Monday, June 30, 2008

Celebrating in the City

Tom Regan took some awesome pictures of our Grand Opening celebration last week. You can see them here on Flickr. They make me smile.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Paul Luikart, Breakthrough's housing coordinator, is not only a great Breakthrough staffer, but is a comedian and writer. Check out this fictional story by him published in the Boston Literary Magazine!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The role of architecture in the Breakthrough Ministry Center

Manya Brachear wrote about the design of the Breakthrough Ministry Center in her blog on the Chicago Tribune's web site on Friday. She says, "Unlike most soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters, the design of the building was commissioned by Breakthrough Urban Ministries to inspire the men who seek help there to believe in themselves and know that others care about their well-being." She asks the interesting question, "Does belief shape architecture?"

When we started working with the Built Form Architects nearly four years ago, they asked the question, "What do you want people to feel when they walk in the building?" I remember saying words like "uplifted", "transcendent", "warmth", "family", "home". It is amazing to me how gifted artisans can take those thoughts and design a building around them. Yes, belief shapes architecture! Have you experienced the affects of architecture on your beliefs?

The Taste of Breakthrough Grand Opening Celebration

We had a great day yesterday as we celebrated the Grand Opening of the Breakthrough Ministry Center at 402 N. St. Louis. God blessed us with wonderful weather and a great turnout. This is a picture of the crowd mesmerized by the Jesse White Tumblers.

We were honored to have Alderman Walter Burnett and the Department of Human Services Commissioner Sheryl McGill join us.

Black church, white church: What’s the difference?

My friend, Cynthia Milsap, wrote an article in the latest SCUPE newsletter that reminds us of the historical foundations of the Black church that place the present distinctions between the Black and White church in context.
Historically, the early Christian churches in America were mostly interracial and attended by both African and European members. However, the reason for this “integration” was to ensure that enslaved Africans in the South could be watched, monitored, and taught that slavery and obedience were God’s plan and will for them. Africans were commonly told by the Christian church leaders to remember Paul’s admonition that “slaves should obey their masters,” or that they were slaves because they are members of the cursed descendants of Noah’s son and therefore have been chosen to be a “servant class.” Thus the Christian church in America that was founded and controlled by Europeans was one that preached and practiced a theology which supported the domination of whites over blacks. It was a theology which blessed slave ships and “justified” the mistreatment and enslavement of African Americans. These early “integrated” or “multi-cultural” congregations had African American bodies in the pews, although they were forced to sit in the balconies or in the back of the church, but they did not allow Africans equal participation in the leadership and decision-making structures or positions within their churches and denominations.
Black churches were formed to give African Americans the freedom to worship without the tyranny of white oppression.
It is important to recognize the value and the role of these culture-based congregations. Likewise, it is a grave misunderstanding of these healing places to label the actions of these persons as “racist” or “reverse-racist.” Instead, we need to realize that this is the first step in healing for socially excluded or oppressed groups.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Social Obligations of the Gospel

It is an exciting time in the church today. I really think more and more pastors and church leaders are understanding the horizontal as well as the vertical implications of taking up the cross of Christ. Here's an interesting article by Mark Buchanan. He writes...
"In short, I'm learning the social obligations of the gospel. A redeemed people, living Christ-like lives in a broken world, ought to reclaim that broken world here and now. The atonement of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit will always be the sole remedy for personal sin. But the church of Christ, empowered by the Spirit, will always be part of the remedy for the world's sin. God entrusts you and me—God's new creations—with the ministry of reconciliation. It's you and me through whom he makes his appeal (2 Corinthians 5:18–20)."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

CFL Light Bulbs

Can someone explain this video to me? I have been using my compact florescent light bulbs with pride with the understanding that they save energy and are good for the environment. If this video is true I have to question whether the danger of breaking them and the disposal of them brings more harm then good. Help!

June 14th - Hunger Walk, beds and fishing

Yesterday was a big day at Breakthrough. We started with the Hunger Walk. More than 100 Breakthrough volunteers joined 5,000 others in the walk sponsored by the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Then I stopped by the Breakthrough Ministry Center where the Solid Rock Carpenters were installing beds for our men.

Then my grandson, Jayden, and I went fishing at the Lake Julian Trout Farm in Cary, IL with my friend, Gus Wilhelmy and his grandson, DJ.

Jay and I caught six trout. I ate one for dinner!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Model Minority Myth

Thanks to Jennifer Ikomo-Motzko for linking me to this article in the New York Times about the difficulties Asian-Americans face by the assumption that they are "the model minority". The Asian-American population is very diverse and includes many who struggle with minimal education and opportunity.
“The notion of lumping all people into a single category and assuming they have no needs is wrong,” said Alma R. Clayton-Pederson, vice president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Sacrifice Syndrome

I'm listening to the audio book Resonant Leadership by Richard E. Boyatzis and Annie McKee. They discuss the concept of "sacrifice syndrome" as it relates to CEO's. I'm thinking some of us in urban ministry might be prone to experience this condition. Here are the symptoms.

Am I:
  • Working harder with less result?
  • Getting home later or leaving home earlier each day?
  • Feeling tired, even after sleeping?
  • Having trouble falling asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night?
  • Finding less time (or no time at all) for the things that used to be enjoyable?
  • Rarely relaxed, or only really relaxed with alcohol?
  • Drinking more coffee?
Have I noticed changes in myself or my relationships, such as:
  • I can no longer really talk about my problems with my spouse.
  • I don't care what I eat, or whether I eat too much or too little.
  • I can't remember the last time I had a long conversation with a trusted friend or family member.
  • My children have stopped asking me to attend their functions or games.
  • I no longer attend my place of worship or find time for quiet contemplation.
  • I don't exercise as much as I used to.
  • I don't smile or laugh as much as I used to.
Do I:
  • Have frequent headaches, backaches or pain?
  • Routinely take over-the-counter antacids or painkillers?
  • Feel as if nothing I do seems to matter anymore, or have the impact I want?
  • Feel as if no one can understand what I need to do, or how much work I have?
  • Sometimes feel numb or react to situations with inappropriately strong emotions?
  • Feel too overwhelmed to see new experiences, ideas or ways of doing things?
  • Frequently think about how to escape my current situation?
I think the urgency of the causes we represent can sometimes cause us to sacrifice to the expense of our own health and spiritual well being. If we take the burdens upon ourselves instead of letting God carry us it can cause overwhelming stress.The anecdote is personal renewal, time away, healthy friendships, and I would add prayer, meditation and reflection.

I appreciate this Eugene Peterson quote from his book Under the Predictable Plant.
Those of us who do work explicitly defined as Christian… live in an especially hazardous environment, for the very nature of the work is a constant temptation to sin. The sin is, to put an old word on it, pride. But it is often nearly impossible to identify it as pride, especially in its early stages. It looks and feels like energetic commitment, sacrificial zeal, selfless devotion.

This vocation-exacerbated pride usually originates in a hairline split between personal faith and public ministry. In our personal faith we believe that God has created, saved, and blessed us. In our ministerial vocation we embark on a career of creating, saving, and blessing on behalf of God. We become Christians because we are convinced that we need a Savior. But the minute we enter into a life of ministry, we set about acting on behalf of the Savior. It is compelling work: a world in need, a world in pain, friends and neighbors and strangers in trouble—and all of them in need of compassion and food, healing and witness, confrontation and consolation and redemption.

We start out on this urgent work telling them about God and attempting to reflect in our work the work of Christ. Our work is initiated and defined by world-converting, life-restoring biblical commands. Because we are motivated out of our saving experience with Christ, and because our goals among those with whom we work are all shaped by God’s justice and peace, his forgiveness and salvation, it seldom occurs to us that in work that is so purely motivated and well-intended anything might go wrong.

But something almost always does go wrong. In our zeal to proclaim the Savior and enact his commands, we lose touch with our own basic and daily need for the Savior. At first it is nearly invisible, this split between our need of the Savior and our work for the Savior. We feel so good, so grateful, so saved. And these people around us are in such need. We throw ourselves recklessly into the fray. Along the way most of us end up so identifying our work with Christ’s work that Christ himself recedes into the shadows and our work is spotlighted at center stage. Because the work is so compelling, so engaging – so right – we work with what feels like divine energy. One day we find ourselves (or other find us) worked into the ground. The work may be wonderful, but we ourselves turn out to be not so wonderful, becoming cranky, exhausted pushy, and patronizing in the process.

The alternative to acting like gods who have no need of God is to become a contemplative minister. If we do not develop a contemplative life adequate to our vocation, the very work we do and our very best intentions, insidiously pride-fueled as they inevitably become, destroy us and all with whom and for whom we work.

Contemplation comprises the huge realities of worship and prayer without which we become performance-driven and program-obsessed ministers. A contemplative life is not an alternative to the active life, but its root and foundation. True contemplatives are a standing refutation of all who mislabel spirituality as escapism. If ministers do not practice the contemplative life, how will people know the truth of it and have access to its energy? The contemplative life generates and releases an enormous amount of energy into the world—the enlivening energy of God’s grace rather than the enervating frenzy of our pride.

The Shack

I'm not sure how I learned about The Shack, but it is another great book that I read through in one day. It is fiction but filled with great theology. Mack, the main character, experiences a family tragedy that leaves him overwhelmed with "the great sadness". He is beckoned by God to the place of the crime and experiences personal interaction with the Trinity. The book renewed a longing in me to go to the dark places of my life to experience God more deeply. It also reminded me of God's love and goodness and the power of forgiveness and community. It's a remarkable book.

Another amazing thing about the book is that is was self published by a couple of former pastors who had a budget of $300. Now the book is listed in USA Today as a best selling book with 880,000 copies in print! They promoted it with an interactive website complete with promotional jpgs for our web posts and a blog. I think this may the be future of publishing. Self publishing and viral marketing may be the way to go for new authors.

Here's a CBN interview with the author, William Young.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Two Villages

YouTube Attention

The Breakthrough video below created by our friend Jonathon Choe is featured on the home page of YouTube today. The attention has grown the number of views to more than 199,000!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Funding Ministry

Chris Brooks has started an interesting conversation on his blog about ministry and fundraising. It is especially challenging for people who have to raise their own salaries while at the same time trying to minister to so many hurting people. I started raising my salary with Youth for Christ back in the 70's. Here's how I responded in a comment on Chris' blog.
Thanks for bringing this up Chris. I feel your pain, brother. A few weeks ago a friend of mine did a short survey for a workshop he was presenting and asked me what my three biggest challenges were as an Executive Director. My answer was fundraising, fundraising, fundraising. There is nothing that drives me to my knees more consistently than the constant pressure of raising money.

There are lots of ethical dilemmas in fundraising. How do we represent the ministry in such a way that people will give and do it without “pimping the poor”? How do we maintain the dignity of the people who participate in our ministries and still communicate need?

We decided early on at Breakthrough to establish a development department instead of having staff raise their salaries, in part, because we found that people who grew up in privileged settings had a much easier time raising funds than those who did not, so it just wasn’t fair to some of our most effective staff members who come from less privileged communities. I found my role in being able to help resource those staff members actually rewarding. I believe in them and what they do so it is easy to sell their ministry to donors.

As ministry leaders, I think part of our responsibility is to build bridges between those who have resources and those who are in need. Both need to be loved, listened to and challenged. Lila Watson, an aboriginal activist said, “If you are coming to help me, you are wasting your time. If you are coming because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us struggle together.” I like that quote, because I think those with resources need liberation as much as the men and women in our shelters. They need to learn as the apostle Paul warned in 1 Timothy 6:17, “not to become haughty or to put their hope in the uncertainty of riches.” Potential ministry investors look to us to help them make connections so that their contributions can make a difference.

I like what Joel wrote about learning to minister to donors. I love the Breakthrough donors. I really do. I have met so many really caring and generous people. I am by nature very shy, but because I know the ministry needs money, God has pushed me out to be with people I would not ordinarily know or associate with.

I can’t say that I enjoy fundraising. It is always a huge challenge for me and really stretches my faith. There actually are people out there who love to raise funds and I say we should get them on our teams. We’re actually looking for someone right now to fill our Director of Development position so if you know anyone, email me.

Here’s a great link to an article by Marc Pitman called Fundraising in the Bible. Jeff Brooks and Steven Screen have a new podcast at this link called Fundraising is Beautiful that I am finding helpful.

So, keep the faith, and as Winston Churchill said, "Nevah give up!!"

Does this picture symbolize terrorism to you?

Dunkin' Donuts pulled this ad because they were being accused of promoting terrorism because the paisley scarf Rachel Ray is wearing looks a little like a Kaffiyeh worn by many Arabs. Such ridiculous fear smacks at cultural prejudice to me. Are we beginning to think that anyone wearing the traditional Middle Eastern head dress is a terrorist?