Having a Moment:

Why We Shouldn’t Expect More from the G20….

Mohammed El-Erian posted on Bloomberg View and then on LinkedIn that the G-20 needs and missed a “Sputnik Moment.”  I responded on LinkedIn essentially as follows:

I think that it is unreasonable to expect a “Sputnik Moment” from the G-20, or frankly from almost any challenge we face today.  Sputnik was the moment it was, because it represented an immediate and existential threat in the minds of most Americans.  It was a singular event that actually occurred, rather than a potential result that might come about.  The USSR had the bomb and they had the ability to be overhead whenever they chose.

A full quarter century after the end of the cold war, we tend to forget how that tension between the Communists and the Capitalists gripped the public policy decision making, but it was a military/security policy.  Physical security is tangible to most humans.  We are hardwired to be concerned with it.  Economics is different.  It is disconnected from our physical concerns.

The motivator today is the existential threat that is perceived (I say wrongly perceived) in immigration and terrorism.  Despite Sputnik and the race to the moon, stagnation still overwhelmed the U.S. economy in the 70’s.  And then, we recovered.  Only to fail again, recover, fail, and recover once more.  Sputnik presented a one way trip to annihilation.  Economics tends to present temporary challenges to be endured.

Economics involves far too many elements, is too imprecise, and involves too many competing perspectives to be a galvanizing force until an event takes place.  Even then, economic events tend to be regional.  Unlike nuclear bombs dropping, they do not affect every interest in the same way.  Sputnik was a moment for the United States and their rival the Soviet Union.  The response required a motivated nation, not a negotiated, coordinated, multinational effort.  It was about one group competing against a second group.  Economics is not alone.  These are the challenges that face environmentalists worried about climate change and public health advocates concerned about potential epidemics and officials trying to reign in North Korea or find peace in the Middle East.  The human tendency is to react to their current condition and the immediate prospects for changing that condition for good or ill.

Mr. El-Erian may very well be right that the lack of coordinated action will lead to multi-generational challenges and political instability, but lack of action is a condition, not an event.  Unfortunately, like the proverbial frog in the water being heated to a boil, there is unlikely to be a convincing, galvanizing argument to be made until it is too late and a global contagion has begun.

For us individual actors, the questions are similar: What things might happen?  What might we do about them when they do?  How do we prepare today to take those potential actions in the future?  Are there actions we can take that can shape what actually does happen?

Advertisements

The Middle Out Economic Theory

I was thinking about Nick Hanauer’s economic idea of “middle out” recently and I opened the calculator app on my phone to help me get a sense of scope.  I thought my calculator was broken.  If you work for 40 hours at the Federal minimum wage, you earn….. $290.  If Bill Gates’s net worth rounds to $80 Billion dollars (what’s a hundred million between friends) and there are 3.3 Million people who work for the Federal minimum, Mr. Gates could pay the salaries 3.3 million salaries and still have enough to spend the median U.S. income ($51,000) every year for 610,000 years (this ignores inflation and any earnings on the money, but I would assume that that would only wind up in Bill’s favor).

I do not begrudge Bill Gates his billions.  And I am not advocating that he pays all those salaries; I am just pointing out that he COULD.  But when I think about the nearly incomprehensible chasm separating the wealthiest and the poorest, I can’t help but think…. we could do better.

Money, Value, and Evangelization

I have researched the relationship between faith and finance for many years (you can see a recent presentation on the topic here).  One of the points I make frequently when I discuss the subject of money is that it is a tool and that the tool is not the problem, it is how we use the tool, that can be problematic.

Jeffrey Arrowood, a few months back, posted an article on his site, newcatholicevangelization.com, that I think is worth reading.  Briefly his argument is that the Church should charge for adult education programming.  And as a marketer I will tell you his reasoning is sound.  People perceive more value for things that have a higher price tag.  If it costs a lot, it must be good.  If it is free, well you get what you pay for.

There are many reasons that parishes (and dioceses) may not charge for their adult ed programming.  Some of the reasons are better than others, but the reason that I sympathize with the most is tying the Church to money (and money making).  I think Mr. Arrowood’s response to this is accurate, but limited.  To this end, the fundamental point is that we must create and demonstrate value. This idea itself can be offensive to the faithful.  Value!?  We’re talking about eternal life!  What could be more valuable than that?!  You can’t put a price tag on that!

Think for a moment about the truly brilliant marketing campaign conducted by VISA… the “Priceless” campaign.  Their value proposition was that VISA allows you to buy the things necessary to do the things that create priceless memories.  The Church doesn’t offer eternal life, but access to it.  How a parish (or Diocese) provides access to the eternal is its value proposition.  Classic questions to determine a value proposition are:

  • What makes your product or service valuable?
  • What makes it better than your competitors’?
  • Why would a customer purchase it?
  • How does it benefit people?
  • What problem(s) does it solve?
  • What about your organization enhances your product or service?

If we are going to be serious about evangelizing, which is marketing the Church, we need to understand the value proposition in a way that we can articulate clearly.  Certainly one of the ways to communicate value is pricing, but there is more to it than that.

Evangelization = Marketing

Men Matter

It is ironic that today we have to make this reminder, but men matter.  A Pew Research study recently showed that men are significantly less likely to acknowledge a religious affiliation.  This and other findings in the report confirm what most of know intuitively just looking around the mass and it highlights that men matter to the future of the church.

Men don’t practice their faith, but they still have tremendous influence at home, right?  When I was a kid, I had an aunt who went to mass every weekend.  She brought the kids; my uncle stayed home.  When his son got to be about 12 years old, he “got to” stay home with Dad rather than go to church with Mom (and his older sister).  This doesn’t automatically translate to attendance and strong faith as an adult, but it can’t help.

We must do a much better job of understanding our audience.  A few months back, I mentioned the book Rebuilt, one of the major changes that parish leadership did is define a particular type of man as their principle “market niche” (they didn’t use that term, but that is what they meant in my language).  They recognized if they got Dad to church, they’d get families to church.  The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has recently launched an effort called Catholic Disciplemen.

Our church here in CT, St. Mary’s, has launched a significant effort to revitalize the faith of men in the parish.  This effort includes everything from prayer groups to mid-week, early morning basketball.  What does basketball have to do with faith.  Well, that depends.  If the basketball is being played on church property, led by active parishioners with an effort toward building personal relationships between members of the parish and beyond… a lot.

 

The Hard Choice, The Only Choice

Though not really about “the business” of faith per se, the Michael Novak piece in Crisis Magazine articulates well the challenges of the business.  The piece describes the challenges and distractions to be faced by young people as they consider their faith (and remaining Catholic) in their lives to come.  I reblogged a piece by Julia Smucker that puts a finer point on the reality of faith in the context of the state throughout all ages.

Both of these articles remind us that faith is not supposed to be easy to live out.  The reason that’s true is better left to theological minds better than mine.  I want to focus on what we as humble disciples do about that truth; that Catholic (or catholic) is countercultural.

By definition, we answer to a different authority than the rest of our fellow Americans.  I have recently written in rather glowing terms about Pope Francis and his approach to church management and leadership.  The genius of Pope Francis as Pope in the modern world is his ability to maintain the position of the Church, but shift the focus.

We can do the same.  We can take and share the view that the truth is hard, or (my recommendation) we can take and share the view that it is liberating.  In my talks on Faith and Finance I regularly make the point that we are, if we are faithful, unencumbered by “peer pressure”.  We have no need to keep up with the Joneses.  Jesus came to bring Good News to the marginalized.  We are called to be with the marginalized in body and spirit.  Think about how much easier it is to be marginalized than popular.

 

Media, Control, and Pope Francis

Are we faced with “A media exploiting every information gap to construct an image of the pontificate which goes far beyond anything that Francis has said or done”? I would say probably, but I am not sure. More importantly, is this a problem? I would say probably not.

These questions were raised in a post on Vatican Monday.  I am curious to know how the Pope is perceived in other countries, because I think all the evidence is that in the United States he has overwhelming “favorables”. This article’s author seems to be much more concerned that the Church not be perceived to be changing than I would be. She adamantly states that despite the expectations placed on this Pontificate for change that “In fact, the Church has not changed. The truths of the faith have remained the same. Perhaps, the only thing that has changed is the approach. And it is mostly a matter of style”. This seems to suggest that style doesn’t matter. I would disagree. Style does matter. But also, I think that there is more than “style” that has changed at the Vatican since Francis’ arrival.

Ms. Gagliarducci points out that “Pope Francis is practicing an informal Papacy”. She cites his frequent phone calls and unscheduled interviews and claims they should be “considered as the pastoral visits of a Pope who cannot leave the Vatican as often as he would like to”. I think that this pastoral focus (or approach) is a very significant change and far more than a matter of style.

In the author’s own words: “This pastoral approach is the model that Pope Francis wants to give to the Church. An inclusive approach, going to the encounter of everyone. Even lifting up the role of laymen and – why not – women in the ranks of the Church”. This emphasis, in my opinion, has been how he has so quickly turned the media to his favor. It is a change; not in the totality of the message; and certainly not in the core beliefs of the Church, but a significant change.

The author believes “making public the content of phone calls and meetings without proper oversight of the message in advance, or a heads-up to the Vatican communications offices, has its perils”, and that “the greatest risk is having Pope Francis’ words manipulated”. I disagree with both of these assertions. Tightly controlled messages don’t work in this era of media, and the greatest risk to not have the Church engaged in conversation with the world.

The media doesn’t believe tightly controlled messages and digs for dissenting truths. These many and varied conversations made public force the media into a position of interpreting and analyzing, rather than discrediting. The media must react to developing stories rather than act to create a story. The media becomes part of a conversation, where broad ideas and nuance both have a place. I would argue that it is exactly the opposite of having the media set the agenda.

One of the two central issues in the posting is that of divorce and remarriage highlighted by Pope Francis’ reported exchanges with a woman in Argentina who married a divorced man. What a great thing to make public! In the United States anyway, divorce is a HUGE problem. How should people relate to the Church in the face of it? Ms. Gagliarducci says that “Pope Francis wants to underline that the divorced and remarried, even if they cannot take Communion, must not be marginalized from life of the Church. To the contrary, they must be included”. If that isn’t a change, it is news to many inside and outside the Church- and that news ought to get out. In a tightly controlled messaging, it probably wouldn’t.

The Church isn’t alone in concerns about the ubiquity of information and not having control, but the reality is that there is no longer an ability to control information. What organizations need to do is influence the interpretation of information. Today we call this “engagement”.

I have seen this propensity to try to control information, hurt parish operation on a local level. Years ago, as part of a parish council, I received a financial report that blatantly ommitted lines in the P&L statement, so that it was obvious that the numbers didn’t add. Today, I can’t remember what the line items were hidden, I only recall that they didn’t trust us with the full story. Others will still wonder what they were hiding or what they did wrong that they didn’t want to let others know about. I am quite confident that nothing was inappropriate in the way the money was used, but because they didn’t trust the parishioners (or even the relatively small number of council members) they gave a tightly controlled message and we reacted negatively, fixated on the omissions, not their message.

I believe that all the faithful can take a lesson from the Holy Father, actually two, in dealing with information. 1.) Don’t be afraid. Let the information out. Let the discussion happen. Let the people come to the truth, guide them in the discernment. 2.) Focus on the Love as Law, not the law in its minutiae.