Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Facebook Tips for Ministers

One of the biggest questions ministers have about Facebook is "should I friend my congregants"?  Both a "yes" and a "no" answer are reasonable answers.  I do friend congregants, although not minors in my congregation, and here are some tips to keep in mind if you do:
  1. Create friend groups.  This can be done by clicking on "Friends" in the left hand column from your Home page, and then clicking "Create List" at the top of the page.  Create a group called something like "Church" or "Congregants" and then put all your congregants in it.  Nobody knows what groups you have but you.  Unless you post it on your blog like this!  Remember that each new friend will have to be immediately put into the groups, and this can be done when you're friending them directly.  Now that you have a group, you can do some important things with it.  First, you can click on this group (again in the left hand column, under friends--click "Friends" first to see your list of groups) to review quickly what members in your church are posting.  This can be helpful to see what they're talking about, to see if there are issues going on.  Although, a word to lay members here: don't assume that just because you put something on Facebook that your minister will see it.  We all have different approaches.  When I get on in the morning, it usually tells me that Facebook has had sometime like 300 new posts since I was last on.  I don't have time to look at everything.
  2. Remember that anything you post on Facebook is a public forum.  If you've friended members of you congregation, be aware that they're reading what you're writing.  It is, however, possible to screen individual posts, if you need to be crabby or unprofessional for any reason.  I know, I know, that never happens, but let's just say it does for argument's sake.  The way to do this is when you're posting your status update, click the little picture that looks like a lock that appears below the field in which you're typing.  Then select "Custom edit."  Under the "Custom" category, you can choose to type in a group, like the previously created "congregants" group under "hide this from."  Another way to think about posting is to ask not "who do I want to hide this from" but, rather, "who do I really want to see this?" If you've created multiple friends groups, you can also choose "specific people" under the "Make this visible to" options, and then just type in the group that you want to see the post.  I use this as a way to ask my colleagues questions that, say, friends from high school might have spurious suggestions on.
  3. Set your security settings with particular thought.  Under the "Account" button on the top right, choose "privacy settings."  I have almost every option set to be seen by only friends, not friends of friends or everyone, but some I set with even tighter security settings.  Do you have high school or college buddies who might post embarrassing pictures of you and tag you with them?  Your Facebook friends see those pictures, unless you control for this.  Under "photos and videos of me," which is the photos you've been tagged with, click the "Custom edit" option again, and set it so that  your congregants don't see it, the same way you would an individual post.  Now those photos and videos of you in your wild-and-crazy youth won't show up to friends of yours, unless those people are also friends of the original poster, and then they can see it through that person, but not through you.  Similarly you might want to set the "Posts by friends" setting, so those friends of yours writing messages on your wall won't be seen by them, although I haven't chosen to change this setting, myself.  Remember that if you're doing a lot of applications, each application has its own security setting, and that these aren't screened from friends unless you specifically do so.
  4. Periodically click on "Edit Friends" in your Account Settings.  Make sure that you've got everybody grouped appropriately.   Also periodically review your security settings.


The harder question to handle, for me, is the question of friending people out in the community who I have only the briefest ties to, or who I don't know at all but ask to friend me on Facebook.  For the people who are not colleagues and whom I do not know in real life, I've created a group called "Virtual Only" which I then screen just about everything from.  I generally friend most people who want to friend me, but then follow the practice of not putting up pictures of my child or using her name, and not putting intimate details, and screening each post I put up to decide who I want to see this about me.  It's entirely legitimate to decide you're either not comfortable enough with doing this or it's simply too much work and you want to put up baby pictures and complain about your job, and therefore only friend your friends and family and not your congregation or the larger community.  Each minister has to decide this for himself or herself, obviously. 


Some people have gone the route of creating different Facebook accounts, and friending congregants with only one of them.  This is unnecessary if you follow the rules above.  It is also against Facebook's rules to have more than one account.  If you're thinking of going this route, I would suggest instead that you go the route of having a fan page for yourself that your congregants can fan, and posting things on it periodically.  It's the way celebrities and politicians do things--lots of people want to be their friends, but they don't want to friend everybody, obviously.  I haven't seen any minister do this yet, but I think it's a logical choice.  I'm thinking of it as a sabbatical option for myself, for example.  If any minister is doing this, let me know, because I'm interested in seeing it!

More on Anti-Racism & Jackson

I forgot last week that I was going to put up the words I said at the Unity Rally.  So here they are:

Last week people came into our community to spread  a message of hate.  They came here thinking that we would be fertile ground on which to sow to seeds of racism, anti-semitism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

They don't know Jack--son.

I've been here only 5 1/2 years, but I know this is a community that was the birthplace of the Republican party, founded on ideals of equality and freedom for all races.  I know this is a community which has been home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the state.  I know the Jackson that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.  And I know the Jackson that has been a home for members of my little religious community, a church that represents God's universal love for all people, for over 150 years.  I've seen a Jackson with dozens of non-profit agencies working altruistically to better people's lives.  I've seen a Jackson where people who are Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Native American, Baha'i and atheist can worship and give thanks together.  I've seen a Jackson where we know our strength is in diversity, our pride is in our unity, and our future is in spreading the message of love, not hate.  That's Jackson.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Jackson Pledge

The Unity Rally was today. People attending were asked to sign the Jackson Pledge.

The Jackson Pledge
Jackson, Michigan
Sign It - Live It
  • I believe that every person has worth as an individual.
  • I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color.
  • I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others.
  • Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions.
  • I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity.
  • I will treat all people with dignity and respect; and I will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of my effort.
Taken from www.birminghampledge.org.

There is also a new Facebook page for the pledge:

The Jackson Pledge

Promote Your Page Too

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In response to this:

About 10 people with flags and banners reading 'White Pride Worldwide' march in Jackson

We will be doing this:
CommUnity Flyer                                                            

Friday, March 12, 2010

Foreclosed

A familiar sign in Michigan is the signs, overt or more subtle, of a foreclosed house.  No neighborhood is immune.  Yahoo! Real Estate found me 267 foreclosures in Jackson, Michigan today.  And it found 365 in Ann Arbor, a city we think of as more immune to the economic problems of Michigan, because of the presence of the University of Michigan.  Even there, and even in upscale neighborhoods, the signs of foreclosure are evident.  DSNews.com says, "RealtyTrac reported that Michigan posted the fifth highest number of foreclosures among states in January, with 17,574 properties receiving a foreclosure filing."  Foreclosure might be a more workable option in many cases, except that most people facing foreclosure in Michigan are in the situation where they owe more on their mortgage than the home is worth.  Therefore, if you go into foreclosure you not only lose your home, you can still be pursued by the bank for the balance of the money. 

I recently had the opportunity to work with a family facing foreclosure, and learned a few things about the process.  There's a tremendous amount of shame that people with economic troubles feel in our society.  Our American mythos of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, the Emersonian radical individualism we espouse, tells us that this our fault, and our fault alone.  And it also tell us it's shameful--adulthood, personhood, parenthood--our sense of success as people is tied to our ability to provide a good living and a good home.  But of course, this is not all that is valuable or important, and the truth is that a good amount of the factors are out of our hands.  Most of us don't control the means of our own production, and as corporations close down around us and others downsize their operations, the employment cuts have reached every sector of employment.  Such was the situation with the family I worked with--unemployment and underemployment led to an inability to pay the mortgage.  This happens easily without even factoring in the unconventional mortgages some people had from the predatory lending practices.  This is affecting middle-class and white-collar workers with conventional mortgages that just become too expensive.  Most of the middle class is only a couple of paychecks away from bankruptcy. 

But the most important thing to do is to get help, first of all, despite these feelings. And there are a lot of programs that are out there to help.  The family had another person with community connections working on this, as well, and we divided up the work and communicated back and forth on this. I started with dialing our local 2-1-1, which is a non-emergency information hotline.  2-1-1 was enormously helpful, and gave me a list of foreclosure agencies and lawyer information.  Another place to find a good list is the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), and their lists by county can be found here, or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which has a Michigan list here.  In Jackson, MSHDA lists only the Community Action Agency (CAA) and the Jackson Affordable Housing Corp.  Both are good to contact for counseling and financial assistance.  However, they are not the only options for residents.  HUD lists many more, including the one we eventually recommended.  The Community Action Agency recommended this agency as well: Community Foreclosure Coalition.  2-1-1 recommended a number of agencies including CAA and Jackson Affordable Housing, but also  Hold On To Your Home, which has some good resources, including a timeline of foreclosure. Foreclosure Detroit has a similar helpful timeline and information on the Michigan foreclosure process, but I found Hold On To Your Home less Detroit-specific, so therefore more useful.  One well-known agency that has branches in Michigan, although not in Jackson, is ACORN, but they don't have as much helpful information online as Hold On To Your Home or Foreclosure Detroit, which are both good sites to go to for web-based information.  After checking out these sites and learning a lot, we merged the lists given to us by 211, CAA, MSHDA and HUD.  The next step was to take that list of agencies and check out their websites and make calls to them to find out which ones seemed the most knowledgeable, and which seemed best for this individual family's situation, given ages, income levels, and other factors.  The one that ended up at the top of our lists was Green Path Debt Solutions.  They're licensed, HUD-approved, free, and can do the counseling over the phone.  However, it doesn't matter so much which agency you choose, as long as you choose one.  It might seem like they might have different offers that they can make, so you should shop around.  In reality the opposite is true.  They're all going to be working to get you in to the same federal TARP program, so it doesn't matter which one you go with, as long as they're a reputable agency and HUD-approved. 

One of the most important reasons to get help right away is when you hit the point where you are 45-60 days behind with mortgage payments, the bank will contact you telling you that you are in foreclosure and that your home will be shortly put up for auction if you do not immediately pay back the entire amount of your mortgage.  In Michigan, by law, once you contact a foreclosure agency and they begin the paper trail, the bank will give you an automatic 90-day window before doing anything further.  This is an important window of time to have, and working with one of these agencies gets you this time you need immediately and automatically.  Then, during this window, the agency can work to get you into a program where hopefully the end result will be that you will not lose your home.

After getting in touch with one of these agencies and starting the process that will lead to, hopefully, negotiations with the bank, it's a good idea to contact a lawyer.  Legal Aid will provide free lawyers for low-income people and people over the age of 60.  Our branch here is Legal Services of South Central Michigan.  I was also told by 211 that there is a state bar lawyer referral hotline (1-800-968-0738) which will provide a list of lawyers who will provide free or low-cost consultations.  And I called a laywer I know personally for recommendations, as did the family--it's always good to have personal connections.  In Jackson, however, most roads lead back to Legal Aid, so I would recommend starting there if you meet their eligibility requirements, which our family in question did.

The lawyers and debt counseling agencies can help you find out if you're eligible for the programs out there, first and most namely the federal TARP program, Making Home Affordable.  Some of the eligibility requirements for the Making Home Affordable program are that the house in question is your primary residence; that you owe less than $720,750; and that your mortgage payment is more than 31% of your income.  Their goal is going to be to get you back on track and get your mortgage payment under 31% of your income.

In the case of the family I was working with, with the help of Green Path, they learned that they were eligible for Making Home Affordable, and the bank offered to reduce their interest rate to bring the mortgage payment to under 31% of their income, and tack on the missed payments to the end of  the mortgage.  This is a several-month trial period, and if there are no missed or late payments, at the end the bank can (and presumably will) choose to make the offer permanent.  Crisis averted--for  now.

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Just because I want to try out this new Amazon Associates/Blogspot connection, here are some links to some books on the subject.  I know nothing about any of these books, and am not particularly recommending them.  But should you buy them or anything else after clicking from here, my church will get a small percentage of the sale.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On the Recent Actions of Catholic Organizations and Leaders

The Catholic church and its representatives have taken some reprehensible actions as of late.  A sampling:
  • A Catholic school in Colorado is refusing students of gay and lesbian parents.  (See here.)
  • The Catholic archdiocese of Washington is cancelling all health insurances for spouses of employees to avoid paying benefits for same-sex couples.  (See here.)
  • A Dutch Catholic priest has refused to give communion to openly homosexual people.  (See here.)
Freedom of religion?  Yes.  Absolutely they have the right to do these things.  I'm not arguing about that.  But these things are not right to do.  And I would argue that even if you believe homosexuality is immoral, these actions are still not right.

First of all, the Catholic school situation:  While I have to wonder at people who differ with  the Catholic church's teachings and yet choose to put their children in a Catholic school anyway, numerous people do.  And not all these people live in ways that are consistent with the Catholic church's teaching.  By teaching their children, the Catholic church is not condoning the actions of all the parents.  Furthermore, one could argue that Catholic schools ought to particularly want to teach the students of sinners and heretics and infidels for missionary reasons--this is their chance to teach the young what they consider right before they are corrupted by these evil parents.   But, if the purpose of Catholic schools is not to teach anyone who lives in ways inconsistent with Catholic teaching, it's hypocritical not to kick out students of anyone who openly flaunts a non-Catholic lifestyle: Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists...  divorced people....

Second: health benefits.  Okay, I also wonder why you want to dedicate your life to working for an organization that hates you, but let's skip that again.  First, let's say, okay, you don't want to support a lifestyle you don't agree with.  Then what you should do is not hire people whose lifestyles you disagree with.  But why is it okay to pay one form of wages, and not another?  Why is it okay to give them a salary at all, some of which will surely go to support their spouses, and yet not have health insurance?  Secondly, the Catholic church ought to be in favor of universal health care as a human right.  And you know what universal health care will do?  It will also cover gay people.  Will the Catholic church revoke it's stance on human rights issues because it doesn't want to inadvertently help gay people?  Should we revoke the death penalty... except for gay people?  Should we be against abortion... except for gay people?  Nonsense--at least I would hope that this is obviously nonsense.  So why is it okay to say, yes, we have gay employees, but we want them and their spouses to suffer when it comes to medical problems, because they have a lifestyle of which we do not approve? 

Third: Communion.  And, again, I wonder at those who choose to stay in a religion that has this attitude, but that aside...  Now, I don't know the ins and outs of the Catholic's policies and procedures about giving communion.  But I thought communion was In my opinion, communion is something that is -- or should be -- open to anyone, and at least anyone Catholic.  If As such, it should be open to gay people, as well.  To clarify, my views of communion could be summed up by these words in a call to communion by Allen V. Harris (found in Shaping Sanctuary: Proclaiming God's Grace in an Inclusive Church, p.220): "At this table all barriers are mute, all distinctions are neutral, all grievances are pointless for the invitation of the host is clear: all are welcome at the banquet feast.  Rich dine with poor, friends dine with enemies, men, women, youth, and children gather to remember a love born in a stable, transfigured on a mount, crucified on a hill, and resurrected in our hearts each time we set this table."  To deny it communion at all would be to violates the deepest understanding of the Christian religion, I would think in my opinion.  But if the Catholic church says, well, you have to confess your sins first, and then you can have communion, well, then, if you're gay and you confess that, then you should have communion, if being gay is considered a sin.  Either way, give gay people communion.  You give communion to every other sinner, right?  Some of them are still cheating on their spouses.  Some of them are still stealing from their office.  Yet they get communion.  Period.  The basis for not giving gay people communion rests on the idea that gay people are not repenting their sins.  The problem with this is that, first, it presumes to know people's future intentions.  Secondly, it assumes that because someone is openly gay that they're active sexually, which is the only real "sin" (quotes to note I don't agree with this definition) to being gay.  But also, it is a standard that is not being evenly applied, even to similar "sins" (like couples who are living together before marriage), or sins that are clearly worse by any reasonable standard, like domestic violence.  In most other cases, the sin is confessed (or not), and communion is given with the assumption that the person is going to try really hard to not do it any more, even if they've confessed it weeks in a row.  But beyond this, I believe that believing that being gay is sinful is wrong.  It's homophobia that's the sin.     

What's going on with all of these situations here is this bizarre placement of homosexuality as the worst and most offensive of all sins.  It's like the list of bad offenses now goes:
1.  Homosexuality
2.  Murder
3.  Incest
4.  Rape
Etc.

Does the Catholic school kick out all children of felons?  If it was to educate a child of a murderer, does that imply that it condones murder?  Does that mean that they can't say in the school, "Murder is bad?"  If you give a murderer communion, does that mean that you believe murder is good?  If you give a murderer health care, does that mean you think murder is good?

The Catholic church needs to re-examine its priorities and realize that it believes in education, it believes in health care, and it believes in holy communion, and that the goal of the church is to spread the teachings of Jesus, both through education and communion and through following Jesus' actions (like healing the sick).

Meanwhile, to LGBT people who find themselves shunned by the Catholic church?  Well, Catholicism is wrong.... about a lot of things.  Hopefully this begins the questioning of the Catholic church's rightness.

*Text in red added 3/11/09 for correction and/or clarification.