Saturday, September 30, 2006

Doing Theology By Any Means Necessary - Carl Ellis

I don't know of a theological teacher who does a more effective job of teaching about theology in an African American context than Carl Ellis. Here is a video of his teaching at Williams College.

A Nooma teaching from Rob Bell

This Nooma video by Rob Bell gives a whole new perspective on following Jesus. Jesus actually believes in us!

Friday, September 29, 2006

True Faith

"True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it serves those that harm it, it binds up that which is wounded, it has become all things to all people."
                  -- Menno Simons

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
                  --James 2:14-17

Different Rules for Whites

"For centuries, whites have benefited from exclusionary laws and policies, while other groups were barred from citizenship, denied opportunities, and restricted from full participation in American society."

Here's a link to a PBS article that traces historical policies that have provided for whites while excluding others.

Plight Deepens for African American Men

Here is a link to a NY Times article entitled, "Plight Deepens for African American Men, Studies Warn". It highlights a flurry of recent studies that show that Black men are falling increasingly farther behind the rest of society with higher dropout rates and greater rates of unemployment and incarceration. Here are some highlights from the article...
Especially in the country's inner cities, the studies show, finishing high school is the exception, legal work is scarcer than ever and prison is almost routine, with incarceration rates climbing for blacks even as urban crime rates have declined.

Terrible schools, absent parents, racism, the decline in blue collar jobs and a subculture that glorifies swagger over work have all been cited as causes of the deepening ruin of black youths.

In inner cities across the country, more than half of all black men still do not finish high school, said Gary Orfield, an education expert at Harvard and editor of "Dropouts in America" (Harvard Education Press, 2004).

"We're pumping out boys with no honest alternative," Mr. Orfield said in an interview, "and of course their neighborhoods offer many other alternatives."

By their mid-30's, 30 percent of black men with no more than a high school education have served time in prison, and 60 percent of dropouts have.

Among black dropouts in their late 20's, more are in prison on a given day — 34 percent — than are working — 30 percent — according to an analysis of 2000 census data by Steven Raphael of the University of California, Berkeley.

In response to the worsening situation for young black men, a growing number of programs are placing as much importance on teaching life skills — like parenting, conflict resolution and character building — as they are on teaching job skills.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Taken, Blessed, Broken and Given

“The operating biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice. We bring ourselves to the altar and let God do to us what God will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table, entering into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, giving—the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed; and that eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing."

                         -- Eugene Peterson

Monday, September 25, 2006

Reading Scripture in an African American Context

I appreciated a blog post by Scot McKnight entitled "Scriptures and Scripture: African American" in which he makes the case that social context affects what we look for and find in Scripture. African Americans read Scripture in a context of oppression and suffering and therefore have found in Scripture God's identification with the oppressed and the acts of God to bring justice in this world.

Jerry Falwell compares Hillary Clinton to Lucifer

Yesterday's broadcast of ABC's World News Sunday referenced Rev. Jerry Falwell's September 22 attack on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) comparing the senator to "Lucifer". Falwell said later it was "tongue in cheek", but I think this is the kind of hateful talk that fuels the fire of animosity toward Christians and certainly does not attract people to the faith.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Heroin deaths and race

I wrote this as a comment on the "White Privilege" post on Thursday night, but thought I would highligh it again. Thursday night channel 5 news featured the story of a white kid from the suburbs who drove to the westside of Chicago and got some heroin laced with fentanyl and died. He was a Maine South student and his father was Jack Krecker, deputy police chief of the Franklin Park police. While I feel the pain of the Krecker family I couldn't help but think of Curtis and the 70 others who have died from this deadly heroin whose stories aren't told on the 10 o'clock news. They have families too, but they are the invisible Americans.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My walk around the Garfield Park Lagoon

My neighbor down the street: “How you doin’ sweetie?” (I like being called that)

“I’m blessed and you?”

“Blest too. Did you make it to Curtis’ funeral?” she asks.

“No, I had planned to go but I got that bad cold that’s going around and didn’t want to spread it. Did you?”

“Yea, it was nice. They showed him and he looked real good.”

“Sorry I missed it.”

“That’s ok. You were sick.”

I poke my head in the corner store without actually going in because I have my dog Charlie on a leash. “You got any of those sticky mouse traps?”

He looks back over his shoulder at the wall. “No, not the sticky kind.”

I need the sticky kind because it’s the only thing that will catch the one inch babies that have invaded my apartment again.

I cross Lake Street and enter the park. A group of men have set up a card table to play cards and drink beer. I nod. They nod back. “What kinda dog is that?” One of them asks. I’ll get asked that three more times before I make it around the lagoon.

“He’s a Papillion”, I say.

The park drive is always lined with cars, usually with people sitting in them talking or listening to music. One of them is selling bags of peanuts out of his car. Another has lined the hood, roof and trunk of his car with nice looking sneakers still new in their boxes. He is strategically parked next to the basketball courts that are always busy with men in hot hoop competition.

Charlie does his thing and I pick it up with a baggie even though his little poops are smaller than the geese poop I have to dodge constantly. Speaking of geese I decide to count them and get to 100 when I give up. One of them has a lame leg and limps slowly behind the others. He can still fly though. I decide I’m a lot like that goose. I may limp, but I can still fly.

I wonder how the geese butts stay so white even though the lagoon is covered with a green sludge. I guess God put some kind of thing on their butts that repels dirt and grime. I dunno.

I round the back end of the lagoon near Hamlin and notice a man standing in a concrete bunker. I wonder what he’s doing in there. As I clear the trees I get near him and say, “How you doin’”?

“I’ve had a really bad day”, he says.

“Why, what happened?”

“My fiancĂ© broke up with me and we have a little girl. I’m just really upset about it. I need a job real bad too, but I have a record. People don’t realize how hard it is to get a job if you have a felony”.

“Yea, I know”, I say, “no one will hire you or rent to you and you can’t even get into public housing.

“Yea, that’s right. It’s terrible. You can’t do nothin’”.

I proceed to tell him about Breaking Ground, a ministry in the neighborhood that provides job training and work opportunities. I explain how to get there and he seems confused, can’t seem to get my directions. Then I notice two hypodermic needles in a pipe in the bunker and it all makes sense. He’s still talking about how hard it is and I say, “You really have to lay off the needle, that'll really mess you up.”

He seems shocked. “How did you know? Did you see me?”

“I can see the needles right there.” I point to them.

He looks ashamed. “I know. I just do it once a week. I know its bad”.

“It will kill you”, I say, “a friend of mine died last week from bad dope he got in this park”.

“Yea, I heard”, he says, “a friend of mine died too. I know, I gotta quit”.

I walk on and notice a young white girl sitting by the lagoon. She seems to be drawing on an art pad. Yup, I think, the artists come first. Gentrification is on the way. I round the bend and try to keep Charlie out of the cocklebur bushes. I see two men fishing who I have talked with before. One of them is leafing through a stack of bills. They say hi. I smile and say, “Hey, you’d better be careful flashing that cash in this park!”

“What you gonna do, rob me”? He jokes.

“Me and my killer dog,” I say. They laugh. Charlie weighs about 10 pounds.

I walk on and notice two people sitting on a bench. One of them is a woman from our shelter. I stop to talk. “How you doin’”?

“Great!” she says and gives me a big exaggerated grin.

“Oh wow”, I say, “you got your teeth today”. I remember seeing the dental van at the Breakthrough Joshua Center. “Just the uppers?” I ask.

“No, both uppers and lowers”.

“They look great,” I say.

She smiles broadly, “I know,” she says. Then she goes on to tell me a story about how she’s been going to court because she was stabbed in the neck by someone who had been in for murder and was released on a technicality. The police are grateful that she is pressing charges cuz this guy is dangerous and needs to be behind bars.

I’m not sure whether or not to believe her because I know she makes things up, but it’s an interesting story. I express my amazement and affirm that she is doing the right thing, say hi to her guy friend, whom I had met before, tell them to have a great night and walk on.

I cross Lake Street again and head back up St. Louis Avenue. Two little boys ask if Charlie bites. I say no.

“Can I rub him?” One of them asks.

I nod a yes and turn my attention to an elderly man hoeing his garden. “Since I see you and we say ‘hi’ everyday I really should learn your name,” I say.

“It’s Al,” he says, “but everyone calls me Melvin”.

“What should I call you?”

“I guess Melvin cuz that’s what everybody calls me”.

“I’m Arloa,” I say and explain that it is the feminine form of Arlo, like Arlo Guthrie, the folk singer who recorded “City of New Orleans”. He gets it right away.

“I’ve lived here 40 years,” he says.

Oh, so you were here after King was assassinated and the neighborhood burned,” I say.

“Oh, yea. It was bad. I stayed to watch over my aunt. She’s passed now”. He says the owner of his building is thinking about selling. He needs to find a place to go. I remember Yolanda, our Women’s Services Director, questioning where her people are going to go as the whites start to move in. I tell him about the seniors building on Drake, that it’s been renovated and is pretty nice. He says he’ll check it out.

I turn onto Fulton and head for home. Punkin and I discuss the mice situation outside my front door. She says she hears them in the walls. So my mission now is to find those sticky mouse traps. I’ve been to Walgreens and Dominicks… guess I’ll try Home Depot.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

White Privilege

Marlone Finley from my Tuesday night BUILD group sent me this link today to an article about a survey that indicates that 60% of whites understand that being white brings them special privileges. What is concerning to me is that means 40% believe that institutions are color-blind and don't contribute to those privileges.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Breakthrough on Midday Connection

Anita Lustrea interviewed me and other Breakthrough staff on Midday Connection today. You can listen to the show at this link.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Two deaths on my block this week

Curtis was one of the first people I met when I moved here. He was walking his dog early one January morning and we talked. I kept running into him and he would encourage me to get out more with my dog Charlie. He especially appreciated the groceries he received from our food pantry. Later this summer when I saw him mowing the lawn in front of our house I asked him to mow the grass in front of our building on St. Louis Avenue. He was eager to help and always asked if we had more work for him to do. I told him to hold on, that soon the Breakthrough Ministry Center would be up and running and we would have an employment center there to help him get a good job. He was very excited about that and asked me about it everytime we met. Over the weekend he was given bad heroin and I learned today that he died. When I asked my neighbors about his funeral they told me another man we knew as Santa Claus because of his full white beard passed away today. He was living in the boarded up building three doors down from me and died from a gas leak in the building. These are the men Breakthrough is here to serve. We really need to get our building renovated so guys like Curtis and Santa Claus will have opportunities before it is too late.

This is the kind of prayer we need!

I support Mayor Daley on the Big Box Veto

There I said it. I wasn't sure where I stood until I heard Bishop Brazier say our people need jobs, starter jobs, any job. Yes the minimum wage needs to be raised, but across the board, not just in Walmart and Target stores in the city. I am a strong advocate of raising the minimum wage. But to keep the big box stores out of the city is not the answer. It's not enough. I know it is a difficult question. Do the big box stores drive out other businesses? Probably. But to be able to buy goods at lower prices is an advantage that suburbanites have that we don't. Our kids need those starter jobs so they can move on to better employment. Sojourners and all of the social advocates I know have been supporting the aldermanic ordinance that would require the big box stores to pay a higher wage, therefore causing them to stop development in the city. What do you think?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

This Week's TIME magazine


"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.                  --Jesus of Nazareth, Luke 6:20

Here's what Rick Warren had to say in the CNN summary of the Time magazine article...
This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? … There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn’t everyone in the church a millionaire?

I've been duped by bottled water

I tried to give Tom a bottled water the other day and he refused it saying he took issue with bottled water. I was puzzled by that. Surely, bottled water tastes better than tap water. It's been put through all of that filtering and testing and must be better for us.

Today the Tribune ran an article about bottled water and guess what, Tom's right. It turns out "across the board, people can't tell the difference. Over 1,000 people have taken the test in more than a dozen cities, and the overwhelming sentiment from them is that they have been duped. The dirty secret about clean water is that regulation of bottled water is weaker than regulation of tap water. And a quarter or more of all bottle-water brands obtain their water from the same place you do--municipal water systems. These include such leading brands as Coca-Cola's Dasani and Pepsi's Aquafina." And since bottled water does not contain fluoride like most tap water does, it can actually contribute to tooth decay!! The difference is, bottled water can cost up to $10 per gallon instead of the 50 cents per gallon that tap water costs!

I'm convinced. I still think Chicago water has a bit of a bleach odor, so I think I will run it through my Brita pitcher and fill up my water bottles with tap water. Certainly I can put the money to better use than supporting Coca-Cola and other mega corporations.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

O Such Love!

Bonhoeffer on Justice

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, but we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

                        -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Digital Divide

Here is a link to a CNN article about the digital divide. This affects homework, term papers, research capability, access to employment and I'm sure lots of other things. It highlights the value of our computer lab at the Breakthrough Joshua Center.
A total of 54 percent of white students use the Internet at home, compared with 26 percent of Hispanic and 27 percent of black youngsters.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

ML King on the Jericho Road

I read this quote on one of my favorite blogs, Allan Greig's "...a personal revolution".
"We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside… but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved. We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King (A Time to Break the Silence, 1967)

Amy Grant at Ravinia

I went to Ravinia with my friend Tom to hear Amy Grant last Thursday night and ran into lots of friends. Here are Nancy, Penny and Helen with Amy.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Skin Color and Identity


The effects of racism on the identity of Black children is devastating and deeply psychological. This 7 minute video entitled "A Girl Like Me" shows young girls describing the struggle.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cost of Living and the Minimum Wage


The federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. During the past nine years, while the minimum wage has remained the same, members of Congress have voted to give themselves pay raises -- technically "cost of living increases" -- totaling $31,600, or more than $15 an hour for a 40-hour week, 52 weeks a year.

While the minimum wage has remained stagnant since 1997, Congress has enacted legislation that has reduced estate tax burdens in eight of the past nine years. The minimum wage bill that passed the House but was rejected by the Senate last month, would have benefited 5.6 million workers, while the estate tax reduction primarily benefits 8,200 very wealthy estates.

Treadmill Dance

Have your seen the Treadmill Dancers? I like how the guy in the red pants starts the music with the remote control!

Trevor Romain

Trevor Romain's blog is a beautiful collage of art, photography and prose--wonderful stories. I especially like his Augsut 21st post about the Nee Nee Man.