Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Van Driving

It's funny how God uses something that seems so trivial on the outside, like van driving, and uses it to advance His kingdom.  Without understanding the culture of van driving in urban ministry, it's easy for one on the outside looking in to diminish the task as grunt work.  Pick up and drop off.  With the REAL work being whatever that person is being picked up and dropped off for.  I beg to differ.  Van driving always ends up being more than a ride.

One day it took me over an hour to find one of my younger friends house.  It was late, about 8:15 on a school night, and he had been in my van for over an hour.  I ended up taking him through the Burger King drive-thru to get him something to eat because I felt so terrible.  We conversed back and forth about his recent football season, talked about his family, and about what he likes to do.  Both of us laughing and enjoying each others company.  I then proceeded to tell him that I enjoyed spending time with him and that I appreciated him as a friend.  He didn't respond.  A few seconds later, he slowly uttered the words, "nobody's ever told me that before.. well my Mom has, so I guess you're the second person."  Van driving always ends up being more than a ride.

When I slip into the thinking that what I do on a day to day basis as n2n is small and trivial, I'm constantly reminded of how absurd that is.  Am I really limiting God's ability to use anything and everything to what I think is fit for Him to use?  Because let's be honest, van driving is not sexy.  But then again, neither is being born in a manger, riding in on a donkey, washing feet, dying on a cross, etc.

Instances like the one above (and there are many) remind me that my work is not about driving vans or helping run youth outreach programs.  My job is about providing opportunities for relationships, discipleship to take place, and for reconciliation to happen.  Sometimes it takes driving a van (just about everyday) for me to be reminded of that.  Maybe I've been brainwashed (nah), but van driving is what the golf course is to the business world for urban youth ministry.  And you can take that to the bank.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mission Year.. In Charlotte!

I just found out that Mission Year just recently started in Charlotte.  I remember working with some people that did Mission Year in Chicago when I was interning at Breakthrough..  so it's exciting to hear that Mission Year has come to North Carolina!

Mission Year is a year long urban ministry program focused on Christian service and discipleship.  They take teams of young people, place them in an area of need, and help them to serve people and create community.  They are committed to the command of Jesus to "love God and love people," by placing the needs of our neighbors first and developing committed disciples of Christ with a heart for the poor.

Here is the link: Mission Year - Charlotte

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tink & Terry

Meet Tink and Terry.  They are in third grade and sixth grade respectively.  Both boys live within walking distance of the n2n center (1200 S. Blount St.) and are regular faces around n2n and the surrounding neighborhood.  They are involved in bible studies at Ship of Zion church up the road and in our HOSTS mentoring program.  They sometimes visit Tapestry Church they even stop by on a day when there is no program to watch a movie or play connect 4 with some of the staff.

Without trying to sound cliché, kids like Tink and Terry are our future.  More specifically the future of the neighborhood in which they live.  I strongly believe that there is a strong correlation to their future and the future health of their neighborhood.  If they (or youth like them) continue to fall into the same destructive patterns, their neighborhood will reflect that.  However, if they replace those destructive patterns with new patterns of living, their neighborhood will reflect that instead.  Thus making it all the more important that we learn to listen and make time for them in our lives right now.  I’m reminded of these words:

“The fundamental building blocks of the kingdom are relationships.  Not programs, systems, or productivity.  But inconvenient, time-consuming, intrusive relationships.  The kingdom is built on personal involvements that disrupt schedules and drain energy.  When I enter into redemptive relationships with others, I lose much of my “capacity to produce desires results with a minimum expenditure of energy, time, money, or materials.”  In short, relationships sabotage my efficiency.  A part of me dies.  Is this perhaps what our Lord meant when He said we must lay down our lives for each other?”  -Theirs is the Kingdom by Bob Lupton

Between the staff at n2n, volunteers, mentors, and other community leaders, God has been putting people in the lives of youth just like Tink and Terry.  These ‘redemptive relationships’ are happening.  In our HOSTS mentoring program, Tink and Terry have been placed with wonderful adult mentors (Tom, Emily, Lindsay, and Alex).  In about two months Terry will be playing MAD House Basketball and will have a MAD House Coach.  I hear stories from Tink about how Pastor Chris from Ship of Zion takes him fishing.  Tink and Terry have bible study leaders.  When I asked Tink what he was learning in bible study he told me about his favorite person in the bible, Paul, and how God rescued him from jail.  He also told me about Joseph and Peter.  Pretty amazing isn’t it?

At the same time God is putting people in the lives of these youth, God is also putting them into our lives.  The teaching and subsequent learning not only occurs from the mentor to the mentee but also from the mentee to the mentor. Both benefit and grow from their relationships with each other and whether we realize it or not, we need each other.  We are not complete without one another.  Maybe we haven’t thought of it like that, but that seems to be the way the kingdom works.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review: Through the River

The content of this book is presented in a way that is easy to understand.  With terms that aren't commonly thrown around in everyday conversation, the two authors do a great job of presenting the material.  They focus primarly on three different truth lenses.  There are more 'truth lenses' but most are just slight variations of the three major ones.

The context of each of the three different truth lenses (Positivism, Instrumentalism, and Critical Realism) is told through an analogy of a place called River Town.  It's not hard to make connections to real life.  Rock Dwellers, Island Dwellers, and Valley Dwellers (Positivism, Instrumentalism, and Critical Realism) are all portrayed very accurately to the kind of people we all know.  It even helps you to understand why you view certain things the way you do depending on which you relate to the most.

It takes no real shots at either 'group' of people as it's written in a way that is respectful of whoever the reader may be.  It outlines the positives of each one and calls us to move forward and engage one another with love to truly advance the Gospel.  However, I have the same conclusion that many reviewers have already expressed.  Those who need to read the book the most will not be the ones who read it.

Some reservations:  It may come off as a 'dry read'.  It seems like it might be one of those books that many people will give up on after a chapter or two.  I admit, it was a struggle at times but it did challenge me to rethink how I engage people who have different world views/truth lenses/etc.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Book Review: The Justice Project

There are many books that discuss the same subject matter (biblical & social justice, caring for the poor, etc.).  With this in mind, one might be deterred assuming it's nothing more than the same rhetoric.  However this book is unique in many ways and does a few things really well:

1. It captures a wide spectrum of voices in the Christian faith.  Names that you'll know and recognize and names that you won't.

2. It is both long and short at the same time.  You can spot read, as each chapter (for the most part) is not dependent on the preceding chapters.  There is no "fluff", it gets straight to the point.

3. It does a great job of moving from the purely theological discussions about biblical justice to the actual tangible examples of biblical justice being done.  It strikes a remarkable balance between the two.

5. It doesn't hold back at all.  It hits many of the hot button topics debated in many Christian circles.  Instead of picking a side and making a case, it challenges us to think about God's justice in certain situations.

6. It helps to answer many questions that disgruntled Christians might be asking themselves when frustrated by the perceived lack of action done by the Church.  For instance, whole chapters discussing: "What good can come from our frustration and anger at injustice?"  and "What are some good first steps in seeking justice - for both individuals and faith communities?"

Overall, I would recommend this book for those seeking to live out God's call for us to be a people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

"And what does the LORD require of you?
       To act justly and to love mercy
       and to walk humbly with your God." -Micah 6:8

Don't be fooled thinking it's another book with the same rhetoric.  The Justice Project is refreshing, comprehensive, and well written.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Embracing Diversity

I am continuing to learn what it means to be in cross-cultural relationships.  I think its imperative for white Christians to join into this conversation.  Instead of being on the sidelines and jumping into the game late I hope the Church will lead the way on embracing diversity.

Our neighborhoods are for the most part segregated.  Our schools would be segregated (because of the neighborhoods) but we enforce busing to help with that.  It's still fact, but almost sounds clique now, that Sunday mornings are the most segregated part of the week.  Various experiences, books, and speakers continue to challenge me when it comes to cross-cultural relationships.

At the CCDA conference last year, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah made the point that if white Christians have never had a non-white mentor then they are more colonialists than missionaries.

Meaning that though there intentions might be good, they are undoubtedly pushing their way of thinking as a white Christian (read: Meaning that though my intentions are good, I am undoubtedly pushing my way of thinking as a white Christian male).  With the tendency to be dominant and to take control, it magnifies my need to take a back seat to listen and learn.  And in a Christian world that is right now and increasingly multi-cultural/multi-ethnic and no longer a western white centered faith, it makes it all the more important to recognize this and celebrate this.

It takes a lot of hard work.  It isn't a romanticized notion or something that is an act that we should desire to seek praise from.  It requires us (read: white Christians) to give up what culture has instilled in us, that we have power, privilege, and status.  Good questions to ask ourselves, are:

How do I relinquish power and therefore empower someone?  Important because of our tendency to hold onto power in relationships.

How do I restore/maintain someone's dignity?  Important because though we may have great intentions, being in cross-cultural relationships will require us deal with some inner demons.  Like it or not, we've all be instilled with a bit of racism.  Maybe not the over the top kind that we're used to reading about in history class, but that covert kind of racism that simmers below the surface.

Jesus gives great examples throughout scripture.  In John 4 for example, Jesus doesn't come to the well, take the bucket for himself and get his own drink.  Instead, Jesus relinquishes power by communicating that he himself had a need and asking the Samaritan woman to give him a drink.  Jesus also didn't shun the woman and look down upon her for being a Samaritan, instead he restores the woman's dignity by interacting with her as a Jew and she a Samaritan.

In Philippians 2 Paul talks about how Jesus '..did not not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself.'  Made himself nothing?  Taking the very nature of a servant?  How about that for giving up power and status.  On top of that he humbled himself in the process.

God continually embodies a downward movement (Luke 9:25) and it shouldn't be any different for us.  For me, this is timely.  How to give up power and status in relationships (cross-cultural and otherwise) and therefore empower someone and restore/maintain their dignity is the ever present struggle I find myself in.

I recommend this book for all who want to read more about this:  The Next Evangelicalism.

I also would like to take the time to steal the some words from Jeff, my pastor at Visio Dei.  Though he was speaking on an entirely different subject matter, he challenged us with some questions that are still applicable to this:

Are we willing to let the Bible tell us something that we don't want to hear?  Are we willing to let the Bible steer us in a direction that we're not exactly comfortable with?

Meaning, are we willing to let God reveal to us things in scripture that we wouldn't normally see, that we choose to overlook, or have been culturally trained to not see?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Ifs

"Poverty is a very complex problem, and one must be careful to not appeal to simplistic explanations of it's causes."  -C. Rene Padilla, The Justice Project

It's impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of poverty (aside from the Sunday school answer of "Sin", but come on right?).  I laugh when I think of myself trying to give my take on a subject that is far beyond my reach and expertise (do I even have an expertise?).  However, from study, from observation, from learning from others, and from some personal experiences, I offer you a quick synopsis of steps in the right direction towards alleviating poverty:

1. What if there was public policy in the place that required you to live in the neighborhood or community in which you provide services to.  Think of the impact of having teachers, police men, doctors, pastors, and anybody who provides 'services' to a community actually be present in the community.  Not commuters into the community, but rather committed stable neighbors.  Think of the snowball effect that would have on the community as a whole?

2. What if there was an incentive for teachers to teach in high-need schools?  I know there are steps being taken to make this happen, but what if there was a nationwide incentive program for teachers to teach where the need is the highest?  Imagine the benefits of having this newfound pipeline of some of the best and brightest teachers teaching kids who need them the most.

3. What if having male elementary school teachers became normal?  Think about the benefits some kids would receive by having a male in a leadership and authoritative role in their life.  Kids, especially boys, need to have an influx of quality older male role models in their lives.  Especially from a young age (hence elementary school teacher).  And from the little I've seen, most kids don't even see, must less have, a male teacher until about late middle school or so.  I don't know if there is research to support this claim, but having more male elementary school teachers teaching in high-need schools will reap great rewards over time.

4. What if there were laws that required developers to include a certain percentage of affordable housing units in new housing developments (inclusionary zoning)?  In Raleigh, inclusionary zoning is not a required practice.  Instead, what is happening all over the city is missed opportunities.  For example, the new North Hills housing developments off Six Forks Rd. have ZERO units set aside for affordable housing.  The lack of movement to enact laws and requirements to build and set aside units for affordable housing will undoubtedly lead to a variety of problems including concentrations of poverty, lack of entry to jobs, and the whole school reassignment issue.  Davidson was the first city/town in North Carolina to adopt a mandatory ordinance.  Come on Raleigh!

5. What if gentrification could be harnessed for something good?  I believe it can but the greed and desire for these new transplant neighbors to make good on their investment hinders true community from ever forming.  Gentrification as an evil entity is a slow way to exploit and displace people.  At the same time gentrification can have many great perks.  It is something that can be good and life-giving.  In this form, it's a necessary step towards revitalization.  The great community developer Nehemiah in the Old Testament didn't call all the people of Persia to come and inhabit Jerusalem.  He called one of ten to come and dwell in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11:1-2).  Because all or too many of the Persian people coming to live in Jerusalem would have been detrimental to the existing make-up of the city.  So, what if gentrification could be harnessed for good?

6. New question stemming from number five above, What if the Church community tithed it's people in this way? (notice: Church, Big C)

Those are just a quick six and I might add more later if I get the chance to.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Books

The next two books that are being sent to me will hopefully be more interesting than the first.  I've already read some stuff from the authors and contributors for The Justice Project so that read should be good.  It's the kind of book where each chapter stands by itself and you don't necessarily have to read it in order.  So because of that fact, what's most likely to happen is I'll spot read a few chapters and claim I've 'read it'.

And since they are so slow to post new books to choose from, I went ahead and chose another one too (there were only two new choices).  It's titled Through the River.

"Through the River, a new book by Jon and Mindy Hirst (with Dr. Paul Hiebert), encourages us to examine our assumptions about truth and how those assumptions affect our relationship to the world at large. In so doing, the Hirsts offer a new perspective on truth that allows us not only to better understand how we view truth but how we might become better equipped to communicate truth in a combative culture. Their claim is that “our ability to struggle through the concept of truth in today’s world is crucial to determining our success in the Christian life, our relationships and our kingdom work.”

Hopefully this time I'll take more time in writing a detailed review.  My first one was done without me adding much detail as to why I thought it was a poor read, but I'm feeling much more optimistic about these two books.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book Review: A Prayer to Our Father

The premise of the book was to document the findings of a study of the Hebrew origins of the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).  A Christian and a Jew embarking on this journey together, putting aside differences in their faiths, and taking a fresh look at the Lord's Prayer from the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew.

Sounds interesting enough right?  Well, as great as a topic that it was, the book fell very short of my expectations.

The first half of the book describes their journey from day one on how they met to how they feel like they've found the actual spot in which Jesus taught the sermon on the mount.  They visited numerous sites that were said to be the spot in which he delivered the sermon on the mount.  They critiqued each one and made their conclusion on which location he actually taught on.

It was obviously a passion of the authors to find the exact location.  However, reading about it for the first half of the book wasn't very engaging for me as a reader.  It read more like a treasure hunt, which did in fact keep me engaged for a while, but it dragged on for way too long.

Once they started to dive into the Hebrew orgins of the Lord's prayer it did pick up a bit.  Obviously, some of the original language gets watered down by the time it is translated to English, so there were a few interesting points that were made.  Similarly, I think their actual study and findings were watered down too much by the time they wrote the book.  They didn't expound very much on their 'discoveries' and a common theme that was lacking throughout the book was depth.

The pages in the book did a poor job of reflecting what must have been a complex and challenging study.  Maybe that's what they set out to write, a book that was easy to read.  However, it left me very disappointed and wanting much more.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hope Over Fear

"I believe our nation works best with robust and civic dialogue and civil debate. For mature societal conversations to take place, at least two mature parties are required, and looking back over this summer, a second party is hard to find.  The Obama administration needs a worthy loyal opposition, just as any group in power does, and the president himself often says so. But people who shout “Hitler, Nazi, socialist” don’t constitute a worthy loyal opposition."

This is an excerpt from an article titled "A Plea for a New Generation of Republican Leadership".  It's borderline prophetic as days after the article was published on Sojourners, Rep. Joe Wilson from (where else) South Carolina disrupted Obama's speech to Congress by shouting "You lie!".  Stay classy South Carolina.

To make this post a bit more redemptive, this is another article (by a Republican) that is a bit old now but it's from someone that I've admired from afar, read his books, quoted him, brushed shoulders with (once at the 2008 CCDA conference), listened to his podcasts, and also subscribe to his 'Urban Perspectives' newsletter.  I'm a big fan.

I love the opening line because I think it's easy for to demonize all Republicans (for those of us on the pro-health care reform side) as heartless and greedy:  "Just because I'm a political conservative doesn't mean I lack compassion for those who can't afford adequate medical coverage."

Later in the article he says, "I seriously doubt that health-care reform can be accomplished without raising our taxes, but, frankly, that's one of the taxes I wouldn't mind paying. Compared to the costly wars we have funded recently, health care seems like a rather redemptive investment."

Here is the link: Republicans Want Health Care, Too

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Three Things

Here are the three things that I've learned so far from being married (not the only three, just three that I choose to share right now):

1. It's really set up to bring you closer to God.  Being married, you get to experience someone that tries to love you as close to unconditionally as they can.  Doesn't mean the expectation is perfection but rather it means they are striving hard to emulate God's love for us.  And that, in essence, creates this tangible example of God's love for us.  It helps bring your closer to God because you have a physical example his love for us.

2. Painful reality that we are broken and that we carry baggage that isn't easily left at the door.  No matter how long that baggage has stayed dormant, it's bound to rear it's ugly head.  But because of #1, there is the chance for resurrection.  Though there is 'death' in our lives, marriage creates a unique opportunity for that death to be replaced with new life.

3. Everybody's love story is different and God's timing in everybody's love story is different.  Comparison will only steal away joy.

4. I know I only said three, but I have a fourth thing I've learned.  Ain't nobody cuter than these two:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Online 'Book Club'

I'm probably more excited than I need to be when it comes to this 'book club' type deal I signed up for. I had to submit a few writings, write a bio about myself and my life, and fill out this short application, but after a few weeks I heard word that I was accepted (I'm sure everybody is, it's nothing prestigious).

So how it works is they'll send me a list of new christian books every couple of weeks or so, and I look through it and see if there are any that I would like to read. If any of them are interesting to me, I tell them I want that particular book and they send it to me free of charge. All I have to do is read the book within 30 days (piece of cake) and write a review about it and post it either on my blog here or on their site (how hard can that be?).

So I actually heard word a couple of weeks ago that I was accepted. So for the past couple of weeks I've been anxious to see the first wave of books. Well they finally came (only three were released) and I chose 'A Prayer to Our Father' as my first read.

The premise of the book is exploring the Hebrew origins of the Lord's Prayer. A Jewish Bible scholar and an African-American pastor collaborate to 'uncover the truth about the most beloved prayer in the Christian world'.

Sounds interesting enough. And whether I like it or not, all I'm required to do is give it a review from my point of view. Can't wait to get started..

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From the Womb to Graduation

If birth to five years old is the most important part of a person's life and most indicative of that person's future, then more models like this must be replicated. This is worth the read about a non-profit in Harlem, NY called 'Harlem Children's Zone' that is committed to each stage of a person's life. Literally from the womb to college graduation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Justice or Socialist?

Justice is close to God's heart. Reading through the scriptures makes that very clear.

"And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God" - Micah 6:8

"For the word of the Lord is right and true;
He is faithful in all He does
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of His unfailing love." -Psalm 33:4-5

I recently read this interesting article about how to view biblical justice with some of the raging debates of today (tax plans and health care). Is the direction we are headed more towards a biblically just system or socialism? I love the line stating that, "If the issue of how our wealth is linked to others' poverty makes us defensive, we will find it hard to do Christian community development."

It's really not hard to figure out why people get so upset and angry when terms like 'universal' or 'redistribution' come into play. Anything that challenges the existing power structure will be met with fierce resistance. But like Dr. Soong-Chan Rah asks, "when did we equate capitalism with Christianity?".

Here is the article: Justice or Socialist? -

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Good News for All

I've been reflecting a lot lately about how the Gospel is good news for all. Not just the few who choose to believe and walk with Jesus, but the Gospel was intended to be good news for ALL. Because the true Gospel is not just good news for the individual. Jesus cannot be labeled just in terms of a personal savior anymore.

Read through Jesus' most extensive teachings on the kingdom of God (the sermon on the mount) and you'll see the following trend. Jesus starts each lesson by saying "You have heard that it was said..". Then he gives his listeners/followers a new way/interpretation by then saying "But I tell you..".


"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." -Matthew 5:21-22

"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." -Matthew 5:27-28

"You have heart that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." -Matthew 5:43-44

I think the most interesting observation that I've read in the last month or so, was how Jesus never went back and tried to 'convert' anybody. There are no accounts of Jesus running back to the rich young ruler trying to persuade his that he 'didn't really mean what he said about selling everything he had and giving to the poor'. There just isn't...

And that's ok, because you have to look at the bigger picture. Some people will believe and become practitioners of this new way of life and some won't. But here is the kicker:

"Even if only a few would practice this new way, many would benefit. Oppressed people would be free. Poor people would be liberated from poverty. Minorities would be treated with respect. Sinners would be loved, not resented. Industrialists would realize that God cares for sparrows and wildflowers - so their industries should respect, not rape, the environment. The homeless would be invited in for a hot meal. The kingdom of God would come - not everywhere at once, not suddenly, but gradually, like a seed growing in a field, like yeast spreading in a lump of bread dough, like light spreading across the sky at dawn." -Brian McLaren

Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What's our response?

Here are some startling statistics that I heard off the River City podcast:

The United States is..

1st in gross domestic product
1st in the number of billionaires
1st in health expenditures
1st in military technology
1st in defense expenditures
1st in military weapon exports

The United States is also..

Highest in relative child poverty
Highest in birth rate among teens ages 15-19
Last in protecting children against gun violence
Highest in number of persons incarcerated

Not to mention, we also have the widest gap between the rich and the poor.

So what's our response to this? Anger? Numbness? Compassion? Apathy? Blame? Attempts to justify and distance ourselves from "those people" who perpetuate the problem?

In light of the injustices of our world and our cities, preaching a gospel that Jesus is just our personal savior is dangerously incomplete. Jesus not only is our personal savior but he is our societal savior. Just because certain things are in their current state, doesn't mean they have to be in the future. A gospel preached/taught/proclaimed with no talk about action and change for right now is no gospel at all.

I'm not exactly sure where I got this quote, or who is responsible for it but I like it. It's been written a few times in the journals that I keep.

"Jesus' teachings are suicidal to the rich, powerful, and the privileged." (more on this in a bit)

Again what's our response to that statement? What's my response to that statement? Angry? Annoyed? Dismissal?

If I'm honest all three of those for me. Wherever I turn, it seems that Jesus is continually revealing to me that the way to life and 'life to the full' is to die to myself daily (Mark 8:34-35). And it's true, the way of the kingdom is a downward pull.

Monday, May 4, 2009


"Christianity was never meant to be safe. We are just promised that when we walk into danger, God is with us... ...Perhaps the most dangerous place for a Christian is in safety and comfort, for we need to follow the way of the one who left all comfort, born a baby refugee, and wandered Galilee a homeless rabbi." -Shane Claiborne

I like Henri Nouwen's take on the same subject. How as Christians we should be moving away from the 'ordinary and proper places'. But not because we've come to recognize it as good social policy, but because we are following the example of our God (Philippians 2:1-11).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stuff White People Like

This list is hilarious. And the explanations given are even funnier. But sadly I identify with way too many of these.. (Stuff White People Like)

Just skimming through the list quickly, I identified with 35 of them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Two Years..

"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?" -1 Corinthians 15:55

Through death comes life. Because of the victory we have through Christ's death and resurrection, days like today don't have to be filled with deep sadness. I'm sad yes, Jason was one of my best friends and he will always be missed. However, two years ago there was victory as Jason went to be with his heavenly Father.

Today I'm reminded of the lives that Jason saved through his decision to be an organ donor. Through his earthly death, there has sprung up new life. His story, life, and spirit is very much alive. And for that I'm thankful.

This by no means encapsulates his entire life, but here are some good pictures (click here) from his foundations website.

Also: Ray of Hope

Friday, March 20, 2009

Servant God

"Here we see what compassion means. It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not a reaching out on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. God's compassion ts total, absolute, unconditional, without reservation. It is the compassion of the one who keeps going to the most forgotten corners of the world, and who cannot rest as long as there are still human beings with tears in their eyes. It is the compassion of a God who does not merely act as a servant, but who expresses the divinity of God through servanthood." -Henri Nouwen

Jesus' compassion is characterized by a downward pull. He came not to be served but to serve. He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.

It's hard to wrap your mind around that when it seems like an 'upward pull' and upward mobility is what we're all about and what we strive for in life. Sometimes I wish following Jesus was easier. But therein lies the mystery of the Christian life.. that if we lose our life for Jesus and for the gospel, that we will actually find life (Mark 8:35). And that's not some twisted oxymoron either, because as Henri Nouwen puts it, the downward pull is not a movement away from God, but a movement toward God.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

It's worth the time.

"...Now I've read through the bible a couple of times and I have yet to find a single passage that talks about the right to bear arms. Now don't get me wrong, that's a constitutional ammendment. I'm not opposed to the right to bear arms, I'm just saying that I have yet to find a single reference in the bible that says we have the right to bear arms. However, I have found over a hundred passages that talk about showing care, compassion, justice, and mercy for the alien and the immigrant among us. Now my question is, when I walk into a typical evangelical church, why and I more likely to find members of the NRA than I am to find members who are concerned about immigration reform? Is that a cultural Christianity based upon western white culture or is that a biblical Christianity? We are held captive to the western white cultural captivity of the church." -Dr. Soong Chan Rah

This was from the last CCDA plenary session. It was a powerful message, especially if you've (like me) grown up in this kind of western white church that he talks about.

To find and listen to the whole message click here (it's pretty long though) or you can borrow the DVD from me.. it's worth your time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Word became flesh..

If you've ever been to the North Hills part of Raleigh, it's pretty amazing. I remember back in the fall of 2003 it was a stand-alone JC Penny's (the remnants of an old mall), and it wasn't anything that special. Fast forward 6 years later and suddenly that area of town has it's own culture and vibe. It's been dubbed as Midtown Raleigh, or just simply North Hills. On a side note, it's quite fascinating to see the efforts to divide Raleigh into areas of town, and then to use those new names in conversations. Almost as if we're trying to convey how big of a city Raleigh is. But on a lighter note, it is pretty sweet. Even though I would never shop at any of the stores there.

I interned at this civil engineering firm (The John R. McAdams Co.) in the summer of 2006. They are one of the key firms that helped to design the new addition that is going up on the other side of Six Forks Rd. And back then we were actually working on stuff for this particular project. So I feel as if I somehow played a part in making this new addition to North Hills possible. Actually, if anybody that works at John R. McAdams read that they would laugh pretty hard, but let me dream for a second.

Since those days, I've taken an interest in learning more about housing laws and about biblical housing justice. Not at all the same, but being exposed to commercial development was a gateway to residential development. I'm still reading Making Housing Happen, but I stumbled upon this article this past weekend. It's pretty interesting, it's about inclusionary zoning in Raleigh. I honestly don't know much about the Independent Weekly in Raleigh/Durham (as far as it's credentials), but it always seems to have stories that I wish got press in the regular paper.

Being a first time home buyer, my eyes have been a bit more open with it comes to evaluating a neighborhood or a community. I've always had this 'not in my city' mentality when it comes to areas of concentrated poverty and race. That stuff was only present in the BIG cities. But it's amazing at how quickly the dynamics of a neighborhood change, especially in Raleigh. Things as miniscule as fences, creeks, cemetaries, or even tree lines provide barriers between the affluent and the not so affluent parts of town.

I remember a couple years ago reading some books by John Perkins and Bob Lupton and they talked about how it's easy to get people on board with wanting to help the poor and help then to get out of poverty. But once you get on the subject of living among the poor and 'moving into the neighborhood' things get real tense.

However, if we take the words, attitude, and example from Jesus seriously.. maybe that idea won't seem so radical. As Bob Lupton beautifully puts it, programs are a poor substitute for what neighbors do best. Jesus didn't just sit on his butt, he moved into the neighborhood. I mean seriously, lucky for us right?

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:5-11, NIV

"The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood." John 1:14, The Message

It's easy to write these thoughts down but it's incredibly hard to figure out what they mean and how to put it into practice. These thoughts and more have been stewing in my head for quite some time. More to come..

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


"Thus says the LORD, 'I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.' Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.' " Zechariah 8:3-5, NASB

This is typically the vision of anybody who is in the work of community development. Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. The 'streets' reclaimed, safe thriving neighborhoods, the elderly sitting on front porches, families talking and laughing with other families, children playing in the streets, etc.

However when children are able to look beyond the present situation and have that kind of picture in their minds, we need to be quick to affirm and nurture that hope and that dream. I was moved this past week after talking to one of my middle school friends. He was venting some frustration about how his Mom is very strict and won't let him run around the neighborhood like the other kids. After explaining to him that even though he might not like it now, one day he is really going to appreciate and love the fact that his Mom was protective of him. Then there was a breakthrough, silence for a few seconds as he processed what I had just said. This is what followed:

"Yeah, I guess I can see how you might be right. But man, when I get older and have a family.. I'm going to have a big playground set in my backyard. And all my kids are going to be able to play on it and they won't have to worry about any of this stuff that goes on out here."

It was a special moment that God allowed for me to be a part of. I kind of stumbled in my mind for a second on how exactly to respond. I was then privileged to enforce the importance of him holding onto and remembering that hope and that dream.

Out of the mouth of babes right?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Power of 'Story'

To me, the question of "what's your story?" is powerful. The image that it evokes in my mind is very caring and compassionate, because in order to ask that question you will undoubtedly have to be prepared to listen to a lengthy response. Thus taking up our precious time and interrupting our delicate schedules. Each persons story and journey is vastly different than one another. Each of us being shaped differently by our experiences with our family, friends, environment, etc.

So shortly after meeting someone new I pounce on the first opportunity (it has to be the right time and place) to be able to ask them the simple, short, profound question of "what's your story?"

It broke my heart again today to hear the responses of some new friends of mine. Barely teenagers and they have gone through more than I think I could handle. But after dropping them off and having a few hours to process what was beginning to happen, I had an epiphany. I'm not sure if that's the correct language, but I had a 'vision' or sorts. It's pretty cheesy but I still love it..

So I had this vision of each person having a written account of all of their days. Almost like a diary that everybody maintained with great diligence. A record of all the details of the day. And it was a 'real-time' diary too, not one of those write your entry before you go to bed diaries. So basically if you read previous days entries it would read like a story. So I had this vision that as soon as I met these guys and got to know them, I somehow made it into this 'diary' and entered into their story.

So at the instant that I came on the scene it would read something like, "I met a guy named Pat today..."

And then I started to think what would be said after that? Would I just settle for making an appearance in this 'diary' of sorts or would my encounter and friendship help to rewrite their story? And would there be any mention in this 'diary' about how I introduced them to another friend of mine named Jesus?

Real cheesy I know, but this thought, or 'vision', stirred my spirit today nonetheless.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Can I get an Amen?

In the past few days, I've had the chance to take some time and reflect on this past year and to set some goals for the year 2009. Some new ideas birthed out of this time. Or maybe it was just old ideas but I was able to make tangible connections.. whatever the case here are some of those thoughts:

Being in urban ministry is a lot more like being a good neighbor than an overseer of different programs. Bob Lupton (seriously what a stud) says it best, "Programs are a poor substitute for what neighbors do best". There is a great deal of truth to that.. especially how it has played out in my ministry at Neighbor to Neighbor. If you dissected my job description it seems to fall in line with what a good neighbor should do.

For instance, I help out with transportation (van driver) to and from the center for various activities. I also try to be a good role model for the youth in the way I live my life and in the way that I engage them (through conversation, hanging out, playing basketball, etc.). And maybe most importantly, it's always at the forefront of my mind to restore or affirm one's dignity. Especially since my background comes more from the side of the 'oppresser' rather than the 'oppressed'. (I'm trying to think of things in more of that context than just black or white.)

Being white in urban ministry definitely has it's difficulties.. and something I struggle with the most is the temptation to take control and run the show. If I don't see something I like or I see something that I would rather have run a different way I have urges to step in and to not just make suggestions but to change it to fit my thinking. And if we want to take it a bit deeper, my 'thinking' is without a doubt shaped by my experience as a white male.

I'll never forget this one particular point that Dr. Soong Chan Rah made at the CCDA conference. These weren't his exact words, but he made a point about how white missionaries in urban areas need mentors who are non-white. Because what will eventually happen is you are more likely to become a colonizer instead of a missionary. Pushing our values and our way of thinking on other people. Which only works against restoring or affirming one's dignity. We are all created in the image of God.. and because of that we all have worth and value. Making each of our voices and insight essential. We (I) must never forget that.

So all that to say this, a big goal of mine for 2009 is to be in intentional/life-giving/reciprocal/communal relationships with non-white males. And what's amazing, is months before 2009 even started I met some guys who fit that criteria and have been such an encouragement to me.. praise God.. I mean seriously, can I get an Amen?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lost in Translation

"For years, English speaking Christians read a Bible that said little about justice. In the older King James Version (KJV), the word justice never occurs in the New Testament, and rarely in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word mishpat is mistranslated as "judgement" about 100 times and as "justice" only once." -Ownership, Land, and Jubilee Justice, Making Housing Happen

I mean, seriously take a look at Amos 5:24 from two different translations. Essentially it's one word that's different but it changes the whole meaning:

"But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream." KJV

"But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." NIV

Let judgment run down. Think about the image that evokes..

Later in the same chapter of the book I'm still currently reading (Making Housing Happen) it talks about how most translators interpret the Greek word dikaiosyne as "righteousness", even though a growing number of scholars will insist that it means both "justice" and "righteousness" or justice/righteousness.

With what might be a more accurate translation, take a look at this well known verse and see how it comes alive in a new way:

"Set your mind on God's kingdom and his justice." Matthew 6:33

Suddenly.. the Bible has even more texts about justice. Which if we're honest, that's more consistent with the themes that run throughout scripture.