Category Archives: Community Organizing

Fail, F#@%, Why?

My tribe, the United Methodist Church, met in Tampa over the past 10 days to make decisions regarding the mission of our denomination for the next 4 years. For my fellow UMC brothers and sisters – my quick take.

Observation #1 – Leadership Failure

A posse of self-fashioned “entrepreneurial bishops”along with the pastors of the 100 largest churches have taken it upon themselves to “lead” the church through the transformation that will align our structure and resources for effective ministry. This leadership led to the IOT, the Call to Action, and the focus of the GC2012. In community organizing, we have a simple definition of a leader – one who has a following. Unfortunately, the leadership style of this posse – which leans on corporate values, disrespects democratic processes, undermines broad participation, and marginalizes differing voices – ¬†does not engender the level of trust the denomination will need to be faithfully transformed.

Observation #2 – F#@%

Twenty years ago, I heard an apocryphal¬†story about now Bishop Will Willimon. I don’t know if it is true, but I need it to be true. The story: In a sermon, preached at Duke Chapel, Willimon (Dean of the Chapel) preached these words – F#@%! Children are starving in Africa. And what is disheartening is that you are more offended by the fact I said “F#@%!”; than you are by the fact children are starving in Africa.

F#@%! The world and church need love and justice. And, what is disheartening is that the UMC fiddles with structure while the gospel is ignored.

Observation #3 – Why?

There is a story of a man resting in the shade. A person comes by and encourages the man to be more industrious. He encourages the man to get up and go fishing. The man ask why? So he could make some money and buy a boat. The man asks why? So he could catch more fish, make more money, buy more boats? The man asks why? So he can make more money and hire people to work for him? The man asks why, so he can make more money, buy a house, and spend his days resting in the shade.

Some how, this story seems appropriate. I think the idea of making vital congregations is too small. Perhaps, we should focus on changing the world for a while . . .

Super Lessons

A year ago, comedian Bill Maher stirred the pot by suggesting that Superbowl fans were duped socialists!{{1}} His argument relied on a common misunderstanding of socialism (that socialism = the redistribution of wealth), hinged on the fact that the 32 NFL owners evenly re-distribute their revenue, and played on the apparent hypocrisy of freedom loving American capitalists loving the socialist NFL.

This comedic piece and the reactions it received {{2}} reveal the inadequate understanding too many people have of our economic system. They simply know “free markets” are good and “socialism” is bad. Misinformed, they are unable to fully or responsibly participate in self governance.

As followers of Jesus, we are compelled to learn how our economy works. We need to know: 1) we have a mixed economy; 2) a “free market” is as real as the tooth fairy; and 3) the market is not some invisible force that will solve all our problems. (Future blog posts will expand on these basic economic facts.)

Today, rather, than take the Maher piece too seriously, let’s take advantage of the opportunity humor presents – to see our world in a new light. In this light and with a community organizing perspective, I observe three important lessons that inform our work for justice.

Lesson 1: Community organizing focuses on power – the ability to act. Maher’s piece sketches who has power in the NFL (the owners), how they use it (for their economic interests), and how it is balanced and imbalanced. The 32 NFL owners have agreed to combine their power to negotiate TV and labor contracts and to create a highly structured economy. By acting collectively, they increase their power in relationship to other actors.

Lesson 2: Community organizing understands our society consists of three sectors: public (government entities), private (market entities), and civic (relational entities – families, faith communities, service organizations, etc). The collective power of the owners, a market enterprise, is used in a variety of ways to influence the public sector to act on their behalf.{{3}} For example, in 1961 the NFL secured anti-trust immunity from Congress which enabled it to negotiate TV deals in a monoloplistic manner. In some cases, the NFL owners use their power to benefit themselves at the expense of the civic sector. The deal the Cincinnati Bengals extracted from Hamilton County to build its stadium illustrates this point.{{4}}

Lesson 3: Community organizing works for effective government of, by, and for the people. The NFL is an example of an organization with effective governance of, by, and for its main participants. The owners have highly structured and regulated rules that determine how they make decisions, allocate resources, and adjudicate disputes. There are regulations for the administration of the league and for the play on the field. These regulations do not stifle competition nor stunt innovation; rather they insure a level playing field, generate trust in the league, foster transparency, and advance fair play.

We can be better lovers by learning to build our power, act in the public sphere to balance the private sector, and work for effective governance.

[[1]]WARNING: Language
* Huffington Post – New Rule: Americans Must Realize What Makes NFL Football So Great: Socialism

* Youtube version – Irritable Bowl Syndrome[[1]]

[[2]]One from the right:
* – Sorry, Bill Mahrer, the NFL is Not Socialist

One from the left:
* – Bill Maher Calls Out Right Wing Hypocrites Who Hate Obama But Love NFL Socialism

A few from the middle / sports world:
* – Did You See This? The NFL = Socialism
* – Why the NFL Really Stands for Capitalism
* – The NFL is Not Socialist
* – Baseball vs Football Which Sport Is More Fair[[2]]
[[3]]Is the Superbowl a Socialist Enterprise?[[3]]

[[4]]Wall Street Journal – A Stadium’s Costly Legacy Throws Taxpayers for a Loss[[4]]