Monthly Archives: January 2011

Have you Hugged an Apostle Today?

Bald Eagle cruising on a freezing Alaskan morningphoto © 2008 Frank Kovalchek | more info (via: Wylio)

 

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:11-13


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3 Weeks, 3 Shootings, 3 Dead: Yet, The Promise Land Awaits

Earlier this week, I posted “Harmony and Gunfire”, a post in which I shared the blessings of our amazing MLK Day celebration and contrast it had with the gunfire that erupted just a few minutes after we left the community.  It was with fear and trembling that I hit the “post” button because there was this little voice asking, “Do you really want people to know that there was gunfire in the community during the daylight hours so close to an event?, What if people don’t come to Hillside anymore because they are afraid?”

On Tuesday night at 7pm, two women were gunned down in Hillside court, one losing her life.  Somehow through this tragedy, God has instilled boldness in my spirit. My petty fears over “What people will think?” or “How it will impact Embrace?”, now seem so ridiculous in the midst of the continued insanity that is all around my friends who live in Hillside court.  Three weeks into the new year, three shootouts, three dead.  It’s time to get over our fear and seek peace in our city!  I am thankful the Richmond Times Dispatch actually did a great write up laying out the detail of the murders in this small 440 unit complex.Read article here for a fuller background.

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Harmony and Gunfire: A Cry for Freedom on MLK Day 2011

Monday we had more than 40 volunteers from 4 local congregations turn out to celebrate MLK Day with us in Hillside and Fairfield Court.  We had over 300 community residents participate in these celebrations.  It was wonderful to see black, white, people of means, people with limited means, urban, suburban, Christian, non-Christian all together celebrating the progress this nation has made toward racial equality as a result of the sacrifice and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Letter to the White Moderate Christian – From Dr. Martin Luther King

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Mathew Ahmann, Executive Director of the National Catholic Conference for Interrracial Justice, in a crowd.], 08/28/1963photo © 1963 The U.S. National Archives | more info (via: Wylio)

Today all across this country countless readings of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” address will be read.  However, it is his words from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written on April 16, 1963 that I wanted to invite you to reflect upon today.  This letter was written to me – the white, moderate, Christian.  These excerpts still sting with the truth that they exposed back in 1963.

Below are the words of Dr. King:

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Where is Jesus?

Charles Fitzgerald

Charles Fitzgerald

Every time I teach Unity Works and people hear Charles’s story of how God set him free of addiction through an AA based recovery program, someone asks a question similar to this one from a participant a while back, “”I still have questions in my mind about the “God of my understanding”.  Does AA proclaim the Gospel or is the “God” a universal ie Budah, etc…..God? When and where is Jesus? I understand the challenge of needing to be non-denominational but how is Christ proclaimed?”

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Capacity to Accept the Blessing

Joy.Youth.Sky.Blue.Sun.Shine. Sunshine.Happinessphoto © 2006 Irina Iordachescu | more info (via: Wylio)
I don’t know what is broken inside my brain but for some reason when things are going good, I start expecting the sky to cave in.  I seem to have an extra dose of worry built into my DNA.

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The Nehemiah Strategy

Street Saints: Renewing America's Cities

Street Saints; Renewing America’s Cities by Barbara J. Elliott is one of my all time favorite books.  Elliott has captured stories from across the country that demonstrate the power of the ordinary person who seek to be a blessing to their community.  My favorite chapter is the chapter titled the “Nehemiah Strategy” through which Elliott shows us the power of organizing the efforts of grassroots initiatives using the analogy of the story of Nehemiah.  Below are some of my favorite quotes.

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The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat

I have always found people’s reaction to sports bizarre.  People painting their chests and going half naked to a ball game in the freezing cold to cheer on their team…what’s that?  Or even closer to home, my husband’s inability to eat before the Aggies play on television.  I even heard of people suffering from anxiety attacks on their way to watch their favorite team play.  Some of the biggest battles Chris and I have had in our early years of marriage centered around us having to plan our weekends around football games.  You can imagine the turmoil he experienced the years my birthday fell on Super Bowl Sunday!

However, Friday night, I was one of those crazy people who put the world on pause while I watched the Texas A&M Aggies play against the LSU Tigers.  I was the one jumping up and down when we scored and saying some words unfit for this publication when our defense failed to do its job.  In the end, my husband and I felt the agony of defeat last night – an agony which will be replayed when we have to face all the LSU Tiger fans at next year’s family reunion.

During the game, I was on Facebook with all my fellow Aggie Facebook friends and family during the game.  Some I have not seen since I was a student at Texas A&M.  There was this weird connection between us.  It was like I could feel their presence with me through their posts – the sense of elation when we scored – that pain of failure when the tigers scored.  We were mysteriously one with the players, the fans in the stadium and across the world.  As we intently stared at the TV praying for our team, we were connected.  I know it makes no sense.  But, I bet most of you know what I am talking about.  This morning I am trying to make sense of this strange phenomenon.

Recently I went to a conference that was hosted by an Australian.  He talked about the crazy obsession that Americans have for sports.  He said that through sports we experience a “tribal” connection.  His theory goes something like this.  In our busy, detached lives where individualism is so highly valued, American’s are starving for connection and identity.  We want to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.   In the heat of the sports battle, we feel that camaraderie that we seldom feel anywhere else in our modern world.

Yesterday, my daughter Caroline played her first basketball game of the season.  My husband and I joined the other parents in the bleachers and felt such pride as our lovely twelve-year-old daughter took to the floor.  Chris and I, who are typically mild mannered introverts who have always told our daughter to play nice, began yelling things like “KILL THEM!…GET HER!…GET AGGRESSIVE!”

Caroline is on a new team this year and we do not know any of the other parents.  However, the “us” and “them” was clear.  I instantly had a connection to parents cheering for the same team as me.   There is just something hardwired into our biology that makes us respond this way.  It honestly does not matter who wins the game.  It is just a game.  But for one hour, it was the most important thing in the world.  For one hour, I was surrounded by a community of believers who believed our team could win.  All our energy, all our attention was on this one thing.  In the end, we lost.  But today, we will do it all over again.

I woke up this morning wondering, “What if for one hour per week, Christian across this city showed up for a different kind of battle, a battle that really matters – a battle that truly was life or death?”  What if we showed up in the streets where kids are being literally killed and believed that God could work through us to stop the terror that is ripping apart our urban communities?

Over the New Year’s weekend, there was another double homicide in Hillside Court.  A man and a woman were both shot to death on the streets of that community.  This week the police were walking the streets of the community trying to find anyone who knew the victims or anything about the crime.  The residents, too fearful to speak out, “knew nothing.” There are terrorists right here in our own city, yet we pretend that the only war being waged is “over there.”

In the work we are doing in Hillside, we are trying to help the residents to see that as a community, they have power.  We want the residents to feel that same sense of camaraderie that we all experience through sports.  We want them to feel that same pride for their team.  We want them to feel it so deeply that they themselves will get into the game.  I wish I could bottle that sense of connectedness I felt Friday night and sprinkle it over the Hillside neighborhood.  I wish I could find some way of bringing that community together that would ignite that “Never Say Die” spirit of my Texas A&M Aggies in Hillside.  That sense of identity, connectedness and belonging is what is most needed for community transformation.

That is where people of faith from outside the community come in.  We are the cheerleaders, the fans in the stands, cheering them on.  Rather than read about Hillside in the paper and dismiss it as “just another tragedy.”  Our job is to get behind the team that is in the street fighting this battle.  While our Hillside team is not big, God has raised up a small force for good.  They need your prayer, your attention, your support, you cheering for them on.  I truly believe this is the most valuable role people outside the community to play.  I know my daughter plays harder because my husband and I are cheering her on.  Everyone needs cheerleaders in their lives!

This week all my teams lost, the Aggies, my daughter’s team, and my Hillside team, but in the end we will have the victory!

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When Helping Hurts – Post #4

Over the past few weeks I have been blogging through the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  The authors point out that how you go about alleviating poverty is the result of how you define your end goal.  If you define poverty purely as a lack of material things, you will develop strategies that focus on material provision.  If however, you define poverty as the authors do

“Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable.”

Then you will approach poverty alleviation differently.  The authors provide this definition

“Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile relationships with God, self, others and creation so that people can fulfill their calling of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of their work.”

The authors go on to say

“Poverty alleviation goes beyond insuring that people have sufficient material things; rather, it involves the much harder task of empowering people to earn sufficient material things through their own labor, for in so doing we move people closer to be what God created them to be. ”

I wanted to shout AMEN when I read the following statement which sums up the goal of the ministry of Embrace.  The author’s write

“The goal is to see people restored to being what God created them to be: people who understand that they are created in the image of God with gifts, abilities, and capacity to make decisions and to effect change in the world around them: and people who steward their lives, communities resources, and relationships in order to bring glory to God.  These things tend to happen in highly relational, process-focused ministries more than in impersonal, product-focused ministries.”

To emphasize this concept of “the goal as process not a product”, the authors tell the story of a ministry that purchased an abandoned building and rehabbed it in partnership with residents of the community with the vision being to use the house as affordable housing.  The project took five years and it only yielded one house.  However in those five years, those working on the house develop deep lasting friendships with their neighbors.  These relationships were life giving and would last long beyond the end of the project.  If the goal were to create affordable housing, it could have been done much faster.  However, the goal was community relationship building and the house was simply a project or a means to achieve that goal.

I am often frustrated with funding requirements because funders seem to want you to crank out “products”; food, employment solutions, shelter beds, meals, etc.  However, relationships are not products and can only be formed through a sustainable process of connecting with people around things they are passionate about.  Yes, Embrace Richmond does provide meals, food, furniture, financial resources, employment assistance and transportation services etc.    However, these “products” are not the goal.  The goal is to empower our community members to be a blessing to their neighbors and to bond with one another and outside volunteers as they are serving together and meeting these material needs.

This is a very hard paradigm shift for some people to make.  For Embrace the goal is not more material stuff but more love, more support, more acceptance.  In the long run love, support and acceptance will break the bonds of poverty and people will achieve far more than you could ever provide for them.  The material items are simply a means to an end.  It is far easier to meet material needs than it is to empower people to meet their own needs but it is the only way to truly alleviate poverty over the long-haul.

I hope you have enjoyed the insights from this book.  As I mentioned in Post #2 the authors are far more theologically conservative than I am, but I agreed with the basic premise underlying the authors approach to the issue of poverty.

What roles can people of faith play in this vision of poverty alleviation?

What challenges do you see with this approach to alleviating poverty?

Do you know of any good ministries or other programs that are using this approach to poverty alleviation?

OK, my reading table is empty.  Any book suggestions for future blogging projects?

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Filed under Community Development, missional church, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

When Helping Hurts – Post #3

One of the basic premises of the book “When Helping Hurts”, which I have been blogging through this past month, is that poverty is really a breakdown in relationships; relationships with self, others, God and creation.  The authors state, “While poor people mention having a lack of material things, they tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms…poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, hopelessness, depression, fear, social isolation and voicelessness.”

Outsiders tend to emphasis a lack of material items such as food, clothing, shelter and employment.   The author’s emphasis that “this mismatch between the outsiders perceptions of poverty and the perceptions of poor people themselves can have devastating consequences on poverty alleviation efforts.

The authors give the example of someone who goes from church to church asking for money to pay their bills and ask “What if this person’s fundamental problem is not having the self-discipline to keep a stable job?  Simply giving this person money is treating the symptoms rather than addressing the underlying disease and will enable him to continue with his lack of self-disciple…A proper diagnosis is absolutely critical for helping people without hurting them.”

“Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable.”

This much broader definition of poverty can help us all to see our own poverty, which is absolutely necessary if we hope to build authentic relationships with those we serve.  According to the authors, “Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low income people is likely to do more harm than good.”

The authors believe, “Low income people often feel inferior to others. This can paralyze the poor from taking initiative and from seizing opportunities to improve their situation, thereby locking them into material poverty. The economically rich often have “god-complexes, “ a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they believe they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts and that they have been anointed to decide what is best for low-income people, whom they view as inferior to themselves. One of the biggest problems with many poverty alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich – their god-complexes – and the poverty of being for the economically poor – their feelings of inferiority and shame.”

To summarize the author gives this formula:

A material definition of poverty

Plus: The god-complexes of the materially non-poor

Plus:  The feelings of inferiority of the materially poor

Equals: Harm to both the materially poor and non-poor

The authors suggests, “For many of us North Americans the first step in overcoming our god-complexes is to repent of the health and wealth gospel.  At its core, the health and wealth gospel teaches that God rewards increasing levels of faith with greater amounts of wealth.”  This kind of theology can lead people to argue that the poor are poor because they are less spiritual than the rest of us which is simply not true.

In my next and final post related to this book, we will look at how the authors of “When Helping Hurts” suggest we can help alleviate poverty without doing harm to ourselves or others.

What do you think of the author’s definition of poverty as being a breakdown in relationships?

Do you agree with the author’s assessment that the materially non-poor often suffer from god-complexes?

What do you think of the author’s formula for causing harm?

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