Friday, June 29, 2012

INVEST IN CHILDREN


#7 of 10 ways to reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover.

Compressed for Twitter:

#7 Invest in children. “Nothing done for children is ever wasted.” Coach. Tutor. Mentor. Volunteer. It's own reward.

Decompressed for context and comments:

It’s nearly impossible to spend time investing in kids—whether through coaching, teaching, mentoring, tutoring, or parenting—and not have your faith in humanity, God and grace restored to some extent.  Children have a way of bringing even the most cynical adult back to basics and clarity.  They help us remain childlike and centered as we mature through life.

There’s something about the mind and actions of a child that are pure and purely fascinating.  They can express not only unbounded energy and confidence in themselves, the world and us, they often express and provoke authentic faith.  They tend to believe first and expect us as adults to believe, too.

Children need good mentors, and not just for development in learning or sports.  Soon enough—too soon—they grapple with gut-wrenching aspects of life.  A coach, teacher or tutor can make the difference between bewilderment and understanding, despair and hope in a child.  Often the things that a child most needs are conveyed not in our direct instruction or guidance, but via our authentically caring and faithful presence.

Unfortunately, we get busy with our own paths and pursuits and neglect theirs. Or, we imagine someone else is caring for the kids in the community.  Don't assume that.  For their sakes, for your own sake and for the sake of the future we all share, carve out some consistent time each week for mentoring children not your own.  You will find, as Garrison Keillor says, “nothing done for children is ever wasted.”


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Read all 10 actions (in Twitter's 140-character format) that can reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover.

I will continue posting comments on all 10 actions over the next few days.

Your responses and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

CONFRONT YOUR FEARS


#6 of 10 ways to reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover.

Compressed for Twitter:

#6 Confront your fears. Quit denying, avoiding, excusing. Do the thing you fear. Courage will be given you as you do.

Decompressed for context and comments:

Faith can come to feel like little more than a leftover because we learn to manage fear-avoidance so well.  Fear frequently lurks behind compensating fa├žades of toughness, controlling behavior, possessive relationships, hyper privatization and security, religiosity and/or obsessive patterns.  Religion can be malpracticed as fear avoidance.  We may function highly in many aspects of life while effectively avoiding core fears, thus distorting the whole.

Fear is not the cause or trigger for faith.  Beware those who use fear to try to instigate faith.  But nothing surfaces and focuses faith like challenging one’s fears.  And nothing relegates faith and courage to the leftover pile like living in fear avoidance.

Parker J. Palmer says, “While we all have fears, we do not have to become or be our fears.”  When avoidance, compliance, compromise and complete self-effort frame our horizons, perhaps we are ready to hear--from a variety of ancient and contemporary sources--the first imperative to people in faith stories: “Do not be afraid!”

For starters, dare to try to name the fear or fears that impact your thinking and behaviors.  With a confidant’s help, try to discern their actual validity.  We can be driven by false perceptions of the way things are or what others think of us.  Naming our fears is critical to disarming them.

Then, stop running from fears; turn and face them.  When we choose to confront fears, we usually find uncommon courage.  Many who confront their fears describe a sense of divine help.  We may also find that the thing we feared wasn't as big as we had made it in our imaginations.  Real and menacing, yes, but not worth immobilizing and defining us for so long.

“Love casts out fear” is, to me, one of the most enduring and powerful realities of my particular stream of faith.  Fear isn’t cast down and held at bay merely by willpower and vigilance.  Fear is displaced by love—a love that is both vigilant and hopeful, strong and supple, wise and winning.


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Read all 10 actions (in Twitter's 140-character format) that can reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover.

I will continue posting comments on all 10 actions over the next few days.

Your responses and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TEACH US TO HUMBLE OURSELVES

A prayer of Alan Paton as he contemplated a generation of youth

“O Lord, teach us to humble ourselves before these children who live the gospel of love and drugs because we did not live the Gospel of Love.

Teach us to humble ourselves before the problems that face our children in this generation.  Especially we pray for all parents, that they may love their children steadfastly, even in the face of bewilderment and grief.  

Teach us to humble ourselves when we contemplate the world we have made, the millions we have killed and maimed in the cause of justice.  

And above all make us instruments of Your love, that we may love those who call out…  Even if we cannot help them, teach us to love them.  

All this we ask in the name of God, who so loved the world, and of Jesus, the lover of our souls.”

-- Alan Paton, 1903-1988 in Instrument of Thy Peace, 1968

Monday, June 25, 2012

12 FUNDING LESSONS FOR EMERGING NONPROFIT LEADERS


These weren't always as obvious to me as they are now. Maybe they can help an emerging NPO leader leap forward.

In 2007, a few friends raised $35,000 to purchase 700 bicycles for
village outreach workers in India.  A year later, we pedaled 2000 miles
through India to raise funds to rebuild a 50-year-old Indian hospital.
Staying mission-focused and thinking outside the box is vital to
creative fundraising in and among nonprofit efforts.   
Before being asked to teach some graduate courses on nonprofit leadership and management at the School for Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI), I served as executive director of several local nonprofit organizations.  Leading and learning at Shepherd Community, the John H. Boner Community Center, and Horizon House taught me a few basic things I haven't quite found replicated in the good textbooks and resources I use in working with emerging nonprofit and public sector leaders.

Through many attempts, failures, successes, setbacks and breakthroughs, my front-line, hands-on experiences in the crucible of leadership garnered some enduring reflections about managing finances in a nonprofit context.


Below are twelve simple practices I can now readily articulate. If you take (or audit!) my course, you'll get all the juice that goes with this pulp.  I list them here for the sake of pointing out some practical things that didn't always readily occur to me.

1. Get a handle on your organization’s financial picture and processes as one of your first actions as a manager/leader.
     
      - This is a top-five thing to do in the first few days.
      - Leave no stone unturned.  Very important.  What you don't know can hurt you, the organization, and your excellent cause.

2. As you begin, meet separately with your (1) financial staff, (2) finance committee of the board of directors, and (3) an outside, objective NPO financial consultant.
      
     - Note the distinctions in understanding, priorities, expectations, etc.

3. Ask as many questions--and as boldly and naively--as it takes to fully understand and manage finances with confidence.


     - Seek to understand, clarify, and discern...then prioritize, manage, and lead.
     - The better you understand, the more effectively you will lead with transparency and competence.

4. Learn to read, understand, interpret and utilize basic financial reporting documents.


     - Learn to note key variables and factors that point to needed and timely decisions.

5. If you are afraid of finances, face down your fears and move from a reactive to a proactive perspective and practices.


     - The sooner, the better.
     - You don't have to be a finance expert, but you need to become competent and confident regarding finances.

6. Don’t let bottom-line finances drive you or the mission and actions of the organization.


     - See point 12.

7. Develop a culture of stewardship of resources—financial, material, personnel, volunteers.


      - Stewardship is a far better framework and word image to guide understanding and decision-making in NPOs than most of what is conjured up as financial alchemy in other sectors.
      - Set the example. Good stewardship of administrative finances should be the hallmark for the rest of the organization.

8. Dashboard: identify and constantly monitor a select mix of financial factors, performance factors, organizational culture factors, etc.


     - Your dashboard should not just be money-related. See point 12, again.

9. Use a budget and budget planning to explore, confirm and reflect the mission, values, intended outcomes, aspirations, and accountability of the organization.


     - Plan with your mission statement and mutually-identified targets in one hand and a volunteer database and calculator in the other.

10. View funders as partners in your mission and, whenever possible, develop personal relationships with funding representatives.


     - And don't just do this with large grant makers or donors

11. When the auditors arrive, welcome them with open books and readiness to learn and position your organization or initiative for continuous improvement.


     - Don't miss this opportunity to see through the eyes of those who love making numbers match and can assist you to raise the credibility factor of your cause.


12. Money follows vision and leadership that is competent, accountable and creative.


     - Not just money, but resources of all kinds.
     - There is a bottom line that surpasses and fuels the financial bottom line.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

CHOOSE GRATITUDE


#5 of 10 ways to reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover

Compressed for Twitter:

#5 Choose gratitude. It's a choice, not a duty or a given. [When chosen and practiced,] gratitude reshapes how we experience life and value people.

Decompressed for context and comment:

Most of us don't automatically think in terms of gratitude (and it doesn’t help whenever someone tells us how grateful we should be). Usually, we think more about what we don’t have, how others treat us, the hard things we’ve had to handle, or how much better/easier others have it. Note that each of these has two common factors: comparing and deserving.

Both comparing and entitlement tend to distort reality and drain away faith.  They focus our mind and energy on factors that are not only almost impossible to change, but lock us into a self-defeating set of expectations and justifications.  We will never quite get what we think we deserve or compare as favorably with others as we think we should.  And whatever we gain or become may well limit and possess us.

The conscious choice—almost a self-trained, prompted discipline—of gratitude offers a freeing alternative. Start with: “I’m grateful for the health I have received this day.” Consider other aspects of life as gifts we’ve been given: a friendship, an education, a capacity, an ability, an opportunity, an experience, a connection.  Any sense of earning or comparing is eclipsed by a recognition that we have been and are being given unto in profound ways—ways not easy to describe.

Choosing to see more of our encounters as received gifts reshapes how we experience life and value people.  We readily appreciate more and everything appreciates in value.  People are less objects to be disregarded, placated or used and more perceived and engaged as what they really are—precious, fragile, gifted, fallen, hopeful fellow travelers who are contributing something significant to our journey—and we to theirs.



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Read all 10 actions (in Twitter's 140-character format) that can reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover.

I will continue posting comments on all 10 actions over the next few days.

Your responses and comments are welcome.

Monday, June 18, 2012

YOU HAVE A TELOS


#4 of 10 ways to reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover

Compressed for Twitter:

#4 There is a telos. That is, purpose, intention, trajectory in one's life. Discover what you can of it and sync up.

Decompressed for context and comment:

There is a trajectory in our thoughts and actions (or inaction).  It’s relatively easy to trace where our thinking, choices, and behaviors within ourselves, in our relationships and through systems are headed—both in the short term and long run.  Unless the arc is interrupted, it’s predictable.  At one level, we can determine this.  At another level, it draws us beyond the limits of our thinking and acting.

What are we intended to be and become, learn and discover, do and accomplish, serve and celebrate?  How are we cooperating with that—fueling our capacities, developing our gifts, cultivating our relationships, reaching for our horizons? Or, in what ways do we intentionally or unintentionally sabotage our telos?

When faith feels like little more than a leftover, the reminder that each of us was and is intended for transcendent purposes raises our sights and reframes the horizon.  Even if we have become sidetracked, disoriented, seduced, waylaid, or depressed, we can recover and move toward wholeness and completeness in the simple faith that grace deeply desires this for us.

Perhaps your telos includes helping another person or others recognize and move toward realizing their telos.  You can be renewed in your faith and find your spiritual stride as you choose to help others.  Dare to engage in the act of freely serving others or a just cause through the unique combination of capacities, gifts, relationships and opportunities you have been given.  See what happens.



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Read all 10 actions (in Twitter's 140-character format) that can reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover.

I will continue posting comments on all 10 actions over the next few days.

Your responses and comments are welcome.

ALL THINGS CONNECT, INTERACT


#3 of 10 ways to reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover

Compressed for Twitter:

#3 All things connect, interact, affect one another. Life's like a woven fabric. Consider your part, how you belong.

Decompressed for context and comment:

Consider infinite interactions between plants, animals, earth and elements.  Observe simple and complex connections among people and within and across systems.  What’s reflected is surely more than survival via one preying on or playing off of the other.  Much of what happens in life might well be seen as an intricate cooperation, a creative collaboration, even a universal orchestration.

There is sacrificial yielding and giving in these interactions.  Where a sense of mutuality, responsibility and gratitude for life is evident, exchanges bend away from mere necessity and toward reverence.  But where domination and exploitation hold sway, life itself is cheapened.

Individual choices impact many lives and ecosystems. Collective responsibility can turn the tide against senseless degradation and shadowy practices. We can come to see the image and intention of God for one and all either being upheld and restored or disregarded and profaned. Given this, faith, even as small as a mustard seed, can make a significant difference.


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Read all 10 actions (in Twitter's 140-character format) that can reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover.

I will continue posting comments on all 10 actions over the next few days.

Your responses and comments are welcome.



Sunday, June 17, 2012

TO BE A FATHER

Though I pulled this together when our kids were small, I'm still exploring the privilege and mystery

I dance with Abby at her 2008 wedding
What does it mean to be a father?
I am in personally unexplored territory,
still trying to chart the terrain.
But I am learning and
living into it.

It means
To fix my child's well-being
prominently in my mind, time, and action.
To endear her to life's adventure.
To discover what lies in him;
discern his possible trajectories.
To challenge her;
to urge her toward her best.
To enthusiastically champion him
and faithfully defend him.

It means
To be sensitive to her independence;
to respect her pride,
and, through it all, to not get in her way.
To distinguish between
my own needs and his.
To cultivate confidence.
To find a way to talk with, not at;
to be quick to listen.
To find a way to reduce the heat of conflict
and correct for training amid calm waters.

It means
To be aware that my child watches,
hears, notices, and senses
my words, moods, and moves.
What I am, what I do, what I value
influences, as much as anything, her life.

It means
To demonstrate value for the mystery
into which I have entered.
To try prepare him for a future that is beyond me.
To try to root her in the best of history.
To try to be faithful and authentic
in the present generation.

To be a father means,
at least, these things.
It means, in a word,
to love my children.
And, desiring for them far beyond
what it is within my ability to give,
to pray.

Friday, June 15, 2012

THINK WIDELY

#2 of 10 ways to reveal your heart of faith when faith feels like little more than a leftover

Compressed for Twitter:

#2 Think widely. Absorb what you can from every possible credible source of knowledge. Ask questions. Live the questions.

Decompressed for context and comment:

A questioning mind that is being constantly fueled by valid information and that is sifting it for knowledge and discerning it for connections and responses is, whether we realize it or not, cooperating with the way of faith.

Instead of narrowing one’s range of reading and thinking, authentic faith pursues an honest dialogue of diversely interpreted experiences and understandings, even if assertions others make appear to counter the faith one holds or has been taught.  If grace is true and one's pursuit of knowledge is thorough, occasionally upsetting the apple cart will lead, in time, to a fuller revelation of faith, deeper understanding and breakthroughs in meaning and relationships.

It's true that knowledge can "puff up" when it is treated as a commodity or used as a weapon to define or defend one's ego or ideology. When that's the case, it's clear that one's education is far from complete. Knowledge best serves the soul and becomes a healing balm in the world when it is viewed as instrumental, contributive and freely shared.

“Live the questions,” wrote Rainer Maria Rilke.  Don’t accept others’ answers too quickly or fully as your own.  Let grace in life reveal to you what others might have missed or understood only partially.  Though many have gone before and left guideposts (even rutted roads), no one has ever walked in your shoes on your particular path.  May you find that grace goes before you and meets you in your honest seeking.


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Read all 10 actions (in Twitter's 140-character format) that can reveal your heart of faith when it feels like little more than a leftover.

I will continue posting comments on all 10 actions over the next few days.

Your responses and comments are welcome.