Author Archive

We all need help.

January 21, 2015

Homeless friends praying

During a lunch appointment with two fellow co-laborers in Christ we were talking about how to dignify the culture of service for a group of youth who wanted to serve people in need in their community.

We bounced around a few ideas and talked about the importance of keeping the numbers low, serving with dignity, entering with a posture of humility and other things that needs to be addressed so that missions trips don’t turn out looking like a trip to the zoo to see the poor people and the way they live.

We then began to dream about what it would look like to do something radical with the way we serve. I suggested taking a group of youth into a suburban neighborhood with manicured lawns and praying for the needs that lie hidden under the immaculate looking houses.

Then I sensed the Spirit say to take it to the next level, what if we went and invited some of my homeless friends in our community to come with me and my friend Malcolm to pray in a more affluent area in the city.

As with all things, the idea sounded good, but would this really happen? I left lunch and made a few phone calls to a couple of trusted people to make sure I wasn’t out of my mind.

I then drove to the Wendy’s where our friends hang out and explained what I was thinking. I asked them for their help to pray for a more affluent neighborhood in Atlanta.

After clarifying what we are doing, we drove to Powers Ferry Road and stopped in the parking lot next to the OK Café. We got out and prayed over the needs of the community. We did it in a sensitive way as not to draw attention to ourselves and commit the same mistakes that many do when they come into our community to help. The next time we go we hope to meet some people to know how to best pray for them.

After we got done praying, one of our friends, named Larry, started to walk towards the grocery store. I called out and asked Larry where he was going. He responded, “I’m going to shop for souls Pastor.”

We all have needs. The more I live and work among people who are struggling, the more I realize that maybe God has me here for my own salvation? Maybe I am the one that needs salvation from my longing for security and attachment to things?

Dignity Serves says, “The goal of Christian service should never be about solving problems. It should always be about inspiring servant‐ness: an active receptivity to the love of God, through which we learn to properly love ourselves.”

The more I work for Polis and press into this idea of not trying to solve people’s issues and only invite people to help, the more I see God’s hand change their lives and mine as well.

Do my homeless friends need to “get their lives together”? Yes, probably.

But, guess what? So do people who live in extreme comfort and are obsessed with their possession. I am one of them.

We all need to get out lives together. And this is why we need the gospel every single day. We are all a mess in need of the grace of Christ.

On the way back to the community our friends talked about how good it felt to be able to help and give another community. Far to often they are only on the receiving of being helped. One friend commented that this was the first time in three years that he has been outside of the neighborhood.

Maybe when we begin to stop “helping” people and learn to share in Dignified Interdependent relationships can both parties experience the grace and love of Christ and be healed?

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For Me, It’s Personal

May 12, 2014

Medi[4]By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – God’s story in ours. God is writing a story upon our lives, which ultimately reveals His glory, through our hands, heart and feet, to give hope, love, opportunity and purpose – in other words, dignity.

So I was humbled when a young woman told me, “Thank you so much for sharing about the topic of racism. I have never heard a white male speak about this and it was so refreshing.”

I was recently privileged to speak to about 80 college students – many of them from African-American, Asian or Latino descent but a majority white. To Atlanta they came, from Ohio State, Miami University and James Madison, to serve through the Medici Project, as an alternative Spring Break destination.

In 90 minutes during my eight-year (and going strong) journey with God to do inner-city work, I shared with the students about what we do through the basics of Dignity Serves curriculum and my experiences loving people who live on the streets.

It was a natural fit with the students at Medici, a non-profit that educates young people about the economic oppression of inner-city neighborhoods. Exposure to the realities of poverty can tap a multitude of compassion and service, beyond religious and culture boundaries.

The students eagerly leaned it to listen as I told them my story, one that is continually shaped, transformed by those around me. How did God choose a white farm boy from Bumpville, Pa., and plop me in the middle of an economically oppressed neighborhood in Atlanta?

I told them about my family, about my debilitating burnout from ministry, my eye-opening exposure to injustice in our world. And then I told them about men and women, so very different from me, who mentored and shaped my life through Polis and Dignity Serves.

Then, in the midst of sharing, I felt the tug of the Spirit to tell share what I have been learning from my friends and mentors of color, their spoken words a canvass of impressions about what it’s like to be a minority in our world.

Racism and white privilege are deeply personal, because as I have witnessed firsthand the way our culture typically perceives certain people of color. And I am not just talking about the way one race perceives another race.

I shared the pain of being with a friend of color in a restaurant that was predominantly white. The penetrating and hateful glares he endured from other patrons seared my soul as well as his. And I am indebted to pastors, mentors, and leaders of color who have heightened my awareness of such everyday indignities.

It was at this point that students who were minorities began to nod and to shoot up their hands in agreement.

Afterward, when a female student approached me to share how “refreshing” she found my views, I responded that I was honored to speak out. I have learned so much from my neighbors, who are predominantly African-American. I told her that I am honestly a better person because I have learned from a different culture, to appreciate the dignity of all people that often goes overlooked.

Daily, I see people I love affected by a prevailing attitude of superiority. That condescension violates God’s basic commandment, and I grieve.

So I encourage people from the majority culture to listen, to embrace and then to speak out. Listen to people who are hurt. Embrace the pain and frustration. Speak out at the appropriate times, when the Holy Spirit prompts you.

Be emboldened to give voice to others, to treat everyone with respect.

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.

When We Lose Our Capacity to Receive …

March 24, 2014

angryman_Full

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – In 2004 I went through a very bad experience with a church, and for the next few years I struggled through my insecurities about my broken ties with this church. I was an empty person who had found my sense of belonging and acceptance as a pastor. I thought I could solve my own issues through prayer and solitude with Jesus.

In 2008 I was sitting with a counselor friend named Amy. In conversation, she asked, “How are you doing?” Her question was an invitation to peer into my soul in a way that only a trained counselor could.

I immediately began to sweat and shake. I had been caught. She knew that something was not right with me, and I did not want to confess my need.

I had lost the capacity to receive because I thought I could solve my own problems, and I had assumed control.  Moreover, I did not want to relinquish control over my own ”issues.”

I observe this happening all the time with pastors and ministry leaders who are always considered “the answer people.” They are always in the position of helping, serving, giving. They give with little regard to themselves, and often find justification in such. I feel the tension in myself.

This can lead to burnout, a loss of capacity to receive.

Ministry itself can be addicting, because it often feeds something very dangerous in our souls.

Those of us in leadership in any context give and give and give, and at some point, we can lose our capacity to receive.

Receiving is hard, very hard. In American culture, we are typically defined by what we do, accomplish and achieve. Receiving is the antithesis of this. Receiving means that I need to ask for help to get something done. And most Americans don’t like to ask for help.

As Americans, we work for everything we get, right?

I would argue that we don’t want to ask for help because we honestly don’t believe that we are worth whatever someone wants to give us. Whenever someone pays us a compliment or gives us something nice, we hide our faces in shame, saying,  “If you only knew me and how bad I am.”

When you ponder our typical response, you encounter the heart of the gospel. Christ wants to give us good things in the midst of our brokenness.

This is one of the aspects of the parable of the Two Lost Sons in Luke 15 that I love. The younger son leaves home and destroys everything that the Father had given him.  He ends up sleeping with prostitutes. He decides to return home, not to be the son, but to be the servant who works to earn his goodness back.

 The father, however, not only embraces his returning son, but cloaks him with a robe, puts a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And then the father throws a party. Can you imagine what the younger son thinks as a party is thrown in his honor? He is probably thinking to himself, “Dad, I just wasted all of your money by partying and sleeping with prostitutes. I am not worthy of what you are doing.”

I can only imagine the father turning looking into his son’s eyes and saying, “Yes, you are. You are worth everything I am doing for you.”

Christ wants us to receive help.

Why? Because we are fundamentally worth whatever Christ wants to give us through other people. Christ is on our side. He honestly believes in our goodness when we come to him in repentance.

                                                                   *     *     *

My friend Amy and I met for two hours the next day, to begin to sort through some of my issues with God, church, and life.  For the first time, I began to experience Christ serve me as I began to learn what it means to receive. It was the beginning of a journey toward freedom. I am still on that journey today.

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.

Sitting With the ‘Other’

January 27, 2014

Cross-Cultural Relationship

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – My life has been richly blessed by sitting and learning from the “other.”

Who is an “other”? I define it as a person from a different background or culture or race. A person who has a different way of seeing the world, sometimes with priorities that we don’t share.

In some contexts I am the “other,” and I hope and pray that I am a blessing to people with backgrounds different from my own.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by “other” people my entire life. A black pastor in Grand Rapids was very influential in my life. He spoke at our large white mega-church and took the time to share breakfast with me. An African-American professor and mentor graciously met with me monthly during seminary to discuss questions about race and ministry in low-income neighborhoods. Authors such as Soon-Chan-Rah, an Asian-American, challenged me profoundly. So, did Janice, a white lady who lives in the increasingly diverse Holden Heights neighborhood of Orlando.

So many good people in Atlanta have taught me so much and blessed me so richly.  In particular, there is Victor, who has become a good friend and partner in our ministry. Victor is black, and his experiences about race and racism in our culture have riveted me in many wonderful and rich conversations. He has pushed and guided me, and sometimes made me uncomfortable as a white male.

Victor’s rich life experiences are so different than mine. He grew up in low-income neighborhoods in Cleveland. I grew up on a farm in Bumpville, Pennsylvania. Although we have such different contexts and upbringings, we share a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

Why? Because we are committed to sit with each other. This typically occurs over lunch. In sitting together, we face each other and share not only our differences but also our commonalities.

This is why I think it’s important to pay attention with whom we sit.  If we spend time with only people just look like us, we reinforce our particular worldview, and there is no opportunity for reconciliation.

When we sit together, we talk and we listen to each other.

America is divided racially and culturally, and sometimes I fear the divide is growing even wider. What gives me hope is engaging in ongoing conversations where the “others” sit together.

When we make our assumptions about another culture or race in a vacuum, it’s dangerous. It is particularly dangerous to let “news” on TV define a whole culture or race.

This is why it is good to sit with each other. It allows us to begin a conversation with people. This is the starting point for reconciliation, for understanding and for friendship.

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.

People Are More Important Than Change

January 11, 2014

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – Loving people is very hard at times. I love my family dearly, but it can be very difficult.

We are called to love people with the hope that they will change. But, if I am honest with myself, sometimes I love people to change them.

When people don’t change, I sometimes grow frustrated.  I’m forced to wrestle with my own brokenness as I attempt to love them in the best possible ways.  I discover that I have unspoken expectations for people and how they will change.

“Skeptics are the ones who have turned their ideals into expectations.” That sentence – that wisdom –hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it in school.

Ministry can be dangerous and addictive. I remember my first ministry position, as a youth pastor. When I began, we had a very small gathering. It was not long before I was dreaming about what our group could become, and then I started to “idealize” about it. After I had perfected my ideals, I began to build my expectations about the group. Amazingly, those ideals and expectations turned into reality. The youth group grew, and kept expanding. This success – this surge – fed something dangerous in my soul.

Subsequently, when the church went through some very challenging things and the youth group started to decrease in numbers, I grew depressed. I questioned what I was doing wrong – what was wrong with me.

It was only after Christ called me out of ministry and to Himself that I started to examine the core of my interior life, and in that journey, I confronted the baggage I carried: I was addicted to change in people through ministry. In counseling terms, I was extremely co-dependent.

Upon digging further into my soul, the Spirit revealed to me that when my internal life was chaotic, I tried to control the people around me and to manage the events unfolding in my life. Because I had not properly understood God’s grace and love and truly accepted those blessings on my own, I sought to exert control over the people to whom I ministered.

My selfishness boiled down to this: I needed people to change so that I could feel better about myself.

A friend told me recently that God calls us to be faithful “to” people and not “for” people. The “for” in our attempts to love people puts expectations and parameters on our love. The “to” loves freely and without expectations.

I am not called by God to change or redeem anyone. Instead, I am called to love in the best ways possible. I am called to be as faithful and to listen as well as I can to those I seek to serve.

Perhaps this is what Paul is getting at in I Corinthians when he says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”

I am slowly learning to release the change to God.

God is the author of change, not me. This realization – this truth – makes it easier for me to love my neighbor, to be truly joyful in ministry, because I’m not going to change a thing.  Sometimes it’s incredibly hard and downright difficult at times for me to live out this truth. But when I do, a deep and abiding joy sweeps over me, in the midst of it all.

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.

Do You Want to Get Well? The Art of Listening

November 14, 2013

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – I’ve always been intrigued by John 5. It’s the story in which Jesus questions an invalid who had waited 38 years to be healed at the pool of Bethesda.

When the healing waters stirred, it was believed that the first person in the pool would undergo miraculous healing.

I imagine the thoughts that spun through the invalid’s mind when a Jewish rabbi came up to him and asked,  “Do you want to get well?”

The man probably wondered, “A question? From a Jewish rabbi?” Why is this well-known rabbi named Jesus even speaking with me?

Rabbis were known for always asking questions. In fact, they often answered questions with more questions.

Why did Jesus have to pose this question to the invalid? Didn’t he see the paralysis, frustration and pain the man had endured for 38 years? His clothes were probably ragged and dirty. No doubt that had body odor. Didn’t Jesus know that all this poor guy wanted was to be healed?

Yet Jesus always starts with trying to understand people – who they are, “where they’re at” to use a popular idiom, and I don’t necessarily mean a physical location like the healing pool at Bethesda.

What would it look like if we started trying to understand “where people are” before we rush to offer to help them?

We see it all the time when we encounter the invalids in our midst. They don’t have to be invalid in terms of economic circumstances. They don’t have to be physically impaired to be paralyzed, blind or lame in some way. Perhaps they’re stunted mentally, spiritually or economically – or a combination of all three. They may be “in the place they’re in” because they’ve made bad decisions. Or perhaps they’re trapped by circumstances over which they have no control. Jesus knows. We don’t.

Whatever people’s afflictions, some Christians often presume to know best. We know how to fix them, and sometimes with the snap of a finger. We don’t bother to ask questions, or get to know them in a relationship. We know what’s best.

People make assumptions all the time about low-income neighborhoods and the people who live there. I know I have. I’ve assumed I know about the homeless guy panhandling on the street corner. I’ve been so knowledgeable, I’ve been so smug, that I don’t need to ask questions. I’ve struggled hard to overcome that impulse to assume. I’ve struggled to love the person through Jesus’ eyes

What if Christians’ first impulse to help began with asking questions instead of making assumptions? This impulse to act would come with a catch:  Sometimes the worst thing you can do is hurl questions. Asking questions can come across as nosy and intrusive. It takes years to earn someone’s respect in order to ask questions. I have made that mistake many times, asking questions before I earned trust and gained respect.

Jesus respected the man at the well – he respected him enough to ask questions.

Questions are good when the timing is right, and you’re with the right people – and part of what we need to do is to have the right physical posture, to be genuinely concerned and willing to listen with your heart.

Oscar Morayu, a pastor from Nairobi Chapel in Kenya, told me that the worst question an American Christian can ask a Kenyan is, “How can I help you?” Because that question assumes that something is wrong, that the person can’t do anything about it, but you know you can. Morayu informs me that when Westerners visit Kenya (and the people do want us to come), he recommends that we hang out and just listen.

I believe that we need to learn the art of questioning. Don’t ask questions to try to fix people or to be known as “the answer person.” Just be someone who tries to understand what’s going on beneath the surface. Assume a posture of humility, compassion and empathy as you listen, and listen closely.

That’s the approach Jesus took with a man who had waited 38 years to be healed at the pool of Bethesda. It’s the same place from where Jesus invites us when we try and help each other in any context.

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.

I Stopped Going to Church

November 6, 2013

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – Recently I had a conversation with a neighbor who lives on the streets in our community. I invited my friend to our church’s Sunday morning service.

He informed me that he had stopped going to church six years ago. He had grown weary of the politics and people looking down on him. So he stopped going.

I then told him that I had stopped going to church, too. He gave me a very curious look, as he knows that I am one of the pastors at the church in our community.

I shared with him that the version of church to which he was referring is most likely what many people call the “institutional” church. Such churches care more about their programs, their building and looking cool than they do about being a force for good in the specific community where they find themselves.

I am more interested in recruiting people into God’s kingdom than trying to fill the pews of our small urban church. I believe that if people see God’s kingdom, they will meet the master of the kingdom, Jesus. Then they will understand that Jesus has wired them to be in community around Him. And then ideally they will understand that for some reason this king has tasked the church to represent him here on Earth.

When I think of “church,” I think of a group of individuals called by Jesus to gather around the preaching of the word, taking the sacraments, share in community together, and moving out toward our neighbors. I think of people who I know and they know me, and the common bond we share in Christ. I think of people who know my junk and call me out on it. I think of people who know of the image of God that I bear and how God glories in me.

I rarely think of a building or even place. It’s not that I am against building or precise locations to worship, but we as North American Christians have grown too consumed with bricks and mortar and their upkeep. I believe that having an extremely nice place to meet unintentionally feeds a little bit of the need for control and security that so dominates American culture.

I was a part of a church for four years, which had what the pastors called “gray chairs.” These chairs were plastic and not very comfortable seats. The pastor continually reminded the congregation that the gray chairs served as reminders that the action was not “in the building,” in was out there beyond the four walls. The action was in the community, in the neighborhood, and among people experiencing distress.

Bob Lupton’s book “Toxic Charity” defines the difference between churches, which are “church-centric” versus “community-centric.” Church-centric congregations do everything to build themselves up. Community-centric congregations do everything for the benefit of their community. I personally believe effective loving on behalf of Jesus require both/and. A church must exist to benefit the neighborhood around it. If a church is doing its work properly, people will experience reconciliation through and in Christ and will be a part of the church.

So, I have stopped going to the institutional church and instead I gather with people who are committed to Christ, myself and loving our community in the best ways we know how. We are humbly learning what it means seek the good of our neighborhood through Christ. If our church were to move or stop meeting, I would want our neighborhood to grieve and plead with us not to abandon meeting and blessing this place. I would want our neighborhood to genuinely miss us because we no longer would be there.

I hope and pray that this becomes true of the church of North America. I hope and pray we all stop going to the institutional form of church and instead join God’s movement of called-out individuals to seek Christ’s kingdom here and now in order to bless the place we find ourselves in.

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.

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.

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.

Affirming the Dignity in Others

June 13, 2013

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – Three and a half years ago, when I first started to intern with Polis, a 180-degree paradigm shift transformed my culture of service toward people in need. At this time, I was privileged to lead a Bible study at a ministry for people on the streets.

One of the principles we try and teach through Polis is that everyone has something to give. Everyone has a talent to offer. I began to experience this for the first time, and to live it out with people in distress. It was mind blowing, to say the least, that this is not only about what I have to offer, but about what everyone has to give me People who serve typically think in only one realm: to be a hero who rescues people.

At that point, Polis was in the midst of redesigning its website. We wanted a picture to capture what we’re about. So, that week at the homeless ministry, I made an announcement before I began the Bible study. I asked: Are there any artists who would be willing to draw a picture?

Two hands immediately flew into the air. After the study, we went into a separate room, and I told them what we needed at Polis. They fetched paper and pens and immediately started to draw a picture. The woman started to cry. She was overcome with joy, realizing that she had a God-given talent to help someone else. She drew a brilliant picture.

Our other friend was working diligently by himself in the corner. He didn’t talk much but when he was done he had drawn this . . .

Homeless picture

Amazing.

What I love is the detail in the fingers. You could tell the man took pride in his work. After he was done, he thanked me for the opportunity to share his gift.

Living in a low-income neighborhood, having the privilege to interact with people experiencing poverty, now is a joy. One of the greatest joys is to affirm the dignity of people by inviting them to serve me with the gifts and talents that God has given them.

Our homeless friends on the corner have helped me move. One 70-year-old retiree, living with his granddaughter, has helped me paint our new house. One of our friends from church helps me when go out Friday mornings to visit people in our community. He and I pray with them.

I am finding a common denominator when people in distress are invited to help: They thank you. And then they thank you. And then they thank you again. They thank you for allowing them to give back. In reality, they thank you for affirming their dignity before God.

We all desire to be needed. We just don’t realize that people in need want to be needed.

Too often, we assume that because they are poor or homeless, such people need our help. People who desire to help in our neighborhood are surprised when they meet our friends who are so talented and gifted. They expected to encounter people who need their help

We all need each other to bring God’s kingdom here on Earth. Lord, give fresh sight and determination to make this reality, no matter where we live.

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.