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.