Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Generations and Giving

In the workshop I'm attending at the UUMA Institute, we've been talking about the different generations in our church and what motivates them to come, what calls them to be involved, and what they care about.  We've talked about what incidents shaped and defined these generations.  Today, the thought that came to me, prompted by something said by a colleague, was that if the generations are motivated by different things, not only does our membership and outreach efforts need to be targeted differently to each group, our pledge drive might be more effective if targeted differently to each group.

So, for example, the Silent Generation, born 1925-1945 are builders and institutionalists.  They dislike debt.  The Great Depression had a big impact on them, and they like frugality.  They are civic-minded, and the older members of this generation may have served in WWII, younger ones in the Korean War.  A pledge campaign that emphasizes the institutional needs and building needs will be something they might connect to more than one that emphasizes mission and vision or social justice or programming.  They also may respond to debt retirement campaigns.  A lot of this is also true for the generation that preceded them, the G.I. Generation.

The Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964 are very different from their parents.  Baby Boomers sometime like new experiences and sometimes like to be pampered a bit.  They like having a vision and are associated with rejecting some traditional values.  Hippies were Baby Boomers, as were Yuppies.  Baby boomers are more likely to give to programming, and to vision, and to social justice work.

Generation X, born from 1965 through the mid-eighties, are cynical about the lack of the vision of the Baby Boomers coming to fruition.  They tend to be pragmatic, but also to thrive on change and starting up new ideas.  If you have a new program to institute--and if it's practical with a solid plan--the Generation X members may be motivated to give to that.  Many of them have young children now, and are motivated by practical aspects of church life that involve their children, i.e. religious education.

Millennials, born between the eighties and 2000, are also having children now, at least the older ones.  They like technology, and are generally more optimistic than the generation that preceded them, and are more visionary and less pragmatic.  They are entrepreneurial and they like to have positive feedback.  They are less interested in joining organized religion, but those that are involved are more embracing of multiculturalism and diversity than generations that preceded them.  They may be motivated to give to projects that embrace their values, and to ones where they have the opportunity to lead or to learn.

Of course, these are broad stereotypes, and people may completely disagree.  But I'd like to hear less about what you disagree with than about what you think motivates your own generation or those you're in close connection with.  Our workshop is much more focused about how to attract and involve different generations -- this was just a side thought of mine about how this information that I've been focused on for years in these other arenas might be used in a pledge drive as well.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The "Guns" Series...

... will resume in about two weeks.  I'm working up a sermon on it, and don't want to pre-publish everything that I plan to say from the pulpit.  Sorry for the delay.  Meanwhile, I'm at the UUMA Institute and hope to have something interesting to write soon.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guns Part 3: What I've Heard

I've been thinking a lot, as most people have, about my perspective about gun violence and what should be done.  I've done a lot of learning, such as educating myself on the difference between a clip and a magazine.  I've been listening to my relatives, my colleagues, and my friends and congregants who are school teachers, police officers, parents, and politicians, and to my president--of the UUA and the USA.  And I've been listening to the NRA, and not just the clips played on MSNBC. 

My friend Dani Meier, for example, a long-time anti-violence advocate, gun owner, and school counselor, wrote a HuffPost piece titled "Thoughts From 'A Good Guy With a Gun'" in which he writes, "First, as microcosms of society, schools will always have some students, parents, and teachers with anger problems, mental illness, or poor self-control. As educators, we regularly try to model peaceful conflict-resolution, 99.9 percent of which we successfully deescalate despite significant volatility. And when we don't succeed, weapons are not needed. Introducing guns in those scenarios, in fact, invites other kinds of nightmares."  He also says, "I am a decent shot, but I am not -- nor will most educators ever be -- like Dirty Harry, capable of picking off a moving target amidst the chaos of innocent children and adults scrambling for cover."

My friend the police officer, to illustrate another opinion, doesn't think bans on high-capacity magazines will make much difference.  I respect his opinion, although it goes against what most liberals are calling for.  He says, "3 ten round magazines equals 30. A magazine change can take a second, so limiting it doesn't have much of an effect."  While I think he's probably right, I also, therefore, don't see how it's too much of a restriction on the second amendment to put such a ban in place.  And a dropped or fumbled magazine during a shooting could make potentially make a world of difference.  My officer friend also thinks the open-carry advocates go too far, and that they should be required to carry their license and prove upon request that they are allowed to carry the gun when they are practicing their open carry rights.  And he says, "Of the guns that I have personally taken off the streets, or ones that have been used in crimes (including homicides) that have occurred in [the city he works in] I can't think of one that involved an assault style rifle, or large capacity magazine. Shotguns and pistols are the weapon of choice to the street criminal. I have never had one gun that was also registered to the criminal. Most guns are stolen, or taken from someone else."  I think he has a point, and that when we look at what would stop a mass shooting like the one in Newtown, it's a different set of solutions than would stop the individual shootings we see in Chicago.  And both are huge problems in our society.  We're focusing too much on stopping the violence in Newtown and not enough on stopping the violence on the streets of Chicago or Detroit.

I went to a Detroit event about The New Jim Crow recently hosted by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, and heard people there talking about gun violence from a multitude of informed perspectives, and one person talked about having police in schools from a different perspective than I'd heard shared elsewhere.  She said that it was her suspicion, based on the cases she'd seen as someone who was in a position that injustice cases were brought to her, that when there were police officers put in school, children's behavior that might have been resolved in other ways tended to get criminalized.  I think it's important if we're talking about police officers in schools, that we think about what some of the unintended consequences of that might be.  

The Rev. Peter Morales, the UUA president, in another HuffPost piece, writes, of what he thinks President Obama should do saying, "We join with Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence in calling for change."  (Who "we" are is unidentified, by the way.)  Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence states:
  1. Every person who buys a gun should pass a criminal background check; 
  2. High capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians; and 
  3. Gun trafficking should be a federal crime. 
I respect the thoughtful views of all of these people, and the hard work that President Obama and Vice President Biden have done.  It's a complex problem.  And I largely agree with their solutions, although I'll go more into that in the next piece in this series.

Guns Part 2: My Own Story

I've always been a lukewarm believer in the right to own guns.  Lukewarm, I say, because I think the right to own guns leads to a host of problems, that that writers of the Second Amendment never envisioned an America like today, with the weapons that our government has, and the weapons our citizens have.  I am not, by any means, someone who believes that the Constitution is a perfect document, either.  I believe it's important that a process exists for amending it, and am willing to amend it when it is important for freedom and liberty.  I am willing to rethink the Second Amendment entirely, and don't hold the right to own guns as sacrosanct as I do freedom of religion, speech, and of the press.

Lukewarmly, however, I do support the right to own guns.  I was brought up in a household where there were guns, and I had the example of a responsible gun owner in my father, who kept the guns, if not under literal lock and key, securely away from me during my childhood.  There were important histories tied to guns that were owned by my forefathers that made them family heirlooms, such as my ancestor's "Civil War rifle."  I also have the example of many relatives and friends and congregation members who are hunters and both enjoy hunting as a sport and as a means for providing food for their tables.  I want a degree of gun ownership to continue to exist that allows for hunting, family heirlooms, and perhaps some measure of gun ownership for personal protection.  I am not a passionate defender of this, however. 

I once had a liberal friend say to me, "I would never willingly enter a house where I knew there were guns."  I enter these houses all the time, and without fear most of the time.  There are always exceptions, such as pastoral care calls to someone who is mentally unstable, where I might refuse to meet in a private residence, but that would be true even if there were no guns present.  I know my friends and family and congregation members to be responsible gun owners, and have no more fear of violence or accident there than I do walking down the street.  I also refuse to live and act out of my fear of guns, even where I have fear.  I do fear for my child's safety at school.  I do fear for my sister's safety at the school where she teaches.  I was at a luncheon recently where someone said, "There was a lockdown today at a school in Detroit," and fear for my sister rushed into my heart.  Turns out it was Novi, not Detroit, but we're over here in Jackson, so maybe that distinction was lost.  I do fear for my safety and the safety of my family in my congregation, in the movie theaters, on the street corner with my congress member, in the schools.  We live in an increasingly violent country, with random violence striking in not just the places that we were taught to see as dangerous, like the inner city, but striking in the places we always assumed we were safe--churches, schools, street corners with our congressional representative.  I refuse, however, to live out of that fear and either stop going these places or wear a gun everywhere I go.  I've always refused to let that fear keep me out of the cities, choosing to visit, work, shop, and also live in places that others have deemed too dangerous at many points in my life.  I refuse now to let fear keep me from living a normal life.

But refusing to fear doesn't mean that the problem should be ignored.  There are reasonable reforms that can help make America safer.  And I have opinions about it, just like everybody else, which I'll address in my next post.

Guns Part 1: My Church

Ever since the Sandy Hook shooting, I've been working on a two-part blog series about guns and gun violence.  It's been slow going, because it's an emotional and difficult issue for me.  I've been torn apart in my feelings about Sandy Hook, and mourning deeply, particularly as a mother of an elementary-school-aged child.  This blog series has now become at least a three-part series, maybe more.  I thought I just needed to explain who I was and position myself in this debate, and then lay out my person vision.  Now I understand that I also need to tell my readership, which hopefully and probably includes more than my own religious community, about the community I serve.

I serve a more politically diverse, which is to say more conservative, church than the average Unitarian Universalist church.  It's very different from all the other churches I've known, as someone who was raised Unitarian Universalists and moved quite a bit before seminary and has served seven churches if you count internship, student ministries, and a summer ministry.  This church I serve now is a rural, historically Universalist church.  It has a higher than average Christian percentage for a Unitarian Universalist church.  It has a higher than average moderate-to-conservative population, I would guess, as well.  Two of our biggest controversies have been about whether or not the American flag belongs in the sanctuary and whether or not the picture of Jesus does.  There are strong feelings on either side, and we've worked for compromises in each.  I also have members who wish I would preach more hellfire and brimstone, and have said so--in those words.  I'm not speaking metaphorically!  But with each of our members, there's a reason why they come to us, and those reasons are important.  Sometimes it's historical connection, sometimes it's a gay family member, sometimes it's because they know we were there in some important moment of need or crisis.  Sometimes the reason is theological, sometimes historical, sometimes community, sometimes the drive to be challenged by people who think differently.  And they lovingly stand by this church, even when they disagree with its stands and, often, its minister.

And so it is also true that we have a lot of gun owners.  Most of them are hunters.  It's not unusual in our church in hunting season to have a candle of joy lit for a buck killed.  We've happily eaten the venison at church fundraisers.  (I might add that they were successful, joyful, and well-attended dinners when the venison has been featured, along with vegetarian alternatives, but our gun-owners do outnumber our vegetarians, and some of our vegetarians who don't eat meat because of factory farming issues may happily enjoy the venison, as well.)  I can count on my fingers fifteen percent of our adult members and regular friends of the church where I know those adults have or had guns in their household.  I can count another ten percent where I think it's very likely, but they've never specifically said.  (These are some of our older members from farming backgrounds, where it would be a normal part of farm life to own a gun, but they've never mentioned it specifically.)  There's another group where I wouldn't be surprised to find out they have guns in their household.  And then there's always the ones that might surprise me, such as some of our radical, activist, liberal members who are also gun owners.  But I wouldn't be surprised to find out we have a 30% gun ownership in this Unitarian Universalist church.  I'm sure that whatever the national average for gun ownership is among Unitarian Universalists, we would beat it by a good ten percent at least. 

But I also know this story.  Months before our Governor vetoed the legislation that was going to allow concealed carry in churches, I mentioned that this legislation was pending to one of our most avid gun owners.  "There's just no need for anyone to be doing that," was the response I got.  "Nobody needs to have concealed carry in churches."

What did that tell me?  There may be a lot of guns in our church, but we're just another slice of America here.  And there's a lot of room for compromise between the perspectives of our most extreme members on the right and left of the gun debate.  I see a willingness among our gun owners and second amendment believers to put in sensible reforms.  And I see a willingness among our reform advocates to leave room for gun ownership for our avid hunters.  I see a great willingness here for our church to find common ground here, to have the difficult discussion in microcosm that our polarized country needs to have in macrocosm.  I don't know if we'll have that discussion in organized form or just individually, but I believe it will be, and perhaps already is happening.  So it is with this understanding, that my church is a diverse and unusual place, that I begin to share here my own thoughts, knowing they may not be typical for our group here, but that I have a free pulpit that they have lovingly given me.