Saturday, December 29, 2007

The History of Garfield Park

I'm reading this beautiful book about the Garfield Park Conservatory and Chicago's West Side entitled, Inspired By Nature. There are photos of the horse track that used to be in the south part of the park. It was designed as a park in the 1870's and has gone through numerous alterations. The conservatory itself was designed by Jens Jensen in 1904. The introduction was beautifully written by Alex Kotlowitz. He captures the soul of the community. The book quotes some prominent west siders such as Mary Nelson, the founder of Bethel New Life and Mrs. Nettie Bailey, my next door neighbor.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Jesus Cordova Story

Here's a link to a four and a half minute audio from NPR which aired on November 30th. It's the heart gripping story of Jesus Cordova, a Mexican bricklayer, who was just outside of Tuscon, Arizona, on Thanksgiving Day, and was well on his way in his quest to disappear into the United States illegally, when he came across a nine year old boy, alone in the desert, shaken and bloody. His mother, who later died, had driven off a cliff and was trapped inside. Cordova lit a fire and stayed with the boy until they were rescued, knowing it would mean his deportation. "I'm a father myself and have kids of my own," he said. "I wouldn't want my kids to be wondering alone and have someone just leave them there."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Midday Connection

Here's the audio of today's Midday Connection. Yolanda Fields and I were on with Anita Lustrea talking about the Christmas story in light of poverty.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Last Minute Christmas Gifts

Here's a link to Christmas gifts that help people in poverty. Or you can buy a pig for a needy family at Heifer International.

Police in Paris drive out the homeless

This is not a good time to be homeless in Paris. Even the Catholic church supported those who protested the actions of police who destroyed a tent village for the homeless along the banks of the Seine.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Church Under the Bridge

Here is an interview I conducted recently for Moody radio with Jimmy Dorrell, Executive Director of Mission Waco, Instructor at Baylor University, author, and pastor of Church Under the Bridge.

Racism vs. Gracism

Ed Gilbreath, editor of Today's Christian and the author of Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity and David Anderson, founding pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, a 2,000-member, multicultural congregation in Columbia, Maryland, discuss race relations in this article on the Christianity Today website entitled, Racism vs. Gracism.

Anderson says "gracism is the answer to racism". What is gracism?
Gracism is the positive extension of favor to people, both in spite of and because of color, class, or culture. It's not affirmative action but intentional actions of grace and affirmation. So whenever we see a racist act, instead of responding in a way that is punitive, gracism calls us to respond in the way that God—that Jesus— might respond.

Gracism turns racism on its head. It reaches out to people in a way that desires true understanding. It means thinking positively about others, in spite of the labels and stereotypes that have been attached to their skin color, economic status, or cultural background.
David Anderson's new book, Gracism: The Art of Inclusion, includes 7 sayings of a gracist.

1. "I will lift you up." Lifting up the humble among us. (Special honor)

2. "I will cover you." Protecting the most vulnerable among us from embarrassment. (Special modesty)

3. "I will share with you." Refusing to accept special treatment if it is at the detriment of others who need it. (No special treatment)

4. "I will honor you." God, as a gracist, has given greater honor to the humble. (Greater honor)

5. "I will stand with you." When the majority helps the minority, and the stronger help the weaker, it keeps us from division within the body. (No division)

6. "I will consider you." Having a heart as big for our neighbors as we do for ourselves. (Equal concern)

7. "I will celebrate with you." When the humble, or less honorable, are helped, we are to rejoice with them. (Rejoices with it)

Who's to Blame?

Like the inquisitive disciples of Jesus who were confronted with a man born blind, I want answers. “Whose fault is it Rabbi, that this man was born blind?” Why are children born into poverty? Why is there so much pain and despair in the world? Whose fault is it, Rabbi?

Why are there pockets of hopelessness in the inner city? Why are there young men on the corner with their phones chirping when the police come near? Who sinned, this man, his parents, or society? Why are children in the city stuck in neighborhoods with failing schools and no economic and social skills that will ever enable them to achieve in the market place? Why are their homeless beggars with plastic grocery bags huddled over heat grates, sleeping under bridges, pillaging through dumpsters, walking laboriously over broken sidewalks in search of food and shelter? Why are there lines outside of shelters and soup kitchens in the wealthiest country of the world? Whose fault is it Rabbi?

The closer I have gotten to the soul of the city, the louder the questions have resounded? Who can we blame for the problems of the inner city? Some blame the individual. “Why don’t they just get a job, just say no to drugs and alcohol, take responsibility for their own lives?” Others accuse the fathers and mothers for the breakdown of the family or the government for the lack of funding for social programs that might make a difference.

Conservatives tend to blame the individual and his or her family citing personal failure and the lack of appropriate family values. Liberals blame systemic racism, social inequalities and structural evil.

We might blame the church for being silent on social issues and for not being more compassionate. Followers of Christ in the city are often stuck between unbelieving activists and inactive believers. We might even blame God for not caring enough to act on their behalf.

“Every year we have the same discussions over and over and nobody has any answers,” complained a teacher friend as we explored solutions to the dilemma of the failing educational system in the inner city. “How are we supposed to teach kids who are living in a shelter or who have been up all night without supervision? Of course they haven’t done their homework! They don’t even know where their backpacks are! It makes me want to tear my hair out! You’re tempted to feel sorry for them, and let them off the hook, but you know that excusing them will only perpetuate the problem. They need to be told, ‘stop your whining and do your homework.’ If they don’t put out the extra effort they will be hopeless victims trapped forever in the cycle of poverty.”

The blaming seems to spiral down into cycles of anger that leave us wanting, scratching our heads over the complexity of the issues, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the structures that must be confronted. Is there any system of thought that can move us forward? Is anything working? Are there solutions anywhere?

Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question about who was at fault for the blind man’s troubles is an interesting one. He doesn’t enter into the blame game at all. He doesn’t even attempt to answer the blame question. Instead he claims there is a bigger story, a glory story that is about to be experienced. There is a healing that is about to take place that would never have been experienced apart from this man’s great need.

The man’s difficulty becomes an opportunity for God to act. The negative circumstance is turned into a positive experience by the gentle hands of Jesus. A miracle would unfold that would bring healing to the nameless man born blind. It would involve the work of God being displayed in the man’s world for all to see. His story would be remembered forever.

“This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life,” says Jesus. “As long as it is day,” he said, “we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

The Great Light of the World, the Lover of Mankind, the Model Kingdom Worker, spit his saliva onto the ground and with the same dust from which he created mankind in the image and likeness of God, he formed a muddy compact and gently placed it against the dark unseeing eyes of the man born blind and re-created his eyes. For the first time in his life the light broke forth like the dawn in the man’s life and he exclaimed, “One thing I do know, I was blind, but now I see!”

While I am growing in my understanding of the root causes of poverty and the complex issues surrounding its ugly face, I am not as concerned with knowing who to blame as I am about recognizing the glory stories, the stories of the miracles that erupt when the light and love of God meet the deepest needs of mankind.

Perhaps doing God’s work in the world means we need to spit against the night, to let our hands get dirty in the muck and mire of the city as we join the Creator in the re-creation of the world, that the work of God will be displayed and the world will take notice. The city, in its profound need, is a great laboratory of the love of God.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mortgage rate relief

My friend, Malcolm Bush, of the Woodstock Institute, sent me this information...
The recently announced White House plan to offer systematic interest rate relief for some home borrowers with adjustable rate mortgages about to reset to a higher rate, is a modest, but worthwhile approach to a growing crisis. Whatever the debate on the reach of the plan, some homeowners with mortgage payments set to jump from barely affordable to unaffordable will benefit––so long as they act quickly and apply before their scheduled rate hikes.

We urge you to encourage borrowers to call the HOPE NOW Alliance hotline immediately at 1-888-995-HOPE to see if they qualify and what rate relief options are available.

Woodstock Institute will continue to work on additional strategies to cope with this crisis including the passage of Senator Durbin’s (D. IL) proposed amendment to the Bankruptcy Law to permit the renegotiation of the terms of mortgage contracts.
I appreciate the work of the Woodstock Institute. It is a 33-year old Chicago-based policy and advocacy nonprofit that works locally, nationally, and internationally to promote community reinvestment and economic development in lower-income and minority communities. The Institute's goals are to increase the assets of targeted families and communities and, in particular, increase the supply of affordable rental and owner-occupied housing, and promote small business development, and access to fairly priced and appropriate financial services.

Tithing Backlash

Here's a link to an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about what the writer calls a "Backlash Against Tithing". People seem to be reacting to some of the extravagant spending of churches and want more accountability. If that is the case for churches it is certainly even more so for other not-for-profits.

Jesus not only advocated for tithing he seemed to indicate that the tithe was just the start and we really should give more than the tithe of 10% of our gross income, and to do it out of joy and not legalism or obligation. He said in Matthew 23:23, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former."

Of course, that doesn't preclude fiscal responsibility and accountability. Anytime we are asking people to release their hard earned resources for our cause, and I think especially when it is the work of God's kingdom, we should expect the utmost transparency and integrity.

We're on Prime Time America This Week

Yolanda Fields and I are on MBN's Prime Time America every day this week about one hour and ten minutes into the program. You can listen to the audio archives at this link.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Homeless in the Suburbs

The Arlington Heights Post has been running a series of articles about homelessness after the shocking death of a homeless man who stepped in front of a train in August. I am hearing from suburban pastors that homelessness is becoming more of an issue for their congregations as the poor are being displaced from the city by gentrification and foreclosures. While groups like the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund are making great strides by providing rent subsidies within the city of Chicago, we still have people on our waiting lists at Breakthrough who are not housed and can not even get into our shelters, let alone permanent housing. I am not surprised that people are trying to find help outside the city. I serve on the board of the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund which distributes more than $10,000,000 per year to landlords to subsidize the rents of homeless and low income residents. If you know of landlords of multible unit buildings who are open to working with Breakthrough to provide subsidized housing for our guests, please give me a holler.

The Vegetable Orchestra

This is cool...

Racial Microaggression

"The phrase describes the subtle indignities and insults directed at minorities during everyday exchanges. Their ambiguity is what makes them so vexing—the recipient doesn't know for certain whether it is a deliberate slight, making it difficult to know how to react."

My daughter, Teri, experienced it tonight. She waited in the loop for forty minutes for a bus to carry her down Martin Luther King Drive to her south side apartment while four busses went by to carry people to the yuppy (young urban professional) northside neighborhood. She was the only white person on the bus traveling south and it was packed with weary African Americans trying to get home. Is it because they are black that fewer busses were serving their needs? Hmmm. Don't really know, but when that happens over and over again you experience "racial microaggression".

Thanks to Jenn Billingsley who is participating in our River City BUILD group for this link to an article in today's RedEye entitled, The Racist In All Of Us.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Click on this link to see how many homes are being foreclosed on in our neighorhood! YIKES!

The Demise of the Religious Right

Steve Monsma, of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has visited Breakthrough a couple of times, most recently in September to film me for a DVD that will be issued along with his new book, Healing For A Broken World: Christian Perspectives on Public Policy, to be released in February. He is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect.

I just got the latest Capital Commentary and read his thoughtful response to recent books and articles such as the one in New York Times that claims the Religious Right is falling apart. Monsma's concern is that conservatives will swing from the right to the left on issues instead of developing "distinctive policy positions shaped by a biblically based worldview." We will consequently "miss an opportunity to be the salt and light that the world desperately needs and that our Lord has called us to be."

In Monsma's view...
The great need is to apply a Christian worldview to today’s contentious public policy issues and thereby come up with something new and distinctive to contribute to current public policy debates. As we do this, we will find ourselves not walking in lockstep with the public policy positions of either liberals or conservatives.

Key to a Christian worldview is commitment to biblically rooted principles such as justice, solidarity with all those in need, and the integrity of independent civil-society institutions such as families, churches, and nonprofit social-service organizations.

Oh Lord!

Random experiences like this that bring people together across multiple barriers is one of the reasons I love the city so much! Riding the "el" keeps me in love with Chicago.

Whose Fault Is It?