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.