Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Reality of Getting Old

So, I was running around the Garfield Park Lagoon the other day (eight times around both lagoons is ten miles). It was a grueling long run and I was hot and tired when I came upon a group of young boys. Can I call them young punks? Anyway, one of them yelled, "You go, old lady!" and they started laughing and singing the Rocky song, "Dah da dah...., dah da dah..." I doubt any of them will be running a marathon any time soon, but it doesn't matter. They're young and can't imagine ever being as old as me.

The sad reality is, many of them will not see age 53. Their lives are in danger every day. I am amazed by how many young men I see in wheelchairs around here. They are victims of urban warfare.

So, my aging body rounding the lagoon for the eighth time gave them a laugh. OK. I can take it. I actually get lots of encouragement and high fives. I feel a little like Akeelah in the movie, Akeelah and the Bee, when the community began to get involved in her success. If this old lady can run a marathon, maybe there's hope for change after all.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Can Chicago End Homelessness?

Thanks to Rebecca for pointing me to this link of a Time article about the Chicago Plan to End Homelessness. She asked for my thoughts, so here is my two cents...

While I have supported the plan in concept I have always doubted that there would be enough money allocated to make it work. I think it is wonderful to have a plan and it is very motivating to work toward ending homelessness entirely. I believe we could eliminate homelessness in Chicago, but not without the political will to channel lots of money into the process and I don't see that happening. We have made progress, but not nearly enough.

Basically the plan set forth by a wide coalition of funders, homeless advocates and government officials (of which I was a contributing member) espouses the "housing first" model. This has resulted in government dollars being directed away from shelters and toward subsidizing permanent housing units.

Research has shown that people without homes are more likely to achieve stability in their lives if they are housed first. That is kind of a "na dah" to me. Of course if we could put everyone in our shelters into their own apartments today, we would. And if there were no more homeless people waiting to take their places in our shelters, I would say, let's sing the hallelujah chorus and close all of the shelters in the city!

Of course, that isn't close to the reality of the situation. Our shelters are always full with a waiting list, and we try our best to get people moved into housing as quickly as we can. We have thirty subsidized apartment units for our participants, as well as the sixty shelter beds we offer, and they are always full too.

Housing people in apartments costs about six times as much as housing them in our shelters. Some of the guests who stay with us are able to get off the dole and live on their own, paying their own rent, if given the support they need for a time in our shelter. What motivation does someone have to get and stay employed and pay their own rent if they are handed a hefty rent subsidy under a "housing first" model when they are capable of working if given a chance? And if the subsidy is all they get (supportive service dollars are not readily available) then "housing first" becomes "housing only" and people can still be living by themsleves in addiction, isolation and poverty and be growing increasingly depressed. Of course, women fleeing domestic abuse situations need special protection that is not acknowledged in a pure housing first model. I think there are lots of other special services needed such as drug and alcohol recovery programs, life skill training, etc.

I appreciate the work of the legislators and advocates that brought about recent state legislation that has added a ten dollar fee to real estate transactions. I was part of that advocacy. This is generating an additional ten million dollars per year for rent subsidies, but that will only accomodate about 6,000 people, while there are something like 70,000 on waiting lists for subsidized housing. While we certainly need more affordable housing, I think to close the shelters is foolishness and will only bring more hardship on people who are waiting to find suitable housing that they can afford.

While Breakthrough gets some funding from the government we are not dependent upon government funds to stay open. When the city cut the funding for our men's shelter last year, we put out a plea to our private donors and kept our doors open. Not all shelter providers have that kind of diverse funding base. When others shut their doors it just makes our work more important and necessary. (By the way, the city later reinstated our shelter funding after facing severe criticism from homeless advocates.)

I believe the chronically homeless (those who are mentally ill and have been on the street for years) should be housed in some type of community setting. Giving them keys to their own apartments without adequate support will not ensure their success in independent living.

The work of Breakthrough and other homeless service providers is important because we build relationships with our homeless guests. I'm not saying other providers and government entities don't do that, but I think the depth of care that Breakthrough demonstrates is rare. Every person is different. We cannot assume that what is best for one person is best for another. So we allow our guests to choose their own goals and empower them to make good choices.

The ministries and organizations who have been operating shelters and day centers for years provide those caring relationships that make such a crucial difference in the lives of struggling people. A government dispensed rent subsidy will not have the same impact. Sadly, I am watching service providers close their doors because "providing the poor wanderer with shelter" as Isaiah sets forth in Isaiah 58 is no longer the politically correct thing to do.

The article mentions Daley's plan to require 10% set asides in new construction for those making $75,000 or less. I agree with the advocates who are asking the question, why not 15% for those making $60,000 or less. We need to stem the tide of the fast paced gentrification that is forcing residents out of their homes throughout the city by advocating for scattered site affordable housing that is really affordable.

Monday, May 21, 2007

My Urban Education Started at Moody

At church yesterday a friend commented about how meaningful it has been for a group of Romanian senior citizens who live in Jenkins Hall, a building that is part dormitory for Moody Bible Institute students and part subsidized housing for seniors, to have a Moody student from Romania organize a Bible study for them. Talk about practical Christian education! Imagine the beauty of crossing the ocean to go to school and learning that you are living near senior citizens from your country who are hungry to study the Bible!

It reminds me of Acts 17:26-27 when Paul explained to the Athenians that "from one man (God) made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him."

The leadership of Moody has consistently made the decision to stay in the city doing the work that Dwight L. Moody and Emma Dryer started after the Chicago fire of caring for those who were devastated physically and financially by the fire and educating students in a multicultural setting to take the Word to the World. It was that heritage of Moody that attracted me to the city in the 70's. After biking around the many uniquely diverse ethnic neighborhoods and visiting with struggling Chicago residents in the housing projects and medicare nursing homes for Moody assignments, I was hooked on the city and I'm still here.

There was no Urban Studies program back then. I studied Bible Theology because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I knew whatever I ended up doing, I wanted to know Scripture and serve God. Last week a young woman at one of our River City Community Groups commented about how wonderful the Urban Studies program was for her at Moody. Studying Scripture in the context of the complex issues that present themselves in the city brings a depth of understanding that is rich with application. Since all people are made in the image of God, I think we get an even more complete picture of who God is when we truly learn to understand and love people from cultures other than our own. The city provides a wonderful theological laboratory in which to experience God's love for all people.

Thanks Moody, for expanding my view of God and helping me to find God's calling for my life.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Less Righteous In My Indignation

From A Book of Uncommon Prayer by Kenneth G. Phifer...
Will you help me to be less quick to judge
            and less righteous in my indignation?
Will you help me to be more open to life
            and to other people?
Will you give me confidence enough to be less
            defensive and less ready to react to rebuffs?
Give me steadiness and firmness
            and true commitment to the life of faith. Amen.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Forgiveness and the Power of Words

I was reminded today that words are powerful. They can bring joy and encouragement or they can cause harm. Blog posts and comments can be deleted, but once they have been read, the damage is done. The words cannot be retrieved. When I first started blogging I was too careless. I didn't really think anyone would read my little diatribe so I wrote without checking out the facts, sometimes as a way to vent my emotions. So, I am asking God and you to forgive me, and resolving to be more careful never to write things that are critical about other ministries. I pray that my words will always bring life, and when I fail, please let me know, and also, please forgive me.

I'm training for the Chicago marathon!!

On Monday I made the big decision to start training for the October 7th, Chicago Marathon. Someone asked me if I am a runner. I had to say no. I was a pretty disciplined runner for a time in my 20s and 30s, but I am 53 now and haven't run for more than a decade. I hope, in the words of Rocky Balboa, to "go tha distance"!

At the end of June I am heading to Zambia, DR Congo, Botswana, Victoria Falls, and Zimbabwe with World Vision. I know from my trip to Ethiopia in 2004 that I am going to be overwhelmed with a desire to do something to make a difference.

So I decided that one small thing I can do is join the World Vision Chicago Marathon team and raise money for World Vision while I run. I set $5,000 as my target to raise so please join me in this important cause. You can pledge online at this link. I am going to need all of the encouragement I can get!!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Shane Claiborne on "Speaking of Faith"

Shane Claiborne is a leader among young people who are seeking to live simply and take seriously matters of poverty and justice. He is the author of the book, Irresistable Revolution and founder of the Simple Way, where he and others live simply and in community in Philadelphia. Here's the link to the public radio site with the audio and other info. They call him a "new monastic".

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Coming to Abba as Children

"When we get a vision of the God of whom Jesus speaks we will want fellowship with this one who combines the best qualities of a good father and a good mother. We are children. There is not question about Abba's receiving us. All we need to do is acknowledge our childishness and come. This is the reason why the broken and simple, the poor in spirit, the anxiety-ridden, the mourning, the meek, the unsatisfied and unfulfilled, the hungry and thirsty, the persecuted and ridiculed find it so easy to turn to the God Jesus reveals. Those who are doing quite well on their own and think that they have life securely within their grasp don't like to admit their ultimate helplessness and come as children before Abba. They don't feel the need of it. It also may be beneath their dignity."
       -- From Companions on the Inner Way by Morton T. Kelsey

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Emotional support for students helps them achieve

Here's a link to an interesting article from Catalyst Chicago about research that indicates that paying attention to the social and emotional needs of teachers and students leads to higher academic performance.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Poverty Alleviation: Where do we start?

We can all do something: skip a meal, do without new gadgets, simplify our lifestyles, eat fewer meals in restaurants, buy clothes from recycle shops. I think the word I hear is, "Just do something!"
"How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need, and yet refuses to help."
                1 John 3:17-18

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Josiah House

I got this email from a friend today...
I had a thought today that I just have to share with you.

I was reading the story of Josiah this morning and how he tore his clothes in grief when the Scriptures were discovered and after he studied them, he realized they had not been following God’s ways and will for their lives. I was then reading my favorite book, Walking with the Poor, at lunch just now and he was talking about passages in Isaiah 1:17 and 10:1-2 and Ezekial 17:48-49 about the sin of Sodom. So many Christians have been reading these passages in the past few years and are being awakened to the obvious themes of seeking justice and encouraging the oppressed in Scripture.

Today is like Josiah’s times, a time of waking up to what we have not cared about or noticed in God’s word for a long time. We could tear our clothes too, don’t you think? It grieves me that this isn’t THE topic of conversation everywhere. Sometimes I feel like people think you have to be especially “called” to care for the things that Breakthrough does or the people we minister to. No! It isn’t a special calling! Am I nuts?
No, you are not nuts and I think you just gave me the name for the house we're supposed to open that I described in my May 3rd post entitled, The Need for More Theological Reflection. Let's call it the Josiah House. Has anyone seen a suitable house for sale? It should be able to sleep about fifteen, have space for a library and resource center, a fireplace would be nice, and of course a very large dining room so we could put a big table in it that would seat about 20.

It will be a hospitality house where people will come to stay for a few weeks or months to learn the language and theology of the gospel and justice. Guests will work to maintain the facility half a day or serve in community ministries and then spend the other half day in the resource library doing guided study assigned to them by their mentor. It will be about reclaiming the message of Scripture about the gospel, justice, mercy and compassion. We will have conversations open to the public nearly every night with special guests in to lead discussions. We will have lots of fireside chats and meals and conversations at the big table. I can see it in my head as clear as day. The next step is to find the house and get funding to buy it. Send me an email if you want to be part of a meeting to talk about this.

A Mother's Love

Here's a link to a great story written by Olivier Currat, about a mother from our neighborhood and how her love mended a broken relationship. It made me cry. Olivier volunteers with Starfish Studio, the ministry that puts together a film making class for kids at Breakthrough. Olivier and his wife, Colleen, recently moved into our community. I got to know Colleen better by sharing a BUILD group with her.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Wake Up Call

I live alone with my dog, Charlie, so apart from Charlie's occasional barking sprees when someone enters the apartment below, or me talking to myself, it is pretty quiet in my apartment. So when my phone rang at 1:30 in the morning last week I was startled from a deep sleep. I immediately thought one of my kids was in danger and my heart dropped as I picked up the phone.

"My daughter needs your help." My mind was still in a fog as I tried to sort out who was on the other end of the line.

"I'm sorry, who is this?" I asked.

She gave me her name and told me her daughter was, at that very moment, in the middle of a fight with her boyfriend and was not safe. "She needs to go to a shelter immediately. I live in Minnesota and got your name off the Internet. Can you please help?"

I was struck by the fear and desperation I heard in the woman's voice and remembered my own fear when I answered the phone thinking one of my own family members was in trouble. If it was my daughter, I wouldn't have paused a minute. I would have jumped into the car immediately. I understood why this woman would get on the Internet and track me down all the way to my cell phone in hopes that someone of faith would reach out to her daughter.

What was I supposed to do? Get in the car in the middle of the night, drive to the south side by myself and enter some unknown situation? What if the boyfriend was violent? What if I drove all the way to Englewood to find she wasn't there or didn't want my help?

"Do you have a number I can use to reach her?" I asked, thinking more information might be helpful. She gave me her daughter's number.

"What are you going to do?" She asked persistently.

"Well, I'm not sure, but I'll do something," I responded.

"Please call me and let me know what happens," she pleaded. "I'm not going to be able to sleep until I hear from you."

"Yes, I will call you." I sat for a minute to consider the situation. I understand the desperation of a mother for her children, the pain of thinking your child might be in danger and the helplessness of feeling like there is nothing you can do.

I said a quick prayer and picked up the phone to dial the daughter. "She's not here," the female voice informed me on the other end of the line. "She just left to go to a shelter."

I admit, I was relieved. I called the mother back to let her know her daughter was safe at least for now.

I got the wake up call. Would I do for others what I would do for my own family? Do I really feel God's love for abused women, for desperate mothers? Everyone we serve at Breakthrough is someone's son or daughter. Sure, I helped to open a shelter for women, but would I be willing to get more personally involved? To step outside of my comfort zone? God's still working on me!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

1 in 4 kids don't have health care

Joyce Caine sent me a link to this CBS news article about kids and health care. It seems to me that our country needs to make at least basic health care available to all. This article indicates that part of the problem is lack of transportation to health care facilities. This highlights the need for more community health centers. Under Todd Stroger, Cook County is closing more than half of the community health centers and cutting off much of the funding for Stroger Hospital. Here's another link from Joyce about the lack of dental care for kids.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Need for More Theological Reflection

I love talking about theology and I think it is especially important at this time in the life of the church to engage in theological discussions. I define theology as the application of God's word by persons in every area of life.

We develop theology in our context. The urban context generates an urban theology. Being in the urban environment and living in a community with a high level of poverty has led me toward a theology that has taken on more of the language of God caring for the poor and the marginalized and Jesus as the suffering servant who understands pain and rejection. I am learning the language of the Exodus that is so prominant in the African American church and I am noticing more than ever the multiplicity of Scriptural passages that reference justice for the oppressed. Christian praxis in the city requires theologial reflection. I think that is done best in community.

I have been wanting to start something like a L'Abri in the city. Those of us who are old enough to remember will recall that during the 60's and 70's Francis Shaffer would invite people who were seeking to make sense of God and culture, to join him in a chalet in the Swiss Alps to sit around the fireplace and talk about the intersection of theology and contemporary thought. I think we are in a similar place in the church right now and we need to have lots of theological discussion and reflection. I am sensing that many younger people don't have a container to put theological thoughts into and some who have learned a "systematic" theology are finding their theological framework being dismantled and they're not sure how or if to reconstruct it. Now is a great time for us to have more conversations about God.

I think the emerging church movement is bringing good conversation, but I am also concerned that some are moving away from Jesus and the power of His death and resurrection. I was listening to Doug Pagitt from Soloman's Porch on the Emergent Podcast yesterday. They were talking about the "Centered Sets" approach to understanding the Church. I have used the concept in my Wheaton classes because I like the notion that we don't always know who is in or out (of the faith). What is important is that we love people where they are and point them toward the Center, which is Christ, to urge people to turn toward and to be in the process of moving toward Christ wherever they may be in their journey. The gospel is good news. Jesus laid down his life to buy us freedom,freedom from the bondage of sin and freedom to live a new, vibrant, abundant life. So we urge people to come toward the center where they find love, peace and freedom in Christ.

Anyway, in the podcast, they suggested it would be better to consider the importance of "Relational Sets". I have also heard it labeled as "Network Sets". Basically, what I heard them saying is that we are all connected and it is the love that matters. There was no mention of Jesus or of Christ being the center. While I enjoy "out of the box" discussion and I don't feel I have to agree with everything someone says to learn from what they have to say, I am concerned that some in the church, in their reaction to certain facets of the traditional church, might actually throw away any faith in "The God Who Is There".

At Breakthrough we talk alot about reweaving the fabric of the community by buiding a network of support around everyone who comes our way and that these relationships are reciprocal and we all grow in the process, but at the heart of that network is faith in Christ. The network/relational approach works to restore people to right relationships with one another when God is lifted up as the head and the one who brings us together in unity.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Eph 4:16
I think we need to develop space for people to talk about these things. I wish we could get a big house in the city where people who are searching and questioning or who are wanting to learn more about God's concern for the city and the poor and justice, could come for a month or two and stay and we could have guided study and discussions open to the public.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"The Christian message is an embodied message, carried by living witnesses. The clarity and attractiveness of this message is dependent on the quality of our life with Jesus and our willingness to give expression to that life through word, deed, and sign."

From Walking with the Poor by Bryant Myers