Archive for the ‘Concepts’ Category

You Cannot Die with Dignity

October 24, 2014

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My girlfriend moved in with Chris in the fall of 1999. Chris was dying of cancer. And she decided to live out her days at home. In addition to the nursing care that she was receiving, she wanted the regular company of someone she knew well that could also help her take care of day-to-day things. Jennie, who is now my wife, was that person. She had known Chris all of her life.

One night that fall, I was staying over. I was drunk. Sick drunk. As the evening’s mistakes were launching from my guts, I heard what I thought was an echo. But I soon realized that it was Chris in another restroom. She was throwing up too but for a very different reason.

The next morning, I felt awful. I went into the kitchen to get some coffee and was greeted by Chris with a smile and an embrace. “It’s nice to see you. I’m so glad you are here.” I have to admit that the first thought that went through my mind was unkind – what the hell is wrong with this woman? How could she be so pleasant when she is so sick?

Two months later Chris was dead. In spite of the pain, the loss, and the concern for those who would remain – she lived with dignity until her last breath. Her faith in God not only survived the attack of her illness, it strengthened. Her kindness not only endured but seemed to emanate effortlessly. She did not grow bitter. And she also did not become fake. She had an infant grandson and it grieved her deeply that she would miss so much and that Lucas would live without personally knowing his grandmother.

When I heard the story of Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life on November 1st, 2014 and her decision to leverage this choice to champion the ‘dying with dignity’ cause, my thoughts immediately went to Chris and my heart sunk. What if she had decided to end her life earlier? What if she had concluded that her sickness and pain would so diminish her dignity that dying would be preferable? It’s hard to say, of course, but I’m certain the impact that she had on me and many of others would not have been so complete.

In the video that Brittany and her family posted on YouTube, her mother describes Brittany as “a very autonomous, bright, well-read, well-traveled person who loves adventure.” The implication of this phrase is that as Brittany’s cancer robs her of these attributes, it will also steal her dignity. And so the appeal is made to allow anyone in her situation the right to die with as many ‘dignified’ attributes as possible.

Since Brittany moved to Oregon, she has the opportunity to legally carry out her intentions. The video is a promotion to raise awareness and funds so that more states will adopt similar ‘dying with dignity’ laws. The thing is: you cannot die with dignity by hastening your demise to avoid losing attributes that never determined your dignity in the first place.

Human dignity is not contingent on health, self-reliance, intelligence, or beauty. It does not fly away in the face of pain or loss. Dignity is an intrinsic part of what it means to be a human being. And it is arguably the most important aspect of our humanity. It is not self-generated. Dignity is 100% a gift from God. Our task in life is to embrace our deep value, to live fully with our dignity, and to bring honor to the one who gave us this precious, unmerited gift.

Brittany’s choice is not merely personal. Her well-produced video has been viewed millions of times. The video promotes a view of human dignity to which I am adamantly opposed. It is simply those views that I stand against – not Brittany or her family. I pray for peace and comfort for all of them. But I do hope that she changes her mind and receives the palliative care that she needs as she lives out the wealth of her days with dignity.

The illusion of autonomy (or ‘self-law’) has so permeated our psyche that we have become ashamed of our weakness, embarrassed of our humanity. And so we pretend – to be stronger than we are, to not need God. This pretense is not serving us well. And it is grossly undermining our efforts to serve one another. We look down on the dependent, the dim-witted, and the fearful, believing that these attributes have made them less valuable and unworthy. But our intrinsic value, our dignity, was granted us when God chose to create us in his image. Though tarnished by sin, our dignity can never be fully erased and should always be protected.

The way Chris lived her last days changed my life. By the time she died, I was sober and a small ember of faith was kindling in my heart. And it wasn’t just me. Everyone that came into contact with Chris during her life, all of it, was deeply impacted. And many of us were particularly humbled by the way Chris lived during her last months.

Chris accepted that her life had value, a value that transcended her circumstances. I am deeply grateful that she taught me how to live with dignity. And I pray that her story and the millions of others who have made similar choices for similar reasons will prove to be a convincing testament that you can live with dignity through the most harrowing of circumstances. And that this will provide the hope necessary for Brittany and others in her situation to choose to live out the full extent of their days.

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.

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How the Church’s Charity Became Toxic

October 8, 2014

Who needs mercy?
The Church’s charity became toxic through a fundamental misunderstanding of the world’s most famous story about helping others – the “Parable of the Good Samaritan.” The prevailing summary of the story recorded in Luke 10:25-37 is “be helpful to people in need, like the Good Samaritan.” While the parable does teach that, this is absolutely not the central lesson that Jesus sought to convey. Making this lesser point the main point has placed its hearers in the role of being or becoming a hero – the ugly seed of our toxicity.***

Interpreting parables is aided by emplacing the initial audience in the story. Who are they? What happens to them? What should be learned from their experience? Answers to these questions tell us what the parable is fundamentally about and how to apply its teaching to our lives.

The initial audience was a lawyer who wanted to justify himself. Jesus would not have taught him anything had he simply said, “be nice to strangers.” This man’s specialty was Jewish law. He knew that one already. And Jesus was smarter than that.

The hero of the story that Jesus tells happens to be a Samaritan. If Jesus wanted to emplace the lawyer in the story as the Samaritan, it would have stretched the lawyer some. Generally speaking, first century Jews hated Samaritans and vice versa. But, at least he would have been the hero in the story. Certainly that would have softened the blow a little.

But the lawyer is not the Samaritan. Jesus tells the parable in response to the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” And after Jesus tells the story, he repeats the lawyer’s question but he flips it around by asking, “So who was a neighbor to the man?” This is the key to understanding the parable.

The lawyer answered that the one who showed him mercy was his neighbor. This answer reveals who the lawyer is in the story and unveils its central teaching. He’s the battered traveler lying by the side of the road half dead. He’s not the Samaritan. He’s the guy the Samaritan helps. He’s not the hero. He’s not the one who has it all together and is able to show mercy. He’s the one who needs mercy.

The central teaching of the parable is, “You need mercy, brother. You are lying half dead by the side of the road. But God, in his mercy, will send you some help. You just may not like who he sends your way.”

The battered traveler gets the help he needs. And the help that God provides is through the efforts and means of someone the lawyer surely looked down on. While it might be difficult to give help to someone you look down on, that can also just reinforce the sense of superiority. It’s an entirely different experience altogether to receive help from those you look down on. No greater path to humility has ever been laid out. And it sets the stage for us to embrace the deepest implication of the story.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He’s the hero. Which means we don’t get to be the hero. Ever. Our over zealous applications of the Good Samaritan parable have led the Church to embrace the role of hero. We have played God for others and encouraged a type of dependence on us that should be reserved for God alone. We have refused to receive help and learn from those in distress, trumping their skills and hopes with our resources and plans. Our efforts have led to a toxic codependence which has resulted in tragic cases of burnout, resentment, and shame.

We like to play God. We like to be the hero. But Jesus came saying, “Good news: You can stop playing God. It’s killing you. I AM HERE. I will pick you up off the side of the road and take care of you. I am the hero.” We killed him for that. Now we just ignore him. And we do so at our peril. For he alone can meet our deepest need.

None of us want to need mercy. But we do. We all desperately need mercy. Whatever has you half dead, don’t let it stop you from accepting the mercies of Christ and the help of those he sends to be a neighbor to you.

[***The term “Toxic Charity” comes from a book by Bob Lupton. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s time. It’ll help you understand this phenomenon more broadly. This post outlines what I believe to be the source of the problem in the Christian Church – arguably the world’s most charitable organization.]

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.

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.

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.

Socks for the Sole, Listening for the Soul

December 25, 2013

Unknown

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.

 

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.

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.

A Trip to the Zoo

November 25, 2012

By Dan Crain

The evangelical church is waking up to the needs of the poor, and this is a very promising change. Since the early 1900s, during what church historians call the “Great Reversal,” mainline conservative churches have been wary of substantial involvement with the poor, or “getting their hands dirty.”

The Great Reversal was a pivotal point when conservative and liberal theology parted ways about church involvement in social action. Liberals sought to bring the Kingdom of God on Earth through social action. Conservatives recoiled at this new so-called “social gospel” and focused primarily on the world as a fallen place, and getting everyone out of this mess into heaven.

Until then, the church was active in taking care of the poor and vulnerable. In fact, as Rodney Stark writes in his book “The Early Rise of Christianity,” this was the primary path as the early church grew: Believers welcomed the poor and homeless into their midst. When plagues would sweep through cities, Christians were the ones who gave up their lives to save those afflicted.

In the past few decades, there has been resurgence within the conservative evangelical Church ranks to care for the poor.  Many have realized that the Gospel is not just spiritual or physical. It is both.

Unfortunately, the way many churches have responded causes more damage than helping. One such expert on alleviating poverty, Phil Hissom, commented that, in many ways, “The church is not a sleeping giant waking up, but rather a bull in a china cabinet.” Churches are serving the poor, but are doing so on their agenda. This breeds unintended consequences that separate the affluent from the poor.

A verse Polis references often is Proverbs 19:2, “Passion without knowledge is not good, how much more will hasty feet miss the way.”

We should applaud and affirm churches serving the needy. God is at work in people’s hearts in taking care and getting to know people in times of distress. But we need to do so in the best possible way.

Polis has a unique voice in this conversation, particularly though Dignity Serves. We are learning as we go along, allowing the poor to teach and mold us. We have discovered that the poor hold strong perceptions about outside churches and their ministries coming in to help. We have asked our friends in distress what they think.

Too often, churches ministering to the needy are amazed at what they see: the homeless who are starving for a meal, how many people show up to eat, or their children running around in diapers. Some Christians actually will invite others to see the poor people and how they live – in order to get a proper perspective on how much God has given them. This is a visit to the zoo gone horribly wrong. No one likes to be objectified, so why do we think people in poverty like to be?

Let me repeat:  We should affirm and applaud churches that step up to help the poor. But let’s remind our brethren not to miss a relationship built on giving and receiving. As Bob Lupton writes in his book “Toxic Charity”: “To be a recipient of charity is to sacrifice some of your human dignity.”

Let’s serve people in need but do so in the best possible way. Let’s be involved in their lives but make it clear that we are not there to “solve their issues” but to offer ourselves as friends. We cannot be for someone until we are with them.

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.

Needing Others Well

September 12, 2012

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA — Scripture is clear: We need to lead honest and vulnerable lives in community, to confess our needs and to bear our burdens together. Yet how do we live out that command without “getting messy”? Or what if we don’t follow His command at all?

As Americans, we like to project an image of “having it all together.” We build walls or summon a force field to insulate ourselves from others.

We all know people who are eager to confess their needs to anyone willing to listen. I have done that, and sometimes still do. That’s emotionally messy. What I have realized is that it takes time – often a long time – to earn the trust and respect of people with whom we share.

And we also know people who guard their hearts. They live with deep, emotional scars. They erect walls around their lives. They don’t need anyone to help them.

So when Paul ends his letter to the church in Philippi, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus,” what does this mean in this context?

Let me offer some of my thoughts from my struggle through this idea:

God is the one who meets needs. I cannot. You cannot. We cannot. God is the “need-meeter.” No one and no thing in the world can “meet “needs like Him. Christ and only Christ can meet our longings for significance, security, satisfaction and belonging.

Yet to the extent that I am individualistic and focus solely on my relationship with God, I still am called to live in community with you. God commands us to live together.

This nugget of Paul’s wisdom especially resonates with me: “Not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.”

There is so much meaning packed into those 14 words. Paul models a special kind of relationship, with this church being “partners in the gospel,” “suffering together” and “sharing of the same spirit.” Then he ends the letter by linking giving and receiving. Giving and receiving can be achieved only in the context of community as we give as well as receive.

So who really empowers the giving and receiving? God. So if I don’t confess my needs to you and pretend that I have it all together, whose help do I really refuse? God’s. He works through us, sometimes despite us, to meet our needs.

God’s intention for us to confess our needs compels us to realize that He is the only one who can meet our deepest desires to belong, to gain acceptance, to know security (peace). With that realization, we can confess our needs to one another, and appreciate that it is a two-way street. Confessing our needs to one another reminds us of where our deepest desire for belonging, acceptance and security can be found.

This is the beginning of Christian community.

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.