Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Geese on Ice

I took this in Garfield Park on Friday, just a few blocks from my apartment.

Extending Grace

I like this quote I found on Erika Carney Haub’s blog...
I happened to pick up the latest Thielicke book I am reading last night, “Christ and the Meaning of Life.” One of the chapters I read looked at the story of unmerciful servant: the man forgiven an extravagent debt who then turns and witholds forgiveness of a pittance from his brother.

Thielicke makes the point that, as forgiven children, we stand with one hand grasped by the mercy and grace of our Father. Our other hand is thus free to extend that same grace to our neighbors. He writes:

“Don’t you feel your hand in the hand of God? But what is your other hand doing? Is it a clenched fist—or is it stretched out toward your neighbor so that the divine circuit can be closed and thus allow the current of creative power to flow into you? Our left hand is capable of doing something very different from our right hand (in the same way that we may be schizophrenic in our minds and souls and belong to two masters). And this can split and break us. It can send us staggering down the wrong road and make us miss the gates of the Father’s house.”

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Kona Coffee Wars

I have a dear friend who is a Kona Coffee farmer in Kona, Hawaii. She and her partner lovingly harvest and roast their own coffee beans or hire local harvestors and pay them a living wage. She sent me an email with a plea for support in the face of large processors who are mislabeling their products and selling inferior coffee using the Kona name.
The farmers in our organization "The Kona Coffee Farmers Association" only sell 100% Kona Coffee but our reputation is being damaged by processors selling an inferior coffee blend and using the "Kona" name. We have been fighting to change the law in the State of Hawaii to require that at least 75% Kona beans be used in a bag of coffee in order to use the "Kona" name on the bag. Currently, the blends have only 10% Kona coffee and 90% inferior beans from places such as Guatemala & Columbia but the blenders are still allowed to use the Kona name on the label. In a 10% blend, the Kona beans can not even be tasted.

We have won this fight at the city level however, in the coming week we are going to Honolulu to take it to the state level. Because so many of our members are small farmers who can't afford to be away from their farms or do not have the money to travel to Honolulu, we are attempting to get as many of our customers to sign this petition to let the state know that not only do the farmers need protection but the consumer needs to be protected with truth in labeling.

Our biggest battle is against the large processors creating these blends, they have waged a war against us in this fight. They have a very lucrative business deceiving tourists and others into purchasing coffee they believe are blends of different Kona coffees. They are very well financed and will have a very large group in Honolulu to try to protect their bottom line. Please help us protect our farms and the reputation of Kona Coffee which generations of farmers have worked so hard to create.
Click here to sign the petition.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tag Cloud of the Words of Jesus

I found this tag cloud of President Bush's State of the Union speech. The words used most often are larger. I decided to Tag Cloud the words of Jesus. I found the words at this site and copied them into TagCrowd.com. Here is the result.
created at TagCrowd.com


Thanks Kym, for pointing me to this award winning short film about urban isolation.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Yesterday Ron Hall, the co-author of "Same Kind of Different as Me" mentioned that Denver Moore had made a vow never to speak to a white woman because he had been beat up and drug behind horses by white men after he stopped to help a white woman change her tire. After their talk Alice, one of our volunteers, asked a great question. She asked Denver if he struggled with anger over how he was treated.

Denver talked about forgiveness and how he knew he had been forgiven much himself and that he had to let go of the anger. For years he waited on an evil Nazi man who spit in his face and called him a nigger repeatedly. Denver took care of the man when no one else would go near him. I think he learned how to love and forgive. That kind of forgiveness clearly takes the power of God. I get defensive and angry when someone looks at me cross-eyed. I pray for that kind of spirit in our personal lives and our families and work relationships.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Derek Webb -- A New Law

Compassionate Conservatives Give More

Here's a link to an interesting article in Christianity Today about the study that came out a few months ago that indicated that conservatives are the most generous givers.
Generous giving is part of the religious conservative identity, according to sociologist Tony Campolo. "The Religious Right, by conviction, is convinced that helping the poor is something that should be done individually or by the church," said Campolo. "[They say that] asking the state to do it is wrong."
Another study by the Christian research organization Empty Tomb Inc. said evangelicals gave away 6.7 percent of their income in 1968. By 2004, that figure had dropped to 4.4 percent. Also, more money is staying within the church to pay for things like music and technology. Evangelical churches on average designate only about 2 percent of their budgets to missions.

Ron Hall and Denver Moore

We were blessed to have as our guests at Breakthrough today, Ron Hall and Denver Moore, the authors of the book, Same Kind Of Different As Me. They told their story to a group of about 80 ministers and friends of the ministry. If you haven't read the book, you simply must. It is the moving story of Ron, a wealthy art dealer, whose wife, Deborah, brought him into the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth, Texas, where he met Denver, a former sharecropper from Mississippi who had been homeless for forty years. At his wife's insistence Ron began a friendship with Denver that deepened when Deborah was stricken with cancer and finally died. Their experience models the love of Christ that breaks down barriers of race and class and teaches us to love one another.

They were also interviewed today by Anita Lustrea on Midday Connection at Moody Radio. You can listen to the show at this link.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Someone has to do something!

"Someone has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us."
--Jerry Garcia

Brian McLaren On Loving Our Neighbors

I like this post from Brian McLaren on the Sojourners blog called, Religion of Mass Distraction. He says,
Those of us who see religion in a different light – who see religion as a powerful motivation to care for the widow and orphan, to seek justice and peace, to love our neighbors and our enemies – shouldn't feel superior, but we should keep practicing, and preaching, with humility and focus. It's so easy to get distracted, and a lot is at stake.

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Not Even A Place In Line" - Report on Housing

I received an email today from Doug Schenkelberg, Associate Director of Policy for the Mid-America Institute on Poverty of the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights announcing the release of their latest report -- Not Even a Place in Line - 2007 - Public Housing & Housing Choice Voucher Capacity and Waiting Lists in Illinois.

The report reveals that Illinois continues to face an affordable housing crisis where too many families have no opportunity to access the safe, decent and affordable housing they need. Continuing declines in funding levels for housing assistance programs, combined with new rules affecting the funding and flexibility of local public housing authorities have resulted in long waiting lists and thousands of eligible Illinois families unable to get needed housing assistance. In more than half of Illinois communities where the housing choice voucher program operates, families seeking rental assistance cannot even get in line to receive future vouchers because waiting lists are closed. For every public housing unit, there are two families in need.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Is Obama an Evangelical Christian?

Here's a link to an interesting article in today's Chicago Sun Times in which Obama answers the question, "Are you a Christian?" with a quick "yes". But when asked if he is an evangelical, Obama's response was, "I'm not sure". He resonded,
"Gosh, I'm not sure if labels are helpful here because the definition of an evangelical is so loose and subject to so many different interpretations. I came to Christianity through the black church tradition where the line between evangelical and non-evangelical is completely blurred. Nobody knows exactly what it means."
I heard him speak in Washington at Pentecost 2006 last June where he told his testimony of walking down the aisle at Trinity United Church of Christ to embrace faith in Christ. I really appreciate his candor on the subject of faith and religion.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Building Bridges

Check out this link to the Boomer Babes Rock blog where Keri Wyatt Kent wrote a great post about her visit to our women's shelter last Saturday night. She called it "Building Bridges" which is a phrase we use often at Breakthrough.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why blacks are leaving evangelical ministries

Here's a link to a very important article in Christianity Today by Edward Gilbreath entitled, Exit Interviews:
Why blacks are leaving evangelical ministries
. It is adapted from Gilbreath's book, Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity. Several people have pointed me toward this book this week so I just ordered it. I also just discovered Ed Gilbreath's Blog thanks to Rodolpho Carrasco at Urban Onramps.

But is it right?

Cowardice asks the question-is it safe?
Vanity asks the question-is it popular?
Expediency asks the question-is it political
But conscience asks the question-is it right?
There comes a time when one must take a
position that is neither safe, popular,
or political, but because it is right!

--Dr. Martin Luther King

The Old Storefront is Gone

If you are familiar with Breakthrough's northside site at First Free Church you may be interested to know the storefront room where Breakthrough started is gone. It is a dream come true and an answer to many prayers for the church to finally be able to build a Family Life Center in place of the three flats that were there.

This is what it used to look like.

Outward Ministry Driven By Inner Growth

I have been reading from A Guide To Prayer For All God's People published by the Upper Room. This was in my reading for today.

The sense of connection between inner growth and outer change permeates the Christian understanding of reality. St. Paul was an activist of the first order. Every time he entered a new place he created major disruptions, but his activism was the fruit of the relationship he enjoyed with the living Christ. The great hymns of praise that seem to burst out in epistle after epistle are a testimony to the reality of this relationship. The ministries of Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta or of Martin Luther King in the streets of Montgomery, or of the countless people whose faith has touched your life and mine and indeed has affected the life of the world are expressions of lived prayer. These people went deep enough in prayer to embrace life with some degree of abandon. These inner experiences literally drove them in ministry to others.

                --from Invitation to Holiness by James C. Fenhagen

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Clap Hands

"Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy." Psalms 47:1

Here's a song from Beck.

Is Increasing the Minimum Wage the Answer to the Right Question?

Here's a link to an interesting post from Chris Rabb on the Fast Company Blog about the minimum wage ordinance that passed in Congress last week and now heads for the Senate.
Ultimately, shouldn't we be asking ourselves, our public servants and business leaders what responsibility must we take as a nation to ensure that no legitimate business be compelled to base its economic sustainability on the necessary exploitation of its employees?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Breakthrough's Peanut Butter and Jelly Caper Before the City Council

Breakthrough's Senior Program Director, Bill Curry, testified before a City Council Committee this week about an incident that happened in our dining room during our kids' summer program. City departments were squabbling over whether or not organizations like Breakthrough needed a retail food license to serve food to kids and homeless guests and we were caught in the middle.

We had tried to get the license, but were told by the issuing department that we didn't need one. When a woman from the city health department came out and demanded to see our license which we could not produce, she took peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that had been prepared for the kids' field trip and threw them all in the garbage right in front of the kids.

Alderman Burke was livid. Here's what an article in the Chicago Tribune had to say...
Also on Wednesday, the committee advanced a measure that would exempt soup kitchens and food depositories that prepare food for consumption from a recently imposed requirement to obtain a retail food establishment license.

Burke, crimson with anger, decried what he called City Hall bureaucracy and demanded that a Health Department official give him details of what he called "the great peanut butter and jelly sandwich caper."

In an incident last July, speakers at a meeting said that a new department employee destroyed sandwiches in front of needy children because a not-for-profit organization at 3330 W. Carroll St. that prepared the sandwiches did not have the proper license.

"And this is city that works?" Burke asked sarcastically.

Speaking of hugs

This makes me smile...

Neta Jackson and the Sister Circle

We were blessed last night to have a visit from Neta Jackson, author of the Yada Yada Prayer Group series of books. Neta and her friend, Pam Sullivan, kicked off Breakthrough's Sister Circle, a group of women from very diverse backgrounds who are coming together to learn to know God better and develop meaningful relationships. Neta spoke to us about how God knows us intimately, knew us by name before we were even born. It was a Spirit-filled time of reflection and prayer. Being there reminded me of how rich I am to have such wonderful people in my life, who, despite all of our various blessings and struggles, are all on level ground at the foot of the cross.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Water To Wine and Running Out Of Sugar

One evening the women at Breakthrough’s Joshua Center for Homeless Women were pouring coffee when they discovered they had run out of sugar. There were many moans and groans, especially from those who were recovering from alcoholism as their bodies craved the sugar to replace their alcohol intake.

Later, I led them in devotions from the book of John. Our Scripture for the night was about Jesus turning the water into wine. I asked the women what they do when they run out of resources, when the jars of their lives are empty and it seems like life is hopeless, when the sparkle is gone, when the love has run out. I was passionate in my application. “What do you do when you when you don’t have enough? Who do you turn to when the zest is gone from your life, when you are empty and dry, when it seems all of your resources are gone?”

“When you run out of sugar?” one of the women quipped and we all had a good laugh.

The point I was trying to make was that no matter what problem we are facing, Jesus, who turned the water into wine, will bring the sense of celebration, the love and the resources back into our lives if we just bring our empty jars to him and ask him what to do. We talked about the fact that Jesus cares about our need, and will act to meet our needs when we turn to him and do what he tells us to do, that he can work miracles in our lives if we trust him.

A few days later a volunteer came to the center and said she wanted to donate some supplies for our food pantry. Without anyone telling her about our special need, she donated two ten-pound bags of sugar! God gave our homeless women a first hand experience of his special love and care!

Oxygen: Deep Breathing For The Soul

My good friend, Keri Wyatt Kent, has a new book out this month entitled, Oxygen: Deep Breathing For The Soul. Keri is a wonderful author and speaker and has also become a regular Breakthrough volunteer! I have known her since she was a teenager and am really inspired by all God is doing through her!

The Leadership Model of Lot?

2 Peter 2:7-9, says that Lot was a righteous man, who was “distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard).” I like the Revised Standard Version which says he was "vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds."

When God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness, Lot's uncle Abraham was able to barter with God and garner a commitment that if ten righteous people could be found in the cities they would be spared. Because Lot was not able to mobilize even ten people in Sodom and Gomorrah to live godly lives, their entire cities were destroyed. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah have been remembered, not only for their sexual deviance and ungodliness, but because they “were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Eze. 16:49)

Today we don’t have leadership books written about Lot. On the other hand, on the day I am writing this, there are more than thirty-five books listed on Amazon about the life and leadership of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah, when he saw that his city was in trouble, garnered resources from the government, conducted a recognizance mission to scope out the problem and mobilized a movement of people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. When he heard the outcry of the poor, he became angry and "called together a large meeting", and told their oppressors, "What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in the fear of God?" (Nehemiah 5:6-9). Nehemiah and his people have become known as "Repairers of Broken Walls, Restorers of Streets with Dwellings", just as Isaiah promised in Isaiah 58.

Just being vexed in our righteous souls over wickedness will not save our cities. Like Nehemiah, we need to organize a kingdom movement and help people find their places at the walls, hammer in one hand and sword in the other, prepared for battle, but staying on task til the job is done.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Homelessness and Affordable Housing

A Chicago Tribune article today reported on a study that estimates the number of people without homes in the US to be 744,000. Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, says, "The driver in homelessness is the affordable housing crisis. If we don't do something to address the crisis in affordable housing we are not going to solve homelessness."

I noticed another article today in Crain's Chicago Business about Mayor Daley's reluctance to support a city ordinance proposed by Aldermen Tony Preckwinkle and Walter Burnett that would require 15% of new multi-unit buildings to be set aside for affordable housing. Daley is proposing a 10% rule for only projects needing zoning changes or a $100,000 per unit contribution to a city rent subsidy fund.

The author of the article, Greg Hinz, says about Mayor Daley, "He says he doesn't want to kill the golden goose that's reviving the city center. I believe him. I also believe he'd like to avoid offending powerful business interests."

It will be interesting to see who wins this debate.

NT Wright's books

I noticed on Amazon that NT Wright published three books in 2006. I wish I could just get one done this year!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Thy will be done on earth - NT Wright in CT

Here's a link to a Christianity Today interview with NT Wright about communicating the gospel in a post-Christian society. He says,
Because I've done all that historical work, my view of the gospel and how it works out in the real world has been deepened and enriched in all kinds of ways that I would never have guessed 25 years ago when I was starting out writing about Jesus. So in Simply Christian there's a lot about justice, what it means to be human in the mandate to work, the putting to rights of God's world, generating beauty, alleviating poverty, working with ecology. Thirty years ago I would have said those were secondary issues.

...the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and Resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You, in turn, can be part of the transforming work. That draws together what we traditionally called evangelism, bringing people to the point where they come to know God in Christ for themselves, with working for God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That has always been at the heart of the Lord's Prayer, and how we've managed for years to say the Lord's Prayer without realizing that Jesus really meant it is very curious.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Success of the Faith-Based Initiative

Stanley Carlson-Thies, Director of Social Policy Studies at the Center for Public Justice, issued a commentary today praising the success of the Federal Faith Based Initiative. He calls it a great success story. I agree. While the initiative has not produced more money from the federal government and the competition for federal dollars is very stiff, I do think there is not as much attention from government funders regarding how religious our activities are. It is understood that Breakthrough is a Christian organization and that is OK. We just can not require people to participate in religious activities in order to receive services. That makes sense to me because I don't think religious activities should be forced on people anyway. The devotionals that we have in all of our program areas are always optional. That puts the onus on us to make sure the discussions are relevant and that our guests want to participate and they do.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Listening to Regina Spektor

I downloaded Regina Spektor's album, Begin to Hope. She has a quirky sort of folkish blues style that grows on you. Her songs also have an urban theme. She lives in New York. Here's a You Tube upload of "Fidelity", one of the songs on the cd.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2007 Bible Reading Guides

Here's a link to the plan to read through the Bible in a year that I will use this year.

Examen of consciousness for 2006

I finished reading Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton today. It was a good way to start the year. She wrote about the spiritual disciplines of solitude, prayer, lectio divina, the examen of consciousness, self examination and confession, honoring the body, discernment, sabbath and community. I was most challenged by the segments on honoring the body and the sabbath. I have not taken very good care of my body in the past year and really want to make some changes. She emphasized the need to unplug from technology when enjoying the sabbath or seeking solitude. Of course, that is another challenge of mine.

I have used the daily examen often but reading this book at this particular time of the year led me to reflect upon the entire past year instead of just the day. In doing the examen of consciousness we ask God for light and then reflect on the day with thanksgiving, noting the consolations (the positive things that happened and the ways we got it right) and the desolations (the low points or the things that happened that we wish we had handled differently). Then we are to confess and pray through the things that God brings to our minds and finally we rest in God's love and assurance.

2006 was a challenging year for me and I had many desolations and consolations. My prayer is that this year will be one in which I practice the sacred rhythms.