Sunday, November 16, 2008

Diocesan Convention Stories

A major part of the joy of attending our local, annual Diocesan Convention with the ministry-which-is-the-store as vendor with the exhibits is the interactions with the attendees. Many have become friends over the years, others are quickly becoming friends, others are just very interesting to talk with. Here are a few stories from this weekend’s convention, from our view with out exhibit.

The alphabetical Episcopalian: He told me that when he was about 20 years old he decided to shop for a different religious tradition than the Mormonism in which he was raised. He studied a book that listed the characteristics of each denomination and found four that he thought worthy of checking out. They were Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Episcopalians. Since there were congregations of each of those in the town where he lived he thought that he would begin looking at them alphabetically. He visited the Episcopal church, found it to his liking and did not leave. He said, “So, I’m an alphabetical Episcopalian.”

The priest who is a competitive rower told us of her success this summer at a big regatta on the Charles River. She also commended her congregation who supports her in her rowing passion by allowing her to be away from her congregation on four Sundays this past year so that she could compete in rowing regattas.

Two intertwined stories from a Franciscan monk visiting the convention from Alaska: We have a priest friend who lives in a town near Anchorage. We have not met him in person. Over many years, with many phone conversations we have shared our lives with each other. The Franciscan monk knows the priest. We plied Br. E with many questions about our priest friend whom we have not actually met in person as we also shared our stories of his life with the monk. What fun it was to learn that our priest friend is, among many other attributes, “normal size” and not the large bear of a man that we have created in our minds’ eyes!

Alaska has been without a bishop for several years. Because of the remoteness of the communities in Alaska and the long, community-held traditions that vary from place to place, the monk described to us how difficult it is to have the clergy in that diocese meet together and share common church-related traditions. The new bishop, whomever that may turn out to be, will have a special challenge with that diverse and geographically as well as theologically expansive diocese.

This year was the second convention for our diocese’s new bishop. It warmed our hearts that he made a quick tour of the exhibitors at the convention. It is easy for the exhibitors to think of themselves as important to the convention but also an easily overlooked ministry whose participants are taken for granted. That the bishop made an appearance, even if cursory, was important to all of those who were working the booths in the exhibit hall. The bishop stopped by our booth and shook our hands. He spent perhaps one minute in our booth, but that is a longer visit than we can remember of former bishops in the twenty-six years that we have been exhibiting at diocesan convention.

Nancy and I ended our store's presence at the annual diocesan convention of the Episcopal Church in W. Washington yesterday. We had decided to include a bible give-away as part of our exhibit. There is a new edition, the Green Bible, with all of the passages that encourage care for the environment printed with green (soy-based, environmentally friendly) ink. It also has theological articles in it about the environment. Convention attendees could enter their name to win the bible. Near the end of the last plenary session we had a drawing for the winner. A convention page then delivered the bible to the winner during the meeting, a woman from Port Angeles. After the session ended the winner came to our booth to warmly thank us. She is one of those who "never win anything" and she was thrilled. And, that made the donation even more enjoyable for us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Personalities: business and personal

Book publishers have personalities. It is no doubt obvious, but it surprises me that publishers and other businesses have personalities. Some publishers have the personality of cooperation for the betterment of everyone. Other publishers have the personality of maximizing for themselves short-term gains with little regard for others, including those retail stores that are selling their products.

It is, in my humble view, through the difference in a business' purpose that the different personalities appear. Is the main purpose of the business to maximize short-term profits or to meet the needs of their niche market and ensure their long-term health?

Here is my view of business history since World War II. At the end of the war many returning GIs started their own businesses. There became Lapenski Fuel, Magdanz Hardware, Tuell Funeral Home, and Shorey’s Books to name a few. From what I recall and can determine, the purpose of each business was “to find a need in the community and meet it.” The local community was vital to each business. You can see that by the support that they gave to community organizations from supporting bowling teams and children’s sporting teams to Scouts and school projects. Ah, more community involvement: when the local drug store saw a student shopping in the middle of the day, the store owner would often phone the school to see if the kid had permission to be not-in-school.

Sometime later business thinking changed. Perhaps it was in the 1960s when the emphasis on the individual bloomed. Perhaps it was the same time that the view of sports changed to that famous statement “winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” The big business model expanded to state and to act as “the bottom line is all that matters” and “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.”

I think that the results from this thinking changed to optimization of short-term profits for the owners while short-changing the long-term reliability of the business. The other event that encouraged this movement was the retiring of the many small business owners who began their businesses at the end of the war. A small business owner has a few choices for leaving the business: passing it on to the offspring, selling it to the highest bidder, or the famous “going out of business sale.” The offspring typically grew up with the business in the family and they knew the amount of commitment and effort that the parents put into the business, likely at the expense of better parenting. The offspring chose to do something else. Selling to the highest bidder encouraged larger businesses to expand by purchasing others. Offering shares of stock in the larger businesses allowed the managers to raise enough money to purchase more smaller businesses, whether funeral homes, hardware stores, or fuel companies, or bookstores.

Today’s result is that we have a few corporations that are now so large that the people and the government cannot allow them to fail because too many individuals will lose their jobs and the economy will become even worse.

When there are fifty auto manufacturers in the U.S. and three of them fail due to poor business practices of maximizing short-term gains for the owners and neglecting the long-term health of the business you have “a market correction” or a result of “you reap what you sow.” A few manufactures fail. But when the nation has only three major auto manufacturers and the decisions that they have made will put large numbers of wage earners out of work, then we have a nation-wide economic crisis. It is likewise in the financial industry where a few very large corporations have swallowed hundreds of small financial institutions over the years.

Each business has its own personality. We choose our friends in some respects by their personalities. Perhaps we choose the businesses we associate with in some respects by their personalities too. Can you name five businesses that you really enjoy working with and five that you work with but don’t enjoy? Does the personality of each business affect your feelings about those businesses?

The obvious next question is, “Why do you continue to work with those businesses that you don’t enjoy?”

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Election of a lifetime.

I did not party in the street after the election. I did not write about my feelings about it. I am hugely relieved that we have a chance for a change in the country that better fits what I think we can become, but I'm not yelling-happy about it. Yet again, why do my eyes mist when I hear reports of all sorts of people who are so thrilled? And, it touches me deeply that so many people, in so many places, in so many ways, are ecstatic about the results of the presidential election. The "silent majority" has shown its relief and hope, in my humble opinion. Maybe we all actually can work together for the betterment of the common good.