People Are More Important Than Change

January 11, 2014 by

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.

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Socks for the Sole, Listening for the Soul

December 25, 2013 by

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

By Dan Crain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

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

I Stopped Going to Church

November 6, 2013 by

By Dan Crain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

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

My Way Is Best: Learn, Listen, Join

July 29, 2013 by

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.

More Like Heaven

July 24, 2013 by
Kids playing at Palms Trailer Park

Kids playing at Palms Trailer Park

By Phil Hissom

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

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

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

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

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom is the Founder of the POLIS Institute and the author of Dignity Serves. He can be reached at phil@polisinstitute.org.

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

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

July 5, 2013 by

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

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.

Johnny Cash Walked the Line on Forgiveness

June 13, 2013 by

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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 by
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.