Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Every Member Canvass

With the Fall stewardship campaigns soon to be launched (Episcopalians call these an "Every Member Canvass"), I thought I would share with you an article written by Martin Marty of the University of Chicago:

The Chronicle of Philanthropy chronicles – you guessed it – philanthropy, and in the June 17th issue reports on Giving USA for 2009.  While the category of religion may not always overwhelm casual readers of trend-reports, religious giving is much watched.  And there is much to watch. According to another monitoring agency, Empty Tomb, “religion” last year raised 100.95 billion dollars, which means that it represents 33 percent of all charitable giving.  While such giving is from the heart and so, on that level, is secret, it is also very public, thanks to the Internal Revenue Service and the reports of the congregations and agencies, most of which must, and do, give scrupulous accounting of the funds.
The public knows that the financial crisis and recession have hit philanthropy hard.  The big givers held back most:  Gifts in the over-one-million-dollar class were down 63.6 percent!  Giving to colleges and universities was down 17.8 percent and to hospitals, down 11 percent.  On such a scale, religion held up well.  Analysis of 1,247 religious organizations in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability showed giving was down only 3.7 percent there, all according to the Giving USA  reckoning.  Empty Tomb found that overall giving to religion, after inflation, was down only 0.3 percent.  
The first question about statistics is:  How accurate are they?  One gets the impression from the numerous people quoted in the several Chronicle articles that a) they recognize the surveyors as conscientious, their methods ever-improving, their intentions good, b) but the results are not fully trustworthy.  Many observers think that the decline in most of the areas, including religion, the least-declinist, is more steep than reported.  These analysts look at annual reports and balance sheets of religious organizations, most of which have had to cut back on personnel and projects because there are smaller funds with which to work.  They talk to development officers and financial stewards and draw the conclusion that almost across the board, there’s been a decline of more than 0.3 percent.  You might say that the professionals can “feel it in their bones,” trading anecdotes, looking in the mirror, and reading e-mails about unemployed relatives who, no matter where their heart is, cannot keep up with pledges or match those from earlier years.
Why is accuracy important?  Consultant Edith Falk says “people want to have these numbers so they can benchmark against national numbers.”  They are “also important because they are used to measure just how generous Americans are.”  Joblessness, market jitters, and other factors can take a spiritual toll.  It is also important to see where priorities are.  Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council, rightly says that “the impact of the recession has been spotty.  Rescue missions and child-sponsor groups in many cases have done well, while others are impacted more significantly.”  Favorite causes and those which have commanded loyalties over the years fare best.
In the Great Depression, many religious groups suffered a great depression, so in this Great Recession it is natural for a parade of leaders to experience some, if not great, recession.  Those who stress religious motivations, and speak of the bounties from God and the values of community, will not and should not be satisfied with the giving levels in still-prosperous America.  But comparing international and local cultural trends, one can only conclude that great numbers of Americans, moved by their faith, can be counted on.  Will they prosper if and as the nation “comes out of” its current fix?  

Friday, September 10, 2010

On "Park51"

“Park51” is the initiative undertaken by Sufi Muslims to build a community center to serve lower Manhattan and to build bridges torn up a decade earlier in the 9/11 attack. A great deal of disinformation is being spread about this plan. The proposed community center will have a prayer room, but not a mosque.

The branch of Muslims proposing the center are Sufis, and I suspect that their new center will be more likely than any other building in Manhattan to be bombed by Islamist extremists. Moderate Sufi imams are in the frontline AGAINST the extremes of Islam, not fronts for it, and the extremists hate them because of it. The Imam behind the building of this community center has been an outspoken critic of the extremists, and has worked tirelessly for the cause of peace. The proposed community center is to further that mission--bolstoring those who deplore the violence and wish to promote peace from within the Islamic religion (which as President Bush often reminded us, is the vast majority of muslims in the world).

I commend to you a reflection written by an Episcopal priest serving near "Ground Zero" and the proposed "Park51" project:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Neighborhood Schools

Long bus rides by young students are detested by all. All things being equal, nearly all would prefer a school close to home.

Further, people like to have choices. I grew up in a rural area with only one school (public or private)--no choice. I never even thought about the fact that I didn’t have a choice. But, if given the opportunity, nearly everyone would prefer to be able to choose among alternatives rather than the choice being made for them.

Accommodating these two (practically universal inclinations) is difficult. Schools are not like rubber balloons that can inflate and deflate with ease. Schools have a maximum capacity and a minimum usage (below which it is not efficient to keep them open). School boards already struggle with changing demographics and populations (think Oldham county in recent years). In practical terms, there could be no guarantee that a child could attend the school of his or her choice (what if everyone choose the same school?) Even a guarantee that a child could attend the school closest to its place of residence would not allow the flexibility necessary for economic efficiency.

The real problem though is economic segregation. Neighborhoods are economic monoliths. We, as a society, have still not solved the problem of income diversity within a small geographic region. The “problem” being the lack of economic diversity. Comparing the wealthiest and the poorest zip codes in the metro area gives you an idea of the problem neighborhood schools would create.

There are, however, ways of dealing with all of the problems while being sensitive to the inclinations outlined above. The current solution, while commendable on many fronts, has been met with opposition from those who would like more choice and/or would like shorter bus rides for the students.

What if we allowed students residing in the poorest neighborhoods to have first choice as to what school they wish to attend. After the poorest neighborhood has chosen, move to the next poorest neighborhood, so on and so forth. When a school fills, then enrollment would be closed at that school. The idea being that the more affluent have more options due to their affluence (private schools, alternate forms of transportation, etc.) and therefore are more capable of dealing with the inconvenience of more limited public funded options.

Such a system might result in de facto neighborhood schools (if everyone always chose the remaining open school closest to them). But if so, then it would be dictated as such by those most likely to suffer from such a system. Further, if a student from a poor neighborhood preferred a school in a distant affluent neighborhood, then that would be their choice, allowing them the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of such a decision. Students from more affluent neighborhoods would have more limited choices amongst public offerings but due to their relative affluence would be better equipped to deal with such limitations.

There are, however, educational objectives that are best met by creating diverse student bodies. If the above system, created less diverse student bodies. Our children's educations would suffer. If so, would the cost be worth the ability to choose and the convenience of short bus rides?

Bridges, Tolls & 1-64 along the Waterfront

Interstate 64 along Louisville’s waterfront has been a sore point for the city for some time. In 1999, Doug Cobb (then president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce) proposed solving this problem by removing the interstate, reversing what may be one of Louisville's greatest urban planning mistakes.

In a meeting of the Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Cobb presented the innovative concept to remove I-64 from Louisville's waterfront with detailed drawings of Waterfront Park and the realignment of I-64 to the proposed East End bridge. Mr. Cobb's idea, however, gained almost no media attention, and soon disappeared from public discussions. David Barhorst and David Coyte of the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation, both of whom were at the 1999 presentation, expressed support for Mr. Cobb’s solution to the I-64 problem.

In 2005, two Louisville business men, J. C. Stites and Tyler Allen launched a public media campaign to advance Mr. Cobb’s idea. Nonetheless, the idea (now rejected by Mr. Cobb as nothing but a “paper dream”) has not gained the support of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Now, with the discussion of tolls in Louisville to pay for new bridges, it is time to discuss the fate of I-64 along the waterfront in this new context.

I’ve been having my own “paper dreams” of late. Thus far the discussion of tolls has centered upon whether or not to toll both new and old bridges or just the new bridges. A different approach would be to use the tolls to deter drive through traffic in downtown Louisville along the waterfront. Once the east end bridge is completed, re-route I-64 around Louisville and toll vehicles that pass through downtown Louisville going both east and west. If we can toll old bridges, we should be able to toll old interstates. Go around downtown, your journey from east to west (or west to east) is free. Go through downtown, you are tolled. One tolling station near the Galt House could serve both East and West bound traffic. The effect of the tolling might help the city in judging the feasibility of Mr. Cobb’s “paper dream.” Would people who were just passing through travel along the waterfront if it were slower (no I-64) or more expensive (tolled)? The toll effect might approximate the effect of eliminating I-64 and give everyone a chance to evaluate the new traffic patterns.