Tuesday, December 26, 2006

May God bless you with foolishness

I like this blessing that I found on Tom Allen's blog.
May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships
so that you may live deep within your heart

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace

May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
to turn their pain into joy

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in the world
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Pursuit of Happyness

I finally got to see Pursuit of Happyness tonight. I cried through much of it. Many of the homeless guests that we serve at Breakthrough have the kind of potential that Chris Gardener had if they could just get an opportunity. They, too, experience the constant struggle to make it into the shelters before they are full and it seems like there are so many factors working against them. Will Smith did an awesome job. I really hope he gets an Oscar for it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Podcast Link

"A Junky's Christmas" by William S. Burroughs

Here's a link to a heartwarming clay animation video edition of William S. Burroughs', "A Junky's Christmas" narrated by Burroughs himself. It's a story about Danny the Carwiper and his desperate search for a fix on Christmas day. It's a tragic reminder for us of those who will be spending this Christmas locked in addiction and isolation. It's 21 minutes long but worth the watch.

Happy Day!

May you be as happy today as these two pots on the stove.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Breakthrough Stories: Season Opener

For those of you who are technologically challenged I have uploaded our podcast season opener into YouTube and placed it below. My kids used to tell me to "get in the '90s"! Believe me, if I can figure it out, you can too! Just click twice in the box below. It takes a few seconds to load...

How much should we give?

This is the time of the year when financial managers are busy trying to maximize tax incentives by giving. It's not just that Christmas warms our hearts to give, but it makes economic sense for donors to hang on to their investments, letting them gain as much interest as possible, until the very last days of the tax year, when those dollars can be released to ministries and charitable organizations to reap the maximum deduction in income taxes.

In my research about poverty and giving I came across this interesting article in the New York Times magazine by Peter Singer. He says the philanthropy this year of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet raises the following ethical questions...
Why are the people who are giving doing so? Does it do any good? Should we praise them for giving so much or criticize them for not giving still more? Is it troubling that such momentous decisions are made by a few extremely wealthy individuals? And how do our judgments about them reflect on our own way of living?
Singer outlines how it is within our reach to eliminate extreme poverty (defined as living on less than the purchasing-power equivalent of one U.S. dollar per day).

In 2000, the United Nations Millennium Summit, the largest gathering of world leaders in history, jointly pledged to meet Millennium Development Goals, by 2015. The goals include:
Reducing by half the proportion of the world’s people in extreme poverty.

Reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Ensuring that children everywhere are able to take a full course of primary schooling.

Ending sex disparity in education.

Reducing by two-thirds the mortality rate among children under 5.

Reducing by three-quarters the rate of maternal mortality.

Halting and beginning to reverse the spread of H.I.V./AIDS and halting and beginning to reduce the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

Reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.
Last year a United Nations task force, led by the Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, estimated the annual cost of meeting these goals to be $121 billion in 2006, rising to $189 billion by 2015. When we take account of existing official development aid promises, the additional amount needed each year to meet the goals is only $48 billion for 2006 and $74 billion for 2015. Singer details how a total of $404 billion could be generated without creating any hardship from just 10 percent of American families (those earning more than $92,000) if they gave just a portion of their wealth.

Where does that leave me? I am clearly not in the top 10 percent of America's wealthiest, but I learned from the Global Rich List website that I am in the top one percent of the world's wealthiest. I can't ask people to give unless I am doing my part. So I'm tossing in my "loaves and fish" and asking God to multiply it.

Pursuit of Happyness

Marcie Curry, Breakthrough's Youth and Family Services Director, blogged yesterday about seeing the movie, Pursuit of Happyness. Seeing it is on my list of things to do during the Christmas break. When you visit Marcie's blog be sure to read her December 7th post about the funny thing her three year old daughter, Addy, said. She is an incredibly bright little girl who is growing up urban as you will get from the quote!

Check out our new podcast

Yesterday we launched a new podcast called Breakthrough Stories. We will be mixing some audio and video episodes with a variety of content put together by Breakthrough's Communications Director, Scott Parker. Scott has assembled a great team of professional documentary journalists who are volunteering their time to work on this podcast. If you are new to podcasting let me tell you that I like it alot because you can determine what you want to listen to and watch. You don't need an ipod to participate. Before I got my ipod I listened to them on my computer or burned them on cds to listen in my car. Eventually we will link to the podcast from the Breakthrough website. For now just download itunes if you haven't already, go to the itunes store and enter Breakthrough Stories in the search line. We will be uploading new episodes several times a week, so subscribe now so you don't miss any of them, and please give us feedback about what you would like to hear and see in the content.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Increased Cost of Living for Low Income Residents

The cost of renting a two bedroom apartment in the Chicago area has risen by 25% since 2000 according to an article in the December 13th Chicago Tribune. An individual or family would have to earn about $18/hour or $37,400 per year in order to afford the current average $935 monthly rent. With the Illinois minimum wage at $6.50, without paying more than 30% of income for housing three people in each household would have to be working full time to afford a two bedroom apartment. In our neighborhood of East Garfield Park, the per capita income in 2005 was $11,599.

The Christmas Bonus Buzz

Today I get to hand out Christmas bonuses to our Breakthrough staff. We will all be elated and grateful to the Breakthrough board members who every year pony up cash from their own pockets as a gift of heartfelt appreciation for the hard work and dedication of our 49 staff members who love on our city's most vulnerable populations day after day.

I've been hearing the buzz this week about outlandish Christmas bonuses being handed out on Wall Street. The New York Post reported that Goldman Sachs' bonuses average $622,000 per employee. The most senior partners can expect $10m to $20m in their Christmas stocking. Some top traders are expecting $60m.

Our staff are just as smart and talented as these financial salesmen, but they do what they do out of a sense of mission and love for God and people. Our reward? Seeing lives transfromed by God's power. As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, my prayer is that those of us who stand in that gap will always understand that our reward is not on this earth, and that those who are blessed with such wealth will learn the joy of giving.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Personal DNA Test

Here's a link to a very cool free personality test, My Personal DNA Report, that you can take on line. I was amazed how "right on" the results were for me. My new label, the "Considerate Inventor"!! You can run your curser over the grid below to see how I stack up... (the very bottom right hand blue sliver is my ranking for authoritarianism!)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Isaiah and Justice

I read the book of Isaiah today and was again impressed by how justice is emphasized throughout the entire book, starting with chapter 1...
16 Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
I wonder why we don't more often associate "evil deeds" with oppressing poor people by our greed and self-indulgence when Scripture seems to make that association over and over? Lord be merciful to me a sinner!

Isaiah 58 is my all time favorite...
6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
From Isaiah 65:17-25, Ray Bakke outlines seven characteristics of a healthy community from the heart of God:
• Public celebration and happiness (18, 19)
• Public health for children and the aged (20)
• Housing for all (21)
• Food for all (22)
• Meaningful work (22, 23)
• Family support systems (23)
• Absence of violence (25)
This list outlines our marching orders. There is a good chance that the next great movement of God will involve putting the church back into community where it can be the leaven, salt and light God designed the church to be.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Willow and Jami Smith

Thanks for praying for me while I was out at Willow this weekend. What an amazing place! Everything is done with such precision and with the best of the best. Of course, I was totally out of my league, but welcomed the opportunity to give glory to God for the many miracles we have experienced at Breakthrough. The people were very kind and responsive.

I was also amazed by the love of God that I would have the privilege of hanging in the Green Room with Jami Smith, who performed and led worship all weekend. I blogged about her song "Your Love Is Deep"
back in June and have loved her cd, Bravo God. She did Christmas music from her Christmas cd, Hope Of all the Earth, which I have also downloaded from itunes. It was a privilege to meet her and her band. I am more a fan then ever!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Thanks to Breakthrough staffer, Mariko Tinaya, for sending me the poem below, right when I needed it!
If I forget, yet God reminds me.
If these hands of mine cease from their clinging,
Yet the hands Divine hold me so firmly I cannot fall.

And if sometimes I am too tired to call for him to help me, Then he reads the prayer unspoken in my heart
And lifts my care.

I dare not fear since certainly I know that I am in God's keeping, Shielded so, from all else that would harm, And in the hour of stern temptation, Strengthened by his power.

I tread no path in life to him unknown;
I lift no burden, bear no pain, alone;
My soul a calm, sure hiding place has found;
The everlasting Arms my life surround.

God, thou art love!
I build my faith on that.
I know thee who has kept my path.
And made light for me in the darkness,
Tempering sorrow so that it reached me like a solemn joy.

It were too strange that I should doubt thy love.

                 - Robert Browning

Please pray for me!

I have the wonderful opportunity to speak before the Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington for four minutes once tonight and twice tomorrow. Please pray that the Lord would anoint and inspire my words and use me to encourage the congregation. Thanks!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I've been getting a lot of insight from the book The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. Here's a quote from page 91...
Jesus is remembered and presented by the early church as the faithful embodiment of an alternative consciousness. In his compassion, he embodies the anguish of those rejected by the dominant culture, and as embodied anguish, he has the authority to show the deathly end of the dominant culture. Quite clearly, the one thing the dominant culture cannot tolerate or co-opt is compassion, the ability to stand in solidarity with the victims of the present order. It can manage charity and good intentions, but it has no way to resist solidarity with pain or grief. So the structures of competence and competition stand helpless before the one who groaned the groans of those who are hurting, and in their groans they announce the end of the dominant social world. The imperial consciousness lives by its capacity to still the groans and to go on with business as usual as though none were hurting and there were no groans. If the groans become audible, if they can be heard in the streets and markets and courts, then the consciousness of domination is already jeopardized... Jesus had the capacity to give voice to the very hurt that had been muted, and therefore newness could break through. Newness comes precisely from expressed pain. Suffering made audible and visible produces hope, articulated grief is the gate of newness, and the history of Jesus is the history of entering into the pain and giving it voice"
I am coming to realize that much of the hard work of the kingdom involves entering into the pain of others and visioning alternatives. It is indeed a journey to the cross. It is in enlarging our capacity to suffer that we become like him and know him.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Requests for shelter increase while funding falls

Here is a link to an article in the State Journal Register about the need for more funding for homeless shelters. A survey of nearly 60 shelter providers conducted by the Housing Action of Illinois indicated 44 percent of organizations have seen a significant increase in demand for their services since 2003.

While the state contribution to rental subsidies for low income residents has increased due to new legislation enacted after years of advocacy, funding for emergency shelters has decreased. Nancy Radner, Executive Director of the Partnership to End Homelessness, says funding emergency shelters is the “missing piece” that has gotten less attention. “Plenty of people need that place to go immediately,” Radner said. Bob Palmer, policy director for Housing Action Illinois, predicts the number of people who are refused from shelters will go up in the days ahead.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Positioned for a miracle!!

I mentioned a few months ago that we needed another million dollars for our building project at 402 N. St. Louis and that I was struggling with how we would be able to reach that goal. I can tell you now, that blog post was an understatement. Just before Thanksgiving the real estate and finance committees of our board met to try to map out a plan of action. There were very legitimate questions being asked...

Was the construction project distracting us from focusing on raising our key programs to excellence? Was there a way to change our plans to free up money and staff during the construction? How was the construction project impacting general operating funds? If God was leading us to do this work, why were we struggling financially? Were there other options that we had missed? How was this construction project and the ensuing costs going to impact Breakthrough’s financial stability going forward? How would this project affect our ability to complete the 2010 plan to build a Family Plex (academic and recreational center)? What were we going to do about the funding gap?

Beyond these internal questions we were facing the likelihood of having to halt construction until the bank felt confident providing a bridge loan for us while pledges from our capital campaign come in. We investigated a plan to phase the project and finish only a portion of the renovations. We certainly did not want to reach the end of construction and have a debt of one million dollars to repay from our already tight operational cash flow! And there was the stress of our thirty homeless men having to squeeze into a small apartment building every night because the construction project at First Free Church was beginning to disturb the habitat of the building's rats. The guys desperately need this living space.

I could write on and on about the process, the escallating costs of construction, trying to keep everyone on the same page, facing the constant vandalism and stealing at the construction site. Let me just say, the last several months have been the most stressful of my life. In the midst of the stress, I somehow knew the Lord was with us, but it felt like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being tossed into the fiery furnace with the claim that, "Our God is able to deliver us, but even if He does not, we will not bow down." The fire was unpleasant and hot and I didn't know the outcome, and yet I knew Jesus was with us in the furnace.

Another analogy I thought of was Moses leading the children of Israel to the Red Sea and not seeing a way out. I admit, I was beginning to lose faith. Several times I woke in the middle of the night filled with anxiety and I would get down by my bed to pray. I felt that I had done everything I knew to do, and we were coming up short. I wavered between earnest cries to God for help and flat out protests of "Where are you God? Why have you abandoned me?"!!

Finally, this past Monday, our staff leadership team told God that we recognized that we were positioned for a miracle. We had done all we knew to do and we were utterly dependent on God for the next step. We repented of our pride and self sufficiency. I joined Nancy Hall, our Development Director, in a fast that day (She fasts regularly). By the end of the day I told my daughter, Teri, that I no longer felt stressed about the building. It was as if something had broken free in my spirit and I knew everything would be fine, that God was going to make a way.

The next day I had a meeting scheduled with Alderman Burnett. I had asked for the meeting several weeks before in hopes of getting him to use his position to get a blue light police surveillance camera at the corner of our construction site to stop the vandalism. We talked about the construction and the gap in funds. He immediately got on the phone and made some calls and it looks like we will be getting one million plus from the city!! It was unbelievable. The same people and departments that had turned us down for funding suddenly did an about face and basically told us that if the alderman wanted a million dollars for this project, we would get it!!

We still have hoops to jump through, but it is looking really good that we will get this building built, on time, and entirely paid for. I can't stop sighing and saying "thank you" to God.