Archive for July, 2013

My Way Is Best: Learn, Listen, Join

July 29, 2013

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – When I interned with Focused Community Strategies (FCS Urban Ministries) five years ago, I remember going to the local YMCA to play ball, and I realized I was the only light-skinned person in the gym.  I loved it.

Today, in our community in South Atlanta, my family is, without exception, the minority.

I grew up accustomed to being on top. I have learned this is  “white privilege, from my brothers and sisters of color:  When someone with a whiter complexion shows up to a meeting, it typically means the whiter person takes charge.

So how does this work for this particular white male and his family, who recently moved into a predominantly African American neighborhood?

I have asked my indigenous neighbors in South Atlanta this question. Their responses have been refreshing and enlightening.

Some of our neighbors, particularly those grew up in the community, say, “There goes the neighborhood” when white people move in. Others are excited and are thrilled when white people move in. They welcome the arrival as an injection of new life.

People ask me how I respond. I reply, “I learn, listen and join.”

When you pursue inter-cultural relationships, you must be eager to learn, to glean life experiences from the people who have lived in the community before you. When you learn, you are humbled. Upon asking one African American leader in our community what leaders of color seek, she replied with one word: respect. When you are willing to learn, you communicate respect to those who have gone before you.

It is equally important to listen. When you listen, you communicate (show) that you don’t know what’s best. Listening means you are not there to force your dominant culture on others. Listening means you are authentic. My friends in our neighborhood can immediately spot who is authentic and who is not. They know who is there to “help,” who is there in friendship. You see, my friends hate being “helped.” If someone is there only to help, this person insults and demeans my neighbors.

Finally, living inter-culturally is a commitment to God, to join in His restoration of that specific place. It is important to ask: What aspects of my dominant culture does God ask me to give up in order to live authentically in this new culture?  This is profound, as there is not a day when I am not aware that I come from a dominant culture.

When I experience resistance from my new neighbors, I remember that their trepidation has nothing to do with who I am as a person. Instead, it has everything to do with the cultural baggage I could carry from the dominant culture. As one African American friend, who just got his PhD, reminded me, “We are one generation away from segregation and Jim Crow laws.”

So I listen, and I listen closely. Listening means that I may be wrong.

And when people are hesitant toward me as a white person who wants to be a friend, I learn patience. I slow down until they invite me in. But I never stop moving. Jesus always moved first. As reconcilers of the Gospel, we are called to move first, too, and to keep moving until genuine relationships unfold.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. 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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More Like Heaven

July 24, 2013
Kids playing at Palms Trailer Park

Kids playing at Palms Trailer Park

By Phil Hissom

A while back we went around Palms Trailer Park in Orlando and asked, “How could this place be more like heaven?” The number one answer by far was, “When people drive by, they’d see kids playing.” The Palms is well known for lots of things but kids playing is not one of them. The answer was imaginative and hopeful and today it came to pass. While kids in the park do play in the back of the park, today they took ownership of a little plot of ground along Orange Blossom Trail. That’s a lot of people driving by and seeing a place that’s a bit more like heaven. The vision is becoming reality.

POLIS, who offices in the park, hosted some kids from Summit Church for a service project day. The kids were welcomed by residents and joined by several children from the park to do the work. Together, we did some painting in the community center, tended the grounds around the community gardens (left side of picture), and demolished a concrete structure that was in the grassy lot. After the work was done, the kids played a rousing game of soccer and had a blast. Everyone did an excellent job.

At the end of the day, we all gathered in the Palms Chapel (far end of the picture) to wrap things up and Maurice, one of the kids that lives in the park, took command of the podium. He got everyone’s attention and said, “I’m going to speak for the community today and say, ‘Thanks a lot. You guys are pretty cool. Come back if you can.'” He owned the room for a few minutes. The park is his home and he was glad to have shared it with some kids from elsewhere in the city and his friends from the park. We all smiled and couldn’t help but applaud Maurice for his kind words and blessing. He was delighted to speak for the community and did a tremendous job. No one asked him to do it. In fact, I was really not sure what he was going to say. He led us all into gratitude and joy – a perfect conclusion to a great day together.

We intend to build on this and create regular opportunities for recreation and believe this vision – more like heaven – will continue to guide us. Lord willing, we’ll be putting in some playground equipment in the next couple of months and partnering with Collins Recreation to roll out consistent, safe, and fun activities. We got a little closer today by moving out some debris and quite a bit closer by taking the time to really enjoy ourselves. Join us if you can. Pray for us if you can’t.

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom is the Founder of the POLIS Institute and the 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.

Sit Through the Pain With Me: A Path to Racial Reconciliation

July 5, 2013

By Dan Crain 

ATLANTA – Every day we deal with false motives and people with agendas in our urban ministry. One of the most painful realities we deal with is racism. As I facilitate Dignity Serves training, which deals with the best ways of serving one another, we run smack up against unjust structures in our culture.

In my three years of sharing the principles of Dignity Serves, I have learned much about race and racism and the loving and appropriate ways to respond. I am still learning.

Two very specific instances stand out in the past three years as we have gone through “lesson four” in the Dignity Serves curriculum.

Both times, friends of color have shared an extreme amount of pain and frustration as members of a minority in a world dominated by one culture.

One sister shared with a group recently about her journey. She has been stereotyped and judged. She has not been heard.

It was a joy to hear this sister tell this to the group of 30 people sitting in a circle. Even more joyful was witnessing her walk across the room to embrace and cry with her friend who has sat with her in her pain and her honesty. It was a beautiful moment.

This friend has chosen time and time again to sit in the uncomfortable conversations around race, racism and privilege. When she shared and her stories become uncomfortable, they did not leave.

The more I dig deeply into this, the more I discover the importance of listening to the pain of others and the hardships they endure as members of a minority in our world. For those who claim racism does not exist and isn’t a factor, I pose this question: Have you ever talked with someone who experiences discrimination?  As my friend Ethan wrote recently, “If you think racism doesn’t exist, you’re probably white and have only white friends.”

How do we move past this? How do we heal as a nation? I say we learn the art of “Shiva.” In the Old Testament, when Job was experiencing a tremendous personal loss, he had friends who  “sat in the pain with him”.

They didn’t fix things. They didn’t say the pain didn’t exist. They sat and listened. Most important, they loved.

This is why relationships are the first steps to heal this nation. We need to be with people who are different than we are. We must listen to their experiences. We don’t need to “fix” each other. We must learn to be with one another, in community, so the Spirit of Christ can heal us, and prompt us to grow together.

Finally, I firmly believe that we must find commonality through the cross of Christ. When Paul describes the “New Humanity” in Ephesians 2 being formed together from the division between Jews and Gentiles, he talks about the death of Christ brining these people groups together. The cross of Christ is vitally important because it deals with sin conclusively. And sin is what causes divisions amongst us.

Come, let us sit together in each other’s pain and find reconciliation through the cross of Christ.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. 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.