Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Rescue Crew from Elmbrook!

I am so greatful for the help I got from a handful of people over the past 2 weeks. First, my father in law came during Thanksgiving (THANKS TOM!!) and helped with many small tasks to get the drywall going. These finishing touches on electrical, plumbing, ductwork, and carpentry were all things within his ability.

Then we had the Crepensiks and Mark Wilson come and put in the underlayment for the kitchen tile (Thanks guys!)

Finally a crew from Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin came downa dn helped get the hardwood going, set a new rear door and start the stairs and banister project. Since Saturday I have completed the hardwood, wrestled with 3 fautly and 1 successful paint sprayer (see Mr. White guy) and gotten the kitchen tile in (mostly). I hope to finish the tile tonight.

Then comes kitch cabinet assembly, wiring the outlets on first and second floor, finishing the stairs, and lots and lots of trim.

Living in the Rift

One of our neighbors left me a message last week saying “Hi Joel, a reporter from the Chicago Tribune would like to visit with us at the ministry center about the recent murders in the community and the rift they evidence.” I knew what she was talking about, we had discussed it at a staff meeting the previous day. The whole thing had me thinking about the parable of the good Samaritan and Micah 6:8. Let me first tell you what happened.

The most recent murder in the neighborhood was a tragic scene (as they all are) that occurred midway between our ministry center and my home. Amadou Cisse was a young Senegalese student at the University of Chicago. He was killed by a few young men looking for some money. 3 weeks previously he had successfully defended his dissertation for his PhD, but with one gunshot wound to the chest his brilliant life was brought to an end.

People of reputation responded. The police, local politicians, and media (local and national) responded strongly. We have a new police station set up with 24 hour monitoring as a result just a few blocks from here. It was covered nationally and locally. Community bulletins were circulated. Money was raised for the family in Senegal. The case was pursued and the culprits were apprehended. A well attended memorial was held and the doctoral degree awarded posthumously. A good overall response to a serious calamity.

What stings about the whole thing, however, is that Mr. Cisse’s murder wasn’t the first one this summer. It was just the first one that “counted”. A few weeks ago the body of Theresa Bunn (21 and pregnant) was found burnt and stuffed in a dumpster 4 blocks from here. A few weeks before that 2 people were shot and killed. A month or so before that a 14 year old young man was murdered a block from the home of one of our staff members. But none of these were students at a prestigious university. None of them bore a reputation. Therefore none of them garnered comparable attention or proactive response.

In Luke 10 Jesus tells about a man of no reputation, beaten and left for dead. Those who came along had means to respond but didn’t. Then a Samaritan man (a man of ill-repute!) came along and saw the beaten man as a neighbor worthy of response, worthy of love, worthy of attention. The Good Samaritian responded in a personally costly way to someone no one else wanted to help and in a way that was virtually invisible to the outside world.

It is interesting to me that in this story Jesus was not primarily asking his disciples to come up with a crime prevention strategy (there is a place for that and people to do it!) but rather to be Micah 6:8 people. To LOVE MERCY and give it in abundance, especially to those of no reputation, those who are outcasts, those who you never hear about or from. Our neighbors.

As we pursue our calling to live out the principles of Micah 6:8 and Jeremiah 29:7 here in the city we needn’t become hardened toward those of reputation who respond vigorously to others of reputation in need. Instead we must thrive at responding to those of no-reputation with loving-kindness and even those of ill-repute with great mercy.

(The Tribune article that was written as a result of the reporters visit is at this
link:,0,6589395.column )

Joel Hamernick
Executive Director
Sunshine Gospel Ministries


Love Mercy. Do Justice. Walk Humbly.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Is this the last load?

This little truck has experienced a ton of work. I made a trip with Jared last night at about 10:30 to get the mud and tape. We decided to head to Home Depot on Clybourn so that makes 5 different Home Depots that have been used in the making of this production. No Home Depot carts were seriously hurt.

After about 15 trips hauling 20 sheets of drywall each time this load was the mud. . .

6am this morning. . . Ismael the tape guy. . .

Let the mud slinging begin!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How much does drywall weigh? Too Much.

I am pushing to get the drywall done . . . by LAST week. So, hopefully at least by this week! Here are photos of the 3rd floor which is about 50% done and the kitchen which is now drywalled.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Well, I didn't get as far as I'd hoped today but I did get some of the detail work done on the drywall -- around the bay window and up the stairs. I hoped to finish Caleb's room but only got part of it done.

Also had a plumber visit today. Good guy but still expensive. still working on this as far as planning. Will I get the home ready to live in by Dec 1st for Jared and I? By Dec 10th for the rest of the fam?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stewardship of Suffering

What does it mean for us to suffer? Does our suffering have meaning? Since no one is sticking flaming spears into my extended armpit, does my pain count as suffering? Since I am a member of a privildged class and race, does my suffering bear meaning? Am I just feeling sorry for myself? I think these are all questions that many of us wrestle with when it comes to considering so many different things in which we experience pain but wonder if it is "real" pain or "relevant" pain. For those of us who sense that our culture is perhaps overly pre-disposed to find theraputic answers, we bite our tongues and bear it.

Unlike previous generations -- those who bore the pain of WWII and could never bring themselves to discuss it with their children. . . that generation in which men found it difficult to say "I love you" to thier kids -- we are more expressive than those who've gone before us. But our relative comfort has left us wondering if we actually suffer, or if we are just having a pity party.

I have become convinced that one of the aspects of our "wealth", one of our gifts from God, one of the very real aspects of what it means to be ambassadors of Christ, members of the body of Christ, brothers and sisters is the gift of the capacity to suffer.

Now obviously all people suffer. But as Christians we know that Christ causes "all things to work together for good for those that love the Lord" and this includes our suffering. We have been granted the joy of knowing that our suffering is not in vain. It is a witness to the love of Christ. As John Piper has said: the suffering of Christ was propitiatory, the suffering of Christians is proclamatory.

Furthermore, we have the capacity to enter into the suffering of others. For many of us our suffering is primarily the bi-product of others -- we enter into the pain of those God has put around us. Children. Friends. Neighbors. Family. Strangers.

Often this simply means sitting. . . .listening. . . honoring. The more you do this the more you realize the very real pain of others. When I say "realize" I mean "experience in a learning way, a way that helps others to see that the pain they experience is in fact real. We help others with our own question. Is my pain real? Yeah, I feel it too. Is my pain meaningful? Absolutely. Do I know exactly how it is meaningful or what the meaning is? No. that has yet to be fully realized.

First Corinthians 12:

22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

One more for the day

One more post for the day. . . (couldn't resist the shots of Corban and Caden on pajama day at school!)

I have been working for the past week on drywall. As a friend once told me: Gravity is your friend. Well, I am sore enough to suggest that some days, a little less gravity would be great.

Since my wife and family are in Florida and staying away for a month I am posting these before getting and posting all the interim photos so they can check it out and see that I am NOT loafing.

They are gone for a month during which time I need to get this place literally ready to live in . . . by Dec 8th. And, I and Jared need to move out of our current home by Dec 1st. So I guess I actually need to have it ready for mankind by Dec 1st. I hope to finish drywall on 1st and 2nd floor by the end of this week. Here are some photos:

The last shot with the peace sign is for Caleb. Caleb, that's your room!! At least it has a ceiling. . .

H'nick Abode in process

We have had literally hundreds of volunteers at our home over the past 6 months. I will try to add posts and photos as I collect them from groups that have been in. If you have some photos please send them to me!

Here are some good shots of Westminster tearing out the flooring on the second floor.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A comment on the "before" photos

Did you notice the diagonal line in the living room wall photo? This is from a stair way that used to enter into the living room.
In the before photos of the front of our home you will notice 2 front doors. The one on the right was added sometime after 1950.
Like so many buildings in our community, during a time of high density, overcrowding, etc... a home designed for one family was divided into multiple living units. We are "deconverting" the unit, as the city calls it.

There are literally thousands of empty lots in our community -- most are from buildings that simply wore out and were torn down. This traces directly back to a time when the city was cordened off in specifically racist ways --- the black community there and no where else. "Restrictive housing covenants" they called it. (look up the Hansberry case on wikipedia!! the Hansberry's lived in our neighborhood, one block from the Sunshine building! Raisin in the Sun!)

There are at least 10 lots on our block in which buildings didn't survive. Why did this home survive?

H'nick Abode Before (2)

I finally found the photos that I took inside before our project began. It is interesting to look at them and think about how much work has gone on since then. It is also interesting because when I look at some of the photos I think "hey, that didn't look so bad. . . did we really HAVE to do all that we've done?!!" and then I think about the termite and water damage that we found and the change in layout once the chimney and numerous walls were removed. Yup, we had to!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A New Cityview

I am preaching at Cityview Presbyterian Church in the west loop nieghborhood in Chicago today. One of the topics that I am touching on is how we see the city as believers. I would like to develop this thought with input from others. Here is a summary of the concept.


1. Most of the places that God is readying his Bride are urban
2. Most of the places that God is calling his church to start new works are NOT racially homogeneous.
3. Most of the places that God is directing his people to proclaim his cause are NOT isolated, but densly populated.
4. Most of these places have high levels of poverty – the poor will be with you in these places.

Why do I suggest that this is true:

1. God has clearly called his people to start new works, proclaim his name, and live for him among the nations of the world – and the nations of the world, most of the people in the world now live in the cities of the world.
2. Most of the 70 million annual migrants to the cities of the world are poor – squatters in fact.
3. The isolated SUB-urban communities that many of us have experienced or perhaps view as the “real” American dream are rapidly being urbanized in the sense that as gentrification happens in the urban core, the racial diversity and presence of the poor in the SUB-urbs is growing rapidly. In America, the inner-city is moving the burbs.

I won't elaborate here but outline a distinction between what I think too many of us generally think about the city as opposed to what my above assumptions should call us to in A New Cityview:

Average Cityview
Negative, “user” mentality (I hate this place, especially the traffic but I'll drive through, go shopping and get out!)
Temporary (I’ll put up with this for a while)
Optional involvement
A place for some fun

New City View:
The city and the believer as mutually redemptive
The city as a place calling and instilling a deeper dependance on God
A place of identity for the Bride of Christ
A place of calling for believers
A place of Joy

Thursday, November 1, 2007

H'nick Abode Before

Here are some photos of what we started with. The exterior structure in the front was and is in good shape. It was originally single family home built in 1888, during the era of the Worlds Columbia Exposition.

During the 1950's (aprox), like most of the housing stock in the community, the home was divided up to serve multiple families (notice the 2nd front door). For the past 50 years or so the Franklin family lived here, raising their children who attended neighborhood schools. Mrs. Franklin had the roof done and new windows put in in recent years but found the interior repairs that were needed to be too much for her.

The rear portion of the home was added after the original construction. We found papers in the walls of this addition dating back to the 1930's so it is still pretty old! Above the brick (painted green) is an old 3-season porch that was rotted away. We had to tear it off, including the 1st floor ceiling.

The back area used to have a garage, only the pad is left which is pretty much totaly broken up at this point. We hope to rebuild a garage some day. The fact that the home has a side yard is an incredible blessing in the city. Our young kids and dog are very excited about it!

The Hamernick Abode

During the past 9 months the hamernicks have been working on rehabbing a home in our neighborhood. As a family of 10 (7 kids, 2 adults, 1 home-school helper!) we are quite tight in our current 3 bedrooms plus laundry room. So in February we were blessed to be able to buy a 120 year old house that needed to be gutted and have been working on it ever since. (serious termite and water damage!)

As usually happens with these projects it has taken longer than we'd planned and is costing more (gulp!) but we are anticipating a home in the community that will be a tremendous blessing and create both a bit more family space but also a great place for ministry itself.

I am working to collect a series of photos from the hundreds of people that helped with the demolition of the interior in particular so if you were here and have photo evidence, I'd love to see it!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

God's Economy Indexed to Obedience, not Performance.

Quoting John Hayes from "Sub-merge" p 92:

"[Deuteronomy 15:11] is a very important verse for twenty-first-century Christians who are motivated primarily by success. Essentially, God clarifies that we will never win the war on poverty. But he goes on to command that we should pursue the battle vigorously. For us this feels like a paradox. Why fight a battle you can't win? But to God, His commands are not contradictory; His economy is indexed to obedience, not performance. We have found this verse to be critical in our spiritual formation as we attempt to wean ourselves from performance and make our incentive biblical obedience."

The verse that Hayes references is the one quoted by Jesus in Matt 26:11, when he says "you will always have the poor with you". Often in Hayes (and my) experience people take this to mean that you can't do anything about the poor, so don't worry too much about it. But this is the opposite of what the verse actually intends.

What I appreciate about Hayes quote above is that he has touched on our tendency to only want to respond to that which we can "fix". We want our ministry, our giving, our counsel, even our evangelism to be effective and efficient on our own terms -- otherwise we don't want to give them. It seems like such a waste, like pouring money down the drain. Like shining a flashlight at the sun. There is just no point.

Back in June I mentioned Luke 6:30: "Give to everyone who begs from you. . . " All summer I have been working on taking Jesus at his word on this one. There is an unbelievable amount of nuance in the lessons learned from this. At the top of the list is this: Jesus could not possibly have had in mind that you give to people, in obedience to God, in order to fix their problems.

So what is the point then? I have figured out that the obedience is about my walk and my character and how I value or understand my own wealth (time, money, insight, etc..) and how I look at others. The result has been spiritual growth for me. A rather simple sort of obedience in my life this summer has trumped my natural tendency to prefer efficiency and effectiveness. I have problably given away $100 to $150 since June. (what do you do when someone asks for money and all you have is a $20? Yep, sometimes you get mad and give it to them; sometimes you lie and say you don't have any money; then you vow to NEVER leave the house without plenty of change and $1's!!).

As someone steeped in a past decade of presbyterianism and reformed theology, committed to God being a God of order and decency, I have been seeing again this summer how my sense of effeciency and effect and giving only to what can be "fixed" is opposed to God's call to obedience. Lavish obedience. Lavish Kindness. Lavish Mercy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What is a "dangerous" neighborhood?

I am reading Mary Pattillo's book Black on the Block. In the final chapter on violence she discusses briefly the concept of what makes a neighborhood dangerous or at least what causes it to be percieved as such.

Pattillo follows Sally Engle Merry by primarily considering the issue of danger around the concept of the "unknown". Contexts in which we don't know what to expect leave us fearful. We don't know how to expect people to act. That sense of unknown makes us fearful.

I think there is great merit in this. Often the various public housing communities in Chicago are labled as dangerous neighborhoods, yet in 8 years of regularly being in and around such communities I have never been physically harmed or threatened.

I read an article in the Chicago Tribune last year (I wish I would have saved it!) that compared two suburban communities. One black, one white. Other than race very similar demographics (median income, age of community, density, etc...) but the crime was higher in the white community but percieved to be higher (or presumed or prejudged to be) in the black community. This of course caused the appreciation of the real estate in the white (higher crime, more dangerous) community to far out strip the black (lower crime, safer) neighborhood.

So in my experience that the concept of a dangerous community is often more about perception that reality -- and labeling communities that way is unnecessary and harmful. When I discuss such areas with people from the burbs I often use positive descriptors of the community as follow up to the "dangerous" labels that my interlocuter has posited. Usually this changes their language to somewhat neutral and they seem to realize thier own lack of awareness of what actually goes on there.

Then again, there are truly high crime areas, high crime blocks, high crime corners. But on and around those corners are young children growing up. There are people celebrating, laughing, loving, spending time together. In other words to someone those places are home -- not "that dangerous place".

So what is a dangerous neighborhood? First, in Christian terms I have to say that it is a place in which people live -- "Beings" then who are by definition created in the image of God and therefore worthy of lables of dignity. Second, it is fair to say that these places are usually places that are widely misunderstood, marginalized and ignored. Third, they are places in which people reside who did not "make the neighborhood" that way. Fourth, they are usually places of rich and nuanced history combined with a crushing wieght of "the forces that be". Finally, again in Christian terms, they are places where sinners live, as is every other place.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Is there a movement more radical in US history than the Civil Rights movement?

There are many things in Charles Marsh book "The Beloved Community" that were new and challenging to me. Perhaps the thing that most jumped off the page at me was the way in which he described the work of Dr. John Perkins as substantively more radical than the civil rights movement.

This was not an off the cuff statement. The entire book traces what the subtitle suggests: "How faith shapes social justice from the civil rights movement to today". Marsh looks closely at the work of Dr. King, Clarence Jordan (Koinonia Farm) and SNCC. He looks at the way in which the ideas and dreams of beloved community that each of these held dear essentially died in the years following Dr. King's assassination.

He also traces Dr. Perkins work in a way that highlights his long standing work within the civil rights movement. Perkins brother was shot unnecessarily by a local law enforcement officer in the south and died in his arms because local medical rules and authorities perferred Jim Crow to mercy. They delayed treatment until it was too late. Perkins was jailed, beaten and persecuted as were other civil rights workers.

But Perkins work for equal rights was energized by his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through years of toil and a longstanding committment to the poor, Perkins developed 3 guiding principles: Reconciliation. Relocation. Redistribution.

When I read about the civil rights movement and African American history I have often felt a sense that I wish I could have been there. I wish I could have been a part of it, part of doing what was right that most of the US white church evaded, ignored and castigated. Marsh communicates similar sentiments when he says in the acknowledgements: "This book emerges as an expression of gratitude for the courage and conviction of black church people in the South. . . " In other words for Marsh the writing of the book is I think in part an act of repentance and association.

With Dr. Perkins I feel called to work toward the 3 R's. What Marsh has helped me realize is that this 3R vision is a movement whose legacy is squarely rooted in the civil rights but under Perkins thought process is far more radical. Even Dr. King didn't call for middle class people to be reconciled in love with the poor. There was no call for middle class Americans to move back into neighborhoods among the poor. And while the civil rights movement clearly provided a fore-runner to the call for reparations, the person to person movement of those with personal networks, financial and educational resources to open themselves and thier homes to those with less is something that goes beyond even the height and beauty of the civil rights movement.

Dr. Perkins has been a personal hero of mine for many years. I am a member of the Christian Community Development Association ( which Dr. Perkins and Coach/Pastor Wayne Gordon started many years ago. This international organization's annual conference is among the most exciting events I have ever attended (and remains so year after year). But for all of my study of civil rights and for all of my love for Dr. Perkins, I have never really realized that the joy here is a very real connection to that repentance needed for white evangelicals who missed (rejected) the civil rights era.

(All of the above is in no way meant to be a discredit to the wonder of the civil rights movement or the stature of Dr. King. Marsh speaks with great admiration of civil rights leaders including SNCC and clearly articulates the way in which the entire movements, in all of its parts, were rooted in the black church and in a desire to work for "the beloved community")

Monday, June 25, 2007

Everyone's in the Middle?

Before dismissing 1 Timothy 6:17ff as being for "those REAL rich people":

I have noticed that no matter how much $ Americans had when they were growing up the tend to see themselves as "middle-class". I know exceedingly wealthy folks who regard themselves as such because they know a handful of folks who have a lot more. Or as someone said to me recently "There is always another Bill Gates around the corner" -- so they must not be "rich".

Then again both in my personal experience with folks who grew up with very little and in reading Mitchell Duneier's book "Sidewalk" you find folks at the other end of the spectrum who won't use the word poor to describe themselves. Partly this is an identity issue (who wants so say they were poor? or rich for that matter?) and partly it is perspective. In a clip from the movie "Killer of Sheep" (regarded by Richard Roeper as the greatest African American film of all time!) there is a man who says (I'll have to paraphrase here) "I ain't poor -- look at so-and-so, he eats grass! that's poor! I ain't poor!"

So no one wants to be regarded as rich. But I'd say that if you live in a household with income greater than $50K annually, and/or if you have (or will have) a college degree, you (and I) are flat out RICH. Check out for perspective. If you go there and enter your income you will find out what number richest person in the world you are. Most fill find that they are in the top 5%, at least. Probably the top 1%! So if you are among the richest, even 10% of people in the world currently -- and that means you'd be in the top 1 or 2% of the richest people in the history of the world -- I'd say that makes the label "rich" appropriate.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Native Son

I read Native Son this month. It is basically a historical fiction genre book - but it wasn't called that when it was written. I am not a big fiction reader so I'm not sure about the category, but it does trace the life of a fictional character that could have existed in any one of many US cities during the past 140 years. The book is about an African American man who lives a life of oppression and is almost type cast to commit horrific murder against one or more white people.

Written by the much heralded Richard Wright, it captures in agonizing detail the life of Bigger Thomas during the period of a few weeks. Bigger is based on a number of men and boys that Wright new growing up in the South during Jim Crow. The story is set in late 1930's Chicago -- amidst the slums of the black ghetto.

I live just off of 46th street about 3 blocks from "4605 South Drexel", the location of the home in which Bigger worked and committed his initial crime (we live on the black side of the "color line" spoken of in the book -- a line that to this day remains intact). This was definitely a hook for me as the primary characters travel around my home and community. The park that they drive around in for 2 hours (Washington Park) separates my home from our ministry site and I drive those roads daily.

It will take some time for me to process the book and its lessons or interest for me. I think that besides the geographic setting the interest I have is in seeing the community through the eyes of an African American author. I think to some degree Wright is just "tellin the truth" about the life of an oppressed people. On the other hand "hope" is what sucks the life out of the characters, they live without any joy, and the preacher is just a wishful thinker -- not really a real character. These are all things that I know are core aspects of the community and therefore I think not honestly portrayed.

On the other hand he has a great ability to describe the effects of oppression and injustice to the community as a whole and why a real estate tycoon who gives millions to assist the community he helps oppress is really someone trying in vain to do something helpful -- basically the man is just applying balm to his own conscience, not actually working for change.

The other critique I had was that Bigger was externally void of almost any words or thoughts but internally able to articulate his feelings and sense of the world in masterful prose. Partly I think this was Wrights means of showing how someone who appears to be less than a man externally is actually much more than what he appears. But I kept thinking that the contrast between the Bigger external and internal was too much -- the internal man was Wright himself. Maybe that was his whole point?

Justice & Fish

Ok, briefly here, a breakdown on approaching justice issues using old proverbial wisdom as an outline:

1. Give a man a fish.
2. Teach a man to fish.
3. Be sure the man has access to the pond and that no one is destroying or polluting it!

Are Christians called to engage at all 3 levels? (Usually we prefer option 2 since it is moderated, efficient, avoiding politics on the one hand and handouts on the other.)

Practical Justice

I have been reading a book lately called "Practical Justice" by Kevin Blue. I picked up the book because I am not sure what it means as a follower of Jesus Christ to "do justice". I alluded to this in my last entry. Are there categories of justice that we should and should not pursue? Isn't justice a code word for political activism? Isn't political neutrality the real call of the minister? Isn't the separation of church and state essentially biblical (or at least wise)?

Here are a couple of my assumptions: The scriptures are true and reliable. They form a more solid foundation for all of my activity in life than the political leanings of anyone or any system. I neither want to be a simpleton when it comes to reading scripture nor do I want to use my theological or political reflexes (or systems) to undermine what scripture says.

So all that to say that while I don't think we should be afraid to look the scripture and see a call to justice activties (if they are there). Does the bible have much to God's people that call us to justice? Inescapably, yes. Ok, so what does that mean?

My feeling is that we should take our Jesus straight. Don't water him down.
So when Kevin Blue reminded me about Luke 6:30 I was (and still am) pretty unsettled.

Luke 6:30 -- Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

Every one of the 5 or 6 beggers I meet each day? The guys who just broke into my house and stole the keys to my car, house and my kids XBox 360? You've got to be kidding Jesus!

That's crazy. But "read the context" my bible education background responds. That only makes it worse. The context starts in verse 27: "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. (vs. 27-29)

So "taking Jesus straight" on the whole justice issue starts with my willingness to set conventional wisdom aside and obey. So I'm broke this week -- and trying not to get caught with only a $20 in my pocket!

More to follow on categories for thinking about Justice. If I can't swallow this lesson I can't move to the next.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What happens when mercy has to be repeated?

Micah 6:8 make it pretty clear that we are to be involved in at least 3 types of ministries as Christians. In fact, the way the command is written it is clear that until "this same Jesus" from Acts 1:10 reappears we are to always be about these things: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.

In the past few years I've noticed that often mercy has to be repeated again and again. Children in many communities need tutoring in a big way. So out of mercy Christians respond. But is it really mercy when generation after generation of young people by the hundreds of thousands receive a non-competitive, sub-standard, unequal educational experience? (I am obviously picking only one of a number of issues. Others must include health care, housing, employment, etc..)

Here it is 50+ years after "Brown vs. Board of Education", through a non-faith tradition lens made it clear that segregated education (and all other public institutions) would inherently be unfair, our neighborhood schools are totally segregated and nearly totally failing.

So is a response to this problem a mercy issue? Perhaps in the immediate need of some young person we can call it "mercy". But what we really should be bold enough to say is: this is an issue of justice -- and the God of scripture REQUIRES us to respond by "doing justice". When mercy has to be repeated again and again I think we need to look behind it for the likelihood that there is a societal injustice at play. (But too often as Christians we either don't know what it means to "do justice" or we won't. . . )

"He has told you, oh Man, what is good; and what does the Lord REQUIRE of you, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Reconciliation of the Gospel

Over and over the gospel messes me up and straightens me out. I find that urban ministry with its economic, racial and geographical boundary crossing has me constantly in between people. Those on our staff, those in the community, those in our support base, those in churches, those in community leadership -- all of these are constantly at odds between groups and even among groups.

I find it easy to pity myself when I find myself, yet again, between people. And in that spot my only hope is Christ and the power of his transformation through the gospel. In particular I find Matthew's rendition of the gospel and its implications helpful to me as told through the parable of the unmerciful servant.

The forgiveness experienced by the initial servant (more than he could ever repay in his life) is to be given in kind to those around him. Yet, he finds it hard to do -- as do most of us! If we really understand that lesson we would also understand the apostle John who wrote: "by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for our brother". 1 John 3

So not only should I work with people to live out this radical reconciliation, but I should also live that in my constant "in-betweenness". I think that for most people it is far easier to imagine taking "the big hit" for someone when there is a crisis than to actually die to our selves and lay down our lives when it means we will be late for an appointment, or misunderstood, or needing to patiently wait for someone to come around, or just being able to live with people who don't agree with us. Its the simple things that require forgiveness and persistent love that we find most challenging about the gospel.

I can't comprehend staying in urban ministry without the gospel constantly reminding me of my need for grace and calling me to show it to others.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Opening Shots

I have been thinking for some time about starting to blog regularly, so here goes. My son Caleb (1/7 of my kids) and I are on a trip to Missouri to connect with college kids about our ministry.

We work and live in Chicago's historic Southside, ministering across racial lines and among a community that is disproportionately poor. My thoughts, passion and self-study is primarily around ministerial, theological and historical issues about the city in general and my community in particular. I read quite a bit and plan to add thoughts about my perspectives on what the gospel means in general and how its witness through God's people in the city is a challenge rarely understood.

I often tell our staff that "if you are done learning you are done ministering here". I mention this because I am not going to write as "the one who understands" but rather as one called by Christ to love him, live in the city, and build bridges through the gospel.