Friday, August 21, 2009

Fundraising Foolery

Wow, it's been a long time since I've written on here! When I logged in, it said my last post was back in mid June so it's been 2 months! My apologies - I haven't ditched the blog all together but I do admit to spending a good deal more time on Facebook. Not sure if that's necessarily a good thing, but this format feels different and still has a distinct purpose for me, so I'm not abandoning it.

I'm still working at Habitat for Humanity Kansas City, although there have been some rough patches in the last few months. I actually applied for another job to run a whole volunteer department for a large animal shelter here in KC but I didn't get an interview. It's really fine - I still love working for Habitat, but there have been a lot of changes made and a lot of uncertainty about how those changes were being implemented. Change is always hard and I know I'm a person who likes routine and things being thought through - neither of which is an option right now. But I'm learning to deal with it and we're rolling along.

Perhaps the biggest change in our office has been that our Director of Development was let go. There was some thinking that he needed to go a long time ago since we hadn't had a good fundraising program in years, but the way the whole thing played out was stressful. The new person we have is still kind of an unknown, although we know she has experience fundraising, working with Habitat affiliates and overseeing AmeriCorps programs (which is all great in my opinion). She's got a lot to deal with right now though - we all do, and we're finding ourselves needing to do things we haven't done before. For example, today I wrote an appeal letter - actually two. I've been writing newsletter pieces for months but never really had any input in a fundraising campaign.

All the staff have been asked to help find people to be "hosts" of this event - people who will bring people and money to the organization. My boss asked me to help her put together an email we could send to people to ask them to do this and it was liked so much, the Executive Director asked me to write another one that we could use to approach organizations and companies to donate too. Wow. I was glad to be good at something that was so useful for people but at the same time, why were my writing skills only now coming into play? At least I feel like all the papers I had to write in seminary were good practicve for something. This afternoon there was a brief discussion about the possibility of my getting into some grant writing. We'll see where it goes.

As I write this, I'm thinking about the people who will be getting those letters and emails in the next few weeks. We've got a lot of great people who support us in all kinds of ways - volunteering their time, donating food to our pantry or materials for our construction projects, donating money, serving on our Board and committees, providing services for free or reduced price, etc. In these times, charities are hurting for money more than ever, while at the same time the people who are calling on them for services are rising in number. We've only built half the number of homes we built last year and don't see donations rising very quickly. Volunteers are being turned away every day because we don't have any sites to put them on. But as much as all that hurts, can people afford to give right now? We know there are lots of people looking for jobs, and many others have lost a lot of their savings and retirement money in the down market. How do you feel when people ask you for money? What makes you give to a particular charity over another? Are you just as likely to donate now as you were three years ago?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cedar Rapids - Day Zero

In light of the fact that I'm on a week long trip to Cedar Rapids, this is going to be an attempt at some kind of journal of my experience while I'm here. I brought my laptop for evening use and have discovered that while my wireless connection works somewhat consistently, Facebook's connection is much less so. This way I'll be able to say my piece and others can comment - just not as much in real time as if it were on Facebook. Plus the photo upload function may work here (Facebook has been having issues with their's all week).

When Trouble went off to Air Force basic training (they don't call it boot camp, just FYI), she learned about this great concept of "zero week." They tell you that the training will take x number of weeks, but your first week there isn't week one - it's week zero. It doesn't really county even though you're definitely noticing that you're there and pretty much in shock over just how much NOT like anywhere else this is going to be. With today being our drive up here and an evening on a college campus in a strange town, I'm considering this day zero. We don't really know what we've gotten ourselves into yet but know that this is definitely not like being "back home." Everyone here is somehow related to Habitat for Humanity and/or AmeriCorps. Most people are AmeriCorps members - 500+ of them. The rest of us are affiliate staff (AmeriCorps site coordinators oversee the members at their individual sites, making sure that AmeriCorps rules and protocol is followed, handling paperwork, etc.), Habitat International staff or there are a small number of AmeriCorps alumni.

I myself am a site coordinator AND an alumni and yet I still feel like I fit in more with the AmeriCorps members. Trouble and I discussed this a little bit this morning. I have a hard time seeing myself as an "adult" in charge of things, responsible and in a position of leadership. It's strange because I have no problem seeing myself that way in other areas of my life, but with Habitat and work in general, I seem forever stuck in "idealistic student" mode. It seems odd to me that as the low man on the Habitat KC totem pole and someone who was "just" an AmeriCorps last year, I'm now someone who knows more and is in charge of other people. Am I the only one who struggles with this? Does it go away at some point?

Right now three of my four members are out at a little dive bar just off campus, drinking cheap (and probably nasty) beer, singing karaoke and having some fun being away from the office. They invited me along but I chose to opt out. Yes, part of that is due to my disgust for beer and dreading the embarassment of karaoke but I also feel like I need to give them their space away from me and all things related to Habitat KC. This is a week away from all of that and a chance for them to just hang out and bond with each other in a way they can't at work. I also feel like I need to distance myself a little more from them than I have. The fact is that I'm not a member anymore and I'm not in the same place in life where they are. I don't feel that much older than them, but I AM. I just need to accept it and start acting like it. :)

So that's where I am at the end of this evening. Tomorrow the rest of the participants in Build-a-thon will arrive from all over the US and we'll have our Opening Ceremonies. Kurt Warner, NFL quarterback from the Arizona Cardinals, will be here all week since he's originally from Cedar Rapids. If you're watching ESPN and see anything about him and the project here, let me know! I know Cedar Rapids has had all kinds of local news coverage about him and us coming here. Our goal is to build 20 new houses this week, part of the flood recovery efforts. It's been exactly one year since the river crested at 21.5 feet above normal and there's still quite a bit of evidence around town. I'll be posting pictures later in the week. I'm going to be out on a construction crew building one of those houses - a big change from my normal week of work and something I'm really looking forward to. Now for some rest and a little Indigo Girls to set the mood: "Gotta get out of bed, grab a hammer and a nail, learn how to use my hands, not just my head..."

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tragedy... and hypocrisy

So the first news story that caught my attention this morning was about Dr Tiller, known abortion doctor, getting shot in his church in Kansas this morning. When I got on Facebook today, several people made some sort of reference to the story, expressing sentiments from "violence is never the answer" to "that's karma." Interesting. There's a bumper sticker that I've always liked that says something along the lines of, "Why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?" It's speaking about capital punishment, but let's face it - the actions this person took this morning were an act of renegade capital punishment. There are people cheering those actions, saying that the Dr deserved what he got for what he did to all those unborn babies/fetuses (pick the term you prefer - there's a debate about which is correct and most inflammatory).

It may surprise several of you to know that I myself am pro-life. As much as I get the feminist argument for abortion and the right to choose, I can't quite get there. I've always believed that taking a life is wrong - any life. And I understand the debate about defining when life actually begins - when does a cluster of cells become another human life? I don't know. I don't think any of us can make that call, no matter how much science tries to give us a definition. Let's face it - the creation of life is a miracle that science hasn't quite been able to replicate. I'm an intelligent person and I value science highly, but it can't answer all of the questions and it's still up to us to decide what to do with the knowledge we get from it. I don't think I have the right or ability to say when life begins and I prefer to err on the safe side. However, I also think that abortion should be legal and regulated in this country because I recognize that this is a moral decision that I can't make for everyone else. I don't want to see women dying from illegal procedures or feeling shame for something that society makes undiscussable.

I don't think that the work this dr did was necessarily good or right, but I also don't think the work a lot of lawyers do is good or right. I don't think anyone has the right to determine when life begins - OR WHEN IT ENDS. While I'm a contradiction to most people - a self proclaimed progressive, feminist and lesbian who's prolife - I feel like I'm at least consistent. I'm against killing anyone of any age. A murderer on death row is following the "eye for an eye" mantra, the very thing Jesus flipped on its ear. We're supposed to love and forgive even those who do the unthinkable. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Granted, this is not at all the way our entire legal and justice system work but it should be how the church works - not having people in the church saying that someone killed got what they deserved. Did Jesus get what he deserved too? When will we stop being hypocrites and start being Christians?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Disappointed but not surprised

Since this blog started in response to a UMC judicial decision regarding homosexuality, I feel like I can't NOT speak up on California's judicial decision on Proposition 8. I won't go back through the history of the proposition and the legal battle that will likely continue even after yesterday's decision - most of us have heard the details about it by now. As stated in the title of today's post, I am not surprised that the court made the decision that they did. I am disappointed in their decision, but know that if they had overturned the proposition, the situation probably wouldn't look a whole lot different today. It would just be "the other side" having protests and expressing their disappointment. I think the California courts tried to find a compromise, something that would appease both sides in this highly contentious debate. The same-sex couples who got married in that window of time are getting to keep their legal status - congratulations, Ellen! But those who consider this a moral problem can rest assured that nobody else will add to those ranks.

There are several things going through my head at this point. From a personal standpoint, I'm sad that our society hasn't grown past this debate, but I didn't expect that it was going to magically happen based on a few legal decisions. I think it's interesting that Iowa has made gay marriage legal while California, often seen as the nation's most liberal state, can't get it to stick. I think I'm glad to live in the Midwest right now. I think that my wedding didn't need legal status to happen but that someday if/when the time comes, we may want to do a renewal of vows that would be legally recognized. I had hoped that that day would be coming sooner rather than later, but I can be patient. It doesn't do me any good to get angry - there are too many people with too many opinions to fight. I know in my heart that this is an issue of justice and that justice will ultimately prevail. I just hope Trouble and I live to see it.

There have been all kinds of editorials, blog posts, and other statements about the Prop 8 decision. One that I'd like to point out to folks is the One City blog from Beliefnet. I think the author makes some great points about the legal issues on this debate and how most of this debate comes down to differentiating religious marriage from legal or civil marriage. We talk about equal rights in this country but are often too mired in our religious convictions to remember what legal rights are vs our moral beliefs. I don't like the things that a lot of hate groups say, but I can acknowledge that they have the right to say it. That's the beautiful thing about the U.S.A.! But when the word marriage gets used, things somehow get fuzzy. I am a Christian and have always believed in the religious implications of marriage. It was important for Trouble and I to have a minister do our ceremony and to have our family and friends present. We believe that God does bless our love and committment to each other for the rest of our lives - regardless of what other religious people may tell us.

The fact of the matter is that nobody really knows what God thinks about gay marriage. Until a booming voice from the heavens comes down to tell us explicitly, we're all making interpretations about what Scripture says and how it can be applied to our modern situations. But I'd rather err on the side of love and acceptance rather than fear, exclusion and even hatred. I'm going to continue to live my life, in love and committed to a wonderful woman and not getting any legal recognition of that relationship. Whatever. Life goes on and justice will one day be achieved.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Do unto others...

This is the sermon I preached at Garland Ave UMC on Sunday, May 17th. Granted, when I preach it is NEVER word for word what I've written out, but this gives you the general idea.

When I was a kid I had a ton of books. Well, I still do, but now they’re totally different kinds of books collected over years of schooling. Anyway, one whole wall of my room was made of built in book shelves, which was more space than I needed for my collection, so many of shelves held books that belonged to my parents. Every now and again I’d get curious and would look through them for interesting titles but inevitably I’d get bored and go back to my own shelves and pull one of my worn out favorites. I had several of these books that I flipped thru or read over and over again. One was a collection of Peanuts cartoons, another was an oversized children’s bible with lots of great pictures, and another was a book of Norman Rockwell pictures. I’ve always loved photography and visual art, and Norman Rockwell became a favorite of mine. I couldn’t really tell you why, but looking back I think I fell in love with his work when I saw his Golden Rule picture. I don’t know if any of you have seen it, but it has the text of the golden rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – written in gold lettering on a dark grey stone, almost like it was engraved. And then it’s surrounded by faces of people from all around the world, particularly children in native costume. It captured my attention the first time I saw it - the eyes of the young girl from India or Pakistan seemed to bore into mine - and really got me to consider who these “others” were and what it really meant to live out those words. It’s such a powerful image that the UN building in NYC actually has a version that’s a huge mosaic. It’s one of the highlights of the tour, if you ever get the chance to go I recommend it. When I first saw it at the UN, I was intrigued because it seemed to be such a promotion of religious ideals. But it’s not necessarily a religious message; I somehow made the association at a young age that the golden rule was a Christian idea. It was later when I was in college that I discovered it to be used in many world religions and I fell in love with the idea that there was at least some nugget of scripture that truly was universal, that perhaps we do have more in common with our brothers and sisters around the world.

So what does that picture have to do with us and our scripture? Well, in case you missed it, the theme and word for today is love. This probably isn’t a new idea for most of us – hopefully not for any of us – but I think what many people boil the concept of love down to is essentially the golden rule. In the gospel of John, Jesus is explaining his commandment to the disciples (and to us) that we are to love one another. But if you notice, he doesn’t use the words of the golden rule. We aren’t told to love someone else as we love ourselves but as HE loves us. This is really a totally different concept. What Jesus is asking us to do is much different, and much harder. After all, how much do we really love ourselves? Would it be so hard to love everyone else the same amount? We constantly talk down to ourselves, beat ourselves up, second guess our instincts, and more. If we treated everyone else that way, what kind of families would there be and what kind of world would we have. But to love someone else as Jesus has loved us – that’s something wholly different, even radical. Can we really do it? Jesus loved us so much he literally gave up his life for us. Do we have to literally die for someone else to live up to what he asks of us? And he’s not just asking, but commanding us to do this. What will happen if we don’t? How do you command an emotion? What does he really mean?

We generally think of love as a feeling, something that we develop for people as we come to know them. It’s an emotion that grows as we value the person more and more. People we’ve never met are valued for the fact that they are people, but we can only feel love for them on a superficial level. Jesus was anything but superficial, so that can’t be all. If we look at the word love in the gospels, it gets used as both a noun and a verb. In this gospel reading alone the word is used NINE TIMES! Looking at the whole gospel of John, the verb form of love is used 5 times as often as the noun (37 times vs 9, respectively). One of my seminary professors used to always say, “If it’s repeated, it must be important,” so by that logic the idea that we’re supposed to love one another is pretty darn important, as is the fact that love is a verb – it’s an action. Love can’t just be a warm fuzzy emotion that we feel when we really like someone. It’s a matter of will. Did you ever have a fight with a brother or sister when you were a child and you were told to say you were sorry even though you didn’t mean it? Perhaps you didn’t mean it right away, but looking back on it later, perhaps you realized why it needed to be said anyway and you really did love them. Your parents weren’t forcing your emotions any more than Jesus is doing here – the point is to act out love and not let the angry emotion of the moment take over. Likewise, Jesus is telling us that love is a conscious decision to act on our part, an act of will and compassion for someone else. It means overcoming our fear and taking a risk. Let me give you an example.

(This is actually referring to an incident I blogged about a little while ago. You can read the original post here.) I was in the drive thru at Burger King one day on my lunch break and as I was pulling away with my bag full of food, a man with a bedraggled appearance walked up to my car window (which was still rolled down) and asked me for some money so he could get a burger. I reacted quickly – whether I thought he was going to rob me or use the money I gave him for drugs or whatever, I couldn’t really process until later – and I told him I had used all my money to get my own lunch. This was mostly true – I had used the last of my cash and only had maybe 50 cents in change but that wasn’t really the point. I could just have easily had $20 in my wallet and I know I wouldn’t have given it to him. Besides, wouldn’t that 50 cents put him much closer to buying a burger? And did I really need that huge burger and all those fries myself? Let’s face it – I’m obviously not in danger of starving to death anytime soon. And this man may or may not have been in dire need of that burger; how could I know? But I didn’t offer him anything – I told him I was sorry and I drove off back to my office. I hadn’t driven a block before I felt ashamed of myself. I knew that it wasn’t the Christian thing to do, that I was not living up to this commandment Jesus has given us here. Fear took over and I didn’t have the impulse, the love, to reach out and act anyway. There are of course, many other examples we could share with each other, I’m sure, but I want to make a point here to let you know that this is not all to say that emotions are bad. Yes, we can get carried away with them and they can take over our actions at times, but God also gave us emotions for a reason and they shouldn’t just get pushed aside or ignored. The trick is to balance it out. You feel fear for a reason – perhaps you sense that this person is dangerous. Then use that feeling to prepare yourself and adjust HOW you reach out to them – don’t NOT reach out at all. Perhaps you take a friend along, perhaps you give food directly rather than giving money that you fear will be used in a negative way, etc. There are ways to value your emotions and still overcome the fear that inhibits you from taking that loving action.

In other ways, our emotions aren’t the issue at all. Sometimes we act wrongly as an institution, as a church. I heard a sermon preached at a large church here in our area once, and the pastor was talking about a study he had done asking young adults and youth what they knew and thought about Christianity. Over and over again he heard answers that were along the lines of saying that Christianity is against homosexuality and they didn’t know what to do with that since they had friends who were gay. They saw an image of Christianity that was about judgment and exclusion and saying who is and isn’t allowed to participate in God’s love. In many cases this isn’t even done politely, if there’s way to do that politely, but it’s done very vocally with hateful language. Is this the image Jesus would be proud to see for his followers? At one point Gandhi was asked about his feelings about Christianity, and, to paraphrase badly, he said I don’t really like your Christians – they seem nothing like your Christ. OUCH! We’re getting it exactly wrong. Regardless of what you personally feel about a person, as a Christian you are called to act in love. We can accept homosexuals and we can talk to the scruffy guy on the street – we can and we should because Jesus did it for us. To be in relationship with Jesus and with God means that we love one another in the same way we have been loved by God. It can be a hard thing for us to learn. And it was hard for the disciples as we see in the Acts reading. Peter certainly didn’t get it right away.

In this passage from Acts we get the last half of the story – that he baptized these Gentiles who amazingly received the Holy Spirit. But the first half of the story really explains how Peter even got to that point. He had a dream that God set all kinds of food out before him and told him to eat, but many of the items were unclean according to Jewish law. Peter refused to defile himself, just as any good Jew would have done. After all, those laws were commandments from God on how to live their daily lives. You can’t just go ignoring those, right? But God tells him that the food was brought specifically for him and that he has made it clean for Peter to eat. Again Peter refuses and God comes back for a third time to tell him to eat; God has made those things and they are indeed clean for him to eat. Again, note the repetition and “If it’s repeated, it must be important.” Peter doesn’t understand the dream until a Roman centurion sends for him – something that would never have been okay. Jews and Gentiles didn’t hang out with each other let alone like each other. But when the invitation comes, Peter understands that God was telling him it’s okay – all people are okay by God and all food is okay to eat. It was never about the letter of the law for God. It’s about the spirit – acceptance and love. Peter acted out of love even though he was probably scared of what could happen to him in a Roman centurion’s home – remember Christians weren’t exactly popular at the time! For all Peter knew, going to that home may have been the last thing he ever did, but he overcame the fear and went to speak with the Romans. And when he does that, he finds that those people are actually very glad to have him there, the Holy Spirit comes into them and they get baptized. Peter does his act of love and God takes care of the rest. Peter is fine, the love of God is shared and the world becomes a better place if only in a small space for a short time. One day, if we can all figure out how to get this right, imagine what the world could be. Imagine what God could do!

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I am totally procrastinating right now. I'm preaching tomorrow morning and have been trying to work on my sermon but keep running into brick walls. Not actual brick walls, but mental ones. I have several ideas of things to do with the texts (based on the common lectionary) but none of them are flowing together as of yet. How many hours do I have? As it is, I've already secluded myself at home while Trouble is out at a friend's graduation bbq. I knew if I went I'd be worried about this stuff so I decided to make myself stay home and work on it - and now I'm on here instead. It seems like it should be so easy to preach on - the basic idea is that we're commanded to love one another and we should obey. Love is one of the basics - something I talk about and belive in whole heartedly. Yet somehow I'm having issues developing that into 12 minutes of anything of any substance. It just doesn't seem like it's too complicated to me. And then I go and look back at old blog posts to search for inspiration and I come across entries talking about times when I could have shown love to someone and didn't. We all know the idea is simple but the practice is more complex. Again, I don't seem to have anything new to add to the topic. This is why I'm not a regular preacher. if you have any great ideas, please call me and share! I'll post again after the service and let you know what I end up doing...

Friday, May 01, 2009

I know that tastes vary, but still...

I hope you're not looking for anything too deep on here today. I've been so busy with Earth Day events, Habitat KC's Parade of Playhouses, and more speaking events to dig down too far. I just wanted to share an interesting experience I had the other day.

Trouble and I made our regular trip to the home improvement store for some gardening items (it seems we go every other week or so this time of year) and on the way home decided to make a detour for some frozen yogurt. We went over to our local shop to order our usual cup & cone, but there were more people than there had been the last time and we found ourselves waiting in line. Ah, how the Spring weather brings everyone out for frozen treats! There was a young guy behind us that I would presume to be in high school - still a kid but old enough, I thought, to be beyond what came next. Our orders had been filled and were just waiting to pay, so we happened to be standing right in front of the glass that protects all the assorted toppings and mix in ingredients as this guy rattled off his order. I was flabbergasted. I will admit, I couldn't help myself and I made a comment about his order out loud, which I don't think he really appreciated and I felt bad as soon as I saw the look on his face. I know that everyone has their own tastes, and I don't intend to be so judgemental but it made such an impression! What do you think?

He was making a parfait:
  1. On the bottom, chocolate chips (excellent beginning)
  2. A layer of orange sorbet (not the way I'd go, but chocolate and orange is a tasty combination)
  3. A layer of Reese's pieces (WHAT!? I mean, I love them but I'm not sure about peanut butter and orange together)
  4. A layer of peach, no sugar added, yogurt (yeah, I'm definitely out at this point)
  5. To top it all off, chocolate chip cookie dough chunks (WHOA!)

It reminded me of when we were kids and my family used to go to Friendly's (an ice cream store/restaurant chain in the northeast) and my brother would always order a Reese's Peanut Butter cup sundae, with hot fudge and peanut butter sauce as well as bits of peanut butter cups sprinkled on top of the ice cream flavor of your choice. I loved that sundae, but not when brother ordered it with their summer seasonal "watermelon sherbet" - GROSS! I'm not sure if my brother still eats those (any reply, Tony?) and perhaps this guy at the yogurt store will grow out of his interesting tastes. Or maybe he won't and I should try to find a way to appreciate his unique perspective on life. :)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Shameless Earth Day Plugs

It's the middle of April once again, time for Earth Day. It's interesting to see how this day gets treated each year. I don't know about other places in the country, but here in KC it seems like Earth Day is definitely going commercial. Perhaps the Obama administration and their stimulus plans are a big factor in that, but I've noticed countless ads for businesses selling Energy Star windows, appliances, high MPG vehicles, etc. Here in MO they've even granted as Earth Day tax holiday for this next week so that Energy Star appliances are tax free.

I think it's great that businesses are finally pushing the more environmentally friendly options and that those options seem to be getting more affordable for those of us in the middle income range, but it also makes me a little wary. We still seem to be equating consumption - buying more "stuff" - with patriotism and a healthy economy. Perhaps we've bought so much extra crap over the years that we now need to take some time to really digest what we have, what we need, and what we need to get rid of or stop spending on. I know for me personally, I bought a lot of stuff - clothes, housewares, holiday decorations, DVDs, etc. - that I didn't need or really have space for. While I don't feel an overwhelming crunch on my budget these days (let's face it, as a seminary student the last several years and then serving as an AmeriCorps member I've gotten used to having virtually no income), I am trying to take time to go through all my belongings to make sure I have the things I need and can store sensibly while getting rid of the things I don't. Most of those things will get donated to Goodwill or our local Disabled American Veterans thrift stores. Trouble and I love to browse these stores fairly regularly (reuse rather than buy new) and I've definitely noticed that there are more people shopping there and less items on the shelves these last 8 months or so. I would encourage you to do the same, finding those kinds of stores in your area.

Of course, I can't let Earth Day go by without once again talking about my job. For all the personality issues at my job, I love working for Habitat KC and one of my favorite parts of Habitat's work is the ReStore. Not all Habitat affiliates have ReStores, but you can look up the closest one to you by going to Habitat International's website and entering your zip code in the appropriate search box. ReStores sell all kinds of materials for your home, varying greatly with each affiliate and the way their staff choose to operate. I know the store in Oklahoma City sells mostly new items that they get wholesale. Our store in Kansas City, MO is one of the top 5 ReStores in the country - which I am VERY proud of although I don't work directly with the ReStore very often. We have a 30,000 square foot warehouse that is set up like other home improvement stores with everything from ceramic tile to kitchen sinks. Everything we sell is donated - some new from manufacturers and local businesses (thanks you Lowe's) and some used from people remodeling that donate their old materials rather than throwing them away. The store sells these items to the public at deeply discounted prices and all the profits help fund our housing program. Our store has generated more than $1 million for housing in Kansas City thus far!! If you have one in your area I definitely ask you to check it out.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to an eco-friendly business that recently opened up in my area. It's a coffee shop called One More Cup here in the Waldo neighborhood of KC. Their website includes pictures of the place and their full menu but doesn't do it justice. They also have a blog here on blogger so you can get to know the owners a bit. My favorite part of the place is that they redid the interior with earth friendly materials, like cork flooring, and they sell as much local stuff as they can, including all fair trade and organic coffee thru the KC comapny the Roasterie. It's quite seriously the BEST COFFEE I'VE EVER HAD. Trouble has a serious addiction coming on - she stops in at least twice a week. :) They sell travel mugs with their logo on them that are made out of recycled plastic and when you bring them in to get your coffee, they give you a mug full (16 ounces) for the 12 oz price. Trouble has almost paid for hers already! I have a hard time getting there early enough to get to work on time so I don't stop in near that much, but I'm definitely doing my part to get the word out there about this place. I love that it's close enough I can walk or ride my bike down there and that they are so committed to values I share. The owner, Jeremy, is also a musician and regularly plays the piano sitting right inside the door. I don't know where else you can get that!

Well, that's enough commercialism. Now back to going through my closet... Happy Earth Day!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Military Wife Once More

This year I'll be celebrating 10 years of marriage - well, not legally, but 10 years committed to Trouble and the anniversary of our public ceremony in an OKC park. When we got married I had no idea what lay ahead of us (how many people really do) and I certainly didn't see our country being in a war for 7+ years. Trouble never was a school type - she always fit better with more "hands-on" kinds of learning and training - so I wasn't completely shocked about her decision to join the OK Air National Guard to become a flight medic. She was already an EMT and knew she wanted to go farther with her medical training. The guard would give her training, a job she couldn't do in the civilian world and the GI Bill would help her pay to go back to school for the medical career she discovered she really enjoyed. It made sense.

And then September 11th happened. And nothing made sense.

At the time, we were both working night shifts (I was working at 911 in Midwest City, OK and Trouble worked for an ambulance service in OKC) and we had come home from work that morning at 7 and fell into bed. A couple of hours later we were wakened by a phone call from a friend wanting to know when Trouble would be leaving - and had no idea what she was talking about. Talking about deployments was very premature at that time, but she eventually did go overseas. By the end of her enlistment and our first 8 years of marraige, Trouble had been away from me as much as she had been home with me. She had been to Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and numerous other places and done all kinds of missions. I worried about her (ABSOLUTELY!) but I also always knew that I had it much easier than so many other military spouses. Her deployments were usually closer to 6 months long than a year or even two. Her role as a medic gave her certain considerations and treatment guidelines according to the Geneva Convention (if anyone actually considers following those rules - including the US). We also didn't have any kids to try to explain things to. However, we also had to hide our relationship and I never got the kind of recognition that other military family members get. On family day on the guard base, spouses and kids could see where their loved one worked, tour the planes, have a barbecue, etc. - I wasn't invited. There were always wonderful people who knew who I was and would make sure I'd hear the latest news, but that never stopped the hurt when there was a family event that I wasn't allowed to attend. It still hurts that I have to write this post without using her name so as not to break the rules of "Dont' Ask, Don't Tell."

So it's with mixed feelings that I now celebrate 10 years with Trouble. I love her as much as ever and continue to be proud of the work that she does. We're taking a fabulous dream vacation later in the year to celebrate our anniversary. She's also decided that she's re-enlisting in the Air Force, this time as a reservist rather than in the guard. She's joining a new unit but going to be doing the same job she had before. She has missed being a flight medic and hates that there is still so much to be done that she knows she can do. She made a lot of good friends in the AF and found her own kind of ministry in caring for her patients there. I can't not let her join. I also dread another deployment and another experience of counting on friends on the inside to keep her safe while keeping me informed when she can't contact me. We're going thru so many things as a country right now but I hope we don't lose sight of what's going on around the world, particularly with our military personnel and their loved ones - no matter what age, gender, or legal relationship they are in.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Caution vs. Christian

This afternoon I went thru a drive thru for lunch - not healthy, I know - and after getting my sack of greasy food and pulling down the drive, a man waved to get my attention. He was disheveled, had only a few teeth and he asked if I had some change to spare so he could go inside the restaurant and get a burger. I replied that I only had a few cents and he walked off while I drove away, back to the office to eat and finish my day. No sooner had I stopped at the first red light when I started thinking about why I reacted the way I did. I didn't roll down my window to talk to that man, and I didn't give him the change that I had (I honestly didn't have any cash since I had spent the last of it at the drive thru, but I probably had 75 cents or so in my change purse). Why not? I always want to talk about integrity and "walking the walk" of being a Christian, but how short I fall so many times!

In dissecting my reaction to him, I understood that my initial response was fear. I have been taught to fear people who like this man looked - whether from my parents, friends, television or a combination. Even when going out on "mission trips" we are taught that some people are okay to help and others are dangerous. Where does this distinction come from? Who gets to decide who is okay to help and who isn't? How do we overcome our fear? What exactly is it that we're afraid of? The most obvious situation that comes to my mind is that one of "those people" may be dangerous and hurt us in some way, perhaps even killing us. Or perhaps we'll give them money to get food and instead they'll use it to buy drugs or alcohol or something else we find unsemly. Hmmm. More judgement.

The trite phrase "What would Jesus do?" often gets brought up at moments like these (and indeed, popped into my own head while I had this conversation with myself) but I honestly don't know if the Bible is really a place to look for this kind of answer. Yes, we know that Jesus helped a lot of people in various ways, but does it say that Jesus helped EVERY person he came across? Did Jesus share spare change with the first beggar on the street and have none for the others he met? Or did Jesus not have any spare change always counting on charity where he stayed - in which case, what did he do fo the beggars? Did Jesus have some way of choosing which people he helped and which ones he didn't? In some stories we are told he sees the spirit possessing the person he helps, or the person's faith is what causes action. Am I supposed to know if the man asking me for change has faith? What are my criteria and how many people can I honestly help if they meet them? I can give everything I own away and still not have enough to help just the people here in Kansas City who need it, and then I'd be a person in need myself. Is my responsibility to take care of them while still taking care of myself OR JUST TO TAKE CARE OF THEM regardless of what it means for me? A lot of questions, I know. Welcome to how my brain works. :)

In the end, I'm not proud of what I did today and I want to work on checking my fear as soon as it happens. I think I have decent instincts that will help me decide when it's appropriate to be afraid and take caution and when I need to push my comfort zone and really help that person - especially if they take enough risk to ask me directly. In the end it's about balancing my care for myself with caring for others. We all have to find the balance that works for us, but I want to challenge myself - and you - to really look at the balance you've been living out and whether you really think it's enough. Perhaps you can give more and stretch that comfort zone a little more often. Perhaps you give of yourself so much that you're not really able to get by on your own anymore. Maybe you're entirely okay with where you are - but have you thought about it and really made that decision consciously?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In the Media

One of the things I love about my job is that I always have a variety of things to do. When I crave interpersonal contact, I have things I do to reach out with a variety of people. When I just want to be left alone, I can put on my iPod and work on the website. When I want to have a little fun, I can log into Facebook and MySpace and update our pages while I'm also updating my personal status. Most people aren't so lucky, and I know it. For whatever reason, lately it has seemed that I've been spending about 50% of my time working on our website (so if you haven't checked it out lately, please do and let me know what you think - I'm always looking for feedback, even if it's just about a small spelling error). I've gotten things updated enough that I'm not so much making the information current to this year, but I'm actually out looking for new ways to update things, like linking to recent news pieces on our events, blog postings about us, etc. This means I'm learning more about how media works, some of which is interesting and some of which is super frustrating.

When I used to work at Midwest City 911, I would often get phone calls from the local media who had been listening to their scanners and called looking for information about something they heard. "Hi, this is channel XX news - what was the address on that fire you just went to?" We didn't have to do anything to attract their attention - they were usually contacting us before we had anything to give them. Now that I work for Habitat KC, it's a whole new ball game. We put out press releases on almost all the events that we have - from big public events to house blessings at the end of each build project - and it's a rare occurrence when one of the local KC channels will contact us looking for more information, let alone show up at the event. There are a variety of reasons that this might happen - (1) we might give all the information they need in the press release and so they don't need to call; (2) Kansas City is a larger metro region and they don't generally need to find more news stories to fill up the paper or newscast time; (3) Habitat isn't sensational enough to catch people's attention like a house fire or police chase would.
I know all of this, just as I also know that even when you see a news story on tv, you're often not getting the whole story, but the piece that the particular reporter or producer thought was interesting enough. There are all kinds of things about the process that are personal, political, etc. but like it or not, withouth the media, we don't get the information out to enough people, so we do what we can to work with it.

That being said, I just wanted to give a shout out to a few pieces that have been done on us lately in Kansas City and say thank you for giving us the time, space, etc. to get our word out.
  • Channel 41 news posted this piece on their website. I don't know if it was also mentioned in the news cast that night, and most of this article is direct from our press release but it's nice to have the mention.
  • Bill Tammeus, who used to write for the KC Star newspaper, mentioned our latest project in his blog. While not published in print, his blog has lots of local followers and he is well respected which helps us greatly.
  • KMBC Channel 9 news did a whole story on our upcoming Women Build project (including video online). Lara Moritz, one of their main anchors, has agreed to be our spokesperson for the project since it has a focus on breast cancer awareness (her mom died from breast cancer) and we look forward to future pieces with her.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to keep up with all of these things and remain vigilant about linking to them from our website!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Habitat KC Kicks off 30th Year

Today was an amazing day at work - a day where I got to feel like all the office dysfunction is doing some real good in the community. We had our Build Season Kick-off today, an annual event to mark the beginning the new year's activities and introduce the partner families to the rest of the Habitat KC community. For whatever reason, this year we had a great turnout - staff, Board members, volunteers, previous family partners, and all of this year's families were able to be there. We even had folks from the city council, our state representative, and the president from the local neighborhood association there to say a few words. A few of the families spoke about how they got to this point, what the homeowner process has been like for them so far, etc. and it was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. People of all races, ages, faith backgrounds, etc mixed and mingled and got to know each other's stories in a way I haven't seen outside of of a house blessing ceremony. Those are the events we do to give a family the keys to their new home when the house is done being built, but they usually only involve one family and their one house - this was so much more than that! As this is Habitat Kansas City's 30th Anniversary, we wanted this event to be a bit bigger than it's been in the past. We've tried to promote it more thru email, on Facebook, etc. and it probably didn't hurt anything that we got a story on the news the other day. :) It was just nice to have a good turn out, appreciation from various sides of our program, and really feel like we're doing good work, little by little, building up our community one family at a time. If you haven't volunteered with Habitat before, I STRONGLY recommend it. You can do a search for your local affiliate from the Habitat for Humanity Internationl website by just entering your zip code. And don't forget to do your home improvement shopping at ReStore!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Management Misgivings

Since I was hired as staff at Habitat KC, I've been charged with overseeing our AmeriCorps program. As a member, I got to understand the program from one point of view, but now I'm seeing a totally different perspective. One part of me loves managing my own program. I know myself well enough to know that I have control issues and running the program myself allows me to have more control over something in the professional environment than I've ever had before. However, there are many new experiences for me in this venture and I'm discovering that maybe control isn't all it's cracked up to be. Up until this month, managing the program has been mostly a question of organization and paper work. There are a variety of documents that have to be signed and submitted at various time intervals. Some of them require feedback from our AmeriCorps members, others require supervisors' information and signatures, and all of it needs to be copied and kept on file just in case there's any kind of audit (this is, afterall, a federal grant program). I have no problem with any of that, even while much of the paperwork process can be tedious and redundant. It has allowed me to learn more about how the grant and program works at Habitat International's level and allowed me to regularly communicate with all of the people involved at our affiliate.

This month my management duties shifted when I was told that I could hire a new member to fill the open position we had for the last half of the term (our full terms are September - July but one member decided at the last minute not to take the job and we didn't have anyone else to hire at the time. This term will be February - July). This meant that I had to post the job listing, do some active recruiting, perform interviews and select the right candidate for the job. There are several tricks to this process, and I'm still learning how to deal with all of them. For example, a large percentage of people who already know about the AmeriCorps program and are interested in participating in it are white, middle class college kids. The problem is that as a federal program, the powers that be would like to see a more diverse population that reflects the entire population of this country. Our affiliate has not had a problem with this in the past - we've made a point to recruit for AmeriCorps members among our family partners and their friends and relatives, as well as posting jobs on local college campuses, including technical and vocational programs. At national training events, we have been held up as an example of what a good group of members can look like. However, for a variety of reasons, the people that we have hired in the past haven't always worked out well. Last year we had several disciplinary issues which led to one member quitting and another being terminated in the middle of the program. This put our affiliate on a list with those higher up and they want to know what we're doing wrong that we can't bring in people that are able to complete the program. So I, as the new coordinator of this program, have to find a way to balance what both sides want to see.

I posted the position on Craig's List, on our website and on the AmeriCorps website and that was it. Because I knew we only had one position to fill, I wasn't worried about having tons of people see it - just enough to find a handful of good candidates. And we'd never used Craig's List before so I wanted to see what kind of people that reached and how many responses we got. It worked pretty well and I had several applicants for the position. Most of them were white, male, and college educated but there was some variety. For the first time in my life, I interviewed people. I've been interviewed many times, but asking the questions was more nerve wracking than I expected it to be. I wanted to make sure I was being fair, so I developed a list of questions that I would ask to each applicant and had a rating system with room for comments so I could take notes and remember each applicant when I went back to review them later. I made sure to have someone from the construction dept. in the interviews with me so that it wasn't just my perspective being shared, especially since this position will be working in the construction dept. In the end, I had three good candidates for the job, all of which were young, white, college educated males. None of the diverse candidates made the cut for a variety of reasons and now I'm wondering if the process was somehow biased against them. I know that while I don't want to be racist and try my best not to be, there are things in my life and this culture that are immediately going to rule out people based on race, economic status, etc. The AmeriCorps program requires people to apply online thru the website, so if you don't have internet access or aren't computer literate, you're not going to be able to even apply, let alone get selected. Is this fair? It doesn't seem that way to me, but here I am running this program and now I have to figure out how to make it fair. Any suggestions??

So now that all has been said and done, I've hired one of our three candidates and this week I wrote the rejection letters to the others that we interviewed. I appreciate honesty but also appreciate tact and kindness and had a really hard time trying to bring all of those to a letter that told people they weren't picked. No matter what I said or how I phrased it, I felt like I was still telling them "you're not good enough" and I hate delivering that message. So what does this mean? Perhaps I'm not suited for hiring people. Perhaps I'm not suited for management. Or perhaps I'm just new to this and it will get easier and I'll figure out how to do all of it while maintaining a level of integrity. Or maybe it won't get easier and that's okay with me because if it does that will mean I've lost some of my compassion. If you have any advice, I'd love to hear it - leave me a comment!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Obama Day!

I'm sitting here at work on this historic Tuesday morning, with my radio tuned to a live broadcast from Washington D.C. to hear the Inauguration ceremony as it happens. Like many in this country, I'm excited about today and the possibility of what could be in the next several few months and years. My previous post talked a bit about the controversy of Rick Warren doing the invocation today and now I wanted to add just a little bit of follow up to that situation. Many of you probably know that Biship Gene Robinson (Episcopal from New Hampshire) was invited to do an invocation as well, but his was scheduled for Sunday before the Inaugural Concert. Bishop Robinson is the first openly gay bishop and there was a lot of talk about his invitation coming to help calm Obama's GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) supporters who were so disappointed with the Rick Warren invitation.

Yesterday on Talk of the Nation (an NPR call in show), Gene Robinson was interviewed about his experience doing the invocation at the concert. For anyone not in Washington this weekend, the concert could be seen on HBO and heard live on NPR. I listened to it, but tuned in a little bit late and thought I had missed the invocation (beginning prayer). As it turns out, the prayer was not broadcast - AND it wasn't heard through the sound system on the national mall. Somehow, there were some technical problems on the site and the programming schedule didn't allow for the prayer to be included on the live broadcast. Some people are wondering if this was an accident/coincidence or intentional. Honestly, I don't know what happened and I would really like to think that the Bishop wasn't silenced intentionally, but it's an odd coincidence. His invocation (which wasn't played on NPR's live broadcast of the concert either since they shared the feed with HBO) was anything but a traditional "feel good" prayer. He didn't just ask for God to watch over us and the new President - he asked for God to send us tears and anger for a variety of situations in our own country and around the world, including injustices based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, etc. The pieces of it that I heard during yesterday's interview (which you can hear if you go to the link above) were great if a bit shocking to hear in a time when everything else has been focused on how great this whole event is. Since the only people who could hear it were the people sitting up front at the concert, there hasn't been a lot of response to what the prayer said - the reaction has mostly been about the prayer's not being heard.

I don't know Bishop Robinson at all, but after hearing his interview yeserday and the way he responded to callers' questions, I'm very impressed with him and think it's sad that so much of the focus of his ministry is based on his sexual orienatation and controversy that is perceived as being related to that. To paraphrase MLK Jr. (who has been drawn on a lot more this year that the recent past), I have a dream that one day ministers will not be judged on their sexual orientation but on the content of their theology and the actions that they take in their ministries. I think it's sad that his prayer wasn't heard, but not because it's part of a conspiracy to shut down the gay man. I'm sad because so many people didn't get to hear the prayer itself, a message that people would likely be shocked to hear and perhaps NEEDED to hear. While I am an Obama supporter (and a little jealous of my friends who are in D.C. right now), I think perhaps the most important statement the Bishop said in his prayer related to Barack himself. He prayed that we would remember that Barack Obama is a man and a leader, NOT a Messiah. In the wake of all of this excitement and possibility, I think it's important that we not forget that. Obama appears to be a great man, but that doesn't make him a superhero or messiah or the answer to all of our problems. We're all going to need to have patience, a spirit of cooperation, and allow some time for the possibilities to take shape. May God grant us all of those things.