ago, and we wonder whether our churches will exist twenty years from now. … Every once in a while, when we crack open our sanctuary doors…we hardly recognize the world in which we serve, because it has become so different from the one in which our churches were formed.

“Within our old frameworks, our church ministries reached out to a different family structure.  Our churches catered to nuclear families. … Our congregations often relied heavily on the volunteer work of housewives and geared programming and outreach to young families. … Now, a good percentage of our households are likely to be single or in same-gender relationship. … Now, the ethnicity and culture of our nation…is more diverse, yet our mainline churches seldom reflect the diversity of the communities in which they are located. 

“We struggle to communicate our faith in the midst of such pluralism and, in our worst expressions, we avoid or discriminate against those who are not Christians.

“Our message has been muted as we try to communicate from generation to generation…we’ve lost the vision to make our churches communities of welcome for our adult sons and daughters, the very people who could map out a course…  but, new opportunities, tools, movements, missions, and passions cascade through the…landscape bringing vital ways of organizing faithful communities, communicating prayerful longings, and seeking social justice.”

This book, published by the Alban Institute, should be required reading for any church leader who is serious about discerning the church’s mission and vision for the future.

Disclaimer:  I am a Twitter/Facebook friend of Carol and she sent me a free copy of the book to read and review.  I was already familiar with the background of several of the stories she recounts, particularly in Chapter 3 and the Conclusion.  I found myself again dissolved in tears when reading about Gideon’s suicide.  That episode, more than anything else, convinced me – a 60-something old lady – that there is real power and depth in our on-line communities.

Grace Presbytery Meeting

I fully intended to write a long blog about the Presbytery Meeting on Friday in Tyler, but I sat down in the recliner about 1:00 o’clock and promptly fell asleep and I slept until 5:00.  I’ll never go to sleep tonight, but that might be good since the Cowboys are on this evening, and probably won’t be finished until 11:00 at least (maybe later).


Grace Presbytery met on Friday in Tyler, TX.  We closed two little churches – membership under 20 – and gave thanks for their histories of service to God.  Then we heard reports from the India Delegation, the (new) General Presbyter, and the Synod of the Sun. 

Next on the docket was the welcome of nine transferring ministers.  Two of them were retired and relocating, one was an Interim who had previously served in Grace Presbytery and who was returning.  Four additional ministers had received new calls to churches inside the presbytery, and two more were to serve as co-ministers in a Validated Ministry as Evangelist/Community Organizers.

We had the pleasure of examining four new ministers for ordination, including Melissa Lopez, the Lilly Resident at PHPC.  In additon to Melissa, we had a fellow who was going to TCU in a Validated Ministry for Campus Life.  There was an older man who was originally ordained as a Lutheran (Missouri Synod), and who had left the ministry for a term of years.  After spending 10 years in private employment, he worked in a adjunct position at a church in Denton and now he is returning to a 1/4-time Temporary Supply.  Finally, we examined a young mother who is accepting a call to a Validated Ministry as a hospital chaplain.

We also welcomed three young men as Inquirers as Candidates for the office of Minister of the Word and Sacrament pending completion of seminary. 

We received additional reports including Budget, and other benevolences.  Following lunch, we held a Worship Service during which Jan Devries was installed as the new General Presbyter.

If you’re still with me, I invite you to ponder the numbers I’ve talked about above.  I wonder what we are going to do with all the ministers who seem to be graduating from seminary.  We closed two churches, and have four newly ordained ministers and three more who are entering seminary.  NONE of the newly ordained ministers have a call to a church.  Melissa’s husband graduated from seminary in June, but he has no prospects of getting a pastorate.  I saw one statistic last week that said we have 2800 preachers seeking positions and 500 empty pulpits.  Have we done these young (and sometimes not so young) people a disservice validating a call when we have no employment for them?  I have one friend who faithfully presided over the demise of a church, making sure that its business was completed decently and in order, and then she spent over a year without a new call.  She was really becoming desperate.  PHPC has the membership to support up to eight ordained positions, but we only have five on staff – augmented by a Lilly resident and a retired adjunct.  Small churches don’t want someone right out of seminary, and new seminary graduates don’t want to go to small rural pastorates.  I don’t pretend to know what the answer is, but I do know that the greater church needs to address these problems.  Maybe seminary graduates should be required to train for an additional career so they have something to fall back on between calls.   Maybe Presbyteries and Synods should have funding available for augmenting the tiny salaries smaller churches can afford to pay.  Maybe God is doing something that we don’t know about yet, and we will need all these ordained ministers to carry out God’s plan.  Who knows, but we need to address these matters sooner rather than later.


I wasn’t going to post anything about 9/11 originally.  I thought I’d put up a post about our Presbytery Meeting (Grace – North Texas) yesterday.  But I’ve decided I’ll do the Presbytery post tomorrow, and say a few words about today, today.  At the end of the piece, I’ll have several blogs with other people’s thoughts.  Read them – read them all!

I remember how disappointed I was at the President’s “gather the posse – saddle up – let’s ride!” attitude immediately after the attacks.  I still am – more disappointed than angry – but angry, too.  This was an opportunity for us to show what a real “Christian” country could and should do.  We should have been conciliatory, forgiving, and loving to the Muslim world, while making it clear that we didn’t blame an entire people/religion for attacks that were clearly carried out by a small fringe terrorist group.  Instead we behaved much as we had immediately after Pearl Harbor, when we incarcerated our own citizens who happened to be of Japanese descent.  Will we never learn?

One good thing that has come out of the 9/11 attacks is our friendship with the Turkish community here in Dallas.  THEY reached out and continue reaching out to us.  We have joined them in their homes for Iftar (the fast-breaking during Ramadan).  Many people have joined them on trips to Turkey to learn about their people and to be welcomed into their homes.  The organization actively goes to Christian and Jewish communities to ask them to join in.  The Ladies’ Auxillary here in Dallas is the Turkish American Women Association (TAWA).  They sponsor cooking classes, educational luncheons, and an Annual Intercultural Friendship and Dialog Dinner.  If anyone in Dallas wants to go this year, it is being held on September 16th.  Speakers include Elizabeth G. Thornburg, Professor of Law, Southern Methodist University; Becky Miller, Former Carrollton Mayor and Dr. Abdullah Kumas, Institute of Interfaith Dialog (IID) representative.  I’ll be glad to make a reservation for you if you’d like to go with me.  (We’re a little late with the reservations, but I feel sure they can add us in.)

Following are some additional things you should be reading.  If you’d like to add additional blogs, post them in the comments.  (This is a long one, but worth the read, particularly the discussion in the comments.) (Written as an eye-witness account, three years after the fact.)

Diana Butler Bass said on Facebook today, “Of the books I’ve written, the most heart-rending was an extended theological meditation on 9/11 entitled, “Broken We Kneel.” A number of people said it was a “personal lament” in the tradition of Reinhold Niebuhr–and a few would not speak to me after it was published. I reread it today, and the words still tug at my soul.  I was very critical of the war–and President Bush–and a particular overly patriotic church of which I was a member! In those days (early 2003), few people in DC openly criticized such things. The air was thick with fear of dissent.”