Saturday, November 22, 2008

Getting out of debt

As we head into the holiday shopping season I appreciate this great video clip from Dave Ramsey about basic money management. He says we should sell so much stuff the kids think they're next and name our dogs "Ebay".
1) Live on less than you make.
2) Get out of debt. (Attack smallest to largest debt.)
3) Create a budget.
4) Save money for a rainy day. (Emergency money.)
5) Give, Give, Give (Be a blessing to others.)

An Amazing Story of God's Presence in Prison

Misrepresented in the justice system, Geraldine Smith became the first woman sentenced to death in Illinois when the state's death penalty law was re-enacted in 1977. The Illinois Supreme Court vacated her sentence in 1997. This podcast is a story in Geraldine's own words about how God ministered to her while she was in solitary confinement on death row. You can also download the interview at the Breakthrough Stories Podcast on iTunes. Geraldine is the sister of Martin Coffer who works with us at Breakthrough.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What would you do if you lost everything?

Thanks to Ryan Westrom for this link to the Freakonomics Blog that asks the questions, "What would you do if you lost everything?"
Imagine you just lost all your possessions and money, and you were suddenly living in the streets.

1. What’s the first move you would make?

2. What’s the first organization you would turn to?

3. What would your extended plan look like?
So here are my answers.

My first move...

Of course, I would make a beeline straight to Breakthrough. Before I would need to turn to a shelter, though, I have multiple friends and family that I am quite sure would take me in, at least for awhile. I would try to find someone who would let me stay with them in return for me doing housework or childcare.

The first organization I would turn to...

. But since the women's interim housing facility is always full, I would have to get on the list and sleep at the DHS office at 10 S. Kedzie or under a bridge somewhere until a bed opened up for me. I would ask people on the street where to find free meals.

My extended plan...

I am privileged. I'm educated and white. I know people who would help me. I would probably have to beg one of my friends to help me print flyers offering interior house painting services or carpet shampooing services real cheap. Then I would borrow the supplies and rent the carpet cleaning machine until I could afford to buy my own.

It is really hard for me to imagine being totally out there alone, because I have such a strong network of friends. It's the absence of that network that is most devastating for our guests at Breakthrough.

What would you do?

Breaking Down the Barriers of Race

My friend, Mike Ivers, was featured on Chicago Public Television's 30 Good Minutes on November 2nd. The title of his message was "Breaking Down the Barriers of Race". Mike has been in ministry for 34 years, most of the time in African American communities. He is now the Executive Director of Goodcity, a Chicago Leadership Foundation. Mike always uses creative objects in his message. This one is a bucket of water with a sponge and a mirror. Here's the link.

Walking Through the Darkness

Dr. George Beukema is a friend and comrade in ministry who supervised my Doctorate of Ministry dissertation. He and his wife, Lila, have been in urban ministry for many years. Dr. Beukema provides supportive counseling and psychotherapy services to Breakthrough's interim housing guests as well as to men, women and couples on Chicago’s north side. If you need someone to walk through the darkness with you right now, you should definitely give him a call. He wrote the article below about depression, which, of course, is a condition that often rears its ugly head this time of the year.

For the thing which
I greatly feared is come upon me,
and that which I was afraid of
Is come unto me.
I was not in safety, neither
had I rest, neither was I quiet;
yet trouble came.


Depression is hard to grab hold of. In “Darkness Visible,” renowned author William Styron chronicles his life-long struggle with depression. In the introduction Styron states, “Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self…as to verge close to being beyond description.” Styron, like so many other men and women throughout the ages, suffered deeply with this mysterious yet ever present malady. There was Abraham Lincoln and his “melancholy” which troubled him throughout his life. There was Winston Churchill and his “Black Dog”—an interesting metaphor, perhaps chosen for the way depression seems to forever be on your heels. And we needn’t look to the past for examples of people who suffer from depression. They surround us. Simply Google “famous people with depression” and you will find more names than you might imagine such as Hugh Laurie, Heath Ledger, Terry Bradshaw, Harrison Ford, Ashley Judd, Amy Tan, Drew Carrey, Jim Carey to name just a few.

In my practice I work with men and women—young and old—who suffer from depression. Its faces are many. For example, men, a bit more than women, are likely to experience depression in ways more behavioral than emotional. Men tend to “do” depression more than feel it. Some common ways of “doing depression” are expressing anger in sudden or intense ways; brooding incessantly; spending significant amounts of time and energy engaged in particular tasks like work, sports, or hobbies; engaging in behaviors that are reckless or dangerous; feeling driven (addiction-like) to certain behaviors which provide some sort of temporary relief or calm. Other symptoms of depression common to men and women alike are eating too little or too much, sleeping too little or too much, having difficulty feeling pleasure, or being consumed with negative thoughts. And sometimes depression is experienced simply as a pervasive sadness.

We’ve come a long way since the days of Lincoln’s melancholy and Churchill’s “black dog” in understanding depression. We know the location in the brain where it seems to reside; we know that in some circumstances medication can be very helpful. And we’ve learned that talk therapy provides significant relief for many. This last part shouldn’t come as a surprise to those of us who know the healing power that comes “where two or more are gathered.” It is this power that led me into the field of psychotherapy and it is this power that leads many to the church. I believe it is also this power of which the Psalmist speaks when he says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for you are with me.” It’s a good thing to have someone walk with you in the darkness.

Dr. George Beukema can be reached at 773.350.2953 or

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Carl Ellis on the Breakthrough Stories Podcast

After a one year break I have resurrected the Breakthrough Stories Podcast on iTunes. I wanted to podcast a message by Carl Ellis entitled, "Bridging the Racial Divide". I learned so much from this message about the theological basis for social justice. It has influenced much of my understanding and teaching. I called Carl and got permission to put it on our podcast and I invited him to come to do a similar teaching live and in person on January 17th at Breakthrough. So put it on your calendar. It will most likely be in the morning from 9:00 until noon on January 17th. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Teaching kids not to be self absorbed

Here's a link to a very nice article written by Abbey Cramton and published in the Oak Park and River Forest Journal about some great Breakthrough volunteers who serve together as families, the Russos and the Birkeys. This is what Debbie Birkey had to say about the importance she places on leading her children into volunteering.
"That my kids will grow up completely self-absorbed is a greater fear than our personal safety," Birkey said firmly, noting that she has seen the benefits outweigh the risks time and again as her children move into their own roles of servant leadership in adulthood. In fact, her son Noel, 23, goes to work early twice a week so he can tutor with his family on Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

That would be all of us

Marcie said it beautifully at Breakthrough's Staff Development Day, "We are all undeserving poor". We "love people out the door" when it is clear they are not ready to take advantage of the many opportunities available at Breakthrough, but we are always ready for people to come back when they are ready. We provide a presence on the street late into the night on weekends to let people know there is somewhere to turn when they want to receive the love of Christ through the community of faith. But we never give up on people, because God hasn't given up on us. None of us deserve what we've been given. It is the grace of God.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Undeserving Poor?

I have been struggling lately with the notion that I hear from some Christians that there is a group of people who could be categorized as "the undeserving poor". Who are they? The able bodied who don't work? What if they want to work and can't find a job? What if the manufacturing jobs have been replaced by white collar jobs that necessitate a good education in a community where schools are failing? Are they the "undeserving poor"?

Of course there are people who don't take advantage of opportunity, but in our community it seems it is more the opportunities that are missing. Many, after being rejected again and again, just give up, assuming the notion that they will never be able to draw a legitimate income. I don't think I have ever met one of those "undeserving poor" and I know a lot of very poor people.

Here's a link to a New York Times article in which Jonathan Kozul is quoted as saying,
"The ultimate question is a theological one: What does any human being deserve? The Bible tells us that a person's humanity is enough for our compassion."
Amen Jonathan!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Wide Awake

"What would happen if all of us began to discover our God given dreams? What would happen if all of us began to live wide awake and began to live our lives in such a way that everything we did, every choice, every act, all of it was used to fulfill those dreams and make the world a different place?"

              --Erwin McManus at the Breakthrough Benefit

Saturday, November 01, 2008

I'm an idealist!

Here's another one of those fun online tests that is supposed to reveal your world view. What's yours?
Idealist 81%
Cultural Creative 75%
Postmodernist 56%
Modernist 44%
Existentialist 44%
Romanticist 44%
Fundamentalist 38%
Materialist 13%