Tell the story to the ones who will listen …

The market isn’t always ‘right’, if right means that it knows how to get what it wants in the long run. Too often, we are confused, or misled, or part of a herd headed in the wrong direction.

It’s almost impossible to bring the mass market to its senses, to insist that you know better. What you can do, though, is find discerning and alert individuals who will take the time to understand. And then, if you’re good and patient and lucky, they’ll tell the others.

Which is why, over the last thirty years, farmers markets and other entities have slowly grown in influence. Because happy customers tell stories about remarkable products and services.

When you see the corn paradox, label it and act accordingly. Tell stories for the few, help them to spread.

via Seth Godin’s post “The Naked Corn Paradox

Can we talk?

The following is yesterday’s column that appeared in Kinston’s FREE PRESS.

Can We Talk?

By Rev. Allen Bingham / Columnist
Published: Friday, December 5, 2014 at 05:31 PM.

In my younger years I was cruising way too fast near the N.C. State University campus and a Raleigh police officer pulled me over for speeding. We discussed my speed and then with some sophomoric smart talk I was able to wiggle out of the ticket. As we parted the officer said “You’d better drive more carefully on ‘my streets’.” That was ironic! Recent news reports revealed that because of the increasing rise in the cost of living, most of Raleigh’s police officers lived in Garner. So I bit my tongue as I thought about the fact this “his streets” were most likely in Garner while “these” streets had been “my streets” for two decades. Both of us failed to see how “we” could live together in the city.

Years later I witnessed a friend of mine being treated as an outsider on another college campus. As we parted company after walking from the Theological School to the Student Center of Drew University a member of the campus security continued to follow him to his dorm. Later in the week I noticed this happening again.

Now my friend Noel was a big man! He was 6-feet 4-inches and must have weighed 275 pounds, but that was not why he was being followed. He was being followed across campus because he was an oddity at Drew. He was not odd because he was a theological student or even that he was a Baptist at a United Methodist seminary. No, Noel was simply a big black man out of place among the mostly white coeds of this small liberal arts college.

I asked Noel how often this occurred and he shrugged as he said “I’m just ‘walking while black’ and this happens constantly. I asked Noel what could be done about this. When he replied, “Nothing,” that made me mad. Noel was (and still is) my friend. He had been elected the president of the predominantly United Methodist theological school student body even though he was a “Baptist.” I made an appointment with the dean of the theological school and then the president of the university. I expressed my outrage that somebody the theological school trusted to represent us in every situation was being treated this way. Then I went to the head of campus security and handed him Noel’s picture, informed him of Noel’s status as a student, and demanded that he tell his team to back off.

Noel was able to walk without being followed by campus security from that point forward, but only on that campus. In the real world he is still subjected to “driving while black” and “walking by black” stops by police officers. And he pastors one of the largest churches in the city where he currently resides.

Recent news events have me bothered one more time as the tension between police officers and the communities they serve are being strained. The strain is rooted in an “us” and “them” mentality. As Marilyn Patrick, director of ICOR, recently reminded me. We have to remember every time we have a conversation with another person that “we” have to talk. “We” can talk, but “us” and “them” can never get together to talk (we only shout!). So I invite you to continue learning how to listen to the other person in the conversation. (Remember that LISTEN split in half and the letters rearranged leads to the spiritual practice of being SILENT). Then I invite you to speak in the first person plural about how “we” are going to mend “our” ways rather then lapse into all to familiar patterns of talking about “us” and “them.” In God’s eyes “them” is “us” when “we” are talking about being God’s children.

Allen Bingham is the Pastor of Queen Street United Methodist Church and can be reached at allen@queenstreetchurch.org.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

The following is yesterday’s column for The Free Press of Kinston, NC.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

By Allen Bingham, Columnist.

Published: Friday, August 2, 2013 at 20:34 PM.

Forty-six years ago, Fred Rogers stepped through the door of the American psyche, stooped to change into his sneakers, and sang to us “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?”

Someone wanted to be a neighbor. Someone wanted to be my friend. I grew up with this invitation increasingly being ignored as we built homes that moved us in a different direction.

In the world of Mr. Rogers’ first neighborhood, most of us parked our cars in the driveway or on the street and walked into our homes. While we walked into our homes, we greeted our neighbors and swapped the news of the neighborhood.

As we added carports and ultimately garages, we saw this ritual transform into folks returning home to their castles and pulling up the drawbridges behind them as they closed the garage door. Being neighbors at that moment moved from being in relationship with each other to living next door to one another.

The transformation was made complete as we moved from front porch conversations with whoever passed down the street to invitation-only backyard barbecues. We chose our friends and tolerated our neighbors as long as they kept the grass cut, the trash can hidden and the noise down when they partied. Some of us lament the mobile phone for leading us into an increasingly self-absorbed world, but we were well on the way long before the first bag phone landed in the American car.

Being a neighbor has always been a vexing question. When Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?” he told the parable of the Good Samaritan as found in Luke’s gospel. And as he told the story, he revealed that neighbors are made known in their personal actions in a time of need and not their geographical proximity.

Several weeks ago the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin saw the breakdown in neighborliness on full display. A person who coordinated the community watch did not know his neighbors well enough to know that “the Martin boy from Miami” was visiting his dad for the weekend.

When the screams of the struggle echoed through their backyards, folks called 911, but no one came to break up the fight. And when you kill your neighbor, for whatever cause or defense, the fracture of relationship is severed forever.

The verdict revealed further fractures with our neighbors around the reality of race relations in our country. The “some day” of “we shall overcome” still remains on the horizon.

We can and should talk about the events in Sanford, Fla. I am in conversation with other pastors to shape these conversations together. But here is a problem we need to deal with.

Can you tell me the names of your 10 closest geographical neighbors? Do you know where they work? Do you know their children and if they live at home? Do you know your neighbor?

I confess that I cannot answer all these questions about my neighbors, and I am going to work on that.

So here is your challenge this week. Meet your neighbor, plan a block party and make it an annual event. Help the single mother down the street make a repair on her home. Volunteer with each other at your local school or down at the soup kitchen.

Start asking “Won’t you be my neighbor?” AND BE ONE!

Spare Change Living and Giving

Ken Stern asks “the wealthiest Americans donate 1.3 percent of their income; the poorest, 3.2 percent. What’s up with that?”

One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.

Ken Stern, Why the Rich Don’t Give to Charity, The Atlantic, April 2013

I remember Jesus once observing a woman quietly slipping a few coins into the offering box at the temple’s entrance and then calling his disciples together with these words:

“I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on” (Mark 12:43-44, CEB)

How is your spirit of generosity in these times?