Thursday, January 31, 2008


So here's today's big chance to do one small thing to make the world a little bit better place for us all. But don't think about it too long, because the contest ends today at High Noon, Pacific Standard Time (that's 3 pm here on the East Coast). It's only going to cost you $10, and is going to make a huge difference in the lives of some very small children; so if you could find it in your heart to take five minutes to make a donation and then e-mail your own friends, it would be a very good thing. And personally, I would LOVE to be able to say that it was MY friends who put them over the top and into the money.

Donate to the Sharing Foundation

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Compliments of my younger brother (a Wall Street investment banker)

This was forwarded to me this afternoon, and is apparently making the rounds on Wall Street. Nice to know that investment bankers have a sense of irony too....

This year, both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union Address fall on the same day.

It is an ironic juxtaposition: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication.

The other involves a groundhog.

Friday, January 25, 2008


OK, so it was only $10. Still, as my Dad used to say, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. I first started playing the Powerball when I was still commuting to graduate school in Oregon, and was buying gas two or three times a week at various filling stations and convenience stores all along the I-5 corridor. It didn't take that much more time simply to hand the clerk an extra $5 and my play-slip, and play my numbers for another couple of weeks every few tankfulls. I figured I probably got at least that much entertainment value daydreaming as I drove along the Interstate about what I would do with the $100 million if my numbers ever actually hit. (There used to be a billboard about half-way between Portland and Eugene that displayed the predicted amount of the next jackpot, so I always knew exactly how much money I stood to win.) And besides, my Daddy also always used to tell me that "the lottery is simply a tax on the mathematically illiterate." But you know? -- I think that's probably a tax I owe....

When I moved back east in 2001, I discovered that in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts they have something called a "season ticket," where you can pay $90 at the beginning of the year and play your numbers 104 times: every Wednesday and Saturday drawing for an entire calendar year. Not only was it way more convenient, but I got a discount too! So what if the prize wasn't quite as large as the Powerball? It certainly didn't effect the quality of my daydreaming one little bit.

I don't really consider the lottery "gambling," because I don't really have anything at risk. I consider the money I pay for my ticket gone the moment it leaves my hand -- an act of public charity in support of schools and economic development and whatever other good causes those revenues are used for. And likewise, any money that may happen to come back my way is simply a windfall gift of grace. Gambling is going without adequate health insurance so you can afford food and heating oil, or creating privatized Social Security retirement accounts based on the assumption that stocks will continue to rise forever. I don't like to play cards or visit casinos, I don't bet on sporting events (except maybe for filling out an NCAA Final Four bracket every year, or an occasional "honor" bet with other clergy I know when our home-town teams are competing for a championship), I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in horse racing or dog racing or cock fighting (or dog fighting!) or any of the other various "bloodsports" which "Sporting Men" have traditionally wagered on over the years. In fact, the whole culture of gambling kinda creeps me out.

I know a lot of people play the lottery so they can dream about quitting their jobs. But most clergy I know, whether they play or not, basically daydream about what it would be like to be able to do their jobs PROPERLY without having to fret about the constant hassle of money in the first place! And I'm also amazed by the widespread cultural assumption that if by some strange twist of fate a minister does come in to "sudden money" (whether in the lottery, or on a game show, or even through their own hard work or by winning some sort of merit-based prize), that they will give away a good portion of their new-found wealth to the church and to other "good causes."

Frankly, I suspect that if I ever DID come into a significant amount of money, I would actually find the experience kind of overwhelming, and that my biggest struggle would be figuring out how best to hold on to the things about my current lifestyle that I value most now. Sure, it would be nice to be able to pay off my car loan, and my kids' student loans, and maybe even those of my brother's kids as well. I would probably start shopping a little more seriously for a house (which is something I probably ought to be doing anyway, except that I really like the apartment I'm living in now), and I would definitely travel more, and probably even buy a boat. All things I could no doubt afford to do already, if I wasn't so distracted and preoccupied by the day to day demands of earning a living by trying to do good instead of doing well. I would certainly be paying a lot more money to lawyers and accountants than I would ever dream of doing now. And yes, I would probably give away a good portion of the money to churches and other "good causes." I mean, why would I want to change what I'm trying to do already?

But the real truth is, I won the lottery the day I was born. And I've known for a long, long time now just how lucky I truly am, and how little I really deserve it, and how much of my own relative comfort and prosperity is rooted, ultimately, in the economic exploitation of less-fortunate souls whom I will in all likelihood never meet or even see unless I actively seek them out. And at the same time, I wonder how many of my own frustrations regarding the compensation practices of my previous congregation were really just rooted in my own deeply-felt sense of class privilege and entitlement, and a sort of fundamental resentment about feeling treated like a "servant" by people who are significantly more wealthy than I've chosen to be, and who feel that entitles them to certain special privileges of their own.

Anyway, saw this meme on another blog, and thought I'd fill it out...with reflections, of course.

[*From What Privileges Do You Have?, based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.]

Bold the true statements.

1. Father went to college.

2. Father finished college.

3. Mother went to college.

4. Mother finished college.

5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.

Of course, what really amazes me about question five is how "professor" has replaced "minister" on the traditional list of "learned professions." Clergy were the original professional "professors of faith," whose knowledge of ancient languages entitled them to profess doctrine as "doctors of the church." To practice Law you needed to read Latin. To practice Medicine you needed to read Latin and Greek. But to profess Theology you needed to be fluent in Greek, Latin and Hebrew...which in colonial New England towns often made the minister both the community physician and the designated "arbitrator of disputes" as well.

6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.

Yes, it's true -- I attended one of those High Schools where the student parking lot contained MUCH nicer vehicles than those in the faculty parking lot. Which is why I always tried to park in the faculty lot myself....

7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.

8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.

500 books is a helluva lot of books, and I never actually counted them all up, but I suspect there were at least 500. By the time I left for college, I probably owned close to 200 books myself. And of course, now, I own considerably more than that. This question would probably make my own children laugh out loud....

9. Were read children's books by a parent.

10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18.

11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.

Swimming lessons and trumpet lessons (which came through the school). Kinda wish I'd had more. But my mom had all sorts of "advantages" pressed upon her when she was a little girl, and I suspect that she wanted to spare her own children that experience. And of course my Dad HADN'T, and probably felt they were a little over-the-top. So I never had to learn how to play the piano. Although I suppose it's never too late to start.

12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.

"Positive" is in the eye of the beholder. I would probably be a pretty strong candidate for a "Queer Eye" makeover.

13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.

This is kind of tricky, but I'm going to say "no." I did open my own checking account when I started college at age 17, and it came with an ATM card...but not the kind of ATM/debit card you see today. I didn't get a credit card until I turned 21, and started graduate school.

14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.

15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs.

These are also kind of tricky, since I went to college/graduate school for a VERY long time. My parents paid 100% of the first two years of my undergraduate education at the University of Washington (where in-state tuition in those days was $188/quarter). My final two years my tuition and books were paid by my grandmother, and I covered my own Room and Board costs by working as a Residence Hall Advisor. I also earned spending money through a variety of other summer and part-time jobs, but I never (for example) had to spend my summers working in a salmon cannery in Alaska like so many of my friends did, and as a result I was always able to make school my first priority, and never really had to worry when the term bill came due. I did, by the way, physically write all of the checks to pay those bills myself (which was why I had my own checking account); and whatever money that came from my parents was contingent upon me making continuous progress towards my degree and maintaining a certain GPA, neither of which were ever especially problematic for me. Most of my post-Graduate education was paid for through a combination of grants, loans, scholarships, fellowships, internships, teaching assistantships, and other part-time employment. After awhile, school basically became just another highly-interesting, relatively low-paying (but with great benefits) job for me. So yes, I confess: I was a "professional student." And I was really pretty good at it too.

16. Went to a private high school.

I attended Newport High School in Bellevue, Washington -- a public High School routinely rated by Newsweek magazine as one of the top twenty High Schools in the country. Which really amazes me every time I see those rankings. It sure wasn't that way when I went there. Nearly attended the Lakeside Academy (with Bill Gates and Paul Allen) my Senior year (long story for another day), but my Dad decided it would be more cost-effective simply to bribe me to work harder where I was (see below). Who knows how my life might have been different if he had chosen the other option.

17. Went to summer camp.

But not a lot. My folks didn't really believe in it. And we had this great house at the beach (which belonged to my Grandmother) that was a lot better than camp anyway. But sometimes day camp. Or Scout camp. After the end of Little League season, of course.

18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.

19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.

Our family vacations typically involved visiting other family members, and staying with them.

20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.

Of course, I was the oldest child, which meant there was nobody to hand clothes down to me. Except my cousins. And my mom was a fantastic seamstress. But mostly my clothes were bought new. And God how I hated to shop!

21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them.

This is a both/and answer. My first car was a hand-me-down from my mother, a 1962 Red Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon (with a push-button gear shift). But my parents also bought me a car of my own (a used Triumph sports car, no less) as a reward/bribe for improving my High School grades to a 4.0 from their dismal slacker levels my junior year.

22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.

23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.

24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.

25. You had your own room as a child.

26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.

Again, my parents didn't believe in private phones for kids. And I didn't really spend a lot of time on the phone as a teenager anyway.

27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course.

28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.

29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.

30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16.

31. Went on a cruise with your family.

32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.

These cruise questions are also tricky -- I've NEVER been on a "cruise" per se, even as an adult, and I'm not so sure that I would ever really want to. But my parents owned a boat when I was a teenager, and we "cruised" in the San Juan Islands pretty much every summer. Does that count?

33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.

34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

Absolutely. In fact, I was pretty much unaware of ALL my family's household expenses (and income) growing up. And ironically, it was a disagreement over who was supposed to pay for the heating oil at the parsonage in my last settlement that was at the root of my eventual disillusionment with that congregation, and my decision to seek a new position at a different church instead.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Strange Bookends

Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?"

Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?"

Vanity asks the question, "Is it popular?"

But, conscience asks the question, "Is it right?"

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.


Never judge another man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. That way, if he takes exception to your opinion, you've got a mile-long head start, and he's barefoot.... -- Anonymous

Friday, January 11, 2008

Wrong AND disliked....

A few months ago (inspired in large degree by a workshop I attended by Marie Fortune on working pastorally with the survivors of domestic abuse) I posted an entry on this blog describing some of my reflections and experiences about having voluntarily censored an even earlier post in which I described some of my experiences transitioning out of the congregation I had previously served in Carlisle, Massachusetts. As part of that second post, there was one paragraph in particular where I recounted in some detail the amount of money I felt accepting that call had cost me over the four years I served there, which included the statement “Finally there's the four years without a raise or a COLA, and the nearly six grand they decided to stiff me by refusing to pay me through the entire three months of the contractual 90 day severance period.”

Not long after that post appeared, I received an e-mail from UUA Settlement Director John Weston offering to help mediate my dispute with my former congregation, with the assistance of UUA Office of Church Staff Finances Director Ralph Mero and Clara Barton District Executive Lynn Thomas. Naturally, I jumped at the offer. Now this group (all of whom I respect deeply) has met, and guess what? I was wrong. Even though everything I had described in that post was factually correct (and to my knowledge, undisputed), apparently because I had already started my new ministry in Portland Maine on August 1st the panel determined that my former congregation was NOT obligated to pay me in full through the entire 90-day severance period stipulated by the Letter of Agreement, as I had thought at the time. Furthermore, my willingness to air all this dirty laundry in a public blog was felt to be manipulative, and “unworthy of our ministry.”

So. Bitter medicine. You can read the entire text of John’s e-mail below (along with the lengthy response I wrote back to him), but first here’s my more concise and less defensive reaction. I didn’t become involved in this line of work thinking it would make me rich, but I did expect to be treated honestly and fairly. Scripture tells us to turn the other cheek and to give anyone who asks for it the shirt off our back, but let’s face it (Walter Wink’s brilliant exegesis of this passage notwithstanding) going through life feeling half naked and constantly slapped around is a helluva way to make a living. Is that really what I’ve signed up for? And if so...well, maybe I really OUGHT to be thinking about finding another line of work.

At the same time, I really love my job (most days); I believe I’m good at it; I believe it has given me some small opportunity to help make the world a better place by my presence in it. I try to take my vocation seriously, and I would never intentionally do anything to bring my sacred and revered profession into disrepute. So knowing that I am perceived that way by colleagues I respect gives me pause, and has caused me to re-examine some of my fundamental assumptions about both my motives and what I am attempting to accomplish in raising these issues, and even doing this work in the first place.

Devoting one’s life to attempting “To Speak the Truth to Power” is a pretty daunting undertaking. Because after all, What is Truth? I would have confidently testified under oath to everything I posted in those earlier blog entries, but who among us really knows “the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth?” And there have certainly been other unpleasant consequences to my decision to speak out openly about my experience the way I did, not the least of which are the random, anonymous “poison pen” comments that filter into this blog from time to time. Generally I just delete them, in part just to save the authors the embarrassment of their own words (My favorite was one which began “Are you a morom?”), but mostly I do it because I have absolutely no desire to stir up any more bad feelings than I already have. And of course, it also always amazes me that anyone actually reads this blog at all. I guess I’m not the first blogger to fall victim to THAT little illusion.

In any event, I do feel duly chastened and humbled, if not actually humilated, by this entire experience, and will now be very grateful to be able to put it all behind me. And if you do have something you would like to comment on in this blog, please be willing to sign your real name and have something positive to contribute, rather than simply making threats and calling me vile names.

The e-mail:

Clara Barton District Executive Lynn Thomas, UUA Church Staff Finance Director Ralph Mero, and I met on Monday January 7 to consider the claims that Tim has asserted against Carlisle:

The claims as Tim presented them:

$2364.00 - 27 days cash salary (July 25-Aug 20)

$1075.00 - 16 days Parsonage Allowance (Aug 4-Aug 20)

$1239.30 - Unreimbursed Professional Expenses (basically GA)

$ 990.00 - 27 days pro-rated Pension Contribution

$ 284.20 - UU-GIP insurance premium (July 1-Aug 20)***

We take up the claims in three categories:

1. that Carlisle owed Tim for a full 90 days of salary and housing and pension contribution following his giving notice

2. that Carlisle owed Tim for costs associated with the UUA General Assembly that exceeded his professional expense budget, and

3. that Carlisle owed Tim for utilities costs for the parsonage during his service in Carlisle

1. Tim resigned on May 21, giving, 90 days notice. However, his last day of service in Carlisle cannot have been later than July 31, since he started serving Portland on August 1. According to Carlisle treasurer Mary Hult, Carlisle compensated Tim for the full month of July. She writes:

I am sorry for the confusion on Rev. Tim Jensen's pay for July, 2007. All of our monthly checks say "period ending" somewhere between the 24th and 28th of the month. Largely, that is so the check can be printed by our payroll service and received by our employees by the first of the month. For some people, this has been very important.

Tim was on salary so his annual salary was basically divided into 12 months. Tim's pay stub might have said the 24th but, like all of the checks he received from us, it was for the entire month. His monthly checks for August-June 2007 were rounded up to $2,634 so the last check, for July 2007, was rounded down to $2,626 ($8 less) in order to end with the $31,600 annual salary total.

Thus we see no valid claim for salary and housing. We did not consider the pension and insurance premium issue.

2. We are not able to accept the premise that expenditures exceeding a budgeted amount create indebtedness. The time to address a budget shortfall is before the expenditure is incurred.

3. Attachment B of the agreement between Carlisle and Tim contains the provision that the utilities costs are included in the housing allowance.

Thus we are not able to validate any of your claims, Tim.

That said, I believe that the Carlisle leadership is entitled to know, Tim, that we find your public claims against the congregation to be unworthy of our ministry. Furthermore, the discord between you and the leadership having centered on money for some months if not years, your attempt to maneuver the Transitions Office into settling old scores is similarly unworthy. Given the publicity you have brought to this issue, we believe that you owe, immediately, a post on the Money chat and on your blog withdrawing the assertion of such claims against Carlisle.

Speaking for myself, I owe notice of our take on this issue to the ministers who have indicated interest in Carlisle in this year’s search round, and have started the notification process..

John Weston

My snotty and hot-headed (not really) reply:

Dear John

Having accepted in good faith your offer to mediate this dispute for me, I now feel obligated to honor your decision, although I could not be more disappointed with the result. But having also released this concern to the Universe during our annual First Sunday of the Year "Burning Ritual," I’m also not too inclined to complain much more about it either.

As you request, at my first opportunity I will post the text of your letter with its findings to both to my public blog and the Money-CHAT. I do wish however, simply for the sake of the historical/public record, to reiterate a few of my concerns that do not seem to have been explicitly addressed by your findings.

1) I may just be incredibly thick-headed (or perhaps just the opposite, that too much time in academia has made me hypersensitive to the nuanced subtleties of close analysis), but I still fail to understand the connection between your finding that because I started work here in Portland on August 1st I could not possibly have been serving the Carlisle congregation beyond July 31st, and your decision that this somehow relieves FRS of their contractual obligation to compensate me in full through the entire 90 day severance period stipulated in the Letter of Agreement. I accept your authority to make that determination (about what was really the only issue that mattered); I just don’t understand the logic of it.

The so-called "double-dip" has long been a reality in our movement, and although I certainly don’t have access to the hard data, my anecdotal understanding is that some of the most egregious double-dippers of all are in fact Accredited Interim Ministers, who are routinely paid in full through the month of August even though they have also often at that point already started new assignments somewhere else. From your knowledge, is this true, or have I been misinformed?

And if this is true, do your findings in my situation now obligate you to insist that all those ministers who have "double-dipped" in the past now return that money to the congregations they previously served?

Or to look at it another way, would your decision have been different if I had arbitrarily set my starting date in Portland as August 21st rather than the 1st? And do you honestly believe that FRS would have then happily and willingly paid me in full for the final month of my contract with them, during which I would have ordinarily been on vacation anyway?

2) The issue I raised regarding the professional expense budget and my unreimbursed General Assembly expenses referred specifically to the question of whether or not unreimbursed professional expenses incurred in one fiscal year might be "rolled-over" into the next fiscal year, a practice which had routinely been the policy at FRS until suddenly it wasn't.

As I believe I mentioned in an earlier e-mail to you, this same practice of rolling over expenses to the next fiscal year was the principal reason the 2006-07 professional expense budget came up short in the first place, all of which goes back to the underlying problem that the budget itself never actually met the fair compensation guidelines to begin with, and (like the rest of my compensation package) had not been adjusted the entire time I served there.

But to stick to the topic at hand, this practice of "roll-over" is once again a vestige of the bad old TCM days in which congregations and their ministers typically had a gentleman's agreement to handle professional expense accounts in this manner. The Carlisle congregation has never claimed that my expenses were not legitimate; they simply asserted that since they didn't budget for them, they weren't obligated to reimburse them. Can you imagine the result if the rest of the world adhered to this logic? My argument was that they were indeed contractually obligated to reimburse me for those expenses, whether they had budgeted for them or not, and that even under the old TCM paradigm there was (or should have been) sufficient money to do so in the 2007-08 budget.

3) I honestly can't recall having ever made any formal claims regarding the cost of utilities at the parsonage, unless it was in some way related to my request to be paid in cash 20 days equivalent of the Fair Rental Value of the parsonage (based on their expressed desire that I vacate the parsonage prior to August 20th -- which I accommodated at significant inconvenience and expense to both myself and my new congregation).

I have written elsewhere about my experience regarding the way I believed (and still believe) the parsonage utilities were (mis)handled in my original contract negotiations, and about the treasurer's subsequent unilateral decision to deduct the increased cost of heating oil from my cash salary, rather than absorbing it into the general church operating budget as called for by the compensation guidelines. But I have never asked or expected to be "made whole" in this regard; I simply mentioned it as an example of one of the ways I felt I was unfairly taken advantage of financially by that congregation during my tenure there.

The most disappointing aspect of this entire process has come right here at the end, with the easy way you seem to dismiss my legitimate desire to achieve a fair and impartial mediation of my complaints as "an attempt to maneuver the Department of Ministry into settling old scores," and characterize my willingness to raise these concerns in the first place as "unworthy of the ministry."

I am not the one who wrote the UUMA Guidelines, or set the Fair Compensation standards; I merely had the bad manners to mention them in public. I'm not the one who refused outright to meet with the District Compensation Consultant to discuss these issues early on in my ministry in Carlisle, or who declined to raise these sensitive issues with church leaders in a timely fashion because "they aren't ready to hear it," or who initiated any of the other "non-standard" employment practices I factually and accurately described in both earlier e-mails to you, and on rare occasion referenced (in what I believed at the time was an honest and balanced way) in various other public forums. I sincerely wish that a few of my former parishioners had given me a happier tale to tell. But since when is it "unworthy of the ministry" to tell the truth?

I never asked anyone to help me settle old scores; I simply asked for your help in resolving this issue of whether or not 90 days really means 90 days, or if it actually means something else. I do agree that it is unworthy both of our ministry and our movement in general that situations like the one I experienced in Carlisle continue to exist, and that there seems to be no good way of quietly and effectively resolving these disputes absent the good will of all the parties involved. I regret deeply any way that my own growing frustration with that situation may have influenced my ability to minister effectively to the members of that congregation, most of whom I consider wonderful people who certainly deserve the very best that any minister has to give them.

And I likewise hope that my willingness to speak openly about my experience in Carlisle will not dissuade other ministers from exploring a call to serve that congregation. If anything, I hope that bringing these issues out into the open will help head off any future problems similar to the ones I experienced, thus creating a more happy situation for all concerned.

And I will also say this: this entire experience has been extremely unpleasant for me personally, both as I suffered through it in silence and relative isolation at the time, and then later as I suffered the consequences of having spoken openly and candidly about it in public. It's not an experience I would wish on anyone, and certainly not one I would ever wish to experience again myself.

In any event John, as you share your "take" on these issues with other ministers currently in search, I hope you will also see fit to share a few final words to the wise. If something really matters, get it in writing. Well-intended promises and handshake deals aren't worth the paper they're not printed on. Don’t sign anything until you've had it reviewed by an attorney. YOUR attorney. If the Guidelines and the Fair Compensation standards, for example, are important to you, have them written right into the contract; that way, if you should ever (God forbid) feel the need to litigate, they will have the force of law, and not just the moral influence of custom and tradition.

We all would like to believe that our communities of faith aspire (and adhere) to higher, and more generous and compassionate standards of behavior than are typically found in the "real" world. Unfortunately, they often don't. And for what it's worth, the integrity and credibility of our entire movement suffers as a consequence. How does the saying go? -- "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere?" I freely admit that on the grand scale of things, the tiny injustices done to me in Carlisle are small potatoes, and that perhaps I am a small person for taking them to heart. Now they are behind us, and I have more important things to worry about, as I'm sure you do too. My apologies for having written so long a response; if I'd had more time I would have made it shorter.

In friendship,