Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Good News?! You can’t handle The Good News!!" - Raffi Shahinian

Check out JR Woodward's blog. He has posted an article by Raffi Shanhinian implying we really don't want to hear the good news about "the first being last, and the most powerful being slaves."
Do you really wanna hear about allegiance to a Master? Do you really wanna hear about ultimate justice for the poor and the oppressed?

I mean deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, do you really wanna hear about serving others as a lifestyle? And not just friends and family, I mean others, you know, those uncool, unwealthy, unsexy others, or as some people put it, “the least of these?”
Indeed! The gospel Jesus taught in Luke 4:18 is good news for the poor.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Prayer for Children

Listen to this beautiful audio of Pastor Daniel Hill and the congregation reading one of Marian Wright Edelman's A Prayer for Children during the benediction at River City Community Church this morning. You can listen to Daniel Hill's dynamic sermon about children at this itunes podcast link.

A Prayer for Children


We pray for children
Who sneak popsicles before supper,
Who erase holes in math workbooks,
Who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those
Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
Who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
Who never "counted potatoes,"
Who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead,
Who never go to the circus,
Who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.
And we pray for those
Who never get dessert,
Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
Who watch their parents watch them die,
Who can't find any bread to steal,
Who don't have any rooms to clean up,
Whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
Whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
Who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
Who like ghost stories,
Who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub,
Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
Who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
Who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
Who will eat anything,
Who have never seen a dentist,
Who aren't spoiled by anybody,
Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
Who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must,
For those we never give up on and for those who don't get a second chance.
For those we smother ... and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Blacks hit hard by the recession

Here's a link to an article from BBC news about poverty and the profound effect of the recession on the African American community in Chicago.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, black unemployment has risen to 13.4% since the recession began in December 2007. The national unemployment rate is 8.5%.
You will see pictures of the Greater Chicago Food Depository produce truck. When the truck comes to our neighborhood, East Garfield Park, on the west side of Chicago, a line circles the block. Fresh produce is difficult to obtain in our neighborhood. East Garfield Park has been labeled a food desert by a researchers. The study indicates that Chicago’s food deserts are nearly exclusively African-American.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What I did on my personal retreat

I've been asked by several people what I did during my personal retreat day last Thursday. I hadn't taken a personal retreat day in a long time, much too long. Every time I do it I wonder why I don't do it more often. I really want to make it a more regular practice. I really needed this time for restoration and direction. "He restores my soul". Psalm 23:3

If I don't block out time on my calendar far in advance and guard it ferociously, it just doesn't happen. In fact, there were several things that came up on Thursday that seemed pretty important. It almost seemed like a test to see if I would cave and not follow through. But, of course, I was able to delegate everything, which I think is part of the benefit of taking the day. It is kind of like fasting. It reminds me that the world and Breakthrough go on just fine without me. I get untangled from my co-dependence on my work.

By the way, isn't it interesting that the Israelites were told to "deny" themselves and take a sabbath of rest (Leviticus 16:31)? I would think a sabbath of rest would be considered self-centered rather than self denying, but it really is about withdrawing from the many things that hold our focus and about presenting ourselves, instead, to God, for reflection and renewal.

I started the day in my usual place where I light candles and sit in prayer, meditation and Scripture. For this special day I followed several of the retreats from the blue Upper Room Guide to Prayer. There are 12 monthly retreat models in the back of the book. They involve 30 minutes of silent listening followed by Scripture readings, readings for reflection, reflection, prayer, journal writing, recreation, rest and then repeating the cycle.

At one point in the retreat I felt led to get out my acrylic paints and try to put on canvas what I was experiencing. I created this painting.

I'm not sure what it is exactly. There is the sense of being carried on water which is a bit turbulent. (I often feel carried.) Then there is definitly new green growth, sprouts, shoots of new life coming out of something that looks like a heart on fire, or a germinating seed or an egg. Anyway, I have never done a painting like this before, so it was an experiment for me and I actually kind of like it.

Then I did another retreat cycle and then drove out to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. I hadn't been there for years. It has changed a lot (great new kids play area). I walked several miles until I found a place to sit and did another of the retreats.

I was affected in several ways by the day. My soul, which had begun to feel dry, was definitely stirred and restored. One of the themes of the day for me was power. Luke 6:12-19 describes the effect a night of prayer had on Jesus. "One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God." After the night in prayer Jesus chooses his disciples and a large crowd gathers around him and it says in verse 19, "the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all."

Power was coming from Jesus. He would later say in Acts 1:8 "you shall receive power".

Zech 4:6 "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord. Spirit = Ruwach = breath

Acts 17:28 “For in him we live and move and have our being.”

Ephesians 3:16, “strengthened by his Spirit in your inner being”

Joshua 3:5 “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

Consecrate - sanctify, prepare, dedicate, be hallowed, be holy, be sanctified

Amazing things, wonders = alp, pala, paw-law’
  • to be marvellous, be wonderful, be surpassing, be extraordinary, separate by distinguishing action
  • to be beyond one's power, be difficult to do
  • to be difficult to understand
  • to be wonderful, be extraordinary, marvellous (participle)
Psalm 20:7 "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."

Anyway, there was lots to ponder. I ended my time by refocusing on my personal mission in life and did some planning. It was an amazing day. I really want to make this a monthly practice.

Do you have personal retreat days? Where do you go? What do you do?

Why we need to focus on education

The schools in our community are in bad shape. There are 2,265 grammar schools in the state if Illinois and all four of our local schools are in the bottom 100. At John Marshall, our local high school, 3.5% of the juniors are at or above their grade levels in math and science and only 6% in reading. The average PSAT school is 4% at or above their grade level. There are 180 days in a school year. At John Marshall High School the average number of days missed is 95! Westinghouse High School, just a block away from Breakthrough, will open a new facility in the fall and none of the kids from the community grammar schools have been able to test into it.

On a positive note, we gave the Bracken test for kindergarten readiness to the kids in our Nettie Bailey Student Achievement Program. The kids who attended our Breakthrough Beginners (preschool) program tested at 72% compared to those who did not attend who are at 17%. This is strong evidence that what we are doing is important and is working. Twenty of our program graduates started college last fall. While this is significant and encouraging, we recognize we have much work to do.

Click here to support Breakthrough's academic program.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The stress of poverty affects kids' learning ability

Here's a link to an interesting article in the Washington Post that discusses recent research on the affects that the stress of living in poverty has on the cognitive ability of children.
Now, research is providing what could be crucial clues to explain how childhood poverty translates into dimmer chances of success: Chronic stress from growing up poor appears to have a direct impact on the brain, leaving children with impairment in at least one key area -- working memory.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Food as art

I had a wonderful dinner last night with dear friends at "Arun", a Thai restaurant at 4156 North Kedzie in Chicago. Breath taking taste and presentation! Check out the Nemo fish below made from a carrot!!