Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

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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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.

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.

Looked over

October 30, 2012

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – There are many people in our culture who do not have the same opportunities and platforms to speak that others enjoy. Yet God has given goodness and talents to everyone.

I love it when people who often times are  “overlooked” by the world help mold and shape me as a person.

For example, some ministry leaders with whom I serve often talk about how frustrating it can be when people from outside our neighborhood visit and express such alarm when they discover goodness or rich talents among the our neighbors who live here. They are downright surprised.

I suspect people have their eyes opened because too often many of us are not willing to listen. Think about how many times people return from mission trips and say that they “received” so much more than they “gave.” Maybe the consistency of such revelations takes root because too many people are not willing to listen. They see the world only for what they can give, and not how other people can serve them with their unique talents.

One young man I am mentoring has taught me much about poverty and the realities of our neighborhood. Recently, he commented that the talents of people who live at or below the poverty level fail to be noticed. Their gifts are looked over. This is why I believe so strongly in asset-based ministry. We serve, expecting only to uncover what God is already doing in forgotten people and neglected places – and we strive to empower them.

The vision of Polis is such that, “We believe that well-being will improve only when the talents of the poor are properly engaged.” When you improve the well being of people on the margins, whole cities improve.

Unfortunately, some churches are stuck in a groove – a mind-set – that more “charity” will improve the well being of the poor. The truth is, most people who live in poverty don’t want more shoes, more clothes, more food, or to have their rent paid. They yearn for opportunities for their talents to be engaged. They need respect. As one sign says, “I don’t want your coins, I want change.” No one likes to be a charity case. Why do we expect anything different among the poor?

Do we really love our neighbors as ourselves by just giving things to them? Loving our neighbor as ourselves requires much more than charity. It involves relationships that typically get dirty very quickly.

Charity proves only to hurt, not help, the poor. Instead, we need to engage their talents. Given the freedom of transparency, many people on the fringes, the down-and-out, would tell churches: “Thanks for helping, but what if the way you helped was done in the best way possible?”

What if those who hold the power and resources and are in the position to help, served in such a way that did not look over the talents of the poor?

Dan and Adrienne Crain and their family. Since this photo, they've been blessed by the arrival of twins, Eden Violet Alliene and Isaac Levi Keith.

Dan and Adrienne Crain and their family. Since this photo, they’ve been blessed by the arrival of twins, Eden Violet Alliene and Isaac Levi Keith.

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.

Communications Skills: Are You a Good Listener?

March 8, 2012

By Michael Joe Murphy

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

That quote from Mother Teresa haunts me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother Teresa amplified her line about loneliness and poverty.

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

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

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

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

May you both feel unconditional love.

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

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