Wednesday, February 28, 2007

754,000 homeless people living on the streets

CNN reported today that the HUD (the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development) homeless count in January 2005 found 754,000 people living on the streets or in shelters. We at Breakthrough participate in that count every year by supplying the information about the number of residents in our shelters. Some of us have also gone out to try to find the people living under bridges and in the alleys, etc. The count does not include people who are sleeping on the sofas of there friends and relatives or those who are hidden in abandoned buildings or riding the trains and buses to stay warm all night.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

My Enneagram

I took the Enneagram test tonight so I can discuss it with some friends tomorrow. I had never taken the actual test before, but somehow from the descriptions I already knew I would be a 2. I'm also a pretty high 7, which is the Enthusiast, the busy, variety-seeking type: spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive, and scattered. The picture below really looks like me, doesn't it? NOT! So what's your type?

Enneagram Test

Monday, February 26, 2007

Kim McCormick at School of the Prophets

Bob Marsh posted a challenging message delivered to the School of the Prophets by Kim McCormick about her experience as a white suburban woman joining an African American church.

The School of the Prophets is an ecumenical group of men and women from many backgrounds who have been meeting together since January 2000 to worship, share and pray. The group meets monthly on the first Saturday of the month at 7 a.m. at Austin Corinthian Baptist Church at 823 S. Cicero Ave., just 2 blocks south of the Eisenhower Expressway on the east side of the street next to Marvin’s Soul Food Restaurant.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Amazing Grace

Cindy and I went to see the movie, Amazing Grace, tonight. It's definitely worth seeing, a bit slow especially in the beginning, but very inspiring. The theater was packed and their were a few amens throughout the movie. People applauded at the end. I was inspired to keep up the fight for justice. We need to carry the torch.

There are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The modern commerce in humans rivals illegal drug trafficking in its global reach—and in the destruction of lives.

Rev. Al Sharpton at Rosa Park's funeral

The Buzz on East Garfield Park

Ryan sent me a link to a YoChicago today site that has been running articles about East Garfield Park where I live. It is interesting to read perspectives on the community from outsiders.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wealthy, But Impoverished

In the book, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, author Gregg Easterbrook, claims we are experiencing great economic progress. The incomes of Americans have doubled in the last fifty years, he says. Even poor people have air conditioning, televisions and cars, and many middle class Americans actually own more than one home and drive multiple vehicles. Many even own boats and airplanes. The environment is getting cleaner and crime is on the decline.

Yet, he claims, people think they are worse off. They feel poorer and more pessimistic. He attributes this growing pessimism about life to “choice anxiety” and “abundance denial”. He recognizes the existence of extreme global poverty and rightly claims that there is enough wealth in the world right now to eradicate it. If we would just accept that fact that we are indeed wealthy instead of bemoaning what we don’t have, we could put our wealth to work on social ills.

I found myself arguing with Easterbrook throughout much of the book. While some poor people may indeed be better off, the people who come to our shelters and those that I see on the street corners certainly are not, and the conditions I have seen in third world countries are very bleak. The gap between extreme wealth and extreme poverty continues to widen in America and certainly in the world. Those of us who own computers are in the top one percent of the world’s wealthiest people. (Check out the global rich list to see where you stand.) The system is working for us.

I want to be hopeful about progress and would love to be able to embrace the notion that the benevolence of the wealthy will rebuild the world. It would be encouraging to know we are winning the war against poverty, but many of Easterbrook's observations don't ring true in my experience. He clearly writes from a western context where, indeed, things are looking better. Even Chicago is "gentrifying". But he disregards the growth of consumer debt and the fact that there are more Pay Day Loan stores in America than there are McDonalds as people struggle to make ends meet.

I am not ready to celebrate prosperity while there is so much poverty in the world. American consumerism is causing global suffering. We need God's redemptive power to redeem us individually from our selfishness and greed and corporately from the shared structures that perpetuate global poverty while benefiting the wealthy. It will only be when we embrace the way of the cross as the people of God that these structures will become forces of redemption instead of oppression.

I think his observation of the discontent of the wealthy is right on. As we have seen in the tragic lives of some of our wealthy celebraties lately, money does not buy happiness. Vandana Shiva points out in a very thoughtful article in Resurgence , that “people can have immeasurable financial wealth and be socially impoverished – without love and companionship, without solidarity and community, with an empty soul in spite of overflowing bank accounts.”

I am privileged to know people of great wealth through my fundraising endeavors for Breakthrough who have discovered the transforming joy of giving. Deuteronomy 8:18 says that it is the Lord who gives one the ability to produce wealth. When God gifts individuals to give to the work of the kingdom, the world is blessed by their generosity. Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 that we are to let our lights shine before men, that they might see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

We need to promote rigorous thinking about economics and the poor. I was challenged by a podcast from with Greg Horton and Jon Middendorf in which they discuss Thomas Friedman (The World Is Flat) and Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof and the plausibility of redeeming big business to bring healing and restoration to the world. Here's the iTunes link.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

William Wilberforce and Amazing Grace

As evidenced by the slide above created by Glen Kehrein from Circle Urban Ministries, many American evangelical denominations have a history of being on the wrong side of social justice issues. Many of the evangelical denominations in the US split over the issues of segregation and slavery and took stands that we now acknowledge were racist. William Wilberforce (1759-1833) is an example of an evangelical who fought for social justice during that time. He was heavily influenced by John Wesley and the Methodist movement and became an Anglican evangelical. He organized for the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. A month after he died, Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act that gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom. The movie Amazing Grace which opens Friday, is the story of his life. John Newton, the composer of the song, Amazing Grace, was a slave trader who fell to his knees and found forgiveness in Christ.

Poverty in Illinois

Heartland Alliance has released the seventh annual "Report on Illinois Poverty", which illustrates that Illinois families are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Over 85% of Illinois’ 102 counties had increases in poverty, nearly 1.5 million Illinoisans are poor – almost 700,000 of them live in extreme poverty, below half the poverty line – and over one third of Illinoisans in poverty are children.

The report finds that:
  • Economic inequality in Illinois continues to worsen.
  • Illinois’ future is threatened by poverty and economic disadvantage among young adults.
  • Illinoisans in extreme poverty face significant hardship in trying to meet their basic needs.
  • Illinois’ fiscal health crisis jeopardizes the current and future economic well-being of families and communities.
  • Income support programs, designed to supplement worker’s low wages, are being compromised by inadequate benefit levels, as well as capacity and access issues.

Clarence Otis, Jr.

Did you know that Clarence Otis Jr., the CEO of Darden Restaurants Inc., one of the largest restaurant chains, Olive Garden and Red Lobster, is an African-American man? Darden Restaurants Inc. is one of the largest casual dining operators in the nation. The firm operates nearly 1,400 company-owned restaurants coast to coast, serving 300 million meals annually. Darden employs 150,000 workers and has annual revenues of $6 billion.

Mr. Otis was born in Vicksburg , Mississippi . His family and he moved to Los Angeles when he was 6 years old. His father was a high school dropout who worked as a janitor. The family lived in Watts at the time of the 1965 riots. As a teenager they moved to Compton.

In the post-Watts period, Mr. Otis recalls being stopped and questioned by police several times a year because of the color of his skin. A high school guidance counselor recommended him for a scholarship at Williams College, the highly selective liberal arts institution in Massachusetts. Otis graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams and went on to earn a law degree at Stanford. Otis landed on Wall Street as a merger and acquisitions attorney for J.P. Morgan Securities. He joined Darden Restaurants in 1995 as corporate treasurer. Clarence Otis Jr. became CEO in 2004.

Akiane Kramarik - Spiritual Young Artist

Holy Ground

Be sure to read Marcie Curry's Valentines Day blog post.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Heading for Florida - I think!

I was supposed to be on the beach today, but couldn't make it out of Chicago yesterday because of the blizzard. We're trying again today. I'll try to blog if I can get internet access.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Let It Out

This Kleenex commercial captures the power of listening. Jesus only directly answered three of the 183 questions that he was asked. That is surprising for those of us who have grown up thinking the function of religion is to give people answers and solve their problems for them. Jesus knew how to ask the right questions to draw people out and get them to think more deeply, more critically. We could learn a lot from Jesus and this Kleenex commercial.

Break forth the dawn!

This is the final paragraph in NT Wright's book, Simply Christian...
Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengence. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we settle for sentiment. BUT, new creation has already begun, the sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokeness and incompletness of the broken world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role as agents and heralds and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian, to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which He has thrown open before us.

I'm speaking at River City on Sunday

I need you to pray for me as I am preparing to speak at River City Community Church on Sunday. It is intimidating for me because Pastor Daniel Hill brings such great messages. Please pray that God will speak through me and touch hearts and if you are in the area come on by!

Homeless Dumping in LA

The Associated Press and MSNBC have reported that the Metropolitan Medical Center in LA has been seen dropping patients off to homeless shelters in poor neighorhoods against their will. This reminds me of the early days of Breakthrough when we used to see white vans from state funded mental hospitals pull up in Uptown and drop people off in front of the churches that host shelters. The present trend of defunding emergency housing will only escalate the problem. Thankfully, God's people are stepping up to provide care for these precious ones.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

How should we respond to panhandlers?

Jonathon Choe created a great documentary about panhandlers in Chicago for our latest podcast. Jesus said in Luke 6:30 to "give to everyone who asks of you", yet perhaps giving money to panhandlers might not always be helpful to them or the best use of our donations. What do you do when people ask you for money?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Asian Chicken Salad

Kym Cramer linked to this very funny video of Margaret Cho.

Persistent Racial Inequities

Today I received the 2006 Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity, produced by The Applied Research Center. Here are some of their findings.
  • For people of color in Illinois, the median household net worth is $18,160; for whites, it is $111,750.
  • Between 1980 and 2004, the hourly wage gap in Illinois between white workers and Latino workers widened by 24 percent; the gap between whites and Blacks widened by 162 percent.
  • Blacks and Latinos are 15 and 10 percent, respectively, of the Chicago area workforce, but 30 and 27 percent of the working poor.
  • Working-age Blacks and Latinos are, respectively, twice and three times as likely as whites to have no health insurance.
  • Undocumented Latinos are five times as likely as whites to be without health insurance.
  • Only half of Black and Latino students graduate from high school, compared to 82 percent of whites.
  • For every Black person in an Illinois college or university, 2.5 are in prison or on parole.
  • During the 2003 school year, school districts with the fewest students of color spent $1,496 more per student than districts with the most students of color.

Ed Gilbreath on Open Line

Ed Gilbreath, author of Reconciliation Blues, was interviewd by Chris Fabry on Moody radio's Open Line last Friday. Here's a link to the iTunes url.

Dead Cats and Darkness

Sometime on Saturday someone evidently ran over a cat in front of my apartment. I felt very sad when I first saw him and grew even more "yucked out" as I watched him grow flatter and flatter every day as more cars ran over him throwing him right beside my usual parking spot. The street lights have been out on my block for the last several days as well. In the darkness last night I stepped on the dead cat!

After a few days I began to wonder whose responsibility it was to move the dead cat off the street. Finally today I decided it must be mine. Fortunately with the temp at 9 degrees he was very frozen and very flat. I put him in the trash can in the alley.

This evening the lights are back on, the dead cat is gone and a beautiful snow is falling. All is at peace on Fulton Boulevard.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Learning to ask for help

It is sooooo cold today. This morning when I turned on my computer my weather bug read -10 degrees. Over the weekend my daughter, Monica, had car problems so I let her borrow my car. I had to get out to the burbs for a super bowl party so I borrowed a friends pickup truck. This morning the pickup truck wouldn't start so I got a jump from another friend. Anyway, I realized how difficult it is for me to ask for help, yet how heartwarming it is when God uses people around me to care for me. I thought about how wealth isolates us because we think we don't need others. Christian community involves interdependence. There is a vulnerability in that.

Keeping our hearts soft

Melba Maggay, in her book Transforming Society, observes, “There is something about the daily exposure to poverty and other ills of society which tends to tear away faith and make agents of change some of the most cynical people around”.

How do we keep our hearts soft and our spirits alive in the face of so many discouraging setbacks and difficult challenges? How can we stay hopeful when we are so often disappointed? Do you have a suggestion you can share?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tim Wise to speak in Elgin

Tim Wise, an anti-racism activist and speaker hailed as one of the nation's most courageous critics of white privilege, will speak at Elgin Community College on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

Wise will give presentations at 9:30 and 11 a.m., and 7 p.m. in the Advanced Technology Center Auditorium on ECC's Main Campus, at 1700 Spartan Drive. The presentations are free and open to the public.

Wise is the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son and Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White. He also is hailed as "one of the most brilliant, articulate and courageous critics of white privilege in the nation" by best-selling author and professor Michael Eric Dyson.

Wise also will be featured during a luncheon at 12:30 p.m. in the Fox Valley University and Business Center dining room. Cost of the luncheon is $10 per person and reservations are required. To reserve a seat, call Lonnie Keeler at 847-214-7014.

Wise's visit is sponsored by the college's Multicultural and Global Initiatives Committee (MAGIC), the Black Students' Association (BSA) and the Student Life Office.