Author Archive

Should You Give Money to Panhandlers? ‘Mouthwash Dave’ Offers Lesson

March 27, 2014

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By Michael Joe Murphy

“Mouthwash Dave” didn’t earn his nickname because he sought to enhance his oral hygiene.

Dave panhandled on the streets of Orlando, politely asking the kindhearted, one at a time, for 25 cents. When he’d collect four quarters, he’d make a beehive to the nearest Dollar Store to buy a big jug of mouthwash.

He didn’t have money for beer or wine, so he got his fix with an alcohol-based mouthwash.

When panhandlers stop you on a downtown street, do you feel compelled to reach into your pocket to hand over a buck or pocketful change? Or do “will-work-for-food” signs at intersections tug your heartstrings and spur a reflexive hand-out-the-window donation to the beggar?

You might be doing them more harm than good.

Dawn Neff was one of the founding volunteers at Compassion Corner, a “listening ministry” for the homeless in downtown Orlando.

She will never forget meeting “Mouthwash Dave, a “really sweet guy” and gentle spirit, in the autumn of 2001.

Dave had no sooner introduced himself that he convulsed in seizures, trembling and shaking, Neff recalls, and “I’d never seen that before. I called 911.”

Neff sat with Dave in the hospital emergency room, watching in horror when as more intense spasms of pain wracked his body. He was detoxifying.

In the summer of 2000, Orlando banned begging anywhere outside of blue-dotted lines painted on the sidewalk at 25 locations concentrated downtown. But the 3-by-15 foot “panhandling zones” didn’t confine “Mouthwash Dave.”

He wasn’t aggressive. And neither are most casual panhandlers today.

In cities of any size, it’s likely you’ll be approached for a handout.

Before you’re tempted to help someone on the street who seeks money, ask yourself: What’s my motivation? Am I trying to do something immediately to appease the panhandler so he’ll move on and you can get on your way? Or do you want to help in a meaningful way?

Neff, who ministered to the homeless in downtown Orlando for almost 12 years, offers this advice: “Check your motivations. It’s not necessarily bad to give money to the homeless or to panhandlers. But there might be better alternatives for you – and the person you’d like to help.”

According to many studies, most of the homeless suffer from drug abuse, alcoholism or mental retardation. “The last thing you’d want to do is fuel addiction,” Neff says.

Not all panhandlers are homeless. It might be that the person who’s asking for cash needs it for food or medicine or bus fare to get to work.

“If someone at corner looks famished and you can’t stop to chat, consider going to the closest barbecue joint or McDonald’s, buying a sandwich and fries to take back to the panhandler,” Neff says. “Many times it may not be food that they really want, but you’ll be wiser doing that than giving away money.”

If you’re motivated and have the time, Neff says, “Check out ‘the rest of the story,’ particularly if you’ve seen person on the street or you’ve talked before – if you feel confident they’ll do the right thing. If someone just approaches you for some coins, take the time to get to know them. It doesn’t take much to get a conversation started.”

Neff has given money to homeless people in downtown Orlando, “but those handouts have been very seldom. And when I have, I’ve donated to people I’ve really known, who have no dependency issues, who want $2 only to pay for one night’s stay at a homeless center.”

Neff offers one more thought: “Keep in mind that homeless people are prideful, too.”

The same can’t be said for all panhandlers.

Be wary. But also beware making hard-line decisions and adopting a one-approach-fits-all response when you’re asked to help.

Neff stayed with “Mouthwash Dave” throughout his detoxification at the emergency room, as he convulsed in even bigger seizures. A relationship was established.

Dave was a regular visitor among the homeless and the paupers at Compassion Corner for years.

He struggled with alcoholism until he succumbed to cancer.

A decade later, the ranks of men and women without a roof over their heads in downtown Orlando remain.

So do those “blue boxes” painted on sidewalks.

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Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at MichaelJoeMurphy@gmail.com. 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.

 

 

 

Community Life

January 14, 2014

men-supporting-each-other

May not accept it but our physique is weak.

With a soul thats bleak controlled by a mind thats weak.

All in all its the completeness that we seek.

But by ourselves its of completeness that we leak.

May not accept it but our physique is weak.

With a soul thats bleak controlled by a mind thats weak.

All in all its the completeness that we seek.

But by ourselves its of completeness that we leak.

Our differences fill in the different holes and gaps in which we lack.

Living in community means we always have our neighbor’s back.

But what does it really mean to be complete.

Is it to have the American dream with a nice car, house,  and newest Jordan’s on your feet.

It isn’t. We can’t be God so we strive to be like Christ.

It’s like we can never be Jordan, so we strive to be like Mike.

It’s working together as one to create the ultimate city of peace.

So each by each our differences come together and complete the puzzle piece by piece.

Community is a fixation fixed on intergration.

Because our love for our neighbor should have no segregation.

Understand that I need you just as much as you need me.

That back and forth connection is how we create the love, peace, and harmony.

So we can stop people from acting to harm many. And stop that heart feeling of enmity and larceny. You don’t want to feel targeted so you constantly blame it on your enemy.

Obvious we cannot be perfect, but we can use the idea of perfection to guide our overall direction.

Devron Woodruff

Devron Woodruff

Devron Woodruff, a high school senior, lives in a South Atlanta neighborhood. He wrote this “spoken” word, inspired by helping to teach the Dignity Serves curriculum.

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.

Socks for the Sole, Listening for the Soul

December 25, 2013

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By Michael Joe Murphy

Stockings hung by the chimney with care … they’re not likely waiting for men, women and children who live on the streets. But gifts of clean, white socks provide comfort and warmth for the tired feet of the homeless who pound the pavement to get to anywhere they need to go.

Thank you, Scott Maxwell, for his Dec. 22  column in the Orlando Sentinel, “12 ways you can make a difference for area’s homeless.” The practical tips are holiday-themed but worth remembering 365 days a year.

Maxwell mentions keeping manna bags — filled with toiletry items and socks — in cars. I work in downtown Orlando. To his advice, I’ll add that there’s always room in backpacks, briefcases or purses for clean socks to give away.

Why white? They’re gender-neutral, good for men and women. Christmas is a prime time for sock drives, but the need is greatest during Central Florida’s rainy season. Even 90-second gully washers can mean wet feet. It’s easy to peel off wet socks and put on fresh ones after a downpour, especially when your best access to laundry is a sink in a public restroom. Clean socks are like gold.

My passion for socks and people who sleep under stars and in shelters was born during volunteering for a “listening ministry” for the homeless when I was out of work a few years ago.

This listening ministry is called Compassion Corner. It goes on at 425 N. Magnolia Ave., in the shadow of the Orange County Courthouse. There is a short video, “If I Hadn’t Met You,” about my fellow “listeners” and the people to whom we listened, and love. We dream that compassion corners spring up around the world.

When you listen, you learn. When you are willing to learn, you communicate respect. I’ve prayed for, and with, people in distress. More important, they’ve prayed for, and prayed over me.

One of the greatest joys is to affirm the dignity of people by listening to and talking with them about what they care about: the Orlando Magic, their children, favorite books and movies. By listening, you discover the gifts and talents that God has given them. You care about them and their stories. They care about you.

The people who live on Orlando’s streets will be there Christmas Day. If it’s not raining then, it might be the day after.

You never know who needs encouragement or a kind word or a pair of socks. Merry Christmas!

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at MichaelJoeMurphy@gmail.com. This commentary was originally published in the Orlando Sentinel http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/opinion/os-ed-homeless-socks-myword-122513-20131224,0,5134590.story.

 

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.

 

Johnny Cash Walked the Line on Forgiveness

June 13, 2013

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By Michael Joe Murphy

Forgiveness and redemption compel my thoughts since I read  “House of Cash: The Legacies of My Father, Johnny Cash,” by his son, John Carter Cash.

Country music’s greatest outlaw was a man of steadfast faith, hungry for spiritual wisdom throughout his life.

Well-known were his friendship with evangelist Billy Graham, his love for Scriptures, and testimonies on stage and off.

Just as well known well known were Johnny Cash’s demons. His son writes that his drug addiction in the mid-1980s “prompted him to search more persistently for his own salvation.”

As a broken person, Cash practiced grace and forgiveness with extravagance. Tortured by physical pain and loneliness, he reached out to heal other people, close friends as well as complete strangers.

JohnnyCash“He felt a kinship with the Apostle Paul, having been blind and misled for so long and eventually finding salvation,” his son writes. Cash, famously known as The Man in Black, wrote a book called “Man in White” about the transformed life of the former Saul of Tarsus.

Johnny Cash never experienced Dignity Serves training. Polis Institute was founded long after his death. Yet the lessons of Dignity Serves played out time after time throughout his life.  He searched for where God was working and built relationships in those places through sharing of each others’ stories, mutual exploration and offering of assets, and acceptance of help from one another.

Cash’s powerful acts of kindness confounded many.

In New York, in the 1970s, a man on the street hurled a rock through the windshield of a stretch limousine in which Carter, his son and wife, June Carter Cash were riding. The car came to an abrupt halt. Though “tiny shards of glass exploded everywhere,” the Carters were unhurt except for a few nicks, his son writes.

Johnny Cash picked up the rock from the floorboard, and he leapt from the car to confront “a tall shirtless young man, his eyes glazed over and his face blank,” jabbering in a language they did not understand but mixed with a few words of English.

Cash held out the rock and said, “Take it.”

He refused.

Again, Carter challenged him, “Take it.”

Finally the young man reached out his hand and took the rock.

As his son writes, the young man “looked up, not seeming to recognize my father as the same person who had just handed him the rock. I saw my father bend down on one knee, and then my mother with him. As they prayed, the man closed his eyes and began to cry. … My father showed that man immediate forgiveness and tenderness. There was never a moment’s hesitation on Dad’s part once he realized the man was confused and in pain. My mother was right beside him.”

There were no iPhones and texting. There were no paparazzi. I cannot find a reference to it on the Internet. Maybe you can. The account, to my knowledge, resides only in John Carter Cash’s book. It reminds me of Les Miserables and the forgiveness about candlesticks. (Check out The Les Miserables Bishop: An Example for Us All.)

Relationship is what God seeks with us and for us. Jesus Christ is the standard for human dignity. In Him the fullness of deity dwells (Colossians 2:9) and through his death you and I – as well as Johnny Cash and the stone thrower – may be reconciled to God (Colossians 1:22).

We don’t know what happened to the man who threw the rock through the limousine window. We know what happened to Johnny Cash. And we know our own perspective, responsibility and opportunity to love other people, close to us and in our circumstances – even in the most fleeting of moments.

When justice and peace seem impossible, one person can be an agent for God’s work. You don’t have to be a famous musician to change the world.

You just have to follow Jesus.

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at MichaelJoeMurphy@gmail.com.

 

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.

 

 

God Is An Urban Developer

May 31, 2013
A centralized park with a gazebo and walkways  are nestled under the canopy of mature live oak trees in Hampton Park.

A centralized park with a gazebo and walkways are nestled under the canopy of mature live oak trees in Hampton Park.

 

By Michael Joe Murphy

The vision of Isaiah 65:21, “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit,” reminds me of my friend Frank.

Frank – not his real name – is so proud of his home. He owns it (well, he’s paying a mortgage).

Frank, a prayerful man, was told long ago by co-workers that he would never own a home, let alone in a “good” part of Orlando. In the break room at a factory, co-workers would laugh at Frank, ridiculing his “pipe dreams” about buying a house.

My friend will attribute the opportunity to own property and a structure solely to God. Frank is right: The house is a blessing from God.

But God didn’t just lift a finger one day and zap a house for Frank.

Frank’s house – his story – is about properly engaging the talents of others, and empowering them. (In the parlance of “Dignity Serves” training, this is the true heart of service). It’s about learning to trust God more deeply, to build dignified interdependence when seeking to help others. And it also is a reminder of our mission as people of God, as servants of creation (Genesis 2:15): To serve it and to keep it.

A ‘NEW CREATION’

The foundation for Frank’s opportunity to buy a house was built on a rock of enlightened public officials committed to end distressed public housing, for a “new creation” of community.

I enjoy a special vantage point on Frank’s house: For nearly a quarter of a century, I was a member of a newspaper editorial board. We were always briefed and in the loop about issues and events, usually before they became “news.”

Everyone knew of Orange Villa, a collection of 100 World War II-vintage public-housing units originally built as temporary.

Fast-forward to the mid-1990s:

These awful units would be demolished. Lead-based paint – kids like to chew on painted wood, as I did as a toddler – primed walls inside and out. Then there was asbestos aplenty. It was Termite City. And it would be financially prohibitive to rehab the units.

Residents were either relocated to other public housing units or chose to relocate out of public housing. So, this is how God (and God’s people) act as urban planners:

City fathers, mothers and the Orlando Housing Authority took advantage of a grant to lessen the concentration of poverty, to replace the likes of Orange Villa, to empower people to own affordable housing.

And Frank kept praying.

EMPOWERING RENTERS TO BE OWNERS

Early in the first decade of the 21st century, there was a God connection. The why’s and when’s don’t much matter. The how’s of homeownership do matter. To fulfill a dream. To empower renters to become owners.

There were individual counseling and extensive homeownership-training classes. A counselor worked with folks like Frank to resolve any credit problems, inform them of fair housing rights and predatory lending practices, and to find available sources of mortgage-assistance funds. There were partnerships with lenders and real-estate agents to streamline “the process” and make things easier to understand for first-time buyers.

The help did not end when Frank and his family inserted the key into the lock and opened the doorway to their dream home. Then came post-purchase counseling and foreclosure-prevention services.

Frank lives in Hampton Park (formerly Orange Villa).  He doesn’t need a car. He is a block away from his job at an urban dairy. A Winn-Dixie is within walking distance. Frank has taught me so much about faith and determination. He is proudly “blue collar,” as I grew up. A snappy dresser, he “owns the look.” I emulate his fashion and his faith. He buoys me.

STABILITY FROM GOOD NEIGHBORS

The amenities Frank enjoys are light years away from South Atlanta. People frequently read these Dignity Serves blogs for posts from that Georgia city by Dan Crain, an urban minister. He and his family join what God is doing in South Atlanta with all of its residents, especially those who live on the streets.

As Dan knows, God isn’t manifest in an urban redo or gentrification. He is manifest in people, their presence.

South Atlanta is economically distressed. Dan and his community feel the detrimental effect of a transient neighborhood, as residents move away all the time. When folks rent a house, there is little investment in the street; when people buy, it brings stability. Dan and his wife are buying a home in South Atlanta, as Frank and his wife became homeowners in Orlando’s Hampton Park.

Human dominion over creation is an exercise of God’s own kingship, whether we are Christian or others who practice a pattern that commits us to humble reflection of the character of God.

Edgar Guest famously wrote, “It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.”

It also takes “a heap o’ livin’” by caring people, like Frank, Dan Crain and urban developers, to make a positive difference – to empower people to achieve their dreams and beyond.

Good neighbors are important. No matter where we live.

“Go … and be a blessing … and all nations will be blessed through you.”  (Genesis 12: 1-3).

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at MichaelJoeMurphy@gmail.com.

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.

Homeless Living in Woods Aren’t Invisible to God’s Eyes

May 10, 2012

By Nancy Blue

My heart for people living without permanent shelter was always instinctual. God’s timing, and my introduction through volunteering, has nurtured my compassion and commitment and taken me from city streets to the woods.

My initial exposure was through IDignity, which helps to provide IDs and other documentation critical to help the poor. Homeless men and women – and particularly those just out of jail – can be overwhelmed trying to negotiate the complicated system, and to afford documents such drivers licenses, birth certificates and Social Security cards, which many of us take for granted.

Once I realized the importance of basic identification for a person to function in society, I also began to volunteer at Compassion Corner, a Christian drop-in center in downtown Orlando. It is often described as a “listening ministry.”

Nancy Blue and a friend who lives in the woods.

Nancy Blue and a friend who lives in the woods.

If IDignity had opened my eyes, Compassion Corner opened my heart.

I became acquainted with individuals on the street. I heard their stories and learned their names, and my heart stirred with desire to know more about them. I wanted to serve these vulnerable men and women more.

Two years with IDignity and Compassion Corner had planted seeds in my heart. I felt he Holy Spirit tugging to begin a ministry to the homeless. You could say God even provided a MapQuest destination: I was guided to minister to people living in the woods west of Orlando.

I gathered together pastors and deputy sheriffs, learning as much as I could about where and how these men and women live.

Some live in tents or under tarps. Many sleep on the ground. Water moccasins and spiders are abundant. Like those without shelter elsewhere, some camp residents are tormented by addictions, mental-health problems and other issues.

Although the homeless are very visible on the streets of downtown Orlando, these people are generally out of sight, under cover of the woods.

After several months, I took steps to meet them in person and learn about their needs.

The overriding principle in my mind was to answer the questions they were asking, not provide what I assumed they needed. (This is a central tenet of Dignity Serves, and I’d gone through training from the Polis Institute.) I knew in my heart that this was to be a ministry based on personal relations. I was not to be just a person to provide them with “stuff.” I wanted to hear their stories and to let them know that someone cares about them. I wanted to earn their trust.

I offer several brief accounts – not to boast that I am a special person or need credit for entering into these situations – but only that I have followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (I have changed the names of the people, although the stories are true.)

ONLY LOVE CAN WIN MARY

Mary was beaten regularly as a child, but her mother faithfully attended church. As a Christian, I have no argument for her. Only love can win this one, acts of kindness that heal Mary’s perceptions of God.

She has lived most of her life on the streets or in the woods. An adult son stays with her.

Mary is very intelligent and loves to read. She has a library at her campsite of more than 1,000 books. She delights in sharing them with me.

Once Mary got an ID, she obtained her first library card. Her quality of life is greatly enhanced.

Mary and I have formed a great relationship. If the day comes when she wants to discuss “eternal subjects,” I will be there.

TEARS FROM TOUGH GUY BOB

Bob has an amazing story, and we had many conversations. Then one day this tattooed, bearded, rough guy mentioned his daughter. After some gentle prompting from me, he shared that he had left his wife 22 years before – and when they parted, he had left behind a 2-year-old daughter. How he wept. What an opening into his heart!

It was not easy to find his wife and daughter. I played detective, and found them on Facebook. Bob and his daughter spoke by phone. Within two months, his daughter and wife came from Missouri to get reacquainted. I was privileged to be there at the reunion – a great blessing. Today, Bob, his wife and his daughter regularly keep in touch. (And he still cries.)

A WHOLE NEW WORLD FOR JOHNNY

Johnny was a deaf-mute who lived in the woods. He sold scrap metal and dove in dumpsters to survive. I offered to help him get documentation and food stamps. Little did I know that the process would consume countless weeks, with many frustrations. If it were difficult for me to deal with the system, imagine how impossible it would be for Johnny to navigate the maze.

The first step was getting an ID and food stamps for Johnny. Then he could receive SSI Disability, and move to a small duplex. I became his payee (a person designated by Social Security to manage money for one who is not able to).

As Johnny settled in, we dared to think all was well. Then he began complaining of leg pain. I drove him to the doctor. His leg was white, and his arteries had collapsed. I immediately took him to ORMC, where doctors amputated Johnny’s leg. Suddenly it was a whole new world for both of us. Had gangrene set in, he would have died. Johnny’s story is far from over.

■ ■ ■

My interactions with some begin with a need: providing extra food, helping with applications for food stamps, or providing blankets, tents and mosquito spray. There are many people, though, I have helped by not trying to fix what’s wrong, but by recognizing their importance as God’s people – we are equal in His eyes despite our circumstances in life.

I believe God is glorified when we listen and enter into relationships with those who are scorned or often forgotten.

I could never have anticipated all of the difficulties or the amazing blessings that have accompanied my call to serve men and women in the woods.

Nancy Blue can be reached at fiddler10@msn.com. When she isn’t working with homeless men and women in the woods, Nancy Blue and her husband, Randy, are musicians (www.stringsandthingsorlando.com).

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. 

Communications Skills: Are You a Good Listener?

March 8, 2012

By Michael Joe Murphy

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

That quote from Mother Teresa haunts me.

Yes, I appreciate solitude occasionally. But I fear loneliness. I desperately want to be loved. And there’s not a day that I’m not conscious about living in a lonely world, a lonely city.

Does anyone else sense a poverty of communication? Is anyone listening? Are you?

Sometimes that poverty hits me, but for no good reason: I’m blessed with family and friends who listen – really listen – to me.

Then there’s the poverty of isolation or exclusion because of gender, race, economic dislocation, living on the streets or, in the case of my friends at The Palms on South Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, because they live in a trailer court.

The key to people feeling loved is a perception that someone really listens to them — sometimes beneath their words spoken in anxiety or anger.  Do we do a good job listening? It’s tough.

There are a gazillion websites about “how to be a good listener.” My version resides on a battered index card, circa 1975, from the superintendent of my school district in Ohio, Ed Hamsher. He spoke at a Bible study, and what he shared was practical for someone about to go to college. On the now-frayed card, he wrote:

COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS

1. Listen underneath the words.
2. Consider and reflect back what you understand to help clarify. Do not make a judgment.
3. Lead the other person to discover his or her own solution by considering the option available.
4. Permit that person to be responsible for his or her own actions.

It wasn’t many months until the wisdom borne on the index card became invaluable, in situations large and small, significant and seemingly without meaning, but all deeply important.

Knock-knock came a rapping at my dorm room door. “Murph, I slept with a girl. We didn’t use a condom. She’s Catholic, like me. What if she’s pregnant? What do we do?”

I had spilled a few beers with the guy at dorm floor parties. We had talked about the Bible, and I’d bought a copy of the Living Bible (Catholic edition) for him. But, it’s not as if I had the answer to his question. So I listened as closely as I could, and I haltingly spit back what he’d just shared:

“So, you didn’t use protection? Do you know her? What do you think you’d do? What do you think she’d want to do?”

Listen underneath the words. Check. Reflect back on what was shared. Help clarify. Check. Don’t be judgmental. Check. Let the person be responsible. Check.

There was quite a bit of listening and sharing over the next several weeks, and finally sighs of relief. There were lessons learned. That index card proved invaluable.

When I’ve been at the Community Center at the Palms on Saturdays, I’ve listened, or tried to listen, to unspoken concerns, moods, aspirations, hopes, fears.

Outside the Community Center, I’ve heard hurtful and vicious words hurled in anger by men and women on SOBT.

Inside the Community Center, I’ve listened to the prideful determination of people stepping up as leaders.  They brim with confidence and hope, wanting to make the Palms a better place to live.

I’ve listened to a soft-spoken young woman boast that she’s been working in a bistro, full time with benefits, since last April. (We both griped about Orlando’s lousy bus service.)

I’ve listened to an older woman, rapid fire, share that she’s bipolar and “intimidated.”

“No one listens,” she declared. I sat in rapt attention.

Did she know I was listening – or trying hard to listen? Did she feel as if she were important? That I understood her fears and shared her indignation about a laundry list of injustices?

Mother Teresa amplified her line about loneliness and poverty.

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, or in a trailer park on South Orange Blossom Trail. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a dorm room at Kent State University, my alma mater, or in Harvard Yard.

Wherever you are in life, listen. Without condemnation. Without judgment.

I’ll be praying for you, and the person to whom you’re listening.

May you both feel unconditional love.

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at Murpheus57@gmail.com.

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.

Why don’t you think you can be Holy?

December 8, 2011


By Bill Behr

What does it mean to be “Holy”?  Is being Holy reserved only for clergy in the church and saints?  Do I have a desire to pursue a life of holiness?   Why or why not?

These are questions I asked myself growing up.

Being “Holy” sounds as if I have to lead an almost perfect life – something impossible for me or anyone else to achieve.  Fortunately, there are those like Keith Drury, author of “Holiness For Ordinary People,” who reminds us that “Holiness is not just for pastors, missionaries, and retired folk who have enough time to pray all day. Holiness is for us all.”

So what is Holiness?  Mr. Drury writes, “Holiness is loving God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength and loving my neighbor as myself.  Simply put, holiness is Christlikeness.”

Jesus did say in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Wait – you said nobody is perfect.  Why would Jesus ask us to be perfect then?  Do you still feel like the bar for Holiness is set too high for you?  If you are going to try to be Holy all by yourself, then you are probably right.

Dr. Steve Harper at Asbury Theological Seminary teaches that the original Greek translation for “perfect” in this verse is telos, which means “whole, mature or complete.”  In the earlier verse of Matthew 5:44, 46, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you….If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”

Dr. Harper points out that Jesus is referring to agape love, telos love or complete love here.  Who else could love their enemies except someone who had Christ-like love?  Jesus is teaching us to try to love our neighbor and our enemies with this radical love.  That sounds impossible.

There is only one man who claimed to be God’s Son and lived with a radical love.  One man, who was fully man and fully God, and who lived with the poor.  This man proclaimed freedom for the prisoners and the oppressed.  This man, Jesus Christ, showed us the ultimate example of His complete love by sacrificing himself for you and me, personally, to pay the price of our own sins that we cannot ever fully repay.  Isn’t it great that someone loves you that much!

Christ focused His time and love serving the poor and those forgotten (the imprisoned and oppressed).   We have access to this same perfect and Holy love by accepting Christ’s invitation to follow Him.  We are able to become Holy only through God’s Grace.

When we accept this gift of God’s Grace, we begin to be transformed.  We start to become Holy.  We begin to see the world through His heart.  We begin to see it is possible to not only love neighbors, but maybe, with God’s help, to forgive enemies, to love those who are really hard to love. It is never too late.

I have Good News: Jesus will help you to become Holy!  Be Christ-like to someone today!

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. 

Why Don’t We Love the Poor?

December 2, 2011

I was raised in the United States and have always been surrounded by love, a caring family and a Christian faith-filled community.  I had a good education.  Out of college, I found a good job.

My earliest career goal was to accumulate enough wealth so I could live a life of comfort and convenience.  As I started to achieve success, I started to selfishly see myself with more value than those who had less.

Does someone with wealth have more value than someone who was raised poor?

There are those who are born into families with more and those who are born into families with less.

The common theme in all our lives – despite how we were raised – is that we all have broken God’s heart. Better said, we have all hurt someone, and we have all been hurt by someone else.  The pain is real.  It transcends the rich and the poor – everyone has experienced sadness, anger, shame and remorse.

Part of the reason we hurt each other is the lack of understanding of the great value we each have.

In Genesis 1:26-27, we are shown that God created man and woman in His image – God’s image!  What?

God is so amazingly creative! There never has been and there will never be another you __________ (fill in your name).

How can God make billions of people in the past and billions of people in the future and still not copy me?  OK, I am starting to see that maybe I am … unique. OK, if I am this one-of-a-kind person and made in God’s image … maybe I am special.  Yes, I guess I am more valuable than I thought!  So what does that have to do with the poor?  Everything!

Yes, the truth is that you and I are very special, very unique, and have great, great value.  But what about people who are criminals – they have less value because of their crimes, right?

I mean, if I do good for others, God notices those good acts … and thus God deems me to be more valuable because I did good works. Surely I’m more valuable than a felon.  Actually, that is a big lie.

Society will teach us that the haves are more valuable than the have-nots, the good are more valuable than the bad, and the rich are more valuable than the poor.  All lies!  The Truth is that God created all men and women equal … with great amazing value … no matter how little money you have.  Your value (dignity) and my value (dignity) do not change in God’s eyes.  He still desires us to love Him and love our neighbor as ourselves.

The truth is that we all have hurt one another, because we do not see the amazing value God sees in each of us.  We tend to focus on our own needs and lose focus on the wonderful, valuable people around us.  That includes the beautiful poor.  In Matthew 25:40 Jesus says, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers or sisters, you did for me.”

Lean in and listen well to the poor – someone with great and amazing value is in your presence!

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 empower those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.