Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

El Shaddai: the Compassionate Mother Hen

Below is the audio of my Mothers Day message at River City Community Church. I described the status of women in the ancient world and gave evidence of the feminine characteristics of God that are often missed in churches where the voice of women is silenced.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Illinois State Budget - "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves"

Breakthrough recently learned that the 2013 proposed Illinois budget will include a 52% cut to the Department of Family Support Services designated funds for the Emergency and Transitional Housing Program (ETHP). If this budget is approved, Breakthrough would lose $200,000 in support of transitional housing.

Admittedly, we are not politicians or budget experts and don’t assume to know what cuts should be made instead of these. I am hopeful that there are other areas of government waste and excess that could be cut rather than placing the burden to balance the budget on the backs of the poor who often don’t have a voice at the state level. We know that our guests at Breakthrough will be significantly impacted by this decision.

I believe there is a greater cost to society when poor people lose their homes and the services that help them get back on their feet, or when people begin to lose hope that their elected leaders care about them. As supporters of Breakthrough, we all must be willing to either speak out on what we want our government to prioritize, or, in the alternative, we must be willing to sacrifice more individually to ensure that Breakthrough does not have to cut services for those in need.

Breakthrough’s budget is $3.5M. A $200,000 cut in our revenue will not close our doors as it will many other organizations, but it will significantly impact our ability to deliver services if we don’t find alternative funding. Our hope is that our leaders will reconsider this specific budget cut that impacts the people Breakthrough serves in a very real way (kids, homeless, etc.).

Whether or not we change the minds of the legislators, I believe we're called to tell our elected leaders what we care about. We can ask our leaders to find another way. One way or another, we are called to serve the "least of these." I take seriously the words of Scripture in Prov. 31:8-9 to: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Regardless of the state budget outcome, we hope our supporters will stand with Breakthrough in facing these challenges. As the revenues to care for the poor are diminishing the needs are growing even greater. YOU CAN HELP by asking your District Official to oppose these budget cuts. Simply copy the letter below and paste into an email to the representatives listed or your own state elected officials by Wed, May 9.  

We have just 1 week to make our voice heard!

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Dear (Representative/Senator),

I am writing to request that you oppose the 2013 proposed budget which includes a 52% cut to the Department of Human Services designated funds for the Emergency and Transitional Housing Program (ETHP).

The Emergency and Transitional Housing Program provides temporary housing and critical supportive services to get adults back on their feet and help prevent future instability. Due to proposed budget cuts, this program is at risk of losing 52% of its funding, wiping out essential services for thousands of homeless individuals and families in Chicago and across the state.

A 52% cut to this program, from the 2012 appropriation of $9,083,700.00 to the 2013 proposed budget of $4,360,176.00, would leave more than 3,000 Chicagoans out on the streets and seriously at risk.

The state’s continuum of homeless services has shown success, even in the midst of a deep recession. However, because of the recession, programs like Breakthrough in East Garfield Park have ever-growing waiting lists and increasing numbers of turnaways.

When people access services, we see positive outcomes. Our program helps to stabilize homeless individuals. Half of the people served by the ETHP exit the program to permanent or transitional housing.

A 52% funding cut equates to a possible $200,000 reduction in funds to Breakthrough, impacting more than 250 men and women in the East Garfield Park community.

We are asking you to cast a vote for compassion, human dignity and housing.

Please do not support the 2013 proposed budget cuts of 52% for Emergency and Transitional Housing.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Where there's bacon, there is blessing...

Below is a blog post from my friend and neighbor, Colleen Currat. She beautifully captures feelings and impressions I often experience when I walk into our women's center at Breakthrough. Here is the link to her blog.

After teaching my weekly art class at Breakthrough Urban Ministries, I descended into a smell of bacon downstairs where all the women at the shelter were having breakfast. Worship music was playing, everyone busy in conversation. My daughter and I waved to a few friends and they came and gushed over my Sylvie. She loves seeing the friends we've made there and flashes smiles and high fives.

In the beginning of the year, I remember feeling so hesitant about leaving my daughter at this building that housed the ragamuffins waiting to get in the shelter. The line of women was intimidating to me. So many faces of struggle and hurt and some very grumpy faces too. But we approached everyday and soon there was recognition between us, greetings and sharing bits of our stories. They even share motherly advice with me, which I find so beautiful.

Everyday I go to Breakthrough, I have this awful shame of myself and all my shortcomings. My eyes and heart that have so many blind spots in regards to loving my neighbors (or anyone, for that matter) fully and without hesitation. The stark truth, is that my eight years of involvement at Breakthrough have brought me nothing but overflowing blessing for every minute I am there. So if there is blessing, why do I doubt or think that my judgements will lead to greater provision?

As I left the building, I was thinking about how God blesses so many of us here. I noticed a recent boarded up house. Just a few weeks ago it had brand new boards covering windows. Now they were gone and a ghostly curtain was blowing outside of the broken window. The house was missing metal fixtures. I could see peeling paint in the upstairs rooms. The house's structure is really beautiful, but before my eyes it was gasping its last breaths of dignity. A huge sense of loneliness came over me. How stark the contrast of that dying structure, across from the warehouse that holds my daughter and all my dreams for her, as well as the dreams and struggles of twenty exceptional women–not to mention the millions of dreams of the 30-40 children that attend programs at Breakthrough. I looked around the street at all the trash, the bottles, the old kite that has been entangled in vines for years and I wanted to shrink down in a hole. There's no one here to fix all this either. Quickly, God snapped me out of my hole. How could I already have forgotten? The bacon! That wonderful smell of bacon! Things may look bleak outside, but as the emptiness of that house sang its sad song, there was worship lifting across the street. As trash blows and collects outside, the dust of neglect and abuse is being blown off the souls of children and women inside--and that work is often quietly, steadfastly done.

I've noticed that healing is very quiet. Learning wisdom is very quiet. And God's power only becomes louder and more noticeable when we take our first practical steps after our healing. Small steps and then the power and testimony and the attention of others comes. I used to only be able to notice the noise, but since being here in this broken place, physically and spiritually, I've learned to hear the silence of God's truth as it soaks, lathers and coats into the hungry souls who need him. And it's just not about me to understand how God is working. It's just not my place to look outward and see ugliness and proclaim that God is not working. Shame on me, for ever being so quick to give up on what God gave EVERYTHING for.

I feel so proud to live in an ugly place. Though I go through stages of understanding it, I'm so very thankful that I've seen how God mysteriously builds up the broken places. And I made a promise to myself...when I see ugliness I'm going to remember bacon. I'll remember the warmth of that women's shelter, the loving volunteered hands that came to make breakfast for so many who needed it. Bacon, worship, healing surrounded by an ugly, cruel world. Reminds me of what it must have looked like, as Jesus was born into this dark world. I'm so glad he came for me.

1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, The Message Translation

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, Doesn't have a swelled head, Doesn't force itself on others, Isn't always "me first," Doesn't fly off the handle, Doesn't keep score of the sins of others, Doesn't revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. Love never gives up.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Holiday Reality Check

Thirty-five years ago, I lead a group of teen girls in Campus Life (YFC) Youth Guidance. I was right out of college and had so much to learn myself, but it was a wonderful job. It was heart breaking at times, but I loved the challenge. The girls already led difficult lives at such an early age. We met weekly in groups and participated in adventure trips like backpacking, rappelling, cross country skiing and spelunking (cave exploring). Several of them have kept in touch with me.

This morning I received an email from one of them that moved me to tears. I asked her if I could pass it on anonymously. She put the holiday season in perspective for me.


I am so pleased to see that Breakthrough is continuing to address so many of the needs homeless have.

I found myself homeless for 8 months. I was in a hospital and then a shelter and now a very tiny apartment.

I traveled the country, got spit on, punched, robbed, but I also witnessed small miracles on regular basis.

Shelter life was very sad. I did not sleep the entire time I was there. I was afraid of the other women some not all and I was afraid of the staff. the building was beautiful but what difference does it make if things aren't consistent.

I never dreamed I would be homeless. I imagine that is what everyone says. I never gave up hope.

Perhaps it was the skills I learned as a backpacker, or a spelunker or as a nurse but I have no idea why I am still alive.

I must say racism and cruelty exist but the amount I felt just led me to more prayer and meditation. we should be hoping for each other, peaceful lives working together as one. Imagine that. I guess that is why I have to take medication which I never had to before. I have the dreamers disease without the resources to implement my dreams, and the sad part is some of those dreams seem dashed.

Arloa, have a very Merry Christmas. I plan to also. Its not about clothes or education although those things are important. Its about keeping people safe and out of the rain and harms way.

Best always, with a hug,

One of your Campus Life Alumni

I hope you have a Christmas filled with God's love and peace, and that you never stop dreaming.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Breakthrough Kids and Their Proudest Moments

At the end of the school year, Breakthrough puts on an awards night for all the kids who attended their after school program during the year. This past year, they celebrated 10 years since the program started. Through this video, Breakthrough's staff wanted to honor the kids, and showcase their development, their dreams, and their sense of pride in what they have done over the last year.

My Proudest Moment - Breakthrough Urban Ministries from Interrupted Media on Vimeo.

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and to be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.

        - Henri Nouwen

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Who Are The Homeless?

In this video I asked Yolanda Fields, Breakthrough's Adult Services Director, the question, "Who are the homeless?" Yolanda tells the story of a 19-year-old girl in the Breakthrough shelter who is finding her way.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

This is a video of Michelle Alexander speaking in Chicago about her book, The New Jim Crow.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Man with the "Golden Voice"

Suddenly, Ted Williams, the man with the “golden voice,” is no longer an invisible homeless man. He was catapulted into the media when a video of him and his radio voice was recorded by the Columbus Dispatch and posted on Youtube. Within days the video was viewed 15 million times and Ted Williams became a household name. He has appeared on numerous talk shows, has been offered a home and lots of employment contracts and he has been reunited with his mother who has been praying for him for years. It is an inspiring story.

When I heard about Ted, I thought, "I sure hope he has a good support system around him so he has help dealing with the stress and attention this will bring." I also wonder how this messes with our perspectives on the homeless. Certainly if it were not for his unique talent, Ted would have been looked over and would still be on the street. Until a few weeks ago, not many thought Ted Williams was worth a second glance. I wonder what other amazing talent is being wasted because of the suffocating stress of addiction, isolation and homelessness.

Ted represents many of the people we meet everyday in our interim housing centers at Breakthrough. Some are very talented but have hit bottom due to complicated circumstances. All are valuable as precious human beings created in the image of God. Like Ted, many of them have family members who have been praying for them for years. Most will not get the shot at fame and fortune that Ted Williams is experiencing, but with attention and a strong network of loving support, they can rise to start a new life. There are many inspiring stories waiting to be discovered.

I wish Ted the best and join his mother in saying, “Don’t disappoint us Ted.” I wonder, will the world still be there to support him if he falls?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Twista visits Breakthrough

The day before Thanksgiving, the rap artist, Twista, came to Breakthrough to volunteer in our Fresh Market food pantry. The visit was set up by our friends at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. A few days ago he posted this video on YouTube. They even included me trying to convince him to support our FamilyPlex Capital Campaign! I especially liked the diamond studded "grills" on his teeth!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Take the 21 day prayer challenge

Below is a challenge I brought to River City Community Church on 11-28-10. I really believe if we can be consistent in spending one on one time with God it transforms everything. It is one of the most difficult habits to keep because we are so easily distracted. For those of you who took me up on the challenge... how's it going?

A Christmas Story

A Nativity Scene was erected in a church yard. During the night the folks came across this scene. An abandoned dog was looking for a comfortable, protected place to sleep. He chose baby Jesus as his comfort. No one had the heart to send him away so he was there all night.

We should all have the good sense to curl up in Jesus' lap from time to time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Heroin Highway

I saw this video on the news tonight. Kids from the western suburbs are coming to our neighborhood to buy heroin.

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcchicago.com/video.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Led By the Spirit or Driven By Need

Below is an article I wrote that was published on October 31st by the FullFill Magazine Weekly Refill Blog.

I have been leading Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago for eighteen years. We care for people who have become crippled by unemployment, homelessness and addiction in a neighborhood where poverty and crime make life stressful. Overwhelming brokenness and need carries with it the reality that there is always more I could do. People often ask what keeps me going. What keeps me from experiencing burnout?

Well, I have experienced burnout and it’s not pretty. When I was in my twenties I worked with kids who were referred to me by juvenile justice officers and school social workers. I met with groups of young girls who were in crisis. I loved taking them hiking, cross-country skiing and spelunking, but I was unaware of my own codependency tendencies. It felt good to be needed and I found myself pulled into the drama of their lives. I would get calls in the middle of the night to pick up a girl who had passed out drunk in an alley or to negotiate a family dispute. I once called 911 in desperation as a young woman overdosed on my living room floor. My work was compelling: girls in need, in pain, and in trouble, and they were looking for me to rescue them. But by the end of four years I was exhausted. I cringed every time the phone rang for fear of hearing about another suicide attempt.

I know now that much of my early energetic zeal was rooted in my own pride. I had entered ministry recognizing my need for a Savior, but then had begun to attempt to rescue and save others in my own strength on behalf of the Savior. The burnout I experienced as a result would forever change me as I learned the importance of waiting on God in contemplation before rushing in with my own agenda. I learned to be led by the Spirit instead of being driven by need.

Today I start each day in prayer. I ask God to orchestrate my day, to guide and direct me. I ask for Divine connections, for wisdom to know what to do and what not to do. I have learned there is always enough time to do what God wants me to do.

I also listen to my body. I have learned to recognize the difference between good stress that pushes me to my best, and bad stress that means I’m attempting to do something that is not mine to do. When my shoulders tense and my stomach knots, I do a “gut check” and ask myself if this really is my responsibility.

To be led by the Spirit rather than driven by need. That’s my goal. When the chaos mounts, I take a break. Even an hour of contemplation clears my mind and tells me which tasks need to be tossed to someone else and which are mine to juggle.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Going Home

Last week I struggled to open the door of our Breakthrough Mens' Center. The wind was whipping. I was hungry and it was cold. I managed to open the door and was immediately engulfed by warmth and the most wonderful smell of food. I’m not sure what was going on in the kitchen, but it smelled like Charlene had been cooking all morning, like thanksgiving dinner was in the oven. There was even the hint of brownies baking.

You know the feeling. It’s the feeling of being home. It’s warm and inviting and you know someone is creating something in the kitchen that is going to make your day very special.

I couldn’t help but think about the men huddled in the gathering place. Thirty of them had spent the night at Breakthrough and seventy more had come in from the cold, like I had. They may have slept in an abandoned building or in the park or doubled up on a friend’s floor. I knew this day they would experience the warmth of good food, friendship and support. It’s not the same as having your own place with your own stove and kitchen, but, today, they would know that they were loved and cared for. Today, they would know they were special. I knew the same thing was happening down the street at our women’s center.

Of course, the mission of Breakthrough goes beyond food. We surround our guests with supportive services that will hopefully, some day, get them into their own homes. But for now, at Breakthrough, they know they are special. They have found a home, a place to belong where people know their name.

As the temperatures drop and you enter your own home, reflect upon what it would be like to not have that experience of going home.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

The post below was originally posted by Tony Escobar on his Front Porch Theologian Blog on October 13th. Tony is Director of Community Relations at Breakthrough. It's the story behind the story of the video shoot for the Breakthrough benefit.

The most incredible things happen all the time when you are caught up in the kingdom of God. Have you ever noticed that?

Breakthrough's Annual Benefit is next week. And for this year's event, we are presenting a series of vignettes that illustrate the stories of guests from each program who have experienced transformation at Breakthrough, and who have in turn given back as a result.

So yesterday I was working with my man Donald, our video producer (I know, fancy, right?), to shoot the footage that would accompany the story I will be telling about my friend Andre. But before I continue, this will slightly be a spoiler warning, but I have to tell you this amazing story that happens within a story, because this is not stuff that you can make up. Maybe it will picque your interest enough to attend our Benefit next week!

Andre arrives, and Donald and I are explaining to him the kind of footage that we will be shooting of him. One part of the story involves Andre carrying a sick man back to his home from Breakthrough. So Donald and I tell Andre that we will be getting some shots of him reenacting that. Andre, of course, is up for it, no matter who he carries. He's a strong guy and is ready for about 10-15 takes, easy. But I look at Donald and ask him blankly..."Have we found someone for him to carry?" Donald says, "No." I say, "I should probably get someone, huh?" Donald says, "Yeah."

So I go and find a gentleman from our men's program to volunteer for the shoot who more or less fit the orignal man's profile (Think kind of like those cut-in doubles on the Windows 7 commercials).

Then we go outside, and we start doing a couple takes. And suddenly, during the third or fourth take, this voice on my left says, "Yeah, that's the guy who saved my life. Just like that. He carried me home."

I look over and there's an older gentleman standing next to me, pointing at Andre. "That guy is a Godsend. I don't know what I would have done without him. He carried me just like that."

At that moment, Andre and our double return to the camera. "Hey, that's the guy right there!" points Andre. "That's Mr. Johnson. That's the man I carried." And they warmly reunite and greet each other with a handshake and a hug.

Meanwhile, the double says, "That's the real guy? Even better! You don't need me anymore, right?"

Donald and I look at each other a little dumbfounded and don't really know what to say or do? Was this really happening? Should we put the real guy in the shoot? How is it that he is even here right now? Is he even healthy enough for it?

I give Donald a what-should-we-do look. "It's up to you, man," he replies.

Turning to the man, I ask, "Well, what do you think, do you want to be in your own story? Are you well enough to do a few takes?"

"Oh yeah," he says. "That guy saved my life. Of course, I'll do anything!"

So the double takes off, and we start shooting the story with the real characters. And surprisingly, Mr. Johnson does a fantastic job. To our delight, a natural for dramatic theater!

But midway, something else extraordinary happens. A group of about 4 other older gentlemen are walking down the street, who happen to be Mr. Johnson's friends. They recognize him, and they stop and interrupt the shoot because apparently their buddy is a movie star now! But then they realize what's happening and say, "Oh, this is the guy who carried you home that one day?" And Mr. Johnson glowingly introduces them to Andre and says again, "Yeah, this is the guy who saved my life. Thank God!"

We just let the camera roll.

What I haven't shared yet is that the major hook in Andre's story is about being at the right place at the right time, right where God needs you.

I'm telling you. You can't make this stuff up. Stories like this happen all the time at places like Breakthrough. If you want to hear more stories like this, you really should come to this Benefit Dinner.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On the Radio with Ted Elm

Below is the audio of my October 4th interview with Ted Elm on WWJC-Duluth's Northland Notebook program. We talked about my book.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Urban Adventures and Environmental Injustice

The following is a guest post from my friend, Tracey Bianchi. Tracey is a pastor and the author of Green Mama: The Guilt Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan, 2010). I have the joy of joining her each month as part of the Redbud Writers Guild, a writing community of women’s voices that engage our world. You can catch her musings and information about her book at here.

I called Colorado home for a few blissful years. A native of Chicago and the Prairie State my little soul came to life as a graduate student in the Rocky Mountains. My classmates and I were a devoted tribe of skiers who would study Greek and Hebrew words en route to a ski resort, mostly broke we would skip a meal or two in order to scrape together the cash for a lift ticket or season pass.

I once took a ten day course that was designed to open my eyes to the complexities of urban poverty. We spent each night in a shabby hostel on the corner of a intersection where white skiing types like myself did not spend much time. We visited correctional centers, dined with the homeless at nearby shelters and enjoyed hours of lectures by community leaders seeking to bring peace, reconciliation and hope to the most beleaguered citizens of Denver.

One afternoon a local pastor stepped up to chat with us, the fleece and hiking boot crowd who sipped from high end water bottles and chattered away about recent hiking adventures as we waited for our session to begin. Behind his podium was a huge glass window offering a sun-drenched view of the Rockies.

He began by fanning his arm toward the window, remarking that indeed, it was a gorgeous day up in the mountains. We nodded, several of us letting our minds slip to a desire to be up in the hills rather than in a lecture. Then this pastor captured our attention quickly. He asked, “did you know that most of the children in this neighborhood have never been to the mountains?”

The foothills would take less than one hour to reach, the resort destination of Breckenridge barely two hours.

“They look every day at those peaks yet have never stepped foot into a mountain stream or experienced the joy of hiking in the backcountry.”

I was stunned. I looked around at the motley crew of seminary students assembled for this lecture. We were shabby and broke but for most of us this was a choice. We made a decision to pay tuition over a mortgage and even on our worst days could scrape by enough cash to cover gas and hiking boots.

To be a child living below the poverty line in Denver, to look upon those mountains each day yet never take them in, was ludicrous to me.

Eight years later I find myself championing the cause of our environment from Chicago. I urge my fellow urbanites to walk when they can, shop smarter, compost, recycle and such. But my mind still settles on that room filled with yuppie hikers and an urban pastor. What is the point in saving this planet if the very people who inhabit it cannot all enjoy its bounty?

Environmental injustice runs deep in our culture. The poor find themselves on the losing end of multiple transactions. First, they unfairly receive waste, landfills and serve as toxic receptacles since many communities lack the funding and education to fight these initiatives.

Second, the poor rarely get to relish in what is good and beautiful about this planet. To live in Denver yet never set foot in the mountains is a grave injustice. Millions of visitors from across this nation and the world fly into Denver’s International Airport every year. They drive through these neighborhoods, past children who are native to Colorado, and these tourists experience a Rocky Mountain High while the very children who stare at that vast space each day do not know the first thing about John Denver.

As we engage in conversations about urban poverty let us do our best to be sure we get children out of their urban settings on occasion. Let us fund initiatives that take children to summer camp, the mountains, the beaches or wherever it is that those with more income dash off to for peace and rest. Even if it means planting a patch of wildflowers in a local park. Moving urban children toward wilderness experiences is to treat their lives with justice and fairness, it is to bring their hearts a glimpse of the wild, vast expanses of God’s world. It is only seems fair to share the planet.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Map of Race in Chicago

I got this map of where people live in Chicago by ethnicity from this web site. Could we be more segregated?!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What is poverty?

Rupert @roop13 asked me a series of great questions via twitter that I can’t answer in 140 characters. Here’s his tweet: @ArloaSutter define poverty? Do u really consider poverty in the US to be poverty? Do u really think we have it that bad in the US? #justcurious

Here is my response, Rupert. Let me know your thoughts.

Poverty is very complex and can be defined in many ways. The first thing that usually comes to our mind is economic poverty. In my book, The Invisible, I mention that even economic wealth is relative. Here is a quote from page 62.
Clearly, economic poverty is relative. A family living on $20,000 per year in Bolivia may be quite comfortable, while a family of four in the US would be living in poverty, and the family would be in crisis if they lived in Europe. When I traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2005, I was amazed to learn that $40 per month was considered a pretty good salary for teachers there…

While you may not consider yourself to be financially rich, I am going to assume, in a world in which half the population lives on less than $2 per day, that most of you reading this book are extremely wealthy. A web site, www.globalrichlist.com, will tabulate your income relative to the rest of the world. A salary of $50,000 will put you in the top 1 percent of the world’s wealthiest! Unless, your income is significantly less than that, you can be pretty sure that nearly 99 percent of the world’s population is poorer than you economically.
Yes, Rupert, I believe there is, indeed, poverty in the US and lots of it. According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune “The Census Bureau said 14.3 percent of the U.S. population, or 43.6 million people, lived below the poverty line last year, compared with 13.2 percent in the previous year and 11.3 percent in 2000… The poverty threshold last year was $10,956 for one person and $21,954 for a family of four.”

In the US, this poverty is compounded by what I call a “poverty of purposelessness, hopelessness and despair”. There are millions who are left out of any income generating activities. While I don’t want to discount that some people are just lazy, I would suggest that, for the most part, these are individuals who have simply given up on ever having the opportunity to get ahead. They often come from families that have been burdened by poverty for generations, have attended under-performing schools and have lived in environments burdened by crime and violence. Poverty has become a way of life for them. They are trapped with seemingly no way out.

There is also a kind of poverty that burdens the economically wealthy. The church of Laodicea was told in Revelation 3, “You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” We can have economic wealth and be trapped in a web of self-centered consumerism that stifles our soul and compounds our greed.

A few years ago, I asked a group of young men who had spent time in a refugee camp in Kenya what they were given to eat. They rounded their hands to form a bowl and said they were each given one bowl of meal to last an entire month. I asked if it lasted that long and they said it didn’t, that sometimes they had to go several weeks with nothing.

I don’t think the poor in the US experience that kind of extreme poverty. The fact that millions in developing countries go hungry and die of malnutrition and other diseases should disturb us. I think we all need to be involved in poverty alleviation at home and abroad in some way through our investments and advocacy.

Emerson, Smith and Snell in their book, Passing the Plate, discovered that if 90 percent of committed Christian households in the United States would give away 10 percent of their after tax income, we could raise $85.5 billion each year above what is currently given. What a difference this could make in alleviating poverty! The sad fact is that one in five US Christians give literally nothing to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities!

Jesus told a group of Pharisees in Luke 11, “you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness… give what is inside [the dish] to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.”

Jesus was the greatest advocate for caring for the poor in dignifying ways that ever lived. Those of us who choose to follow him will follow him to the poor.

Myths of Homelessness

Breakthrough Adult Services from Breakthrough Urban Ministries on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Memories of a five year old

I ran into Ann Healing at River City Community Church last Sunday. Ann is the Director of Intern and Fellows Program for the International Justice Mission. She and her husband Dave were on staff at Breakthrough before they moved to the east coast two years ago. She told me about a comment her son made that I asked her to put in writing so I could post it.
We just moved back to Chicago after living in the DC area for 2 years. When my 7 year old son finally got over his sadness about the move back, he asked me if I was going to work at Breakthrough again. I told him someone else now has my old job but he continued to beg me to work there. (clearly a little confused about how employment works). When I asked him why he wanted me to work there so badly he said “Mommy, I loved it when we served meals in that big kitchen to the people who live at Breakthrough”. He was 5 years old when we moved from Chicago. Much of what we did the first time we lived here he doesn’t remember. On top of that, he only actually joined us 2 or 3 times in the year that we served meals monthly at Breakthrough. Despite all that, he remembers that there was something special about serving and having a meal with others like we did at Breakthrough. It was unique and forming for him. We hope to begin to serve there again now that we have returned to Chicago.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Staying Refreshed

“How do you stay refreshed?” I’ve been asked that question twice in the last few weeks. “How do you stay positive in the midst of such crippling circumstances and devastating need?” Admittedly, we can run dry if we are not careful to put practices in place that sustain us for the long haul.

In my newly released book, The Invisible, I wrote an entire chapter on a principal that has guided my life work at Breakthrough. Early in our work we learned to “be led by the Spirit, rather than driven by need.”

In order to be led by the Spirit it is essential that we spend time with God in prayer and meditation before we rush in to meet needs and attempt to solve problems. We are led to joyful action when we first listen to the promptings of God’s Spirit. When we spend time with God each day we recognize how big God is and that God is the salvation of the world, not us. We don’t overestimate our own importance. Instead we let the love of God flow through us as we cooperate with the work God is already doing in the lives of others.

Another important principal that sustains us is the fact that we don’t work alone. We are part of a larger movement, a caring family of believers who work together to create a network of support for those who have become isolated and alone. This network also nurtures us as we engage in reciprocal relationships. We are part of a caring community that is reweaving the fabric of God’s shalom.

I am blessed to be surrounded by so many amazing people who are led by the Spirit to reach out with great acts of sacrifice and love in tough places. Thanks for being part of this great movement. Your contributions of time, encouragement and financial support keep us refreshed and joyful.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Green Faith and the Poor

Last week I preached the second message in a series at River City Community Church entitled "Green Faith". I realized as I prepared that God has been bringing me on a journey of sensitivity about environmental stewardship and especially the affect of environmental injustice on the poor. You can listen to my message below.