Archive for June, 2012

Yeah, But This Is My Space

June 27, 2012

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – There is a coffee shop in Atlanta that is extremely close to heaven on earth. It is situated beautifully on the Chattahoochee River.

Recently I decided to go there and to do some work. I got up early, and I was the first customer at 8 am. I strategically sat at on the corner of the deck, overlooking the river, trees and pool. Heaven had just come crashing to earth.

Except there was one problem. Another person decided to make the deck her personal workspace. She began making phone calls, and her voice was loud – so loud that it interrupted my concentration and work.

How could she barge in on what was my place?

I mean, I woke up early to get to this special place. It was my mine.

This happens all the time, right?

We show up and think that whatever we see is ours.

This has been happening throughout world history. The Romans showed up and thought everything was theirs. The Anglos showed up in what was called “The New World” and claimed this country as their own.

Northerners move to the South and think the “new” space is theirs.

People migrate from the suburbs to the city, thinking this urban area is “their” space, claiming it as “their” neighborhood. Eventually these new city dwellers push out the poor through a process called gentrification.

What happens when this occurs?

One person or people group is displaced. They lose their “home,” be it their dwellings or a neighborhood and its character.

This happens in the geographical and relational sense. We show up and tend to push people into what we want them to be, with little regard for their history or to what God has been doing in their lives.

We want to transform neighborhoods and old homes and longtime mom-and-pop businesses, to make them  respectable, neat and tidy. The root of this you ask? Control.

When I grew up with my four brothers and cousin in Bumpville, Pa., we used to frequent the Gorsline’s swimming pool, over the hill two miles away. We went there all the time. Sometimes we were the only ones there. You know what happened when we came over the crest of the hill and saw others in the pool? We were angry. Why? This was our pool. And why did we think it was our pool? Because we had spent the most time there, and now wanted to control it.

What we didn’t know or consider was that the pool – this spot – was never ours to begin with.

As we live in the City of Atlanta, we believe we are called to respect the people who were here long before we showed up.  We are called to listen extremely well these people as we also seek to follow what the spirit is asking us to do. We believe we are called to share this space with as many people as God brings along our path.

We are called to steward everything. We are called to love longtime residents, and to love the most vulnerable and marginalized among them.

This space was never ours. We are called to hold all that God has given us very loosely. After all,  it all belongs to Him.

Dan Crain and family

Dan Crain and family

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

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You Are the Light

June 16, 2012

Brian Carlson photography

By Phil Hissom

John has lived in Palms Trailer Park for three years. He has seen a lot of rough stuff go down, but he’s also seen the positive changes in the park. I had the opportunity to spend some time with him the other day, and I asked him why he thought things have gotten better.

His answer surprised me: “It’s you guys; you are the light.”

I was taken aback. I believe Jesus when he said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). But when John said it, sincerely and to my face, my mind raced for a way to correct him – “oh no, we just help out,” or “Jesus is the light,” or “there have been so many people involved, we’re nothing special” – true enough, but I’m glad that what actually came out of my mouth was, “Thanks John, that’s a very kind thing to say.”

John went on to share about his life and his own budding relationship with God.

“You know,” he said, “I’m all about the facts. When people say ‘God did this’ and ‘God did that’ after I’ve just seen them do it themselves … well, that makes me suspicious.” He continued, “There’s usually a perfectly reasonable, scientific explanation for things and that’s the way I think.”

So he decided to test God, scientifically, by the facts.

He prayed one day and asked God to give him a sign, and within 24 hours – Bam! – he got it. To him, that was now just a fact, plain as day. He did it a few more times and – Bam! – within 24 hours each time it would happen. “I couldn’t ignore the facts so I started praying every day. I didn’t feel right about testing God so I stopped doing that. I started to just ask him to help me. I have been doing that now for about six months.”

John went on to talk about making something of his life with the skills God has given him. And even though he’s far from home and close friends, he’s moving forward with his plan:

He works full-time and recently enrolled in college. He’s also helping others. He helped a single mother who had been lured into prostitution get back to the safety of her family in another state and into the arms of her daughter. It took a long time to make it happen, but he persisted in doing good because he knew it was right. John’s an awesome young man. He said, “My family is so proud of me now.” I can see why. I’m proud of him, too.

At some point, I had to ask, “So why do you think all these positive changes are happening in your life?”

He thought for a moment and said simply, “God,” while he continued in thought. After a few minutes he added, “But I ain’t about to get all religious or anything; some people get carried away with that stuff. I keep it simple. I know God hears my prayers and helps me and my life is getting better. Failure’s not an option for me anymore.”

Wow, John. Thanks for sharing your story and allowing me to share it on this blog. YOU, my friend, are the light.

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom is the Founder of the POLIS Insitute and the primary author of Dignity Serves. He can be reached at phil@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-lesson course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Yield Your Right of Way, Leave the Rest to God

June 12, 2012

By Bill Behr

Regi Campbell is an Elder at Andy Stanley’s church in Alpharetta, Ga. (North Point Community Church).  Mr. Campbell’s blog, written specifically for men wanting to grow in their faith with Christ, is a favorite of mine, and his most recent blog, “The Thing vs. the Idea of the Thing,” had one statement that really hit me:

“(failed) expectations are premeditated resentments.”

Whoa! That is profound!  When I think about that, it has been often true in my life.  I have expectations for just about everything I do.

The resentment occurs when someone falls short of my expectations.

When I reflected back on my resentments and what I had been expecting, I realized that often my expectations came from my own selfish desires that I put ahead of others.  I was not patient enough to yield my desires to those of my neighbor’s.

Yes, there are reasonable and justifiable expectations.  But I am talking about the everyday decisions focus on my personal agenda.  How many resentments spring up each day because someone interrupted or interfered with my agenda?

Through God’s Word and through the teaching of Dignity Serves, I have learned that God created me, loves me and wants to me to share His love and grace with those who need it, especially the poor and forgotten who live among us.

God is the one who is changing my heart and challenging us all to yield our expectations to others every day.

As the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:3-5, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

Join me in the challenge to yield our interests to others. Watch God work in your life and in the lives of those you serve, by being the first to yield.

Bill Behr

Bill Behr

Bill Behr is the Associate Campus Minister of Summit @ 33rd St. and can be reached at bbehr@summitconnect.org. 

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Smart Aid: Asking Good Questions When Supporting A Cause

June 10, 2012

By Rebecca Lujan Loveless

If you know me at all, you will not be surprised that I am consistently tweeting, facebooking, blogging or just talking loudly in public about practices that might seem good on the surface but, when the curtain is pulled back, reveal something other.  This blog post is about that.

If you’re anything like me, even if it’s hidden deep within the recesses of your heart, you have a desire to make a difference in the world when it comes to those suffering under the weight of poverty.  I have chosen to make this quest a part of my daily life by choosing a career in which I research and apply best practices of healthy and effective ways to see that change occur. But I realize that this path is not for everyone, and I get that for most, helping the poor is a matter of discipline and sacrifice.

I have a friend who said to me, “I’m not like you.  The poor make me anxious and sad.”

In her honesty, even she tries, in her own way, to do her part to alleviate the burden of poverty.  So whether you sponsor a kid in Africa or volunteer a few times a year at a food pantry, most of us are at least thinking that we’d like to help.

So we pay attention to commercials, tweets, magazine articles, blogs or recommendations of friends who tout their organization of choice that is helping the poor.  From education to ending hunger, AIDS to malaria, homelessness to home repair, we are drawn to causes that stir our emotion.  More than that though, I’m convinced that unconsciously, we are drawn to causes that seem easy to fix.

The suffering of others makes us feel uncomfortable, so we race to fix it in ways that make sense to us: Buy a pair of shoes, and someone else’s kid will get a free pair.

 “Ahhh,” we sigh with relief, “I feel better knowing I did my part.”  But did we? Watch this video to see what I mean.

Recently, a friend of mine was tweeting about a popular web-based non-profit that is feverishly working to give away products, services and cash to those who need it.  I wanted to have an informed conversation with her about why she chose to support this particular organization, so I went to the website to read up.  I combed through every page, every emotionally stirring story, all the FAQ’s about how to give and how it works.

My hunch was that this organization hadn’t spent much time researching dignified ways of building relationships with giver and receiver.  I guessed that there was not a thorough process to truly understand the nature of the needs, and therefore truly understand the most effective sustainable solutions.

My hunch was right.  Nowhere on the website did it address reciprocity, giving and receiving, or HOW the organization approaches vetting the needs.  So I inquired.  I sent an email to “hello@such&such.org.”  Here is a sample of a few of the questions (I have changed some of the exact wording to keep the organization anonymous):

  • Can I have access to the system that you use to vet potential needs?
  • What standard/s do you use to understand the nature of the needs you meet?
  • Is there a way to follow up with the recipient after their need has been met?
  • Is there evidence to support that the $ raised is contributing to lasting transformation?  If so, what measurements are used to produce the evidence?
  • Is there a platform for relationships to be formed between giver and receiver?
  • What is expected of the receiver in the process?

After a month of not hearing back from anyone, I emailed it again, thinking perhaps it got lost out there in the interwebs.  Within an hour, I a got a response from the founder of the organization.

I will spare you the details of his snarky response, but let’s just say that he did not “have time or capacity to answer my questions” and was not at all thrilled that I was asking these questions in the first place.  After a few back and forth emails, he asked if we could speak over the phone.  We set up a time to talk.  He never called.

Unfortunately, this scenario is not unusual.  When I question the methods and philosophy of any giving organization, I am typically met with defensiveness, dismissive language and a general incredulity that I would question the integrity of the leader/founder/staff, etc.

I coach and consult non-profits toward dignified service that promotes healthy relationships between giver and receiver, and asking probing questions is a part of my nature. I wish more people would do a healthy examination of the organizations they support with their money, time or tweeting power.  It takes more time and effort up front, but perhaps if we all started doing it, organizations would be more intentional about educating themselves and others on the best ways to help the people that they feel called to help.

Blindly trusting that your money, time, skills, or tweeting power is automatically going to make a positive difference contributes to factors such as dependency, self-sufficiency, paternalism between the haves and have-nots and may, in fact, be making the plight of those you wish to help worse.

If you are squirming in your seat, feeling flushed and ready to fire off an email or message me – or better yet, post on my wall for all to see – just take a second to think about this.

I know you want to be a good steward of your resources.  I know that you care about others.  I also know that for the most part, you may not have spent a ton of time researching best practices of dignified service to the poor.  I have.

Believe me, I can speak with a deep conviction on this because I used to blindly support “good” causes, too.  I was addicted to the idea of giving and helping the poor and had no actual idea if my efforts were doing what I set out to do.

I will never forget the first time a beautiful Malawian woman point-blank told me that my giving demeaned and disempowered her and her people. It was shocking to me that my good intentions were not enough.  I am still learning, and my philosophies are fluid and still have plenty of growing space.

But what I do know is that asking good questions will lead to smarter aid.

I believe we can make a difference if we do it with wisdom and maturity.

Next time a cause catches your fancy, by all means, look in to it!  You are drawn to that cause for a reason.  But ask questions!

You can start by taking a look at the questions I posed above and revise them to fit the purposes of the cause you want to support.  Or create your own questions that will help you understand the “hows” and “whys” of what that organization does.

Tell your friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all about the cause you are supporting.  Better yet, tell them how you vetted the organization so you can stand with confidence that you are partnering with a thoughtful, intelligent and dignified cause that empowers lasting change.

Here are a few more questions that might get you started:

  • Who is involved in the decision making process in your organization?
  • Does the recipient get a say in the how, when and where goods and services are distributed?
  • Are the solutions being applied from inside the problem or outside the problem?
  • Whose idea was this solution?
  • What will happen when my funds/time/skills have been applied?  What is the follow-up process?

There are many, many more questions.  If you work in the development arena, I’d love to hear your suggestions of other good questions to ask when seeking to support a cause. I’d love to hear the responses you get when you start asking.

Either way, may you feel empowered to know, truly know, that you are a part of something healthy and beautiful.

Happy Asking!

Rebecca Lujann Loveless is the executive director of Polis Institute. She can be reached at rebeccalujanloveless@gmail.com.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-lesson course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.