My Morning Prayer

Giving word cloud, Genotar /

Giving word cloud, Genotar /

Dear God,

As my son Zeke says in his daily prayers, so I say in our prayer this morning, "Thank you for all of the good things in the world."

One of those good things happened to me when I stopped by the water company to pay  my bill. I walked into the building and stopped at the receptionist's desk to borrow a pen to write the check. I heard a family behind me and turned a saw a small child leading her mother by the hand, a mother carrying a baby in the cradle of her arm. The child listened to her Mother speak to her in Spanish, then looked at the receptionist and asked in English, "Can you show us where to pay our bill."

Suddenly and surprisingly the child looked up at me and threw her arms around me in a happy hug. "Mr. Barton!" she said. "I'm glad to see you, Mr. Barton!"

Romney Says Tax Returns Would Publicize Private Mormon Tithing

Maria Dryfhout /

Photo: Mitt Romney campaign rally at Holland State Park, June 19 in Holland, Mich. Maria Dryfhout /

Mitt Romney says in a new interview that one of the reasons he’s distressed about disclosing his tax returns is that everyone sees how much money he and his wife, Ann, have donated to his Mormon church, and that’s a number he wants to keep private.

“Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given,” Romney tells Parade magazine in an edition due out on Aug. 26. “This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.”

Romney has released his 2010 tax returns in his White House campaign and, so far, a summary of last year’s tax information. But despite pressure from Republican opponents in the primaries and President Obama’s re-election campaign, Romney has refused to disclose more.

While it may not be a major reason, Romney says disclosing his charitable donations isn’t something he wants to do.

Atheists, Believers Both Do Good But for Different Reasons, Studies Say

Giving money photo, Konstantinos Kokkinis /

Giving money photo, Konstantinos Kokkinis /

Atheists and others who don’t adhere to a religion often say they can be good without God. Now, three new studies appear to back them up.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley conducted three experiments that show less religious people perform acts of generosity more from feelings of compassion than do more religious people. The findings were published in the current issue of the online journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Their results challenge traditional thinking about what drives religious people to perform acts of kindness for others.

“The main take-away from the research is that there may be very different reasons why more and less religious people behave generously, when they do,” said Robb Willer, an assistant professor of sociology at Berkeley and a co-author of the studies.

You Don't Have to Win the Mega Millions to Be Mega-Generous

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A sign displays the $640 Mega Millions jackpot at Liquorland on March 30 in California. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

This past weekend, millions of Americans crossed their fingers and tuned into the Mega Millions drawing, hoping that they would beat the odds and strike it rich. At my office, a pool was formed; I was the only one who opted out. Although it is good to dream, I did not want to waste my money on the slim odds. After the money was collected for the tickets, we went around the lunch table, and chatted about how we would all spend our Mega Millions. Nearly everyone mentioned giving away a significant chunk to charity.Of course, this is only the right thing to do, when one has so much money (their thought processes went).

This got me thinking ... Does it take $640 million to make a difference? What does it say about us, Americans, who live in the world's richest country – that we view radical generosity as a “rich person thing” for a later time?

Minnesota Church Finds the High Price of Supporting Gays

Empty church pews. Photo by Tony Marinella Photography/

Empty church pews with heavenly light. Photo by Tony Marinella Photography/

A small Minnesota church is finding out the high cost of standing up for same-sex equality — as well as an unexpected lifeline from the very people it decided to support.

When the Rev. Oliver White voted in favor of the United Church of Christ's endorsement of same-sex marriage in 2005, 72 percent of his predominantly African-American flock at Grace Community United Church in St. Paul couldn't stand with him.

The UCC's 2005 vote, he said, was "the beginning of the end of many UCC churches." Predominantly black churches like his suffered the most, he said, because the black community "was, and still is, very homophobic."

Because of White's vote, his church developed a reputation of being a "gay church" and people stopped coming. And stopped giving.

Nonprofits Oppose Obama's Charitable Deduction Changes

Photo via Getty Images.

Photo via Getty Images.

For the fourth year in a row, President Obama is proposing lower tax deductions for the wealthy on donations to churches and other nonprofit organizations. And for the fourth year in a row, nonprofit groups say the change would lead to a dramatic drop in charitable giving.

The reduction, included in Obama's 2013 budget proposal, rankled the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

"We were hoping this would not come up again this year. We asked that they not renew it, but unfortunately the request was not taken," said Nathan Diament, the group's Washington director. "It's a real concern."

The Morning News: Monday, Nov. 28, 2011

Policy-Making Billionaires, Poverty In The Midst Of Plenty: Hunger Persists In The United States; The Religion Of An Increasingly Godless America (OPINION); Evangelicals Flocking Toward Newt Gingrich; Rev. Jackson Calls For New War On Poverty; Improving Social Justice Indicators Will Create A Better U.S. (OPINION); Is The Black Church The Answer To Liberal Prayers?; Catholic Charities' Human Trafficking Program Loses Federal Funds; Air Force Academy Adapts to Pagans, Druids, Witches and Wiccans.

News: Morning Quick Links

Occupy Wall Sreet, false idols and a moral economy. Breaking the cycle of poverty. Poorest poor in U.S. hits a new record: 1 in 15 people. As poverty deepens, giving to the poor declines. Arianna Huffington: Shakespeare, the Bible and America's shift into a punitive society. Peaceful Occupy Oakland march followed by late-night clashes.

It's Finally Over -- and It Was Wrong

Finally, as President Obama has announced, this American war will soon be over, with most of the 44,000 American troops still in Iraq coming home in time to be with their families for Christmas.

The initial feelings that rushed over me after hearing the White House announcement were of deep relief. But then they turned to deep sadness over the terrible cost of a war that was, from the beginning, wrong; intellectually, politically, strategically and, above all, morally wrong.

The War in Iraq was fundamentally a war of choice, and it was the wrong choice.

Three Cups of Truth on the Greg Mortenson Controversy

I just watched a 60 Minutes expose on Greg Mortenson, co-author of Three Cups of Tea and co-founder of the nonprofit the Central Asia Institute. Watching this news story that accused Mortenson of fabricating key stories in his book, lacking organizational/financial transparency and effectiveness, and receiving "excessive" personal benefits from his organization felt like a punch in the gut, even if it's of the too familiar heroes-come-crashing-down variety.

It must have felt like a punch to many. None of us like to give our hard-earned pennies or dollars or peace prize money to someone who betrays our confidence.

I felt it in my gut, too, because Mortenson and I have a lot in common. We've both published two memoirs about our experiences and work for education in the developing world -- he in Afghanistan, and me in Haiti. We both travel to speak about our work -- albeit he on a much grander, best-selling-er scale than me. Once I stood for half an hour in a book line to talk with him for two minutes and he seemed touchingly humble and friendly.