Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Book...

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. The Yankees are surging, travels, visits to Napa... A more personal update is forthcoming...

In the mean time, I came across this book review in USA Today and ordered the book. Here's a couple of quotes from the article and book:
"Go out into this newly globalized world you're profiting from," he writes, "go visit the people being 'lifted' out of poverty, the workers who are making your products. Go live in their huts, eat their rice and plantains, squat on their floors, and listen to their babies cry. Sniff some glue and pray with them. Try to get justice from their police if someone hurts you. And then come back and let's talk about freedom."

"If you can read this page, you are on top of the world and billions of people are beneath you. Your ignorance and your lack of a program will likely equal the squalor of your grandchildren's existence."
Wow! Got the book today... I'll let you know what I think.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Alien Nation by Dr. Isaac Canales

Dr. Canales wrote an excellant piece at the Out of Ur Blog. Here's an excerpt:
Throughout our history there have been times when non-Christians see through our hypocrisy. They recognize that not everyone is truly welcome in our churches. These are times when we’ve worried about being politically right when we should be focused on being biblically correct.

The root of American evangelical hypocrisy is smugness; a historical inability to understand God’s unfailing mercies for the immigrant, his unfailing love for the poor among us. If our sense of worth is measured by privatized religion and political culture—from our color, to our work ethic, to the neighborhoods we live and worship in—we remain independent of God and self-sufficiently smug. Christ cannot help us. We are not being his church.

So the question I ask myself, and pose to every pastor, is: Shall I build a church that isolates us from immigrants, or should I embrace God’s story of welcome?

It is easy to raise a church with one culture, one language, one worldview. Anyone can raise up a large that is one culture. But building a church that includes the alien, the immigrant poor, can only be done with Christ. That is our biblical challenge and our biblical mandate.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

6th Graders Take On Wall St. - Financial Literacy in Chicago School

Time reports. on an innovative program teaching urban students financial literacy in Chicago.
... Ariel Community Academy is unusual. Its 420 students, nearly all black and about 81% from low-income families, are testing an intriguing proposition: Can teaching urban black kids finance and economics help some of them escape poverty — and shake African American skepticism about Wall Street?

Despite the growth of the black middle class, the percentage of affluent blacks investing in the stock market is actually falling, while such investment by their white peers remains steady. That's partly because blacks have historically relied on real estate as a primary wealth builder. Plus, blacks save far less than whites for retirement. That's why John W. Rogers Jr., CEO of the company that backs the academy, says, "The issue of financial literacy in our schools will hopefully avert a crisis."

The experiment began in the early 1990s. A young Chicago executive named Arne Duncan, then running the foundation of the investment firm Ariel Capital Management, rallied a group of business and education leaders to create a public school whose students could compete with kids from any elite private school. Many deemed public education hopeless. By the mid-1990s, Chicago's mayor seized control of his city's failing schools. So the idea of creating a predominately black school with an emphasis on finance and economics — in one of the city's most bullet-pocked neighborhoods — was viewed by some as preposterous.

Each first-grade class is given $20,000, initially managed by Ariel Capital Management and Nuveen Investments. Starting in sixth grade, students join a "junior board" that invests that money. In recent years, students bought stock in companies like Adidas, Tiffany and Disney. After eighth-grade graduation, the seed money is cycled to the incoming first-grade class. Profit is split: half goes to a school improvement fund, the rest is divided among students. They choose between investing their share in a college savings program or receiving a check.

Earlier this year, Victoria, the eigth-grader, heard buzz about Apple’s iPhone, then lobbied the junior board to buy the company’s stock – just before its priced reached the $90s. “We caught Apple at the right time,” the honey-toned girl says, sitting in the school’s boardroom.

Nearby, Myles Gage, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, flipped through annual reports of Toyota and Smucker — companies in which the junior board has invested. When it picked Google, the stock was hitting $400. "It was worth paying for," he says. Now, the aspiring investment banker says he follows Google's performance (its stock is now over $500) on Yahoo finance and CNBC.

Ariel's school day starts earlier, and ends later, than most public schools. Some students voluntarily show up for Saturday morning tutoring. Ariel's foundation picks up much of the tab for extra teaching staff. It also pays for security, even ties for the boys, which are required for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. "It sets the tone for success," says Matthew Yale, 29, the head of Ariel's foundation.

It’s rare for elementary schools to teach economics or finance. Just seven states have made taking a personal finance course a high school graduation requirement, and only 17 have made economics a high school requirement, according to the National Council on Economic Education, a New York advocacy group. Conventional wisdom holds that black youth in many urban public schools aren't academically competitive with their white peers, especially in math. Ariel punctures those assumptions: Last year, 88% of Ariel's students met or exceeded Illinois' math standards, compared to 67% of Chicago public students overall. Ariel's students are being recruited by top private schools. Parents are having frank conversations with their children about finance — even asking them for investment advice.

Teaching financial literacy to youth works! It can break the cycle of poverty and change the destiny for generations. Please continue to pray for NCUD as we work to bring quality financial literacy education to our city.

Cultivating Joy

I've been reading the book, "The Lessons of St. Francis" by musician John Michael Talbot. This morning I read the chapter on joy. It struck me that with the pace and intensity of my life I sometimes lack joy and the sense of the present moment. Having an entrepreneurial spirit, I tend to focus on what is next and how to get there. This can be a very joy robbing life when I let it out of control. This attitude can be particularly hard on my wife and son.

Today, being the 6th anniversary of 9/11 it seems especially poignant to reflect on how to maintain joy in an ever changing and difficult world.

To summarize the chapter Talbot reflects on how to cultivate joy in our lives:

* Don't Worry About Tomorrow - ...in small and big ways, (St.) Francis sought not to be distracted from the responsibilities of today by worrries about tomorrow.

The Jesuit writer Jen Pierre DeCoussaid describes this kind of attention to the here and now as 'the sacrament of the present moment.' This dosen't mean one can't have plans or hopes for tomorrow. But it does mean that too many of us are too preoccuied abotu the future - or too consumed by the past - to concentrate on the beauty and the promise of the current.

Embrace the immediate moment...

* Be Thankful - What's your first waking thought in the morning? Is it a teeth clenching curse abotu how cold you are, how tired you are, or how anxious you are abotu the responsibilitie of the coming day> Instead of moaning and groaning, try beginning each day with a prayer of thanks to Go for another day of life.

* Be Forgiving - Many people walk around in a black cloud of their own creation. Part of the cloud consists of regrets over personal failures or unfaithfulness to others. The good news is that God can forgive us for these failings, and give us a clean conscience for starting anew. But another part of the cloud consists of the emotional bandage we bring on ourselves when we fail to forgive others.

Learn to forgive, thus freeing yourself from the illusions of both control and victimization.

Begin (cultivating joy) by saying this simple prayer: "God, my efforts to make myself happy have yielded much unhappiness. My anxiety about my tomorrows steals the pleasure from my todays. And my anger toward my neighbor strangles my heart. Please release me from my preoccupation with myself and my troubles, and begin filling me with your indescribable joy. Amen.

Seemingly simple words. Today I'm purposing to cultivate a spirit of joy and thanksgiving...

Q. How do you cultivate joy in your life? What habits and practices do you do to keep your joy flowing?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reinhold Neibuhr on Justice vs Philanthropy

Came across this today...

"Christians pride themselves upon an ethic that exceeds the requirements of law. But it is significant that Jews, schooled in their legalistic tradition and also the inheritors of the prophetic spirit, are on the whole more depth in the field of justice than Christians. They might well say to Christians what Cosimo de'Medici said to Catholics in the Renaissance: "You have built your ladders into the heavens. We will not seek so high or sink so low." Christian businessman are more frequently characterized by a spirit of philanthropy than by a spirit of justice in asserting the claims and counterclaims of economic groups.

Love in the form of philanthropy is, in fact, on a lower level than a high form of justice. For philanthropy is given to those who make no claims against us, who do not challenge our goodness or disinterestedness. An act of philanthropy may thus be an expression of both power and moral complacency. An act of justice on the other hand requires the humble recognition that the claim that other makes against us may be legitimate."
(emphasis mine)

Q. Do our acts of charity and philanthropy sometimes get in the way of acts of justice? How does the scripture in Micah 6:8 (He has shown thee oh man what is good. But to do justly, to love mercy and to act humbly with our God) inform Niebuhr's comments?

- From Love and Justice, Selections from the Shorter Writings of Reinhold Neibuhr

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Big Gifts, Tax Breaks and a Debate on Charity

New York Times Article on the debate regarding the societal benefits of non profit donations. It's a somewhat rambling article, but my feeling is that this is a brewing debate.
Eli Broad, a billionaire businessman, has given away more than $650 million over the last five years, to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to establish a medical research institute, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and to programs to improve the administration of urban schools and public education."What smart entrepreneurial philanthropists and their foundations do is get greater value for how they invest their money than if the government were doing it."

"I got a plaque in the mail and an invitation to an awards ceremony. I never gave them another nickel. What were they spending money on plaques for?"
The rich are giving more to charity than ever, but people like Mr. Broad are not the only ones footing the bill for such generosity. For every three dollars they give away, the federal government typically gives up a dollar or more in tax revenue, because of the charitable tax deduction and by not collecting estate taxes.

Mr. Broad (rhymes with road) says his gifts provide a greater public benefit than if the money goes to taxes for the government to spend. “I believe the public benefit is significantly greater than the tax benefit an individual receives,” Mr. Broad said. “I think there’s a multiplier effect. What smart, entrepreneurial philanthropists and their foundations do is get greater value for how they invest their money than if the government were doing it.”

It is an argument made by many of the nation’s richest people. But not all of them. Take the investor William H. Gross, also a billionaire. Mr. Gross vigorously dismisses the notion that the wealthy are helping society more effectively and efficiently than government.

The billionaires’ differing views epitomize a growing debate over what philanthropy is achieving at a time when the wealthiest Americans control a rising share of the national income and, because of sharp cuts in personal taxes, give up less to government.

A common perception of philanthropy is that one of its central purposes is to alleviate the suffering of society’s least fortunate and therefore promote greater equality, taking some of the burden off government. In exchange, the United States is one of a handful of countries to allow givers a tax deduction. In essence, the public is letting private individuals decide how to allocate money on their behalf.

What qualifies for that tax deduction has broadened over the 90 years since its creation to include everything from university golf teams to puppet theaters — even an organization established after Hurricane Katrina to help practitioners of sadomasochism obtain gear they had lost in the storm.

Roughly three-quarters of charitable gifts of $50 million and more from 2002 through March 31 went to universities, private foundations, hospitals and art museums, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Of the rest, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for half on the center’s list. That money went primarily to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries. Valuable as that may be, it also meant that the American public effectively underwrote several billion dollars worth of foreign aid by private individuals, even though poll after poll shows Americans are at best ambivalent about using tax dollars in such assistance.

In contrast, few gifts of that size are made to organizations like the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and America’s Second Harvest, whose main goals are to help the poor in this country. Research shows that less than 10 percent of the money Americans give to charity addresses basic human needs, like sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry and caring for the indigent sick, and that the wealthiest typically devote an even smaller portion of their giving to such causes than everyone else.

Q. Should the IRS direct more charitable donations be used for the poor and not universities and art institutions? Since you're tax dollars indirectly support charitable organizations, should the government / people have a greater say in it's use and administration?