Thursday, December 18, 2008

a sense of belonging to places of pain. . .

Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole have written a short book on Reconciliation that is a really helpful new resource for those who are interested. It's called Reconciling All Things, A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing.  (IVP). 

Perhaps the most important thing they suggest, aimed at those who are passionate about Reconciliation, is to take a time out.  They argue that without a theological framework for understanding our topic, we will run amuck being faddish, individualistic, justice-fighting or "rescuers" like fireman racing into save everyone.  These are all quite unsustainable, unwise and unbiblical notions.  

They ask "what and where are the patterns of life and social structures to sustain a vision of reconciliation?"  and  "the question we want to ask is, reconciliation toward what?"

Quite rightly the authors suggest that for Christians reconciliation is a gift of God.  It can't be pursued like a check off added to the long list of "to-do's" or well intended newest church "programs."  Real reconciliation is anchored in the dramatic legacy of the story of God. It is about creation-fall-redemption-culmination.  It is interlaced into this story of redemption.  To find it cheaply or quickly scheduled into our strategic plans or even our "calling" is to miss the point.  

The legacy of the story of God includes the idea that some of the wounds of Christ are yet to be fulfilled.  That is, Paul tells us that for the Christian we are going to fill up the suffering of Christ that is not yet complete.  The process of reconciliation is anchored in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Suffering is part of the deal to enter into reconciliation.  (Rice sites the experience of many IV staffers who found that literal death set in early for many who thrust their life into reconciliation).  

So I am in agreement with Rice and Katongole that we must pull back, reflect and develop a theology sufficient to sustain us in a walk.  I am also in agreement with them that this is NOT primarily for experts, scholars, pastors or ministry leaders.  It is for ALL who call themselves Christians.  

What I don't completely understand is how.   How do we find the space in our lives to pull back?  It seems like a luxury I don't have.  How do we engage the body of Christ beyond the experts and leaders and a handful with a passion?  I don't know but hope I can learn.  

Such communities of reconciliation are not possible without transformative experiences and engagements sustained by prayer and listening to God, life together worshiping communities, a sense of belonging to places of pain, the long term power of persuasion, and practices such as the capacity to absorb pain without passing that pain on to others.  All of these arise from the deep conviction about God and Jesus Christ. 
more to follow. . . 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What are legitimate marks of the Church?

I had an an interesting exchange about the role of the church.  Historically there are a central set of marks of the church (Preaching, Sacraments, Discipline).  But I would argue there is a wider role that all churches play do play.  In thinking about racial reconciliation in particular (or Biblical Diversity if you prefer) it seems to me that we must broaden the discussion from "narrow systematics".  This doesn't mean that carefully constructed minimalist outlines are not true, but that real life implementation always holds other aspects that are assumed to be unwritten truth. This often includes cultural expression and identity reinforcements.  

It gets a bit heated but here is the part of my recent exchange that focused on what church is:


My Comment:  On the issue of theology and church.  The black church is in its social context a completely different thing than the white church.  It's history and witness and role is different.  This is in part why when someone suggests that in Christ there are only churches and not ethnic churches, it is a very shortsighted pronouncement that only white American's would suggest.  No Christians from other ethnic groups, nor from any other country in the world is likely to suggest such a thing.  But white American Christians, from a position of power and privilege to which they seldom really comprehend, have a tough time with this. They think colorblindness is a real virtue.   None of our ethnic brothers and sisters in Christ (aprox 90% of world Christians) see it this way.  I think it is arrogant to be ignorant and/or unconcerned about this. 

 T's Response:  you say the role of the black church is different than the role of the white church, yet where do you find any differentiation in calling of churches in Scripture?  The role of any church, is to teach the Scriptures, administer the sacraments, and oversee church discipline.  No church should be involved in any politicking for any party, but should firmly stand in and pronounce the Truth of God's Word.  Whether that be everyone's need of a Savior or the evils of abortion, that is what the church is called to do.  The methodology is what may be different, but not the role, saying otherwise goes wholly against 500 years of Reformed ecclesiology.

My Response:On the issue of the church:  Here you have suggested that a narrow reading of Reformed systematics is the only way to understand the role of the church.  This could only be suggested from within the framework of one from a culture of power.  Clearly if you read Calvin you will find a radically broader understanding of the church.  Or Kuyper.  Or Keller.  etc.... 

The black church was started because blacks were kicked out of white churches.  They serve not only the central marks you mentioned but a myriad of others, including a place of cultural expression that is largely forbidden, mocked and rejected in the wider culture.  One's church is also a reflection of one's culture and serves to reinforce cultural identity, sense of meaning, and the understanding of the world.  It goes well beyond what you've suggested whether you recognize it or not.  

And of course the church's validity is also whether or not it reflects truth, righteousness-justice, peace, deliverance both from worldly oppression and from sin (ie. the wrath of God).  Its validity is compromised if it is not a place in which believers exercise their gifts, the modest parts of the body are treated with extra grace, parents are equipped to lead their children, the community reaches out as the hands, feet and mouth of Jesus Christ.  All of these are aspects of legitimate churches that are beyond your narrow set of marks. The expression of these are very different in the black community-- one that is rooted in its history of oppression.  This cultural history shapes the church, giving it both strengths and weaknesses.  All churches reflect both the imago dei and depravity. 

While I am willing to defer to your desire not to be labeled a typical white evangelical, your description of the church makes it hard for me to see a distinction.   Perhaps the black church is too big a leap, but I would encourage you to learn from others about the value of Asian, Latino or other ethnic churches.  You will find them reflecting the grace of God in the role local body's play in ways quite different than your own. It's a beautiful (and biblical) thing.  

T's Counter: I'll be very blunt.  You are a Ruling Elder in the PCA, live up to that title, and don't throw any of this pomo garbage back at me.  When you were called and ordained, you vowed to uphold the teachings of Westminster Standards, and as such YOU are bound to a "narrow interpretation" of systematic and biblical theology and to abide within the standards laid out in the BCO.  If you find yourself in disagreement with any of these, it is your duty to report that to your session and your presbytery.  So, I caution you, don't presume to lecture me on "narrow readings" of systematics.  You signed on to a denomination that is most narrow in its interpretation of Scripture,and doesn't show any favor or liberality towards unorthodoxy. 
Lastly, your presuppostions, generalizations, and general prejudice towards, what you term the "white church" are disgusting, peurile, and frankly border on racism.  You pass judgements on me and my church, and yet have no basis for such conclusions, except for the fact that I, and most people who attend my church are white.  Really, you are no different than the cloak-wearing Klansmen, in that you presume the worth of an individual and his/her character based solely on the color of his/her skin. 
Joel, if anything, this interaction has shown me and taught me that individuals who cry for reconciliation between anything besides our reconcilation to our Creator are merely trying to push their own agenda, and are motivated by a spirit of hate, guilt, or a combination of the two.


Wow.  Does anyone get this???

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Urban Entry

You have to check this out. . . I wish I could import the video entry but I can't so you just have to follow the link.  

Scott Lundeen is doing some cool video stuff.  If you are joining us for Bridge Builders this year you'll get to see the video. .  . he's done a great job capturing what I keep telling people:  the hood is moving to the burbs!!

I just keep laughing. . . watch it and you will too. . .

"I live in the suburbs"

Mourning the election?

I am wondering about 2 groups of Christians that I seem to be running into.  None of them are out loud, out front.  

One group is mourning the fact that they voted for a man that may very well increase the rate of abortion in the U.S. 

The other is mourning the fact that they had the chance to vote for the first African American president but couldn't do it.

Both are quietly hurting.  

Monday, November 10, 2008

Real Life Together -- Bonhoeffer on Visionaries

I am reading "Life Together" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and finding his words a challenge to my own attempts at thinking about the division in the church across racial lines a well as a our outcomes requirements on Christian ministries. 



"God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.  He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first the accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. 


. . . we think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good.  Then we deplore the fact that we lack deep certainty, the strong faith, and  the rich experience that God has given to others  and we consider this lament to be pious.  We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.  How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from him the little things.  If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where this is no great experience, no discoverable riches,  but much weakness and small faith and difficulty; if on the contrary we only keep complaining to God that everything  is so paltry and petty, so far from our expected, then we hinder God form letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us us in Jesus Christ.  


This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. "pp. 28-29 


This guy would not have made it in the church growth era!  But what he says rings true to me about my own make-up (visionary) and oft found lack of contentment with the church.  


It also bolsters, in a way, my feeling that perhaps in adopting market principles for evaluating ministry we can overstep or over-reach what God has for us. 


There is a beauty in serving out of weakness-without-triumphalism that at the heart of the gospel.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Race, Politics, & Christians.

Do you hear that loud ripping sound?  It’s the church of Jesus Christ tearing further apart around politics, race, and specifically:  President Obama.

Here in Chicago, across the city, black conservative Christians (including some who voted against Obama) can be seen weeping, wailing, celebrating, and cherishing the historic step taken this week in the narrative of the United States.  Also, across the city and throughout the suburbs are white Christians in shock or dismay, expressing fear, incredulity and sometimes even anger. 

Nearby, the white leadership of a local Christian school that prides itself on its diversity (and has a student body that probably exceeds 50% non-white) failed to even acknowledge the election results.  “Its not in the history books yet” said one teacher. Black parents are supremely offended. 

So how can white Christians be so insensitive to our black brothers and sisters?  How can black and white Christians have no comprehension about one another in spite of all the Promise Keeper’s Racial Reconciliation stuff? (Or as a black colleague likes to call it “reconciliation blah blah”. )

We live in a country in which, as Mark Noll has documented carefully, there are no two voting blocks closer to one another in personal standards of morality than white evangelicals and black protestants – and there are no two voting blocks further apart.  How can this be?

Even as I write this I am listening to comments about the election, coming from white Christians, that are deplorable.   Love is patient?  Love is kind?  Love doesn’t envy or boast? Love doesn’t insist on it s own way?  Love is not irritable or resentful?  In relation to our black brothers and sisters I have to say that for far too many in the white church this love is not known today.

“The body is one and has many members. . . the [white] eye cannot say to the [black] hand ‘I have no need of you’. . . But God has so composed the body .  .  .  that there may be no division in the body , but that the members have the same care for one another. . . If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored all rejoice together”  (1 Cor 12.)

For the record, my interest here is the body of Christ not supporting any political candidate or party.  

To my white Christian friends:  yes I’ve read the Huntley Brown Letter.  That doesn’t change the fact that more than 90% of our conservative, bible-believing, Christ serving, spirit-indwelt black brothers and sisters LOVE our new president.  Out of love for Christ and His bride – shouldn’t we want to know why?  Aren’t you curious in the spirit of Christ’s reconciling love?  Or is all our talk about biblical reconciliation dead upon its lack of political expediency? 

There are many good questions to be asked.  There are many dumb questions to be dealt with.  There are many bridges to build.  Citing Huntley Brown, ignoring the presidential  election, remaining indifferent to the history that has been made will only exacerbate our dilemma of a divided body.   

One very interesting observation was made about Obama by a white, conservative ideological opponent of his at Harvard University.  That is, he is capable of discussion in which he presents an opposing view, learns from those he disagrees with, and doesn’t make enemies with those opponents.  Shouldn’t we as Christians be able to do this too?

For those interested please consider the following resources (assuming a preponderance of desire to learn over/against a desire to “battle”) here are some tools:

Book: Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith

Book: Reconciliation Blues, Ed Gilbreath

Book:  God and Race in American Politics: A Short History, Mark Noll

Blog:  The Reconciliation Blog (www.

Blog: Beauty and Depravity (

Blog: 17 seeds (

Presentation:  Dr. Soong-Chan Rah’s CCDA presentation can be ordered.   This lecture that is both professorial and pastoral in nature explores the differing theologies that develop in communities of “suffering” (ala. Marginalized communities) and those of “celebration” (ala. Middle class/mainstream US).  Fascinating with HUGE implications for understanding our own theology more deeply.  (

Discussion/Workshop:  For interaction at a personal or small group level please contact Sunshine Gospel Ministries and ask for Lauren Dillon or Joel Hamernick.  We will work to facilitate a discussion/workshop, or connect you with a facilitator in your area.  

Good discussion topics might include:

·      African American Church History

·      Biblical Reconciliation

·      Black Theology

·      How the Imago Dei and Depravity are evident in other cultures

A few good questions:  (Disclaimer: It will be very difficult for someone who doesn’t know these answers to ask the them of someone with whom they have no relationship.  If you are really interested, go slow, listen long, start where you have relationship credibility, be willing to be vulnerable and to be worthy of someone being vulnerable with you --. Ie. Re-read 1 Cor 13 slowly)

Why would Black Christians who voted for McCain be overwhelmed with joy and emotion when Obama was elected?

Why would someone who is opposed to abortion and gay rights be open to (or excited about) voting for Obama?

What is the personal connection for an African American parent, seeing Obama’s family walk out on that platform with him at the end of the speech in Chicago?

What is the significance and beauty of a black woman being the first lady of the United States (ask this question of a black woman)?

What are the most fun cultural changes that might take place in the white house?!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hey Dad, can you measure this?

Sorry I've been away a for a long time.  I decided I better slip a post in during October just so I don't miss a whole month! 

The topic of my thoughts today:  The downside of Outcome Based Programming. 

In case you don't know this, the entire world of not-for-profit is moving in the direction of measuring outcomes, including faith based ministry. The basic premise is that the market economy and business world on the whole, have figured out how to operate efficiently.  They do this out of a profit motive and competitive demands.  Limited resources + unlimited demands = the necessity of making decisions carefully, using thrift, and creating models of efficiency.  The larger for-profit world then tries to ride those models to success.  

At Sunshine we've spent nearly a full year creating a framework for carefully clarifying out outcomes and devises to measure this.  We've worked with a great guy who knows this stuff inside and out.  He's brought the adage "if you can't measure it, it isn't real" to the table.  I think most NFP's resist this to some degree, partially out of a desire to shirk accountability (just being real here) and partially out of a sense that "you can't measure all fruit" and sometimes the activity fulfills faithfulness rather than demanding a measured result.  [e.g. As a Christian can you demand "X" number of converts for "x" amount of preaching?]

 Suffice to say there is a debate but the "we need measurable results" group is dominating the landscape.  This is why No Child Left Behind is in the schools and lots of NFP's are working hard to define, forecast, and measure results.   For the moment I'll just say this: there is a huge upside to creating better models of efficiency and measurability.  It creates accountability for the NFPs and clarity for donors.  All very important.  

BUT. . . . my wife and I had a conversation about expectations and control when it comes to our children this week that has me really thinking.  I'll admit that my life is not the norm:  7 kids, plus we are homeschooling a "daughter" (yeah Porsha!) and a full load of leading ministry and living in an urban environment.   Our kids are in a total of 4 different schools, 2 sports teams, and 3 in debate/speech, 3 volunteering and in Bible Study at Sunshine. 

What we find is that every child-institutional relationship creates pressure on us as a family to (a) meet expectations and (b) meet THIER expectations.  This is a good, normal thing and varies in demand (e.g. Sunshine wants a form filled out and signed, with "x" money by "x"date and certain homework done).  Every day we have demands placed on us that create various levels of stress.  Sometimes a lot of stress.  The school administrators, coaches, teachers, and other leaders we interact with as parents have a LONG list of demands.  It is alternately understandable, discouraging, frustrating and even creates angry responses at times.  

If you don't do this you get a demerit! If you don't do that you'll be fined!  If you don't turn this in then you can't advance!"  If you don't achieve this you fail!"  Much of it comes across in this negative tone.  Especially once you are behind on pretty much anything.  Oftentimes it comes across this way before you are behind!

Why are these folks doing this?  They are all under pressure from their leaders and donors to conform in various way to efficient, effective, predictable outcomes.  What is the response at the level of "personhood"?  Some can handle it and grow.  I am beginning to think that the pressure to produce measurable targeted, predictable, efficient outcomes virtually guarantees the failure (or the declaration of failure) on a significant group of "the least of these".  

Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing against using outcomes. I am just wrestling with the human cost associated with it and the cost to the kind of ministry that, as is often reflected in the gospel, is not efficient or predictable. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

Separate. Equal? No way, build that bridge!

There is a really difficult situation boiling in Nashville.  The school board there is about to re-segregate, to a large degree, the urban, poor schools.  I’d like to share with you some of what shapes my perspective that this remains a radical injustice in US society.

I was visiting with a man (RS) out in the burbs recently that, as it turns out, grew up near where we live.  He lived in Roseland (south of here around 95th street) in the mid 1960’s.  His family was one of the last white, mostly Dutch, families to move away as the neighborhood became black. 

He shared with me about his very difficult high school experience in which he was one of 23 white students in a school of about 3000.   He shared with me how these years engendered bitterness and bigotry.   As the year passed he found a way out of that set of attitudes. The Lord worked in his life to show him a perspective on urban youth that attend racially and economically isolated schools – he understands what they face in a very real way.

My son Jared, for the past 2 years, has had that experience, being one of 3 white kids in a school of about 850.  Jared’s experience, however, was very different.  Jared’s experience was extremely positive.  He loved the school, his teachers and classmates seem to love him as well. 

Recently we decided to take Jared out of the school to finish his HS career at home. The reason has to do with our family process and desire to see him graduate a year early and to spend a year traveling abroad (or some other adventure) next year.  

At any rate, the principle, a terrific guy, really tried to convince us to leave him in the school.  When we inquired as to why (we thought it might be an anti-homeschooling perspective) he spoke about the value Jared’s classmates got from interacting with him.  He was perhaps the only white kid they would know up close before walking into college where they would, in most instances, face a majority white classroom and school.   He spoke about the value in simply interacting with his worldview, his value system, his way of thinking.  All good we thought.

Then I spoke with RS and as he was telling me his story he talked about how when he went away to college in Iowa, and walked into his first class (450 white freshman) he just about panicked!  “How am I going to compete? I don’t know the rules for a place like this!”  Self doubt overwhelmed him.  And he was white! 

I put the two stories together and realized that the principle was really putting his finger on something of value in my son’s presence in the school.  The real point, however, was not so much about my son (although I’ll brag all day about him!) but that desegregating schools (both racially and economically) has real empowerment and justice implications.

So when I read the article about what is happening in Nashville, I saw again how the old system of separating out society both by race and by class is devastating.  Of course we also see this in our community.  Our neighborhood schools are much like those in Nashville, except they are already (still) segregated and (with few exceptions) failing our students. 

RS also spoke to me about how he walked from his block, which was still primarily white, crossing over a bridge in the black neighborhood.  Each day the trouble of that school was mitigated to some degree in his life as he crossed that bridge back into a more balanced community.  A resourced community.

But, as RS pointed out so aptly, most of these kids don’t have a bridge. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Seek Peace in the City -- 2009 Urban Missions

 2009 Already?  Yesss!!!!


We just finished an exciting season of summer missions here in Chicago.  I am already getting really pumped for next year.  We just booked our 6th college group for Spring Break and even summer registrations are starting.  



All of this leaves me energized about diving into new sections of scripture to better understand what it means to Seek Peace in the City.  



"But Seek the Welfare (shalom) of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare (shalom) you will find your welfare (shalom)."

Jeremiah 29:7



What does it look like to enter some of the most marginalized places in our country and find not only a place God is at work, but a place in which God will work on us? What does God have to teach us not only about our capacity to give but our need to receive, in the city? How in the world can we find peace in the city?  



These are all things that I believe God is answering in the city, through Bridge Builders, as college, high-schoolers, and even adults find Him waiting to work in their lives!  



If you know of a college ministry (spring break) or high school group (summer) that would benefit from this ministry, by all means hook us up!    (check out the Bridge Builders link at 






Thursday, August 7, 2008

Where are all the Brothers?

What a great, and sad, title for a book.  

Pastor Eric Redmond has written a short book designed to passed out to (and perhaps by) African American men who have lost interest or fail to see the value in the church -- and by extension, faith in Christ.  

When one enters a black community it quickly becomes apparent that a whole lotta brotha's are missing.   What look like bizarre statistics that often appear in mainstream US publications come alive as painful reality within inner-cities.  Too many black men are "missing".  

There is one set of realities that come together that remove or alienate black men from family and community (e.g. out of wedlock births and incarceration rates) and for most of us who didn't grow up in a black family or black community that particular set of realities is pretty much all we can see.  But, for the record, most black men are not in prison, on drugs, or living below the poverty line.  (My black friends will think this is so obvious as to be stupid to write. . . . but, sorry brothers, too many white folks I talk with don't seem to get this!)  

There is another set of realities that are far too common in the church that drive black men from the church who are present in the community and whose presence is sorely needed in the body of Christ.   Pastor Redmond understands this second set of realities and addresses them head on:  Apathy, disenchantment, a sense of hypocrisy, veneration of pastors, and the approach to money are all examples of such issues. 

This is an important book.  As one of my black pastor friends said when I gave it to him "anything for the men is key!"

The book is easy to read, engaging, and short -- therein containing a good formula for a book designed to be passed out and to get a guy thinking.

It also has good resources, however, as follow up reading for further study.  I think its a brilliant little book for its purpose and pray God will use it for it's intended purpose.  

Eric Redmond blogs at "A Man from Issachar

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What creates "radicals"?

We had another break in this week about 5:30am.  
As the governor noted publicly yesterday, over the past 2 weeks we’ve had almost 1 child per day killed in the city.  On Tuesday our BB team was on a public bus and someone screamed “get out, he has a knife” and half the bus emptied. . . .  Then this morning our building was burglarized again — for about the 6th or 7th time
 this year.  

While there has been a lot of violence city wide, we are fortunate to have experienced relatively minor damage (a few broken windows, some missing TV’s and a computer, a few somewhat alarmed teens).  Each week when we have missions teams teams here we wrestle with what Luke 6:30 really means.

“give to whomever begs from you, and for the one who takes away your goods, do not demand them back. . .  . .love your enemy”.    

Over the past several months I have been wondering about how Christians that work in distressed urban contexts become “radicals”.  When the names and words of people like Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger break out into the open they appear to be nuts to the “average” American.  

Crazy. Radicals.  

Now I am not trying to equate what we do with them but just want to make these three observations:  
1. The people in their communities love them.  
2. These radicals are seriously moved by the word of God.  
3. They don’t look that crazy from here.  

Further, I think that if the “average” American Christian heard the conversations that go on at CCDA and other gatherings of Christians who work in urban contexts they would be perceived as “radical”.  My own pastor, who is regularly heard on mainstream Christian radio, uses different terminology and descriptions when preaching in our church than when he is invited to preach at places like Bible colleges.   Christians in the developing world are also notoriously perceived as radical in their faith by US evangelicals.  

So what is it that creates these radicals?  Is it the context of injustice, violence and marginalization?  Perhaps.  But more than that I think it is the word of God.  If you give the words of Christ to people in desperate settings. . . The word radicalizes.  Common sense would never suggest always giving to beggars, letting the thief get away, or staying even temporarily in harms way — let alone loving those who hate you.  

These are challenging lessons requiring patient reflection, prayer, faith in God, and even a sense of humor.  Please pray that we’d have all of these.  Thanks for standing with me as we seek the renewal of the city through the power of the gospel preached and lived out. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

the value of outsiders

I have had a bunch of conversations lately about the role of outsiders in marginalized communities.  

The assumption is that outsiders -- white, suburban, christians (WSC)-- want to be involved in the urban context.  They want to give of their time and money effectively and, of course, not be disrespected in the process.  

But often, insiders -- urban Christians of all hues (UC)-- feel disrespected along the way.  They feel that the WSCs are not actually giving freely, that they are not giving without strings attached or hidden agendas.  Additionally, the UCs feel that the WSCs give out of such imperiled motives and limited (privileged) perspectives that they do more harm than good.  I just spoke with a pastor who all but told me he wants his supporters to give money but stay away -- they'll screw things up if they are around too long.  And he is just more honest than MANY I know who wish they had the freedom (luxury, privilege, power) to say the same thing.  

This is why we started Bridge Builders.  We expect that the giving in the body of Christ must be two-way to be genuine.  When we have missions teams here, we literally try to give them more than they give (they probably don't always perceive it this way).  We want them to be able to give financially and of their time directly and effectively.  

Here is the reality:  we need them (everyone see this) and they need us (really?  how? few see this). 

Given that it is our assumption that the need goes both ways, we want to figure out what it means to genuinely equip our donors in terms of personal connections.  We want them to visit, to learn, to see and of course to support the ministry financially.  We want them to enter into the joy of ministry of which they are really a part, in a way that affirms all involved.  We want them to receive, not just to give.  

I am entering into a new challenge at Sunshine -- over the next three years to raise 1000 monthly donors averaging $50/month.  As I do this I am seriously trying to figure out how we invite these donors into a sort of covenantal relationship with our community.  My hope is that we as a ministry, as an urban community, can give back to the donors, and give well.  

So my question is this:  What is the value of the outsider beyond money?  How does someone in an urban context honor and minister in return without exploiting those here in the community?  What are the unrealistic expectations of the outsider?  How can those expectations be responded to from a ministry standpoint?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Winning can be awkward.

There are 2 white kids at Wadsworth Elementary School here in Woodlawn.  I know because they are both mine.  

Corban (5) and Caden (4) are "moving up".  Corban is headed from Pre-K to Kindergarten and Caden is going from Pre-K3 to Pre-K4.  They had an all school assembly which we enjoyed attending.  Corban got the "Pre-Kindergarten Honor Role Award for a scholarly mind".  

(no, he couldn't quite read that sentence yet, but evidently he has the mind for it!)

Out of about 500 kids 2 would be awarded new bicycles out of a drawing.  Guess who one the boys bike?   Caden!  It never occurred to me that they might have any chance to win so I left before they did the drawing and didn't get to take pictures  at the time.

There are many things about living in the community we've gotten used to that many would find awkward. . . but being the only boy in the school to win a new bike (one that is actually too big for him -- something that was pointed out loudly by the 2nd grade classroom boys across the aisle) that's awkward!  

Fortunately Caden and Corban are oblivious to the perception of privilege and favoritism.  And their teachers were only encouraging.  We love being here you just never know what you'll face next.   

(That's Kaylie that decided she needed to sit with the Pre-K3 class next to Caden -- she's right at home too. . . )

Monday, June 9, 2008

8th Grade Graduations! What?

What does a commencement speaker talk about at an 8th grade graduation? What kind of a party do you throw?  Why would one even celebrate 8th grade "graduation".  .  .  ?

Those are all questions I keep asking myself (and have for a few years) as I attend graduations in the city.  Today I attended a graduation service at a nearby elementary school.  

The speaker was a motivational speaker who followed a young graduate who prayed his prayer to Jesus in no sheepish way.  (To that point in the service the audience had been surprisingly quiet, but when he say " in JESUS name. . .  Amen" the crowd came alive. 

So about 50 students, approximately the same number of girls and boys, dressed "to the 9's" in new suits (mostly white).  The shoes were classy high heels with fancy tie-backs or classic looking baby blue -- or orange with white stripes.  Corsages, graduation caps and gowns. . .  all the works.  The picked up their diplomas, they threw their hats. .  . 

The commencement speaker's topics:  Boys, you are not a statistic. . . Girls, you are queens.  The audience was charged to stay in the life of the kids and cover them with prayer.  Through God all things are possible.  You can stay away from trouble.  You can stay away from incarceration.  You can go to high school and make your dreams come true.  You can stay away from teen pregnancy.  The school, the family and the church must be active in your life.  You can embrace your heritage (African American) and know that God has blessed you and made you strong.    You won't be able to go to school in your neighborhood now, you'll have to ride buses and trains but you can do it. .  .  

The drop out rate in Chicago among African American boys is 57%.  The rate of unemployment is at least 4 times as high for a drop out as a college grad. . . and that doesn't even consider the type of employment open to a college grade vs. a drop out.  

I have very mixed feelings about this type of service.  It embraces the youth and congratulates them for making it through 8th grade. . . that is terrific.  The speaker was also able to (amazingly) speak freely about faith, the church and Jesus.  

Then again how sad is it that many if not most of these youth won't make it to the next graduation?  How sad is it that incarceration and teen pregnancy are so likely that they warrant discussion at an 8th grade graduation?!  

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Urban Ministry? Expect Problems.

Urban Ministry is growing because, for Christians, the city is our future.  The city is where the body of Christ is growing most rapidly, not only in the US, but around the world.  The mere fact that the population of the world is rapidly urbanizing combined with the truth of the great commission leaves us with this inescapable conclusion.  But. . . 

Christian leaders in the city get neutralized almost as fast at they appear.  I could give you a list of a dozen or more personal friends and colleagues that have thrown in the towel, had the rug yanked out, or have regressed into apathy just in the past couple of years.  Part of the sad truth is that a hugely disproportionate number are African American -- among the most needed leaders in our urban ministries.  

In his great book Reconciliation Blues, Ed Gilbreath paints a picture of coming into a room full of CCDA leaders, all forlorn, heads down.  Palpable Discouragement.  I think for most ministers in urban America this picture resonates.  

So why is this the case?  I believe that the overall spiritual, emotional, physical and financial impact of urban ministry is simply more than "normal" people can deal with.  

One problem is that many if not most urban ministry leaders are being prepared in notoriously non-urban frameworks.  Success is defined in efficiency, relative comfort, and all-too-often distinctly partisan terms.   Theology itself, as well our sense of ortho-praxis, is done in the sanctity of the air-conditioned, well stocked, comfortable classroom.  The racial, economic, physical, social and spiritual context of the urban center constantly challenge what one has always heard before. 

About a year ago I went to a highly regarded leadership forum in which one of the most recognizable Evangelical leaders in the country (I'll call him Jack) did a workshop called  "the life cycle of a leader".   I was looking forward to it because I knew that he had been highly effective by most standards, I had really appreciated his teaching in the past, and I knew that he had faced significant trouble during his ministry (I also had a sense of skepticism about the super-leader model but was keeping this at bay).  By the time the guy was done talking, however,  he had "charted" on a white board a line that looked like a stock market growth chart during a time of nothing but affluence.  Up, up, up.  

Who could possibly live a life like that, let alone lead ministry in which everything is always up, up, up. . . on to the next level of success -- the top of which was reserved for a few super-duper leaders like Moses, Jesus, and Jack.   

Regardless of Jack's optimism about ministry leadership, this is not only a false confidence in one's personal leadership, but a patently unbiblical example to hold up for Christian ministers.  It is also a destructive standard to carry into the urban context.   It won't happen. It can't be maintained.  It is a front.  A hustle.  It's untrue.  

In the urban center you will get wounded as you enter into the suffering of others.  You will fall into pits, face persecution, deal with obstacles unknown and almost unimaginable in the affluent and "safe" places beyond communities of relegation.  The urban leader is alternatively viewed as "hero" by those who would never dare to go there, and as villain by those who don't think a responsible adult would allow their children to live there, go to school there, etc...

Of course the truth is that urban leaders are neither hero, nor villain, but simply parts of the body of Christ who are surrounded by other parts of the body of Christ.  I don't think "super-peoples" are what is needed for urban ministry either.  Rather, people who know they are weak, and therefore remain dependent on God.  As one of my closest mentors once told me:  "Expect God to work slowly but consistently . . . and expect lots of problems.  That's how God normally works."  Outside of scripture. . . . truer words were never spoken! 

All of that said, there are some specific issues that must be considered about the challenge of urban ministry and why so many leaders hit the dirt or skip town. I want to suggest a few possibilities and love it if you add your perspective:

1. The urban spiritual battle.  The urban context almost inevitably involves reconciliation between people who just don't "get" each other (racially, economically, and educationally). 

2. Change. The rate of change and information is so intense, you can't ever really get used to it - you are never all caught up!   

3.  The need:give ratio.  The amount of need in your face on a daily basis radically exceeds anyone's capacity to give to the point of "fixing". 

4. Family.  Are the kids safe? 

5. Money Irony:  It is expensive to live in poor neighborhoods.  

Monday, May 26, 2008

God Girl's Sin Boldly: A book snuck into the mix.

Zondervan is releasing a book by the religion writer at the Chicago Sun-times, Cathleen Falsani.  

Falsani is the pop-culture-eclectic Wheaton grad that some how landed a job at the tabloid mag Times  ("somehow" not because of her skills but because of her pedigree). 

First I should say that I enjoy the Sun-times.  As my father-in-law pointed out to me years ago, all cities should print at least one paper like this -- it is so much easier to read while walking down the street or standing on the el!  I have also enjoyed reading Falsani who passes the "is she really an evangelical?" test the way Bono passes the "is he really a Christian test?": hopefully but with one foot conspicuously out of bounds. 

Falsani's book made me think about a recent argument made by Tim Keller that religion advocates typically are so disconnected from disbelievers that they caricature one another in argument, find no common ground, and  therefore have meaningless conversations that are more attack than discussion.  Keller would like her I think. . .

Falsani presents a series of short chapters sharing quite personally from her life's quest to find grace in the nitty-gritty, ebbs and flows of life.  She is quite atypical for an evangelical in that she finds comfort in realizing her own failings and eagerness to discover lessons on grace from pop culture, foreign countries, an odd nun, sexist African tour guide and other places.    

The chapter reciting her quasi-obituary  for Jerry Falwell (she was honest about her embarrassment about Falwell's fundamentalist ranting and pleasure not to have to explain him anymore as a fellow "evangelical") and the section in which she explains her testimony that doesn't fit the prescribed order both had me chuckling over my wet burrito at La Cantina Grill. 

I found Falsani to be someone who approached things the way Keller would appreciate; avoiding antagonism, asking questions, looking for truth.  I also read her as someone who finds joy inhabiting my urban world -- not in the inner city sense of my community, but a Chi-town evangelical institution grad (her at Wheaton, me at MBI -- both weirdly, grudgingly respected institutions in beer-drinking  brat-eatin Chicaaago) who is is most comfortable being whatever kind of Christian is the opposite of loud-mouthed and predictable.  She rocks out to my favorite radio station, gets spiritual insight from Lin Brehmer (local old school rock dj-philosopher) and quotes U2, Martin Luther (for the title) and many others.    

My initial thought was that this is a good leave-it-by-the-pot book.  You know what I mean; the kind of book you read a few pages in a sitting, chuckle, give it a little thought and forget about it.  But once I read past the first few chapters I found the connections between her various trips (memphis, Africa, Ireland, Rome, etc...) enough to string me along for the ride.  

Reading this book will not give you a complex theological definition for grace, but it will give you some implicit encouragement to see the hand of God at work, as grace, woven into the fabric of urban pop culture life.  That is always a welcome encouragement in the city. 

Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace
Cathleen Falsani. Zondervan, $19.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-310-27947-1 

Monday, May 19, 2008

Facing Poverty

I have been watching and reading about the face of poverty in the US and hearing more about various ways to address it. In reading Sowell's book on economics I am not yet to the point where I understand what answers he might give to address poverty -- beyond his confidence in the market's ability to address things better than government.  Hopefully I will develop a more nuanced understanding as I continue reading. 

But I have gotten his point that all government policies to address social ills through funding have unintended consequences as they create incentives or disincentives.  For instance, "fixing" costs for things like rent prices or gas (on behalf of low income citizens) increases demand for the same amount of goods (since artificially lower prices don't increase production), thereby putting those intended to be helped at the same or greater disadvantage.  

Still, there at times when NOT doing something is more expensive than doing something.  If I don't fix the leak in my roof while it is small (saving money) the problem will definitely get worse.  

So I am reading the most recent campaign to end poverty (called Half in Ten) which calls for specific legislative remedy around specific topics to reduce the current number of Americans living in poverty (36 million) in half in the next decade.  The drafters of the campaign and its reports suggest that this will cost $90 billion per year in additional government expenditures, but imply that it will save a larger amount of money in the long term costs of poverty to the economy (unproductive citizens both cost $ and remove their positive production from the economy.  

So I am left very interested and yet asking questions:  What disincentives will be created through these programs?  How would you calculate the long term costs/savings from such a project?  What is the role of the church?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

H'nick Support

For anyone who is on our personal mailing list you should have gotten a letter from us via email.  If you didn't please send me a note with your current contact info.   As follow up to the "hood gets personal" thread, we are very close to closure with a new mortgage company.  Thanks to all of you who've been praying and looking to help.  Our latest letter gives the process a bit more detail and what we still have to do to get through.  Email me if you'd like a copy (or post a comment) and I'll be happy to send it your way. 

Blessings!  Joel. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Using the Word of God for advantage. . .

Corban (5) to Kaylie (2):  God says everyone in the world should share!

Mom (who overheard Corban): Corban, have you learned that lesson yet?

(Corban is silent .  .  .  )

Kaylie:  God says "No" to Corban.  

Monday, May 12, 2008

The unfolding drama of the kingdom. . .

I preached recently at Covenant Presbyterian Church here in Chicago which was our home church for about 15 years.  We still think of it as home in many ways.  It is an amazing church on the northside of Chicago in a former Polish Catholic Cathedral.  The simply do not build (protestant) churches like this anymore.  

PS.  I did in fact post that last one at 1:30 in the am.  I had just gotten back from another episode meeting our local late night beat cops.  Our building was broken into again and our flat panel TV's stolen.  If you are one who prays for us please pray that we would find what God wants us to in this.  Understanding. Perspective.  Love for one's enemy.  

Reading, reading, reading. . .

I am reading way above my head. . . again.  Fortunately my sense is that if one does this often enough and sticks to a given topic, one can learn to swim. 

Reading Anthony Bradley's blog has challenged me to take seriously the viewpoints of Thomas Sowell, a highly regarded, and to some, highly controversial African American author.  Sowell is unusual in that he is a very conservative public figure in the AA community.  

While he is viewed as a conservative republican, he is more of a self described libertarian.  Thus far I find his analysis of economics sort of a heavy duty common sense approach -- thus pretty much an accurate subtitle.  

As an example of the importance of the subject, however, is his description of how rent controls end up depleting the presence of affordable housing.   As prices are kept artificially low those with the most money still benefit most and the quality of the cheapest housing, being in such high demand, no longer compells owners to care for it.  Sowell uses specific examples from New York, San Francisco, Sweden, Russia and other places.  

As someone who is interested in seeing justice within a given community addressed, and wrestling with the place of both government and Christian ministry here, this is a tough pill to swallow, yet bears marks of common sense so strong that at this stage I can't respond with anything more than. . . ok, that makes sense.  

I am already learning a lot from Sowell but I also hope to read Sowell's critics.  I hope to be able to consider ways in which injustice, descrimination and uneven playing fields tilt the market in favor of some.  I hope to be able to better understand what it means to encourage the market to become healthy in our community.  I hope to keep my head above water as I read this!