Saturday, January 30, 2010

Empowerment: How do you help people without hurting?

One of the core principles of the Christian Community Development Association is "Empowerment". The video below from Urban Entry gives a great introduction to the concept.

Does Serving Mean Playing Small?

I teach a Wheaton College class in Chicago every semester. I like to remind my students that the fact that they are getting a college education and own computers means they are in the top 1% of the most privileged people in the world and that they have a special responsibility to use their privilege on behalf of the world and God’s kingdom. I encourage them to maximize their gifts to become world leaders who will speak to power about the needs of the poor.

Some of the students in one of my recent classes took me to task over this notion. Should they not take the role of humble servants, setting aside their privilege to live common lives among the poor? Isn’t that what it means to serve? To follow Jesus’ example of laying aside his position of power and privilege to take on the form of a servant? To live among the poor and disparate as one of them?

It’s a good question, isn’t it? Yet, even the fact that some of us have choices, sets us apart from those who don’t.

Shane Claiborne, of the Simple Way, is a good example of a young man from privilege, with a Wheaton College education, who set aside aspirations to accrue wealth and power to live in an impoverished community in Philadelphia and join his companions in making their own clothing and diving in dumpsters for food. He uses his power in crafting the English language to give compelling voice to the lives and struggles of the poor through his speaking and writing. Many in my neighborhood would have difficulty bridging cultural worlds like he does. They lack the educational background and access to a broader network to ever impact the world like he does. He is powerfully using his privilege on behalf of the poor.

The mother of two of Jesus’ disciples wanted to ensure that her sons would have powerful positions when she asked Jesus if they could sit at his right and left hand in the kingdom. As a mother, I understand that. Who doesn’t want their kids to be great? To be acknowledged and recognized for their achievements?

Jesus never reprimanded her or her boys for wanting to be great. He just gently turned the tables on the definition of true greatness with his answer. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-27)

I love that my students are wrestling with this question. I’m sure that some of them will become attorneys who will draft legislation and run for office, others will become doctors and teachers among the poor. Some will run businesses and finance firms that will generate revenue that they will pass on to incubate community and economic development projects and support ministries in impoverished communities throughout the world. I love their passion for justice and their desire to follow Jesus with radical abandon.

We are indeed, all called to serve, to give our lives for a greater cause, whether we head corporations and governments or pick up the dying in the streets of Calcutta.

Nelson Mandela, in his 1994 inaugural address quoted Marianne Williamson’s beautiful words below:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us;
It's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Grace Awakening

A couple of days ago I came upon a beautiful blog post written by Jordan Dowell, who volunteered with his church, Willow Creek, at Breakthrough's women's center. Jordan gave me permission to copy a portion of his post below. You can read it in it's entirety here.
Tonight I had the opportunity along with 5 college students from my church to serve and eat a meal at Breakthrough Urban Ministries Women’s shelter on the Westside of Chicago. An old factory, turned warehouse, turned machine shop, then abandoned, and now remodeled, provides housing for 30 women and staff under Breakthrough’s name. It is a simple place, but in the unfolding production of grace this building radiates upon the stage. I wish to articulate everything that happened tonight, but to do so would take an entire book, so I must consolidate.

As is ritual, one veteran volunteer led the women in worship with her acoustic guitar while the meal was being prepared. As the women trickled into the dinning hall connected directly to the large open kitchen the smell of meatloaf and dinner rolls filled the air. The room echoed badly as the music begun, but despite that and the harsh hanging florescent lights there was an intense awareness of “home,” security, hope, and belonging among the people in the room.

I sat at a table with a woman named Patricia and shared her song book as we sang worship songs put to the simple rhythm of a guitar. She and I chatted briefly between songs as others in the room shouted song requests, then we would continue with the group in song. I noticed that as I sang louder, so would Patricia, and so I sang very loudly on one song “Hosanna.” I didn’t look at the songbook very much during that song because I knew it by memory, so I sang, loudly, along with Patricia who from the way she closely followed the words in the song book, I determined hadn’t heard the song many times before.

When the song ended, Patricia pointed with her finger to the first two lines of the bridge that read, “Heal my heart and make it clean, open up my eyes to the things unseen.” Through what seemed to be tears, she said “That’s what He did for me”
Patricia ran her finger along the words, back and forth as if stroking a precious piece of jewelry. I was taken aback by her emotion. I had just sung those words out of the cold repository of my memory without second thought while Patricia had been intensely reminded of grace and forgiveness. The next song started, but Patricia kept talking about who she’d been, who she’d hurt and disappointed, the drugs she’d used, the education she’d thrown away. She told me about an experience where God clearly “opened up her eyes to the things unseen.” With a cringe and a whisper she said, “I saw everything, I saw who I was, I saw who God was…” She paused, I was riveted by the passion with which she talked about God. Her awareness of grace brought tears to my eyes as I thought, “that’s what He did for me too.”

Last night I sang a song as I’d done many times before, but through the simplicity of a strummed guitar and through the delicate loving way Patricia talked about the words, my understanding of grace soared.

There are times when a simple single thing, when experienced in a delicate and simple way, will change your understanding of the greater whole.

Grace is a grand production that is redeeming humanity. It’s breadth and scale is magnificent, but to appreciate grace there are many elements of which we need to remain aware.

In understanding grace, there are stories we need to hear, and songs we need to sing.