Category Archives: Personal Reflection

Healing the Wounds of the Bible Belt – Revisted

This past week, Jamie Arpin-Ricci a fellow urban missionary, pastor, church planter and writer, tweeted these words, “Everyone suffers from poor mental health at times. We’re not so different from those with mental illness.  End the stigma once & for all.”  Working with people who suffer from mental illness has helped me see the same reality that Jamie points to, “we all suffer from poor mental health at times.”

My family is no stranger to mental illness and I tweeted back to Jamie these words, “If we could do what you suggest, substance abuse would decline and our streets would be safer. I might also still have my dad.”  I have only blogged specifically on the issue of mental illness once and have only written of my father’s suicide in my book.  Jamie’s post challenged me to overcome my fear of judgment in the hope that we can reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.  Last Memorial Day I posted this post on the subject of the church’s response to mental illness.  While many of you have read this story, I thought it was worth reposting.

I grew up un-churched in the heart of the Bible belt.  I become a Christian in my late twenties after a series of miscarriages launched me on a spiritual journey.  Even though I have been a part of the local church for more than 15 years, I still approach the church with the eyes of an outsider and a heart for those who, for whatever reason, have not found a home within the walls of the church.  I am particularly drawn to those who feel unwelcome and judged by the church.

I think this sensitivity toward the outcast is the result of a traumatic event that occurred in 1977 when I was only ten years old.  Douglas Miiller was my favorite uncle, we called him “funny Doug”.  He always had a way of making me laugh.  I will never forget getting my first bicycle.  I could not figure out how to ride it so my uncle Doug decided to show me.  He looked so funny on that tiny bike with his knees up around his shoulders.  He went riding down our drive way, lost control and crashed my brand new bike into a tree…that was not so funny.  Thankfully Uncle Doug was fine but the impact bent the front tire of my bike.  My uncle, whom I know was not a wealthy man, immediately went out and purchased me an even better bike, this one had a basket on the front and ribbons on the handle bars.  I loved my uncle Doug.

As a young man, Douglas Miiller was drafted into the army and served a tour of duty in Vietnam.  He never talked about his days in the military but I overheard the adults saying that, “it messed him up.”  I never really knew what they meant but in 1977, when he decided to end his life, this part of his past seemed to be the key to understanding why he had lived such a tortured life.  From my keen ability to ease drop on adult conversations, I learned that my uncle had a drinking problem which only contributed to his pain.

He was the first person I can remember losing to death.  Dealing with death is never easy, especially for a ten year old, but adding suicide to that equation makes it even more difficult.  As I mentioned, my family did not attend church so the only images of God available to me were those shared by family and friends who claimed to be Christians.  I will never forget hearing the words, “Your uncle is going to go to hell for what he did,” spoken by a child I thought was my friend.  This was the message the Church gave me during my time of grief.  These words wounded me so deeply that it was more than twenty years before I was willing to step foot in a church.

My call to create safe spaces for spiritual seekers grows out of this very early wounding by the messages of judgment that I heard as a child.  In my book, “From the Sanctuary to the Streets”, I have captured the stories of many people, who like my Uncle Doug, never found a home in the church walls but whose lives have enriched my own.  My prayer is that by sharing their stories I will bring honor to the lives of those who feel shut out, judged and cast off.  For those are the very people Jesus chose to identify with and spend time with.  It is in the presence of the “least of these” where I have seen the real “Church” come alive.

My prayer is that through the stories of those who do not feel welcome in the church with walls, pulpits and steeples, we will begin to see that the Church Universal is far bigger than the structures built by human hands.  It exists in the very people who seek to be Christ in the world and in the faces of those Christ identified with in Matthew 25; those who hunger and thirst, the stranger, the sick and those who are imprisoned.

I choose the image of the Vietnam memorial for this post to honor both those who have died in battle this Memorial Day weekend, but also those whom like my uncle had their lives shattered by war.  The lasting effects of the horrors of war continue on for generations.  In some ways, I myself am a victim both through the loss of my uncle and the effects that my uncle’s suicide had on my family, in particular my father who lost his youngest brother.

I pray for peace for all the families across the world who suffer due to war and I lift up a prayer for peace for all the nations.  May your Memorial Day be peaceful and blessed.

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A Melancholy Moment: Flashback to High School

I have three teenage daughters and as they face the challenges inherent in being teenagers, I seem to be reliving those times in my own life.  My eldest is a rising senior and as she looks with anticipation toward college and a very bright future, I feel her anxiety.  Will she get into the college of her choice? What will she major in?  Will she miss her high school friends. Will she be able to make new friends in college?  The future is full of possibilities and uncertainty, hope and fear, promise and possible disappointments.  I remember it like it was yesterday.

My younger two daughters are still in the midst of being teenage girls with all the challenges of maintaining healthy friendships.  As I think back to high school and all the cattiness that was just a part of growing up, I can relate to the stories of discord that they share.  Of course I am sure every mother sees her daughter as the victim, the one who is just misunderstood.  I am sure my girls are not the sweet, innocent, bystanders I make them out to be.  None of us would ever want to admit our children are the perpetrators behind the unkind behavior.  But, as I feel their pain of being the victim, I also remember the times I was the one causing the pain.

I grew up in a very small town.  I had pretty much the same grouping of friends from the day I was born until the day I graduated High School.  Yes, that is us above at our junior prom.  We all just moved through the years from one clique to the next.  I eventually landed in the “brainy/semi-popular” clique.  I was friends with the cheerleaders and the Homecoming queen but I was never center stage.  I learned early on that drama seemed to be directed toward whoever was in the middle of circle and being on the periphery was preferable.

While I truly had little to do with all the drama, I did do some things I am ashamed of to this day.  Like the time I stood by while one friend beat another friend, or the time I shared gossip about a friend that was ugly and hurtful.  Those times I was untrue to a friend still haunt me nearly 30 years later.  I am sure the friends I hurt have long ago forgiven and forgotten about the incident, yet I have not.  Anytime we are untrue to who we truly are, we injure ourselves more than we injure those our behavior was directed at.

So here it goes – Beth, Heather, Kristi, Jill, Marion, Connie, Brenda, Sandy, and our sweet departed sister Janet: I am sorry.  I am sorry for not being the friend you deserved in high school.  I am sorry for any gossip I repeated.  I am sorry for any opportunity I had to defend you and did not.  I am sorry that I cared more about fitting in than I did about being a faithful friend.  It is with tears streaming down my face that I say “Please, forgive me.”  I was blessed to have you all as friends.  Of course there were many other wonderful girls and a few boys whom I had the privilege of calling friends through the years but the nine of you impacted me more than any others.

As I listened to my girls share their friendship woes this week, I realized that many of their challenges would be solved if they or their friends would simply learn to say “I’m sorry.”  I know through the years, I have been a lousy role model in this department.  I am stubborn, selfish and prideful – diseases that are prevalent in our society.  So, I wonder what would happen if all the adults started modeling humility, grace and forgiveness.  Could we change the teen culture?  I know, that is a stretch but you all know I am dreamer.

Hope you all have a good weekend and that you spend it with good friends and if you have a chance, you might want to reach out and say “I am sorry” even if it is 30 years too late.

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Ode to “Abnormal” Mothers – Revisited

A few years ago I wrote this ode to honor my mother.  At that time, I think I only had 4 people reading my blog, so I decided to repost with a few modifications.

Several years ago my youngest daughter said to me, “Mom why aren’t you a normal mom?”  I asked her to define “normal mom.” She said, “You know, the kind of mom that is always at the bus stop, eats lunch at school with her kids, and who puts notes in my lunch box.”  In other words, she wanted the culturally constructed image of the “perfect” mother.  What child would not want that kind of mom?

I can remember as a child having similar feelings though I was never bold enough to say such things to my mother.  I did, however, think them.  When Caroline said those words to me, I felt like I had been socked in the stomach.  Was I doing this mommy thing all wrong?  Or, was there perhaps another image of a mom that, while not the cultural norm, could be equally as healthy?

I am thankful that I was raised by a woman who refused to become who society wanted her to be.  A woman who has lived every day of her life striving to be the unique, amazing, sometimes odd woman God created her to be.  She is not your typical mother, and all I can do is praise God for that. Without her lively spirit and her zest for life, I would not be who I am.  I pray someday my daughter will come to appreciate my uniqueness as I have come to appreciate my mother’s.  This mother’s day, I want to celebrate my favorite “abnormal mother” – a woman I hope my daughters will seek to emulate.  She is a woman who simply wanted to be true to who God created her to be, in all her uniqueness.

My mom had grown up in the military and had seen the world but found herself living in a community where few had ever ventured beyond the county line.  My mom had strange taste in friends. I think it was because she never really fit in to small town culture.   I asked her once why her friends were all so weird and she replied, “Because, I like interesting people.”

She had a special knack for attracting people in crisis.  She even moved several of them in with us! There were the two teenage boys who had taken to the road to “find themselves”, several alcoholics whose wives had kicked them out, and family members who were just down on their luck.  Those she did not move into the house she spent hours at the kitchen table counseling.

Everyone knew that if you needed help, Sissy Miiller would listen without judgment and when necessary, take in the weary traveler.  I really hated having house guests growing up.  Especially the type of guest my mom invited in.  I was embarrassed to have my friends over because no other family I knew was running a homeless shelter out of their house.

Once my sister and I reached grade school, my mom closed up the shelter and we settled into a more “normal” life with my mother deciding to join the workforce.  She got her GED and in a matter of a few short years, she climbed the ranks in the local bank and was the Vice President of mortgage lending.  From there, she started her own mortgage company which she then sold many years later to start raising emu and ostrich on the ranch of her business partner.  From there she started her own embroidery company and to this day, she is continually dreaming of new adventures.  My mom is anything but boring.

I think my mom’s decision to take in people in crisis and to befriend social outcasts was one of the hardest things for me to deal with growing up.  However, I now realize that though I did not like her choices, somewhere deep inside me, my mom planted a seed of compassion that I know would not exist without her living such a compassionate life.  I think the gift of compassion is worth 1000 school lunches and countless love notes.  I never doubted she loved me because she loved everyone so freely and genuinely.  I always knew I could talk to her about anything because she never judged anyone.

I know I will not win the “Suzy Homemaker” award.  My children will not remember me for my cooking, my spotless house, or my attentiveness to all their needs.  But I do hope they will remember me as one who loved much and who sought to live a compassionate life.   I don’t know if my daughters will every fully understand my choices, but I know I am grateful that my mom choose to be a bit odd and fought against the cultural tide of conformity to claim the life God created for her.  That is what I want for my girls.  I don’t care if they grow up to be successful or wealthy.  All I can hope for is that they become fully who God created them to be and continue the tradition started by my mom.

I pray our society discovers a new definition of the “normal” mom.  I have a few suggestions as to how we might think of redefining “normal”:

  • What if the “normal “ mom looked a little more like Mother Theresa and a little less like Martha Stewart?
  • What if instead of hanging out at the mall, she hung out at the soup kitchen?
  • What if instead of spending her money and time on having the perfect hair, nails, and outfit, she invested in disadvantaged children?
  • What if instead of defining family as “biological” she saw herself as part of the larger “human” family?

So Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and all the “abnormal” moms out there.  Thanks for helping redefine “normal” and for being so weird!

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A Feast, A Dance and A Party: Lessons Learned from Little Things

For spring break my family took a five day Caribbean cruise.  One of our stops was a private island off the coast of Haiti owned by Royal Caribbean.  As we basked in the sun, sipped on tropical drinks and feasted at the all you could eat buffet, I felt a deep sense of guilt thinking about all the people in Haiti who were suffering from a lack of food, clean water and the lasting devastation of last year’s earthquake.  If I could have, I would have taken all that food to the people who really needed it.

As we were standing in line on the Island to get back on the boat, there was a band made up of five men playing your traditional island music.  As I looked at them, I realized they were the closest I would come on this trip to the people in Haiti.  I only had $20 cash on me so I gave it to my daughter and had her put it in their hat.  The lead singer of the band, stopped singing and with the most joyful voice, said “Thank you my lady for you generosity!”  Well, what happened next kind of surprised me.  The little boy in front of us tugged on his mother’s dress and asked for money to give the men and his mother complied.  The same gracious thanks followed his gift.  A man in the line behind us followed suit, then a lady in the front of the line and children throughout the line.  There was a wave of generosity that swept through that line.  It literally brought tears to my eyes.  We had all been standing in that line for at least 15 minutes and not a soul had even acknowledged the band. They were back ground noise, a part of the scenery, there for our entertainment.  Then suddenly, they represented an entire country of suffering, starving people.  God’s spirit swept through that line and gave us eyes to see and it all started with one small gift.

I had a similar experience later that evening.  It was 80’s and 90’s night at the night club called The Dungeon.  When we arrived not a soul was dancing.  This went on for many songs.  Great 80’s music with lots of women dancing in their seats and men tapping their toes, but no one was on the dance floor.  I finally had had enough and grabbed my husband and drug him onto the dance floor.  Well, the only dancing we felt comfortable doing in front of all those people with video camera’s projecting us up on the screen and a spot light on us was the jitterbug.  Not exactly fitting for Prince’s song “When Doves Cry” but we made it work.  I thought for sure, someone would come rescue us from the spotlight but not a soul joined us.

When we returned somewhat embarrassed to our table, the man at the table in front of us began clapping for us.  I went up to him and his wife and said, “Your turn.”  He took me up on my challenge, grabbed his wife and said “you have to come to” looking right at me and my husband.  So, the four of us entered the dance floor.  By the end of the song, the floor was packed and for the next three hours remained that way until my husband and I finally ran out of steam.  Everyone wanted to dance but no one wanted to dance alone.  Someone had to go first and then invite others to join in.  My husband and I were among the worst dancers in that club, but we had not been dancing since college.  Eventually, my fear of missing out on this once in a decade opportunity outweighed my fear of looking stupid and I found the courage to go for it.  God’s spirit swept through that room and we all overcame our fear of looking foolish and danced our hearts out.  But, it all started with one little jitterbug.

I have a seventeen year old daughter.  She is beautiful, smart, funny and an all-around joy to be around.  However, she is a bit shy.  For the first four days of the cruise, I observed as she watched the young men come and go from the piano bar where my family camped out during the sing-a-long time.  The same young man came with his family every night, stared at my daughter, looked anxious when she was not with us but never gained the courage to say a word to her.  I tried and tried to get her to say something but she wouldn’t.

On the last night of the cruise, the chatty 18 year old across the hall asked me how my cruise was going.  I shared with him how much fun we were having and then my lament that my eldest daughter had not met anyone her age.  He then extended an invitation to her to join him and the friends he had met on the cruise at the hot tub later that evening.  It took a lot of coaxing but she did finally take him up on his offer and had a great time.  Without the hospitality of that young stranger, my daughter would have sat in her cabin while the rest of the youth enjoyed a party.  It took a lot of courage for that young man to speak to a total stranger and a lot of courage for my daughter to climb into a hot tub filled with people she did not know.  However, a spirit of adventure and fun had swept across that ship and everyone wanted to go home having meet new friends and were willing to take a few risks.  It all started with a simple act of hospitality.

Mother Teresa said “We can do not great things, only small things with great love.”  To the men in Haiti who lovingly shared their musical talents with us, to the people in the line who generously shared their financial resources, to my husband who graciously danced with me, to the people in the night club who shared our love of 80’s music, to the red headed boy who invited my daughter to a party and to all those aboard the Royal Caribbean Navigator who made this past week so special, I just want to say THANK YOU for all the little things!

While I still feel a bit guilty for spending a week in total luxury while so many in our world are suffering, the greater sin would have been not to dance at the party.  I think if Jesus would have been on that ship, he would have been the first on the dance floor, the loudest one singing at the piano bar and the one turning water into wine at the party.  I am truly blessed to have had this time with my family and thank God for providing us with the means to do so.

May God Bless you all through the little things this Easter.

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Mud Slinging Christians: Dreaming of Another Way

muddy shoesphoto © 2006 Ivy Lique | more info (via: Wylio)I grew up outside the church and one of the things that kept me out of the church for many years was the divisions among Christians.

I came to faith in an ELCA Lutheran Church in my late 20’s, attended a Methodist Church for many years, and was on staff at an evangelical non-denominational seeker church for a while.  I started a women’s ministry consisting of women from all different denominations.  I have a spiritual mentor who is Catholic, and I graduated from a Cooperative Baptist Seminary.  I now spend my days with those who met God through Alcoholics Anonymous and who experienced God’s healing touch in ways I can never fully comprehend.  Most of those who call themselves Christians in my urban context are from a Pentecostal background.

I have spoken and worked with congregational groups across the spectrum from very liberal to ultra conservative and have found things about all of them I love.  As my love of diverse expressions of the Christian tradition has grown, my distaste for the divisive, exclusive, judgmental ways in which various groups treat one another has also grown.

As I shared in my post “Will Gandhi Burn?”, Rob Bell is taking a lot of heat from those in power in the evangelical right but the ugliness is spreading.  I read this week that a Methodist minister got fired just for blogging about Bell’s book.  I also read a very insightful post by Drew G.I. Hart that views all this infighting as a power struggle among the white male evangelicals for control of religious dialog in this country.  No matter how you view it, I am just tired of the constant bickering.  I think it is distracting us from our real call to be reconcilers who work together to usher in the Kingdom of God here and now.

I dream of an expression of the Christian tradition where people from all different theological positions and who have taken all different types of paths to God can respect and love one another.  I think the only way this kind of unity will ever occur is for us all to accept that none of us are God and none of us truly have the mind of Christ.  I think the thing most lacking in our religious dialog is humility – thus my whole point in writing “Will Gandhi Burn?”

Last week I attended my first Quaker service.  I was invited to share a little about Embrace Richmond with a group that has been supporting our work for many years.  After the service, I engaged in an extensive email dialog with an acquaintance who is Quaker.  He was gracious enough to share with me the Quaker beliefs.  From what I can see, their beliefs are incredibly open to a diversity of theological positions.  I guess the only way we will ever achieve Christian unity is not to open our mouths!  I love the idea of simply connecting spirit to spirit with other Christians.  I am not sure how it plays out in the broader Christian context.  Maybe I need to hang out with my Quaker friends a bit more.

So while I am dreaming, my ideal expression of Christianity would embrace people wherever they are on their spiritual journey – liberals, conservatives, agnostics, atheists, etc.  However, it would encourage all to grow in Christ likeness (or love, the spirit, the light or whatever word people identify with what I know as the Holy Spirit) by engaging them in the work of reconciliation.  These “reconcilers” would seek to heal a broken world and usher in God’s Kingdom through relationships across race, class and religious beliefs.  I envision diverse groups of people who come together to address the brokenness of our world through very real, tangible projects such as increasing affordable housing, creating jobs for people with barriers, helping urban youth escape the cycle of poverty. The most important element of these groups is not the “project” or “mission” but the fact that we bring together people who are radically diverse and learning to hear, love and respect one another.  These types of reconciling relationships will do more to usher in “The Kingdom of God” than anything we “achieve” through our efforts.

The final element of my dream expression of the Christian tradition would foster deep, life giving spiritual practices such as contemplative prayer, meditation on Divine writings and the fostering of spiritual experiences.  As I shared in a recent post, spending time alone in nature feeds my soul.  I can see people alone in the wilderness, sitting in urban gardens and resting in God in their living rooms.  As we rest, I trust that we will experience God’s spirit in powerful ways.   Like my Quaker friends I think we spend way too much time talking about God and not nearly enough time experiencing the healing, life giving presence of Christ spirit within us.  Silence, reflection, meditation and contemplation open us up to these experiences far more effectively than debating theology and dissecting passages of scripture.

I would of course love to see people gather so those who feel led can share their spiritual experiences with the group through the ancient practice of testimony.  I have recently participated in a group that used group spiritual direction as a way of sharing spiritual insight and found it spiritually nurturing and far more effective at bringing about spiritual conversations than the traditional small group curriculum.  I think learning to share our unique experiences of God is both nurturing to those sharing and enriching to the broader community.

So that is my dream.  Not sure if this dream will ever become a reality but if you have read my book you know I am a dreamer.  I have been blessed to have been a part of so many expressions of the Christian tradition and the diversity of my experience has enriched my spirituality.  However, it makes me hungry for places where we can all come together and appreciate how God moves in and through each of our Christian expressions.   I actually think my Quaker friends may offer the expression closest to my dream.  Perhaps I if I spend a bit more time with them, God will use their openness and commitment to peace and justice to teach me how to better unite the broader body of Christ in both action and contemplation.

Just imagine what God could do with a united Body that loved and respected all God’s children?  That is what I dream of and pray I get to experience in my own little corner of the world.  Perhaps I will only see it in our work in Hillside Court but I do hope God allows us to start a movement that will sweep across this city.  I don’t expect this movement of unity and reconciliation to come from the superstars of the faith like Piper and Bell.  I think it will be the little people like me and my friends at Embrace and as I shared on Friday, it will be a very quiet revolution – not nearly as entertaining to watch as the Bell and Piper debate but far more sustainable and life giving.

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Changing Seasons

sprungphoto © 2009 Robert S. Donovan | more info (via: Wylio)I love this time of year because I can sit in the sun and allow it’s warmth to penetrate my skin and thaw me from the outside in.  This year, spring carries with it so much promise, hope and joy.  It is a literal representation of what is happening in my own life and ministry.  I feel like the ground I have been plowing for the past eight years is thawing.  In some places the seeds we have sown through the ministry of Embrace Richmond are starting to take root and I even see buds forming in places I never expected would bear fruit.

The journey of Embrace can be marked by our physical locations through the years.  This week we moved into our sixth site which marks for us a whole new season in our existence.

We started in late 2004 in my garage.  I guess you could call that the conception period.   No one, including me, knew that what we were witnessing would one day take on a life of its own.

However, by March 2005 it was time to give birth to this new baby.  We incorporated and moved into our first borrowed building – Highland Park UMC.  This was truly our infancy.  We were completely dependent on the generosity of others.  From our free space, to our volunteer labor, we were vulnerable and fragile.

In the summer of 2005, when a gun man decided to fire upon our guests, we knew it was time to stand on our own two feet and find space that was safer for ministry to really grow.  It was with great fear that I signed the first lease with First Contractors and we moved to Lombardy Street. During those toddler years we hired our first part-time staff.  It was as if we were learning to walk.  We fell down a lot and I have a lot of scars to prove it.  However, it was in our Lombardy location that Embrace Richmond found its identity.

By late 2006, we had completely out grown our little home off of Lombardy Street.   We had grown confident and made a bold move to a space 5 times the size off of Sledd Street.  When we selected the site we had no idea how strategic this location would be.  It was right next door to CARITAS, the largest emergency shelter in Richmond, which is run by Karen Stanley, one of the top Executive Directors in the city.  Our Sledd Street years were like grade school.  Karen taught me a lot about running a non-profit and helped me build collaborative relationships with agencies across the city.  I learned what being an effective Executive Director required and I committed myself to the task.

By the summer of 2008, the furniture bank component of Embrace had out grown me and the Sledd street space.  I had found a new site off Commerce Road but the price tag was well beyond our means.  Though there was always a mentoring component in our program design, the furniture component was requiring all my time and was the component that Karen Stanley was most interested in helping me expand.  I was growing increasingly discontent with where Embrace was heading and was personally struggling with my own call.  I realized that summer that I was not called to be an Executive Director of a furniture bank but a pastor of an urban expression of the church.  I approached Karen and asked her if she would consider absorbing the furniture bank component of our program.  CARITAS took over the furniture bank in the fall of 2008.  We had grown one baby to the point of graduation and it was time to let it go.  It took me about a year to fully transition out of a leadership role with the furniture bank, but it has been a tremendous blessing to watch it continue to grow and thrive under the direction of CARITAS.

From the time I resigned as the director of the furniture bank in the spring of 2009 through today, Embrace has been rediscovering its original call to be the holistic relational ministry that I had envisioned in 2004.  Over the past year, with the publication of my first book and increasing name recognition among church leaders, I have had the blessing of doing a lot more speaking, teaching and coaching and have found that I absolutely love these opportunities.  Our community development efforts in Hillside Court have grown and God has brought us the most amazing staff imaginable.  Our staff has the training and experience to take the ministry model we have developed beyond Hillside and to help congregations move from the sanctuary to the streets all across this city.

I think our new location at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond marks a new season – I feel like we are going to college.  In the next few years, I hope we are able to take all the lessons we have gleaned from this wild ride, discern the truths from these lessons and ultimately begin to teach the next generation of Christian leaders how to do church beyond the walls.  In this new season, we will be dedicating ourselves to studying what God is doing across this country and will strive to distill what we glean and communicate it in a way that the Metro Richmond community can be blessed.  In this new season, I will get to do more of what I love – read, write and teach.

I am very excited about this new season in our journey.  In many ways I feel liberated.  I feel like I just stepped foot into the promise land.  I know the many trials and challenges of the past eight years have made me appreciate this season more than I would have had it come earlier.  I also know that without the journey of the past, I would not have been ready for what lies ahead.

Thank you all for letting me take this little trip down memory lane.  I needed to reflect on the past in order to more fully see the future.

Please pray for Embrace Richmond during this season of transition and for us to have the wisdom to take full advantage of future that lies ahead.

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A Rant to Whomever will Listen

Capitol Hill - Washington, DCphoto © 2010 Vinoth Chandar | more info (via: Wylio)
I have never really paid much attention to what goes on in Washington DC.  But if you have been following my blog or Facebook page, you know that the House of Representatives passed a budget this past Saturday requiring the elimination of the Corporation of National and Community Service, which funds AmeriCorps.

What you may not know is that the money Embrace Richmond gets from AmeriCorps goes to my AmeriCorps members in the form of living allowances and does not even come close to covering the cost of administering the grant.  So basically every dollar that gets taken from AmeriCorps is taken out of the hands of AmeriCorps members across this country who are living off these meager stipends.  So in other words, when Washington cuts AmeriCorps, they are moving people out of roles where they are “earning” a living by serving their neighbors and putting them into the welfare lines and unemployment lines.  This makes no sense at all!

This is all just a political game that will have absolutely no positive bottom-line impact on the federal deficit.  They are basically just moving expenses from one category to another in an attempt to win political points.  It is absolutely insane.  In an economy where there are not enough jobs, they will be eliminating jobs for the people who have the hardest time securing employment – the young and the poor.

Not only will this elimination result in significant numbers of people being without income, it will also hurt the hundreds of thousands of impoverished children and families who depend on the services provided by AmeriCorps members.  For example, last year alone Embrace Richmond AmeriCorps members distributed more than $345,000 in goods to over 1000 individuals and we are just one of over 3,000 non-profits who participate in national service programs.

What I also don’t think people realize is that when AmeriCorps goes, a number of non-profits such as Embrace who depend on the AmeriCorps members are going to be severely impacted and some will likely have to close their doors, thus further eliminating jobs and services to the most vulnerable in our country.  The ripple effect of this budget proposal is not even being considered.

In addition to eliminating AmeriCorps member jobs, hurting non-profits and the poorest of the poor who receive services, educational institutions will also be negatively impacted.  A significant portion of the AmeriCorps compensation package comes in the form of educational grants.  It is these educational awards that help people get a college education.  Without these awards, many will be unable to continue to pursue higher education.

What Washington is not considering is the value of the more than 5 million volunteers who are mobilized every year and the significant private dollars being leveraged by AmeriCorps programs.  Last year the programs supported by the Embrace AmeriCorps members matched 3 to 1 the dollars expended by the federal government and we mobilized 1,900 volunteers who served 12,600 hours.  The dollar value of these volunteer hours and private dollars being invested  demonstrates that AmeriCorps is one of the best investments America could make in fighting poverty, improving education and strengthening our country.

My AmeriCorps members make $6,500 per year and they are willing to work for that amount because they believe in this country and want to make it a better place.  This bill is telling them that Washington does not think they are worth $6,500 and would rather have them begging and asking for handouts in the welfare or unemployment line.  We are telling the millions of volunteers who support AmeriCorps programs that they are of no value and that the services they provide are unimportant.

I know this post is raw with emotion and probably not the wisest thing I have written.  But I have signed every online petition, called my congressman, and I just don’t feel like anyone is listening.  I know out there somewhere is someone who cares and I pray someone who has the power to stop this madness.  So I will conclude this rant asking you not to sign another petition but instead to put this petition before God seeking provision for all those whose lives are dependent on the decisions being made by our elected officials.

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Filed under Community Development, Personal Reflection