Monthly Archives: December 2010

2010 Top 10

Drum roll please…the top ten post of 2010 are as follows:

#10 – The Irony of Being Called a Socialist

#9 – Making Sense of the Senseless

#8 – Panhandlers: To give or not to give?

#7 – Racial Reconciliation in Richmond Virginia?

#6 – Jesus Brought Sweet Potatoes

#5 – Healing the Wounds of the Bible Belt

#4 – Handouts Do Not Equal Social Justice

#3 – Religionless Christianity: Finding God Outside the Institutional Church

#2 – Has the Light Gone Out?

#1 – Ministering to the Minister: Reflections from the Teresa Lewis Vigil

I have really enjoyed writing these posts but my favorite part of blogging is reading your comments.   Thank you for sharing your ideas, insights, frustrations, hopes and dreams with me this past year.  Looking forward to what 2011!

Happy New Year!

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Filed under Personal Reflection, Top Post's of All Time

2011 Dreaming

I've looked at clouds that way ...photo © 2008 Melissa Goodman | more info (via: Wylio)Embrace Richmond grew out of the intersection of the dreams of my suburban neighbors who wanted to help those in need and the dreams of a homeless woman who wanted to give back.  So every year around this time, I spend time dreaming about what the next year might hold.  Honestly, prior to 10am today, my dream for 2010 was to keep Embrace Richmond afloat and maintain the level of ministry we currently have.  Like most non-profits, we have seen a drop in financial giving but have been blessed not to have to cut staff or services.

But those dreams of maintaining were before God brought an angel into my life.  After a local church’s recommendation and spending some time reading about Embrace on our website and my blog, this individual contacted me and we met for coffee.  An hour into our meeting, this God-send of a person gave me what is, for Embrace Richmond, a significant donation and expressed a desire to become a partner with us in our ministry on an on-going basis.  Tonight, I am dreaming anew about 2011.

If I could do anything for God in the next year and had all the financial resources I needed, I would strengthen and expand the ministry of Embrace Richmond.  I would bring my amazing staff members on full-time, mobilize more AmeriCorps members, and find a facility where all my team members have room to work.

Imagine with me a moment:  What if this whole city started dreaming God-sized dreams, from the formerly homeless men and women, to house wives, to corporate executives?  What if everyone gave what they have: time, talents and treasures?  What if instead of building more programs we empowered people to “see the need and meet the need” without bureaucracy or political maneuvering.  What if this city really did unite across race, class and religious affiliation?  Can you imagine how different this city would be a year from now?

My dreams for 2011 include:

Monthly gatherings of people from across the city, from all different faith traditions, who put their faith to work in Richmond’s most under-resourced communities by joining hands with the residents of those communities and blessing those in need.

Regular gathering of people who are interested in addressing the root causes of poverty in our city who gather to learn about the existing services in the city as well as how they can help address the gaps in our existing systems; people who are willing to put their collective wisdom together to come up with strategies that lead to real long-term change.

Weekly gatherings of residents in under-resourced communities who are willing to give what they have to make the community a safer, healthier place to live for their families and their neighbors.

Teams consisting of leaders from under-resourced communities and future ministry leaders serving together in at-risk communities while they earn a living allowance and an education grant and gain valuable work experience.

Women and men who have experienced financial prosperity learning from and journeying alongside materially disadvantaged men and women in a way that transforms and enriches the lives of all.

I truly believe that if we unleash the gifts, talents and resources that already exist in the greater Richmond community we will be able to significantly reduce poverty in our city.

Pray God pours out blessings upon this amazing donor and all those who have given to Embrace Richmond this year.  Thank you for empowering our dreams!   I know this has been a hard year for many of our supporters and I value the gifts of all of you: both the financial gifts as well as your gifts of time and talents.  Together we can change this city, one person, one neighborhood, one congregation at a time.

So what are your God-sized dreams for 2011?

Interested in monthly gatherings for you and your whole family to serve together?  Check out our Faith Works events at www.embracerichmond.org.
Interested in learning more about poverty in metro Richmond and how you can make a difference?  Check out Unity Works workshops at www.embracerichmond.org.
Interested in learning more about our weekly community gatherings in under-resourced communities?  Check out the Community Works initiatives at www.embracerichmond.org.
Interested in serving as an AmeriCorps member through Embrace Richmond?  Contact Wendy McCaig at www.embracerichmond.org.
Interested in volunteering at Embrace Richmond? Contact Qasarah Bey at Qasarah@embracerihcmond.org.
Interested in supporting Embrace Richmond financially? Contact Wendy McCaig at wendy@embracerichmond.org .

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Filed under Personal Reflection, Urban Ministry

Creating Safe Spaces: Preventing Addiction?

3D Full Spectrum Unity Holding Hands Conceptphoto © 2007 Scott Maxwell | more info (via: Wylio)Life is filled with hard issues.  Every day we are confronted with feelings of grief, anger, sadness, guilt, shame and disappointment.  This week I have been dealing with a lot of grief and anger over the loss of my nephew.  One of the hardest lessons in life is learning how to deal with negative emotions in healthy ways.  Some of us develop good coping skills that help us excel in life and others of us adopt coping strategies that actually handicap us or inflict harm over the long haul.

I shared in my post “Making Sense of the Senseless” that the vast majority of the pain and heartache I see is caused by substance abuse.  I shared that if I could wave a magic wand I would eradicate substances from the face of the earth.  However, as I have been praying about that statement, I realized that the substances are not the issue.

I realized that most of the people I know who have become addicts, abuse substances as a coping mechanism.  The substances are not the issue; it is the lack of coping skills that is at the root of the issue.  This is not true for every addict and there is no one size fits all cure for any complex issue.  However, I think there is enough evidence to support this as a significant contributor to addiction.

Many of the addicts I know who have managed to maintain their sobriety have shared that the most powerful coping strategy they have found involves surrounding themselves with safe people who can help them process negative emotion.  This is why AA and NA are so powerful.    When we isolate ourselves and try to process our emotions alone, we are often hurting too much to rationally work through the issue.  Many turn to drugs or other destructive behaviors to numb out the pain.   Sometimes we have a distorted view of the issue and come to conclusions that are harmful.  However, when we have safe people in our lives that we can share our pain with, they can help us discern truth from lies and help us move forward in a way that brings healing.

Janie, our Embrace Program Director, shared with me a beautiful story about our community gathering this past week.  She created space in our regular gathering for people to share where they saw God this Christmas or anything else they wanted to share about their holiday experience.  Everyone shared openly and honestly about their Christmas holiday.  Most shared stories of gratitude and joy-filled times with family while others shared that spending time with family was actually hard for them.  The group laughed together and cried together but everyone shared how grateful they were to have a supportive place to share their stories.

After the meeting one of the participants stayed behind and shared that he had a very difficult Christmas and had fallen into a severe depression.  Janie spent time just listening to him share his pain and watched as he became visibly unburdened.  He thanked her and expressed his gratitude for Embrace’s presence in the community.

In my previous post, I shared that Embrace was not directly addressing issues of substance abuse in our communities. I realized this week that by creating safe space and filling it with safe people, we are getting at the root of the issue and helping people find healthier ways to deal with the hard things in life.  One truth about impoverished communities is that there is not only a material poverty but also a social poverty.  Our friends are surrounded by unsafe people so they often isolate which leads to depression and often destructive behaviors.

I think much of the addiction we see in our society could be prevented if we did a better job of creating safe spaces for people to process emotions.  I am sad to say that often the church is seen as one of the most unsafe places in our society for those dealing with negative emotions.  Too many Christians see negative emotions as “un-Godly” and something to be avoided.  I have blogged extensively on this site about the value of lament but God keeps revealing to me over and over again the importance of creating that spaces for people to lament.

This past week as I have dealt with my own grief, I am so thankful to have so many safe people in my life who let me process my pain without trying to “fix it.”  There have been seasons in my life were I was not so lucky; times when the Christians said unhelpful things like “God is in control, just let go and let God” or “You just need to have more faith” or “Maybe God is trying to teach you something through this.”  I know those all sound like helpful remarks, but these kinds of statements made me feel like I was to blame for the pain or that my negative emotion made me less of a Christian. A more helpful response would be a listening ear, a hug, a word of encouragement, or a promise to pray.

I think if I could wave a magic wand and and change anything, I would create more safe spaces for people to share life together. I don’t see negative emotions as something to be avoided because I know that it is through the hard things in life that we grow and mature.  Somehow those hard times aren’t so hard when we come together and journey through them as the family of God.  Thank you all for your love and support during this difficult season in my life.

So, what do you think?

Do you think creating safe spaces for people to share life’s ups and downs can actually prevent addiction?

Who are the safe people in your life?

Have you had seasons where you lacked a safe place to share your negative emotions?

How effective do you think the church is in creating this kind of space?

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Filed under Community Development, Stories from the Street, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

Insights from When Helping Hurts – post #2

I am currently blogging my way through the book “When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself.” As I shared in my first post, the author starts by asking foundational theological questions.  How you answer these questions will shape how you approach those who are materially poor.  I think the reason Christians are not more unified around caring for the poor comes down to our basic theological differences and how we answer these questions which I shared in the first post.

Why did Jesus come to earth? Like the authors, I believe Jesus answers that question in Luke 4:17-21, his first sermon, where Jesus reads the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

He also spoke directly to the reason he came in Luke 4: 43 ““I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”  My answer to this question would be Jesus came to usher in God’s Kingdom here on earth, a kingdom where everything is healed and where there is no more suffering.

What is the task of the church? The authors draw from Isaiah to answer this question. Both from chapter 1 vs 16, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!  Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” and chapter 58:9-10, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

The authors also point to 1 John 3:16-18 which reads “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”   In other words, the role of the church is to continue Jesus work of ushering in the kingdom by caring for the poor and oppressed and reducing the suffering on this earth.

Our faith is not some privatized belief system or pious code we are to follow to achieve personal holiness.  God is not Santa Claus just sitting around waiting for our wish list so he can bestow blessings upon us if we are not naughty.  Our faith is not about having some secret knowledge or being a faithful member of some private club.  Our beliefs are expressed not only through words but through our love for those our Lord loved.  The church should be active, alive, transformative and should further the mission of Christ and usher in God’s Kingdom here on earth.  OK – I’ll step down off my soap box and dispense with the preaching.

While the authors of this book are clearly conservative evangelicals, I found much of this book very affirming and a much needed resource for evangelicals who desire to do this kind of work.  The authors were wise to start this conversation about alleviating poverty with a clear theological grounding.   Those who seek to serve the materially poor out of a humanist concern or whose desire grows out of some other theological foundation are often the ones who get hurt in the process or who unintentionally hurt others.  When we enter into this work out of a clear desire to live as Christ in the world, we are able to build on a solid foundation.

Do you agree with the authors answers to the above questions?  If not, how would you answer these questions.  How do your answers impact your approach to ministering to the materially poor?

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Filed under Community Development, Theology, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

Making Sense of the Senseless

teenager-drug addictsphoto © 2003 Artem | more info (via: Wylio)
As many of you are aware, my 22 year old nephew died last Thursday.  While we do not have the full details, we are fairly certain substances were involved.

I spend my days in the streets of the poorest neighborhoods where I see substances stealing the lives of people on every corner.  While some are still breathing, their life is no longer their own.  I guess in some ways I have rationalized the insanity of substance abuse in impoverished communities by seeing it as an escape from the hopelessness that is so pervasive in these neighborhoods.  However, the events of this past week, the loss of a young man who had everything to live for, have sent me reeling. I am on a quest for answers to this epidemic that extends into every corner of our society.

We are in the process of conducting a survey in our Hillside community and one of the questions that we are asking residents is, “If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your community in the next year, what would you change?”  I am crystal clear on what I would change.  I would eliminate all substances from the face of the earth.  In my world 90% of the pain and suffering I see is caused by substance abuse.  The thing that is hardest for me to deal with is just how insane it all is: people losing their lives senselessly.  While I am dealing with emotions of grief this morning, I am also wrestling with a lot of anger.

Through my work at Embrace, I tend to encounter people who have lost years of their lives to substances and countless family members.  Our team helps people put their lives back together.  But if we could stop young people from falling into this hellish pit in the first place, we would save lives and prevent so much suffering.  In lieu of flowers, my sister asked me to find a program that was effectively preventing substance abuse in her area.  I did some research and could only find drug treatment programs.  I started thinking about Richmond and could only think of effective drug treatment programs.  I am sure there are great prevention programs out there, but I am not aware of them.

I apologize for the random nature of this post.  I am sleep deprived, distraught, discouraged, angry, and confused today.  Can you help me make some sense out of any of this?  Below are the questions I would love answers to.

1.)    Why are so many people in our society abusing substances?

2.)    Are there effective programs out there that prevent substance abuse?

3.)    If you were to design a substance abuse prevention program, what would it look like?

Please keep my sister and her family in your prayers. She has vowed to use her pain to help save other young people and I want to support her in that quest.

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Filed under Personal Reflection, Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry

Advent Conspiracy with a Twist

Advent wreath completephoto © 2005 Rae Whitlock | more info (via: Wylio)I know a lot of congregations are trying to fight against the materialism and consumerism that have taken over this sacred season by encouraging their parishioners to spend less on gifts and give more to missions.  I think this is a great way to persevere the true spirit of Christmas.  However, during the December synchroblog I read a post by John C. O’Keefe who had an even better suggestion.

“This Advent many of us will light candles for Peace, Love, Joy and Hope.  Instead of just lighting candles we should be asking some important questions.  What have we done for peace?  What have we done to share the love of God, through us, to others?  How have we brought joy to the lives of others?  Have we brought hope to others? “

John got me thinking. What if every church in Richmond, rather than just light a candle for Peace, Love, Joy and Hope actually engaged in activities that promote peace, love, joy and hope.  That would be a real conspiracy and an amazing way to journey toward the coming of Christ on Christmas.

I would be willing to help any church in the metro Richmond area who would like to embrace this advent idea next year.  Hope someone out there will take me up on this offer.  I think it would be great fun!  Embrace team, what do you think?  Could we plan some opportunities for extending peace, love, joy and hope into the Richmond community next year over advent?

What do you think of this idea?  Would you and your family be interested in participating?

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Filed under missional church

Insights from “When Helping Hurts” – post #1

Several people have recommended the book “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert so I ordered myself an early Christmas gift.  Over the next few weeks I will be sharing insights from the book and inviting you to share insights from your own journey.

In the introduction the author states

“North American Christians are simply not doing enough.  We are the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth.  Yet, most of us live as though there is nothing terribly wrong in the world… Many observers believe that when North American Christians do attempt to alleviate poverty, the methods used often do considerable harm to both the materially poor and the materially non-poor.  Our concern is not just that these methods are wasting human, spiritual, financial, and organizational resources but that these methods are actually exacerbating the very problems they are trying to solve.”

In the first chapter the author asks these foundational questions.

Why did Jesus come to earth?

What is the primary task church?

How we answer these questions will shape how we approach the materially poor.

I have just started reading the book and would love to know if anyone else out there has read it?  If so, what were your take-a-ways?

How would you respond to the author’s introductory observation?  Do you think North American’s do too little and do what we do in a way that causes harm?

How would you answer the authors foundational questions?  Do you agree that our Christology and Ecclisiology shape the manner in which we engage the poor?

Hope you will join me on this journey through this highly praised book.  If you don’t own it, you might want to add it to your Santa wish list. It looks like it is going to be a great read.

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Filed under missional church, Theology, Unity Works Reading