Archive for the ‘How to…’ Category

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.

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

March 27, 2014

 photo 2

 

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.

photo 1

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

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.

Smart Aid: Asking Good Questions When Supporting A Cause

June 10, 2012

By Rebecca Lujan Loveless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Asking!

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

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

Our Past Does Not Dictate Our Future in Christ

April 23, 2012


By Bill Behr

We all have developed beliefs about ourselves. Those beliefs have been shaped by our experiences, the happy and sad events in our lives, what we have heard others say (whether true or false) and what we have learned.

We ultimately decide which beliefs to adopt as part of our identity (whether good or bad), and they do affect how we relate to others (good and bad).

Many of my beliefs are healthy, true and part of my identity, such as, “I am made in the image of God my Father” and “God loves me dearly.”  But like all of us, I have also grown up with false beliefs about myself, many of them starting in my childhood.

These false beliefs also became part of my identity.

One of the false beliefs (lies) I discovered about myself originated when I was about 7 years old.  I was a bright-redhaired, highly freckle-faced, pale-white kid.  I stood out among other kids, but did not realize how much until the first grade, when some of my classmates started teasing me daily about how I looked.

I slowly became convinced I was not acceptable, and I was to embarrass to talk to anyone about it.   I tried to fix this lie by becoming a people-pleaser to validate my worth. I eventually shed this false belief with the help of family, friends and counseling. Most important, I came to realize my true identity is in Christ.  I understand now how Christ views me and His purpose for my life (for the lives of all of us).

I have learned a lot about my identity in Christ through reGROUP at Summit Church.

reGROUP is a Christian program that has been designed for anyone with hurts, habits and hang-ups (those cover the bases of all of us).   reGROUP teaches that I need to surrender, and to trust and believe in Jesus Christ, and then join Him in healing the hurt and restoring the loss in my life.

I need to surrender to the fact that I need the help of God and my Christian community to do this.

But I have to want this change.  Do I really want to experience a life of freedom and break away from my false beliefs?   Yes I really do!   So how do I do this?  I need to:

  • Sincerely want to surrender burdens and change (repent).
  • Honestly trust in the amazing unconditional love of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to change me.

When I do these things, God starts to call me to enter into a community of people that is willing to care about me, so I can share my struggles with them.  In community, we equally give (share) and receive (listen), and we agree as a community to surrender our lives and depend on God for our restoration.

I am part of a team from Summit Church that leads reGROUP in the 33rd Street Jail on Tuesday nights.  We have listened to the inmates’ personal struggles and also shared with them our own struggles.   We are building a level of trust and forming new relationships, in community, to learn together about the truth of Christ’s love for each of us.

This is where Dignified Interdependence begins, with a small community of you, God, and me as we lean in care for one another. This is where forgiveness, kindness, patience, accountability, God’s grace, repentant joy and sacrificial love all begin occur and our needs are met (Phil. 4:19).

When we all “surrender me” (ourselves) to God, He accepts us where we are and starts healing us.  We start to experience sincere change and become a new creation – the “old me” diminishes and the new (real) “me in Christ” is discovered

(2 Cor. 5:17)!

Praise you Lord for revealing the truth to us all!

Bill Behr

Bill Behr

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

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