|Issue #07-01 May 2007|
"16I will say it again: No one should think that I am a fool. But if you do, then treat me like a fool so that I can also boast a little. 17When I talk as a confident boaster, I am not talking with the Lord’s authority but like a fool. 18Since many people boast in a fleshly way, I will do it, too.19You are wise, so you will gladly put up with fools. 20You put up with anyone who makes you his slaves, devours what you have, takes what is yours, orders you around, or slaps your face! 21I am ashamed to admit it, but we have been too weak for that. Whatever anyone else dares to claim—I am talking like a fool—I can claim it, too."
- 2 Corinthians 11:16-21 NRSV
I have been doing this now for thirteen years. My tax return (sent yesterday when I began to write this) says my occupation is "retired." I can envision what retired would look like and it is not anything like the past thirteen years, and in particular, the past three. Those of you who have been around a while can attest to that, either in person or through my writings.
The last time I wrote, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed. A lot of territory has been covered, both emotionally and practically, since then, and I will talk a little about that. But, I am going to start with some more current history, and the perspectives it has brought into focus.
I was in a phone conversation with my son recently where he was telling me about his new job. He used the phrase, "it’s nice to have a real adult job." "A real adult job" stuck in my mind and reminded me of the newspaper (Grand Ledge Independent) article written about me in March. I had been asked to be artist of the month at Ledge Craft Lane which typically gets local coverage. The editor came to the Center to interview me. He wrote a very nice article, but I found it interesting, that of all the things we talked about, he chose to set apart and highlight the following quote; "In our society, if you are a white male and you are not bringing home a paycheck, then you are not well thought of." The statement was from what I considered to be a minor part of our conversation. Why do I share these two tidbits of information?
In this passage, Jesus was sending out His disciples on a mission. My take on the statement is He was telling them that their work was worthy of support from others. Christians pretty much know that God calls them to share of their resources in support of His work. So how do I interpret the fact that 85-90% of you on our mailing list have not financially supported (even minimally) what I have been doing these past thirteen years? In any given year, it is possible someone could simply overlook helping out. But, over thirteen years, since I know most of you are Christians, the only reasonable conclusion is that you do not truly see what I do as "a real adult ministry (i.e. real adult job – which fits within the not well thought of discussion)."
I am going to shift back now to the territory I mentioned which has been covered, both emotionally and practically, since the last newsletter. Back in October 2006, I asked the board to look at, and make a decision, whether they thought the whole operation should remain the corporation or if the Teaching & Sharing Center should be returned to me as a sole-proprietorship, and the corporation become a support organization called the "Friends of the Teaching & Sharing Center." You had to be there to truly appreciate the workings of the Holy Spirit. At the board meeting, good points were made in favor of each alternative with about a 50/50 split. I stayed neutral throughout the discussion, but could emotionally feel myself leaning each way as different individuals provided excellent perspectives on the pros and cons of going in their preferred direction. In the end the board decided it should all remain one operation under the corporate umbrella.
At that same meeting, I asked the board to eliminate all the membership classes, and create just a single membership. Membership was set at $24 per year, with "nobody left behind" options added, so absolutely nobody would be precluded from participating due to financial limitations. We also added a lifetime option for a one-time membership fee of $700, and a box to check on the member application if you want to automatically renew by having the annual fee taken from your first contribution (obviously for regular contributors) each year. This eliminates the need to annually submit a renewal form.
The President and Vice-President called a special meeting in November to discuss, now that the decision to remain a corporate entity had been made, where did we see things going. Between that meeting and the January board meeting, some interesting points have been made.
As is frequently the case, much of the focus was placed on the various physical dynamics of the Center. The President suggested a good analogy when he compared it to a hospital, almost all of which have a gift shop, etc. But, the gift shop is not what the hospital is about. I too (at the January meeting) reiterated that the difficulty with speaking about the Center is that it is mostly about intangibles. While it is easier to talk about the tangibles (lending library, prayer room, etc), those are simply some of the tools, not the purpose, program, or primary intentions. First and foremost, the Center is about encouraging and supporting a continuous connection with our Creator. The tangible Center is actually an expression of that in one man’s life – mine. The most mentioned feeling expressed by visitors is the peace experienced upon entering the Center. How does one market peace? Indeed, as one board member pointed out, if the Center were bustling with people all the time, it is unlikely the sense of peace would remain the same. Another intangible at the Center is honesty. Not what I call Christian honesty, where a person tries to appear the way an honest Christian should, but real "what is – is" honesty, and the acceptance of you, whoever you are, or wherever you might be on you own journey. There are precious few places where that acceptance really exists in our society today, including the churches. It too is not particularly conducive to marketing, nor should it be. At the January meeting, I listed half a dozen or so of these intangibles, including the impact the Center has, simply because it exists at all – not a church – not funded or started by a religious organization – just one ordinary man’s simple response to his Creator. Someone just like you, who turned to God and asked, what would You have me do today? Then, actually listened. And, by trial and error found his way day by day.
In April we did not have a quorum at the board meeting, so no official business was transacted. It is one of the difficulties of being a corporation. However, in informal conversation, I talked about the various discussions we had been having. In light of them, I suggested the possibility of a name change for the corporation. I think we should make it plural – Teaching & Sharing Centers. The Center would officially be the a touch of william Teaching & Sharing Center of Grand Ledge, but would informally simply remain "the Center." The board president, Paul Pretzlaff, had previously noted that the Center already is something. We do not need to create it, or change it, or develop it. I had offered back in January, that we already had two Teaching & Sharing Centers. One only exists for four days in the fall at the Fall Color Cruise & Island Festival, but it teaches and shares in all the ways we identify in our literature. Yet, it is not truly an extension of the Center on Bridge Street. It does not teach Cherokee history. There are no CBTC or a touch of william products for sale, nor even the presence of my poetry. We do not need to reproduce Centers like our main home base on Bridge Street. Even an individual can be a Teaching & Sharing Center, as they respond more fully to their Creator, and blossom into the life they were gifted and created for. As one trustee put it, it could be like the Jesuits, each of whom responded to their own calling, but occasionally returned home for refreshment and sharing with others who embrace the basic principals common to the missions.
I have been doing this for thirteen years (have I repeated it enough for it to have really sunk in yet?). Over those years, I have listened to people tell me how unrealistic it is not to find a way to create a cash flow for the Center. So I would not be accused of being the guy in the flood on the rooftop, refusing the boats and the helicopter, I have tried a dozen different avenues for steady revenue, any one of which should have produced some income, even if done poorly, and most of which had the potential for great return. They have all been brick walls. When we became a corporation, once again there began an emphasis on fundraising. A few grants have been applied for, but it is very difficult to explain the broad scope of our functioning in the narrow way grant applications require. Last October the board approved Individual Fundraising Projects (IFPs) because we had a (became a) member who wished to do one via email for the Center and a Katrina family. Not a single contribution came in from that endeavor. The Center is a first hand experience, both in its tangible and intangible expressions. It is difficult to explain to others. When the police brought a homeless man to me at the Center a few years back, because they had no place to send him, it was not because it is a part of our mission statement (indeed it is not except indirectly as an expression of God’s grace in relationship), it was because they knew I lived out my faith in practice, and had in other ways extended hospitality. Others have been afforded the use of our shower, and other amenities. None of this is a "marketable" aspect of what we do. It is but one example of a host of "we will do what we can" dynamics, unrelated (in worldly ways of looking at things) to any official purposes in government filings, or even our own documents and literature. Only you, who have a connection with the Center, and a feel for the truth, peace, honesty, charity and freedom which pervades everything we do, have some understanding of the value of the Center. None of us sees it fully though — not even me.
Last year the corporation received $5,223 in contributions and memberships. That is barely enough to cover all the utilities and insurances, and less than half of what it takes to actually operate the Center, and other T&SC basics, in a bare bones mode. Most of that income came from one person. Only one other gives regular support to the Center. Less than 10% of you helped with any kind donation of at all.
Cherokee Bill’s Trade Center sold $1028 worth of products, but $424 of that was through the wholesale program (most of you are missing the boat on this one) which means there was no profit at all to either CBTC or the T&SC. The T&SC gets 10% of sales contributed, but that was already included in the previous numbers. Since most sales are to members, the discount of 10% means the cost of the products eats up about 60% of the income from sales. Actual net profit for the year (before other expenses) comes down to about $240.
I, personally, had $181 of income last year. It is kind of mind boggling when I see someone react to information about herbal or natural products, as if I were pushing something to make money off from it. Last years numbers are not unusually low, they are pretty much the norm. Most of what I do, I do for free, or at minimal personal benefit, because I know many of you are struggling financially as well. But, not all of you are.
It is no fun, and just a tad stressful, to see the corporate checkbook in negative numbers all the time, waiting for income sufficient to pay the bills. Did I mention I have been doing this for thirteen years now. Americans say what they really believe, by where they spend their time, and what they do with their money. Is thirteen years long enough to validate the Center, and my ministry, in your eyes?
Thirteen years ago I wrote a Financial Integrity Statement which includes the following line:
"I will make the needs of my ministry & missions known, but will not push for contributions, not even in tight times, nor to prevent termination. It is God's decision whether I serve through these missions or elsewhere. I will only continue as long as God provides. I will not borrow funds."
I am getting back to the basics of where, why, and how it all began. I will not be constantly bugging you, nor be chasing after money elsewhere. I cannot serve both God and money. But if not you, then who? I cannot "sell" the Center to the public. It is too difficult to explain. And, those mired in this world likely would not get it even if we could explain it. So, I am afraid that leaves you. You are welcome to try an IFP (Independent Fundraising Project - remember?) to see if you get better results. But, other than that, it comes down to direct assistance from you.
I had a dream one morning recently, that someone connected with the corporation brought in a professional fund-raiser to write to you. I looked at the letter they had written and it was quite impressive, but it was very strongly worded, equating lack of support with dire world consequences – not exactly my style. So, I sat down to write to you myself, and here is what I wrote:
"In a vision I saw myself walking in heaven, and my paths crossed with Jesus. ‘I am sorry Lord,’ I said, ‘I spent so much time trying to keep things afloat, that I am afraid I did not do very well serving you, rather than focusing on money.’ Jesus looked at me and said, ‘william, you did everything I asked of you. Each person can only respond for themselves. You let people know you needed the help. It is all any servant of mine can do. As you well know, you cannot force people to live faithfully. Each must respond according to where their heart is.’"
Do not be deceived by appearances. God has often been full of surprises with whom He chose, and how He chose to work among us. Jesus did not look like a Messiah to many in Israel. The Center may not be patterned like a "real adult ministry," and I may not strike you as a "real adult missionary," but it does not mean it is not – or I am not.
I have been saying this now for thirteen years.
Back to Basics
For most of you, including those who serve on our board, the Center is just an occasional whisper in your life. But, as our president pointed out, it is a big part of my daily routine. As a sole-proprietorship, I knew I was it. I designed things, both through the procedures and structurally, to be able to be handled by one person. As a corporation, I have tried to add routine and some dynamics that would be more traditionally corporate, and others that would delineate and clearly identify the legal entities. However, since this is still primarily a one person operation (we are slowly making a little progress), the sheer enormity in volume of tasks requires a fluidity in both time and activity which does not lend itself very well to committed routine. That is one of the reasons there has never been published open hours. It is the reason the key holder program was begun way back in the beginning. It is the reason my newsletters never had any regularity to when they would be written and sent. Some of you can remember the days when it might be a year and a half between communications from me. For my part, that will return. If someday, someone wishes to step in and help put out a regular (time frame) newsletter, that is great. But, until that day, we will do it the old way – when the Spirit moves me.
I have never chased after money, maintaining that when there were no longer any resources sufficient to pay the bills, I would know it was simply time to close up and go do something else. That too will return as my guiding philosophy. I did not routinely add people to the poet’s circle unless they showed an interest and requested it. And, I would occasionally include a reply card to acknowledge who wished to continue receiving communications. I see no point in sending a newsletter to someone who is simply throwing them in the trash, or otherwise truly disinterested in myself and the Center. It has always been my stated desire to connect with those who are genuinely interested rather that just having a lot of names on a mailing list. Unfortunately, the board and I do not see eye to eye on this, so there is not likely to be a purging (renewal request) of our lists any time soon. I state this only to point out that I respect our structure as a corporation, and as such, the board has final say in such matters.
The new corporate brochure I designed (if the board approves the name change) lists the traits I pray for each day, for myself, and for that which bears my name or imprint. They are: simplicity - genuineness - honesty - integrity - hope - faith - truth - understanding - love - inner peace - joy - happiness - some fun - compassion - forgiveness - humility - respect - and wisdom. Then, the bottom line is God’s will, since His will is always where I anticipate I will find my highest potential, happiness, and fulfillment, along with the greatest good for others. These are the basics. This is what it is all about. It is time that my time is refocused accordingly.
"corporate adj. united, combined into one"
- Webster’s Dictionary
At 9:00 a.m. I got up to take a shower this morning. It is Thursday. I point that out because on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I have to fit an hour of exercise into my schedule (usually around 11:00) so showering waits until after that. 9:00 a.m. might sound like a nice leisurely time to be getting up, until you realize I have already had a prayer and Scripture reading time, and I did not get to bed until 3:33 a.m. Yesterday the weather was not all that great and Donna and I decided to walk down to the movie theater. Since I did not get home from work (the Center) until 6:40pm, I had to fix something quick and easy (Donna helped) to eat in order to get to the theater around 7:00 p.m. When we got home I fixed some stroganoff for dinner which was ready around 9:30 p.m. Since there is not much of interest for us on TV these days, we slipped in the DVD Cold Mountain to watch while we ate. Unlike many people, I cannot watch a movie and work too, so it was after midnight when things wrapped up, and I fell asleep in the chair. About an hour later (Donna had already gone to bed) I woke up, took the DVD out and put it away, got things and myself ready for bed, but then went in to do some work on the computer at 1:11 a.m. (including this newsletter). Since, I had not spent time in the evening working here, like I usually do, my day extended to the 3:33 a.m. time mentioned. While I try to get to bed before 1:00 a.m., last night was not all that unusual.
Anyway, by 9:35 a.m. I was showered, shaved dressed, etc., and ready to begin again. I opened the dishwasher to let it finish drying, took a load of laundry down and started the washer, then came back and fixed something to eat, cleaning up afterwards so I do not have a mess to deal with later. At 10:04 a.m. I was turning the computer on. Unfortunately, the Kodak auto update file/program I tried to delete yesterday, has decided to reload itself. It not only ties things up, but, as so many programs do when they load, has put itself into the startup menu, so I need to run msconfig startup, correct things, and restart the computer. At 10:17 a.m. while waiting for ZoneAlarm (my firewall protection) to load, I hop over to WordPerfect to make a few notes in this newsletter. By 10:24 a.m. I am able to go out onto the Internet to check the emails for justwilliam, TSCenter, atouchofwilliam, and CherokeeBill, all @comcast.net. At 10:37 a.m. I log off from the Internet and click on Outlook. That is where I draw the firstname.lastname@example.org messages into because there is so much spam sent to that address, and I have things set up fairly well there to quickly work through it.
After taking care of those, I decide that for the first item today I will continue working on this newsletter. I forgot to note the time, but as I type this line it is 11:25 a.m. I will probably finish up with this particular article, then move on. There are too many things to juggle to stay on one, unless it has become a super priority for some reason. I will typically continue until about 1:00 or 1:30 p.m when I will go put the laundry into the dryer, unload and load the dishwasher, fix myself lunch (and clean up afterwards so I do not have a mess to deal with later). About 2:00 or 2:30 p.m. I will head for "work" (well - just more work actually, since I have already been doing some T&SC work on my home computer), stopping to bring in the trash containers from the curb. I will open the Center up for visitors and process the mail. Today, being Thursday, I will also need to water all the plants. If a toilet needs cleaning (did this week), or things badly need vacuumed, or one of a myriad of other chore type activities needs done, I will usually try to do those first thing before my energy starts to wane. Then it is time to select from the ever waiting list. This week so far, I finally got the artwork back in place (from the artist of the month display at Ledge craft Lane in March), reworked a bulletin board in the meeting room, took care of the corporate finances, scanned some documents into the computer, talked to a potential product supplier (whose minimums are too high for the CBTC budget), checked inventory and placed an order for some needed supplies, framed some Cherokee artwork for the upstairs display area, re-framed a large matted photo of mine, got a couple of items ready to be processed into the lending library, took a couple of things to the public library to donate, and generally tried to clear off (finish) any relatively small item which could become one less thing cluttering my desk and work areas. Today, the only thing I know for sure is I need to prepare and send a mail order for some Cherokee products because my email to them came back. We do not have long distance at the Center, and I did not bring any of the info home, because I expected the email to take care of it. Beyond that, I will try to just go with the flow of what presents itself (actually as the Spirit guides). Unless, of course, a super priority arises (as mentioned). People are among super priorities. This week I have only had two appointments, one visitor, and one extensive phone conversation, so that is pretty manageable for three days so far. But, everything else gets worked around the priorities.
At anywhere from about 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., I will close up the Center, come home and fix dinner (and clean up afterwards so I do not have a mess to deal with later - but sometimes Donna cooks or cleans up), get my laundry out of the dryer, and if I can avoid the temptation to sit back in front of a DVD or VHS movie, I will sit down where I am right now, and pick one of the many tasks awaiting attention – maybe even working on this newsletter – but it has been a while since I have worked on my backlog of photography too. And, I still have some website work I did this week and last, which needs uploading to the wsharing site. Plus, it is already 12:11 p.m. That is longer than I intended to spend on the newsletter this morning.
(Inserted note: I did come back to work on this in the evening. I logged onto the computer around 7:30 and opened up the newsletter to work on probably between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m. It is 10:36 p.m. now and I still have page eight to do, but that is enough newsletter for tonight. It is time to switch to something easier. Maybe I will download some more Hubble photos for one of my exercise folders. It takes 700 pictures to do a slide show that gets me through my entire exercise routine.)
Perhaps you can begin to understand why my computer stays off from Friday at sundown until Monday morning, and I try to stay away from T&SC work during that time, unless absolutely necessary. There is no shortage of other work needing attention, and hopefully some leisure time can be found. Since we ask people to support the T&SC corporation, I thought you might like to see how I spend the hours of my day (as unpaid Executive Director) supporting it. That "retired" on my income tax form — does not truly quite say it all. But maybe I could . . . . ? Nah.