Some Consider Me “Overhead.” (And You Might Be “Overhead” Too)

“You know, you want to make fifty millions dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it.  We’ll put you on the cover of Wired Magazine.  But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you’re considered a parasite yourself.”  Dan Pallotta

This 2013 TED Talk has changed my life.warhold-pallotta

I serve in a non-profit world that uses words like “stewardship season” and “pledging.”  I spend a lot of time explaining to people that we do not give to the Church to perpetuate an institution.  We give to change the world – and in the Church’s case – we hope to change to the world in the name of Jesus Christ.

I could make a case that giving to a Church is self-serving.  Any of us can make direct financial donations  to hospitals in Syria and HIV programs in Haiti rather than giving through the church office.

Giving to a Church also includes providing services specifically intended for members or other participants:  worship, educational offerings, pastoral care, youth activities. Some of our churches have just enough money to keep their doors open for long time members to be able to sit in their usual pews and sing their familiar hymns.  Again, I could make a case that giving to Church is self-serving.

How many congregations actually do change the world?  To be honest I know many who do.

Ask refugee families sponsored by congregations.  Ask immigrants who get free ESL training by church volunteers.  Ask the homeless men and women who have shelter in church fellowship halls during the winter months.  Ask the lonely people who have volunteers checking in on them.  Ask the school children who receive health kits from congregations all over the nation delivered by Church World Service.  Ask the victims of disasters whose homes are rebuilt by kind strangers.  In their worlds, life has indeed changed for the better.

Dan Pallotta does not begrudge the non-profit employee who makes a good salary.

Palotta’s point:  we need the best and brightest serving in the non-profit sector. But he admits that there aren’t many people who would give up a $400k salary working in the for-profit sector to earn $84, 028. which is the average salary of the CEO of a hunger charity.  And that $400,000 earner is not even being selfish; she’s being smart:

It’s cheaper for that ($400,000 earning) person to donate $100,000 every year to the hunger charity, save $50,000 on their taxes, so still be roughly $270,000 ahead of the game, now be called a philanthropist because they donated $100,000 to charity, probably sit on the board of the hunger charity, and indeed probably supervise the poor SOB who decided to become the CEO of the hunger charity, and have a lifetime of this kind of power and influence and popular praise still ahead of him.”


Charity Navigator evaluates how much overhead non-profits pay to keep their work going and the “best charities”  are the ones with love overhead.  People generally don’t want our financial donations spent on advertising or utilities or maybe even on staff salaries.

But sometimes “overhead” is what makes the work happen more effectively.

I say this as a person who is part of “the overhead” of the non-profit I serve.  Our staff, our office space, the tech expenses, the publication expenses, the training are all part of “the overhead” of our organization.  We can call such things “mission expenses” because they are.  They make it possible to do the ministry we are trying to do.  But mostly we are considered not-as-sexy-as-the-direct-care-to-the-mission “overhead.”

How can we work smarter?  How can we minimize administrivia and maximize relational ministry?  Do we really need some of the expenditures that we’ve always had.  (Exhibit A:  Newsletters.  Do they have an impact in moving forward the mission?  If yes, that’s great.  But if not, let’s get rid of them.)

Do advertising expenses need tweaking?  [Note:  if you still have a Yellow Pages account, you need to retire immediately.]  People will not support our ministry if they don’t know what our ministry is.  We need to make it spectacularly easy to make financial donations.  We need to make it spectacularly easy to offer time and talent.

Are we (really) open to new participation?  If we are simply doing Church for ourselves and our own people, then we are merely engaged in an exclusive club.  Almost every church I know has a core group of leaders who have been the leaders for a long time.  Too long a time.  “New people” will not step up if there is no place to step.

Are we rewarding those who are expanding the mission?  If I am doing a good job – whether you consider me an overhead cost or not – I deserve to be paid well and so do you.  No, we will not get rich serving the non-profit sector.  But we will get our hands dirty in the glorious every day work of our mission.

My mission is to equip people to go out and show what the love of Jesus looks like out in the world – among other things.  What’s your mission?  Are you just part of the “overhead” or are you something else?


Look Who’s Human!

no-human-being-is-illegalThe Word became flesh and blood, 
and moved into the neighborhood.  John 1:14a 

As Christians prepare for The Coming of Christ, those preparations – of course – go beyond hanging tinsel and wrapping gifts.  Advent is sometimes called a mini Lent because we have soul work to do before we can fully welcome Jesus.  For the love of God (literally) – we especially need this spiritual component post-election.

Our humanity is literally at risk.

Some look upon Muslims, People of Color, Immigrants, Refugees, Women, and Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer People and do not consider them/us to be as fully human as they themselves are.  Some of us forget that all human beings were created in the image of God – even “those people” whom we don’t understand or try to avoid.  The tenor of our President-Elect’s message has created authentic fear.

And there are those who did not vote for the President-elect who question his and his supporters’ humanity.

Advent is the season when we try to magnify our humanity.

Although some equate “human” with lesser qualities (“I’m only human“) the Bible reminds us that to be human is to be “a little less than the angels.”   To be human is to aspire to the best and highest.  To be human is to be like Jesus.

Jesus perfected what it looks like to be human.

We are a hot mess right now because we are forgetting what it means to be human.  We dehumanize people.  We are often inhuman in the way we treat each other.  Waterboarding?  Terrorizing?  “Rounding up”?  “Conversion therapy”?  These things are not who we are as people created in God’s image.

We are awaiting the coming of One who was himself tortured and terrorized – not someone who called for others to be tortured and terrorized.  How are we missing this?

Imagine Advent as the season when we try to become more human in honor of Jesus.  I can’t think of a better way to prepare for Christmas.

Thoughtful Giving

angel-fairy-godmother-saint-mosaicTomorrow has been deemed “Giving Tuesday” which could be written off as one of those Create-An-Occasions a la Hallmark.  But sharing even a small portion of what we have not only makes the world sweeter; it bolsters our own personal gratitude quotient and our empathy. Giving is not about tax write offs.  It’s not about guilt relief.

If you could give $100 on Tuesday, November 29th, who/what would be the recipient?  This is not only a game to ponder; it’s a real question.  Who or what have you noticed who could use $100?

Need help?  Here are some ideas:

  • Whom do you know who is making a positive difference in the world?  I know someone who takes an afternoon off each week from her paid-by-the-hour job to drive her disabled neighbor to and from dialysis.  I also know of a famous athlete with a foundation who gives sacrificially of his time to (without media) befriend children with cancer.  Is there someone you know or know of who is doing quiet things to share the love?
  • What organization has personally helped you or someone you love? My parents were both treated in the Lineberger Cancer Center of UNC Hospitals.  They were good to my mom and dad.  I know a church that bought a new car for a single mom who needed one.  I know another church who was there for a young widow to provide free babysitting for several months while she found a job.  I know another church that offers a free community dinner every Monday night.
  • What organization fights for justice, especially post-election?  You probably don’t need help with this one.  But if you do:  Who is helping poor women with reproductive health?  Who is serving refugees? Who is supporting undocumented children?  Who is working towards racial equality?  Who is standing with LGBTQ people?

If you are at a total loss, please consider giving to one of these organizations:

Presbyterian Disaster Relief not only helps those impacted by floods, storms, gun violence, and war.  They don’t leave when the media shifts their attention to the next thing.  PDA is still helping victims of Katrina while almost every other organization is long gone.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has supported 35,000 farm workers and their families against sexual harassment, discrimination, and dangerous working conditions.  Through the Fair Food Program, respect and dignity for these workers continues to be their goal.

Computer CORE was established by leaders of a PCUSA church in Northern Virginia to offer job skills – especially computer skills – for highly motivated low-income individuals.  At this writing, they have improved the lives of over 2000 (mostly) immigrants in the suburban Washington, DC area.

The Night Ministry provides housing, health care, and emotional support to vulnerable people on the streets of Chicago.  Forty years ago, twenty congregations founded this organization and they continue to offer what no other program offers in Chicago.  In the middle of the night.

Even if you don’t have $100 to share on Tuesday, maybe you have $5. Thoughtfully consider how you might be an angel.  Keep in mind that angels do their work quietly and without a lot of fanfare.  Except here.

Image of Giving Tuesday logo, Glinda the Good Witch, the Angel Gabriel, and Saint Martin de Porres.  Be a good witch, an angel or a saint on November 29 this year.

Happy Thanksgiving

May your holiday be peaceful.


bubble-wreathI remember an interview in the 1980s between Ruhollah Khomeini – who was at that time the Supreme Leader of Iran –  and a Western journalist.  The journalist asked Ayatollah Khomeini about his favorite Beatles song and the Ayatollah had never heard of The Beatles.

We in the West were shocked at this. How could anyone not have heard of The Beatles?

And now, we find ourselves in the United States of America – depending upon the bubble we happen to live inside – asking:

  • How could anyone not know who Krista Tippitt is? (if you are a college-educated liberal city person)
  • How could anyone not know the difference between a Holstein and a Guernsey?  (if you are a dairy farmer in North Carolina)
  • How can anyone not know who Beth Moore is? (if you are an evangelical Christian woman living in Texas)
  • How can a grown man not know how to install a ceiling fan?  (if you are a construction worker in Ohio)
  • How can you not know how to shoot a .30/06 bolt gun?  (if you are a hunter in Idaho)
  • How can you not know the work of J Dilla?  (if you are a rap music lover in Detroit)
  • How can you not know all the words to “A Mighty Fortress (if you are a mainline Christian over the age of 50)

We all live in bubbles.  All of us.  We know what we know.  And we don’t know what we don’t know.

And. This. Is. Why. We. Need. To. Get. Out. More.  We need to talk to people who are not like us – not to argue with them but to appreciate them and attentively listen.  We need to refrain from mocking each other and refusing to appreciate different gifts and different goals.

Our nation’s health – and perhaps our very lives – depend on this.

It’s fun to burst bubbles as children in the backyard.  Let’s try that as adults with the spheres in which we find ourselves.

Treat Your Staff Well. It’s Good for Business.

poster-ciwLast week I met the leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Immokalee, Florida.  They have been hailed as “one of the great human rights success stories of our day” because they have shifted their labor practices to become “the best working environment in U.S. agriculture.”  You can read about the good work of CIW here.  I’m grateful that my denomination supports this organization.

At Sunripe Farms we met the Human Resources Director for the tomato pickers. (Yes, HR for the tomato pickers, not just for the office workers.)  And he not only told us about their commitment to treating workers fairly; he admitted that this practice is good for business.  Immigrant farm workers spread the word about how they are treated at Sunripe Tomatoes and so Sunripe Tomatoes has no problems finding good employees.

Please check out both the CIW and the Alliance for Fair Food.  Would we rather buy our tomatoes from people who allow sexual harassment and human trafficking?  Or would we rather buy our tomatoes from farmers who promote safe conditions and pay their workers fairly?

And this brings me to offices far from the fields. There are churches that have the reputation of eating their own staff members for Sunday dinner. There are personnel committees who seek power by micro-managing their pastors.  There are churches that pay their staff members what they can get away with rather than what they can afford.

And then there are churches and chaplaincy offices and seminaries and other non-profits trying to Good Things in the name of Jesus who treat their staffs with respect and appreciation.  There is transparency and collaboration and good humor.  And those organizations subsequently thrive.  Thriving is in their DNA.

Let’s thrive today.  Let’s treat our colleagues well.  Let’s treat our pastors and educators and administrative assistants and office managers and choir directors and musicians well.  Let’s create great work environments out there.

(And let’s avoid those organizations that do not promote fair practices for workers.)

Image source.

Creating a Store House of Love

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that over 200 incidents of election-related violence have occurred since November 8th.  Actually, that report was 3 days ago and so the numbers are higher now.   Some are saying that these incidents are a result of a backlog of pent-up hate and anger which can now be unleashed because the President-elect himself has spoken such words.  Others are saying that political correctness is no longer expected or required.


"We See You and We Want You Here"

“We See You and We Want You Here”

In my own post-election travels I have heard both strangers and friends make comments that leave me speechless. They range from the grossly misinformed (The man who made my omelet in a hotel restaurant: “I am a Democrat but I voted for Trump because Obama poisoned the water in Flint” ) to the utterly disappointing (A friend/former friend?: “People need a sense of humor.  Kids are yelling ‘Build that wall’ at immigrant classmates to be funny.”

It’s not funny.  And I can no longer afford to be speechless.

Some people are wearing safety pins to identify themselves as allies of the vulnerable.  But we need to do more than wear symbols.  We need to be symbols.

I love this story about the neighbors in Nashville who wrote welcoming words in chalk on the sidewalk in front of a mosque.  These kinds of actions involve a little more effort and intentionality than wearing a pin.  (Although if you are finding it empowering to wear the safety pin, do it.)

Take homemade cookies to your local mosque, Planned Parenthood office, immigration office, LGBTQ community center and then ask them what they need.  And then offer that thing.  They might need money.  They might need volunteers.  They might need letters written.  Or maybe they just need to know that people are standing with them.

We can’t stay safe in our own little worlds anymore.  If you are a follower of Jesus  – or if you simply admire the teachings of Jesus – be like Jesus.  He befriended a Syro-Phoenician woman.  He traveled through Samaria.  He touched lepers.  And he did all these things to display love, not political correctness.

How can we build a store house of love?  Imagine unleashing that.  But it doesn’t happen without preparation:

  • We need to educate ourselves on everything from the Biblical commandments to love our enemies to anti-racism training.
  • We need to Open. Our. Eyes.  Who is in the room?  Who is not in the room and why?
  • Pay attention to what we hear.  And don’t let hate speech go unaddressed (address it by engaging the attacked not the attacker.)
  • Take de-escalation training.  (see above)
  • Try to see each other with the eyes of Christ.  It’s really hard.

The one good thing about this election if we are fearful and anxious about the results is that we can no longer be idle.  It’s time to ratchet up our capacity to serve the vulnerable and love even our enemies.

Image source.  

Note:  I am really sad and not ready to love my enemies quite yet.  This post is a sermon to myself.


What Scares You? (The Answer Explains Why We Voted the Way We Voted)


It occurred to me the other day that I scare people.  I don’t mean to do it.

But sometimes I blurt out a statement that I consider commonplace and normal (“Her wife Penny and I went to college together“) and I don’t realize that it has confused and upset the hearers.  I was telling TBC the other day that I also realize that I am a cultural snob.  I make sacred assumptions that everyone has memorized the Hamilton soundtrack and knows who Ta Nehisi Coates is.

I spent Wednesday avoiding the news and trying to sit in the profundity of Tuesday’s election results.  But I did read this article which offered these two quotes from Americans living in the same Southern city:

Last night, I feel like we got a little piece of our country back

Over the past two years, things have changed. What is so scary is you don’t know who hates you.”

So, here’s my unscientific experiment.  Which of these images scares you and which of these images gives you hope?

  1. The neighbors.
  2. The leaders of the PCUSA.
  3. The neighbors.
  4. The leaders of our country.
  5. The neighbors.
  6. The future leaders of our country.
  7. The neighbors.

The answers to this question determine our world view and our politics and our interpretation of Scripture.  They also explain why some people are crushed and terrified this week and others are uplifted and relieved.

The images are of 1) men in a diner in Raleigh the day after the election, 2) The Co-Moderators of the 222nd General Assembly, the Stated Clerk, and the Interim Executive of the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church USA, 3) Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha who were killed in Chapel Hill, NC in 2015 , 4) President Barack Obama and his first cabinet, 5) young men discussing inner city unemployment at the Chicago Urban League 2016, 6) Newt Gingrich, President Elect Donald Trump, and Rudy Giuliani, 7) Jonah and Nicole (formerly Wyatt) Maines from Maine.


What Do We Do Next?

We love our country.  We work to serve the vulnerable and the disenfranchised. We thank God for all that’s good.


Image of the great Barbara Jordan (1936 – 1996) who would have made an excellent President of the United States.

A Word for My Denomination & My Nation (from the Dalai Lama)

The problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies.  From “Behind Our Anxiety, The Fear of Being Unneeded” by The Dalai Lama and Arthur C. Brooks


That article from last Friday’s New York Times pulled many things together for me in our anxiety-drowning land.  Here’s my simplistic observation:

  • Millions of (mostly) White Americans fear that they are losing control of their culture.  They see People of Color, LGBTQ People, and all kinds of immigrants Everywhere.  The world seems foreign.
  • People of Color, LGBTQ People and all kinds of immigrants, plus women and progressive co-conspirators worry that Making America Great Again  = Jim Crow, Closets, Coat Hangers, and more hate crimes.
  • Baby Boomers aren’t ready to retire (financially, psychologically) but feel set aside.
  • Gen Xers  haven’t yet gotten their Big Shot and wonder when the Baby Boomers will step aside
  • Millennials are either overwhelmed by college debt (and maybe can’t get a job to pay back those loans.) Or they are trying – without a college degree – to land a job with a live-able wage.
  • Gen Z-ers are pushed to succeed at Everything and there’s very little down time. Or they are stuck in terrible schools with little hope for success surrounded by violence and confusing messages.

Once again, my analysis is more Off-The-Top-Of-My-Head than scientific or even very thoughtful.  But my point is this:  our lives indeed have a purpose and we are measuring our purposes against ridiculous things like material wealth and fame.

It’s killing us.

We do not value each other more than we value stuff.  “Success” has brought us more anxiety than pleasure.  “Success” has given us one of the most stressful election seasons in memory.

We are willing to demonize each other to succeed.

So, imagine taking this wise word from our Buddhist brother and relish how blessed we are to be alive right now.  Before the Dalai Lama, there was Jesus who said some things about our inherent worth and it had nothing to do with worldly things.

Imagine valuing even those with whom we disagree as children of the living God. I’m not kidding:  Picture  someone who is voting for the candidate you loathe or someone who literally hates you (or people like you) and then ask God to help you see them through the eyes of Christ.  Maybe it will help ease anxiety and help us to value each other.  We need each other.

Happy Election Week, my friends.

Image source.