All of a sudden, I find myself deep in class reunion territory. First comes a college reunion at which the school hopes to score some major contributions, then a milestone high school reunion and reunions at my graduate school and my seminary.
I don’t begrudge the schools these opportunities to connect with alumni. We are a primary source of contributions. But I do find myself wondering how much I want to see classmates from decades ago. So much has happened in our lives – good and bad, ups and downs, successes and failures, marriages and divorces, child-rearing and child-losing – how can we possibly get at all current with each other over cocktail party chatter? If we can’t get current, do we just reminisce about school days, while not making any effort to be seen as the people we have become? Or gloss lightly over the very serious business of living?
I have responded to the dilemma by offering to help with planning three of the reunions. My goal will be to help people connect with each other at more than a superficial level. Will it happen? I have no idea.
FAITH Q & A
Q: With local communities and states suffering severe budget problems, do you believe religious organizations should remain exempt from taxes?
A: I think churches need to rethink their dependency on not-for-profit status. If people only give to their church because they can get a tax break, then we need to do some serious teaching about “harvest giving,” as opposed to “charitable giving.” Gratitude to God and our obligation to share aren’t administered by the IRS. They arise from faith.
Moreover, our ability to speak truth to power – one of our fundamental obligations as Christian communities – is too easily compromised when we refrain from addressing issues of wealth and power because we might violate not-for-profit rules. We need to be bold, not calculating.
Finally, I think there is much that churches could be doing to help others that might cross the line into commercial territory. Making our kitchens available to start-up catering businesses, for example. Turning our unused classrooms into office space for start-up entrepreneurs and remote workers, perhaps serving as incubators for new businesses and asking our constituents to provide guidance. Encouraging for-profit dance schools and yoga schools to use our fellowship halls.
We can still be not-for-profit in our mindset without letting ourselves be hamstrung by tax-exempt rules. Also, paying taxes as other citizens do should help us seem less aloof and entitled.
Photo of Lake George, NY, from the Sagamore Inn, where my nephew was married.