In Case You Were Wondering

In case you were wondering what M.C. Hammer's two kids are dressing up as for Halloween tonight, the answer would be Superman and Urkel.

Having Beat the Odds


Cardinals nation is still rejoicing over the recent world series victory (500,000 attended the victory party in STL...500,000! It's amazing how sports will unite so many people), and having been a lifelong Cards fan (see photo...my last minute halloween costume), I can say that it is sweet. I grew up bonding with my grandpa via our shared love for the Cardinals, but I was born three months after the last Cardinals' world series victory, so this is the first for my lifetime. And now as Roland pointed out to me, I have a five year cushion period in which it doesn't matter what the Cardinals do :) But, with Pujols leading the way, I can't imagine us not being in the mix come next year.

In other news, St. Louis was just today named the most dangerous city/metropolis in the United States of America. Did the Detroit Free Press have a hand in taking this poll?

Beating the Odds

I was just over at ESPN.com and saw that 7 out of 8 baseball "experts" had selected the Tigers over the Cardinals, most often in five games or less.

But here we sit, Cards up three games to one. If we can hold off this rain tonight, our Redbirds will probably crack open the champagne this evening.

Go Cards!

Not of This World

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world."

These words spoken by Jesus in response to Pilate's questioning hold a wealth of truth, mystery, hope and power. These words will set us free if we seek the truth that motivates their utterance. How often we lose sight of this central fact--that God's kingdom is from another place--while living out our faith in a fallen and broken world! While reading Oswald Chambers yesterday morning, I was struck again by some of the ways in which I have allowed the patterns and attitudes of this world to influence the way I live out each day.

Take productivity for example. It can weigh me down like a wet blanket sometimes. I can feel so restricted by this feeling that I must always be a productive and useful individual. But where is that in scripture?

Chambers says that "an active Christian worker too often lives to be seen by others...In our Lord's life there was none of the pressure and the rushing of tremendous activity that we regard so highly today...the central point of the kingdom of Jesus Christ is not public usefulness to others...If you waste your time in overactivity, instead of being immersed in the great fundamental truths of God's redemption, then you will snap when stress and strain come."

In today's society of connectedness, long work hours, recognition and utilitarianism, as Christ followers, we can fall into these trappings quite easily if we are not continually "transformed by the renewing of our minds" with a refusal to "conform to the patterns of this world." (Romans 12:2)

As Christ-followers, throughout history we have regularly fallen into one of two camps when trying to reconcile "being in the world" with not being "of the world." These two extremes are isolation and compromise. Where do we fall today? In America, there are myriad ways we have gone to both extremes in one way or another, but mostly we have completely compromised so much and we are not living lives "worthy of the gospel." Many Christians do not have many close (or any?) non-Christian friends that they spend time with...there's isolation for you. And if we are spending time with them, how often are we embodying Christ, truly being his ambassador, a minister of reconciliation, salt and light, striving for peace and mercy?...that's where we fall into compromise. What about politics? I dare say that many Christians are compromising by seeking power in this nation through political institutions. Christ said that his "kingdom is not of THIS world." It is a daily battle to keep this truth in front of me, to not compromise according to the persuasions of this world, but to remain steadfast in the knowledge that Christ's kingdom brings true liberty, justice, peace and love and we are called to be bearers of his kingdom in this world.



Keep it Tight


I'm always up for discovering a new favorite artist, so I wanted to recommend one that you should check out. The guy is Amos Lee and he's from Philly. Think fusion of acoustic and soul. I dig the tracks Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight, Arms of a Woman, Give it Up and Colors; although, I can listen to this album straight through. I found his stuff randomly about a month ago, and I can't get enough of his self-titled debut album. You can check it out here. He just recently came out with a new album, Supply and Demand, but I haven't had an opportunity to listen to it yet.

You won't be disappointed.

Confession

This weekend, I visited an old friend, whose dad was my pastor during most of my childhood. I hadn't heard him preach in many years, so I visited his church this morning and while there, a very cool little story was shared by a member of that fellowship. This woman came forward to share about her many years of running from God and living in rebellion and ultimately how God had drawn her back into fellowship with him, and an event involving her son gave her the final push to come forward. And now I am going to retell her retelling of that event to you.

"A couple weeks ago, several of us from church were over at one friend's house, and the adults were chatting while the kids played in the pool. And as we were sitting there in coversation, my son Andrew, who is four, came up towards the adults and as he stood there, he just dropped his trunks. Right there in front of us all. I look over at the pastor, and he's averting his eyes, trying not to stare at it, and I'm embarassed, and I say to my son, "Andrew, you can't just drop your pants in front of other people like that." My son didn't hesitate, "But it's okay, mom, they're our church family." And I realized that if my son is so comfortable with you all, I have no excuse for not sharing my struggles with you."

Confession. It's a practice that we can easily pass over in the Church, as we spend so much of our time listening to sermons or socializing or faking a "life's peachy" attitude. I believe that we have so easily become tainted by the world that we have so many churches full of Janus-faced people, who are afraid to show their wounds and fears and outright willful sins that pull us down and out of fellowship with Christ. As the Church, we are called to the openly confess to one another the stains in our lives. James says to "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other." Open confession was something that I first experienced when I became a part of Illini Life, and it has become vital for growing in Christ and in fighting against my pride. But the temptation to float along, so as to not damper another's opinion of you is certainly real.

This practice is a huge hurdle for many (certainly some are more prone to being transparent than others), but isn't it liberating? Doesn't it help prevent others from placing us on a pedestal, because they see us as one who is also struggling to be obedient to Christ day to day? And most of all, doesn't it fill us with humility as we are forced to face ourselves and our pride in the mirror of another's forgiveness and grace?

How can we foster environments and communities where confession is encouraged and received with grace?

Frozen Pizzas and the Cycle of Poverty, Part III

Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows! Hard to say how far I could or will take this series of postings, because one could devote an entire blog to the issue of cyclical poverty in inner cities. But there has been some good discussion generated (for a novice blogger such as myself at least!) and I hope to continue posting on this issue in the future, although I may only carry this particular series on to one more installment.

So, what does Wal-Mart have to do with this? Well, let's make it clear that I am NOT saying that Wal-Mart is the answer to revolutionizing the purchasing habits of low-income & low-education inner city dwellers! Although, maybe that's what Sam wanted. Over the past few years, Wal-Mart has been making strides to enter the major American urban markets, a demographic that it had left virtually untouched for many years. Today, New York and Detroit are the only remaining untapped urban markets by the low-priced retailing giant. The main barriers for Wal-Mart entering these markets have been low wages, poor health benefits and its resistance to unions.

So, the resistance by city governments and citizens is understandable, but where do we make the compromise? The tried and true Wal-Mart (and similar corporate chains) will not only offer jobs but because of their lower cost consumer goods (particularly food items), the retailer could extend hope to the single mother of five children who is struggling to feed her growing kids due in part to her lack of shopping options (I recently read Nickel and Dimed, which sheds some light on struggling, low-income Wal-Mart employees). Here, the individual who normally shops at the convenience store has more options for purchasing more nutritional foods, right? So, does the government facilitate such endeavors or undergird the work of small mom and pop businesses? Which breeds more intelligent consumers? (The same questioning could be applied to the Church: megachurches or many, smaller neighborhood churches? I lean towards the latter.) Well, as Chairman pointed out, it is evident that low-income, low-literacy consumers are risk averse and not as likely to change their purchasing habits. But these habits would seem to come from paradigm of living paycheck to paycheck and less inclined towards long-term planning.

So, I imagine it is in the habits of the low-income, low-education individual that we should focus our attention. Do we seek to bring hope through public policy and government structures (big government) or do we leave the responsiblity to the private sector? I believe it is the responsiblity of any government to put into place structures to care for all of its citizens, rich or poor, Hispanic or Asian-American, Christian or Athiest, etc., but the more I think about it, the more I realize I am probably a small government proponent in regards to directly bringing redemption to our inner cities (However, it makes perfect sense in my mind to tax the wealthiest heavier in order to ease the tax burden on the poorest. This may seem to contradict my stance on small government, but if we educate the lower socio-economic demographic, it doesn't doo much good to teach them to fish, if we don't give them bait!).

Why do I take this view? Well, because I am coming from a biblical worldview, I see it as the responsiblity of the Church to care for the poor and needy. And I'm not just talking about giving handouts. This idea really sounds ridiculous to the majority of the world. But, take for example Samaritan's Purse. Look what amazing work they have done to bring hope to the Katrina-ravaged areas down south! The government can keep pouring out money, but if an individual or family has never seen or been taught how to use that money wisely, won't the cycle just continue? I'm in favor of supporting local businesses and all about raising the minimum wage and health benefit standards, but my heart lies more in directly impacting (somehow?!) the lives of inner city, low-income individuals...and not just their purchasing habits, but by bringing hope through Christ's love (it is impossible to ignore Christ's compassion on the poor) AND by doing life mentoring AND meeting tangible needs. So, it follows that I am more in favor of the government supporting and facilitating the private sector's efforts to shine light on the impoverished areas of our inner cities.

As a follower of Christ, I have to remember what James said in his letter, that "faith without works is dead." So, we must not only bring the gospel story through words, but also with our lives! I believe a huge portion of white, Evangelical America has lost this, because we are afraid (yes, afraid!) of those in the inner city who are different than us. If you can help me remember, when did Christ command us to only bring the gospel to the comfortable places of society? But, does this mean that Church can't partner with secular organizations seeking to bring social justice? The answer is no, but if the Church would heed the scriptures more pro-actively in regards to helping the poor, I don't believe we would have to.

When I think of some examples of this happening today, my mind drifts to my brother's church, a large Vineyard Church in Columbus, OH. Just off the top of my head, I know they have begun a large effort to reach out to the community through after-school tutoring and mentoring programs, interview training, free legal counsel, providing business attire to interviewees, and similar initiatives. I just know that a huge portion of this nation is living WELL below the typical means of the American middle and upper class. Around 12% of our country's nearly 300 million citizens live below the poverty line, which amounts to about a total household income of $2oK for a household of four.

As a nation that is viewed as "Christian" by our global neighbors (we may have a leaning towards Judeo-Christian values and lots of churches, but I wouldn't say we are a Christian nation. What would a Christian nation look like? What is the kingdom of God?), how do we reconcile the fact that millions are struggling to feed their families? Yes, on the global poverty stage, Americans do not struggle at the same level (millions living on less than a $1/day), but this does not justify ignoring or setting aside the mandate of scripture to care for the poor and needy (and widows and orphans).

What does God's Word say on this topic? I'll look at that in the finale of this here series.

Shoutout

I just wanted to give a shout out to o2thoughtful over at What's Your Point Caller in the UK. While on holiday, he's posted a few links for reading on the contemporary "missional" discussion.

Frozen Pizzas and the Cycle of Poverty, Part II

The beauty of "to be continued" blog posting is that it entices people to come back for a follow-up (as evidenced by my friend Christine's latest post on her blog). I mean, let's be honest here. I am not just keeping a blog for the sake of a personal online journal. Yes, it is nice to revisit my thoughts now and again, but part of my desire is to have an influence on visitors and meet bloggers from other parts of the world. So, the drawback is that there are no deadlines for blogging and therefore I can lose inspiration when I take a two or three day hiatus from a "to be continued" post. Note to self: when writing a post with the intention of drawing people back for more, write the follow-up immediately following the first post (or fairly soon thereafter).

Now, where was I. Oh yes, the pizzas, or poverty in the inner cities rather. Upon finishing Part I, I read through my thoughts again, which were more or less stream of consciousness, and I realized this: I bit off way more than I can chew. But, you know, that's okay. We've got to start somewhere. And my buddy, Roland, was quick to jump in with me and offer some initial thoughts and questions to deepen the discussion. If you haven't read his comments on Part I, I encourage you to do so now. Roland is a Marketing Ph.D. in Champaign and the thrust of his research is related to functional literacy and decision-making in relation to nutrition (correct me if I'm off). Now, the central questions I raised earlier were:

What can we do to bring redemption to our inner cities? To educate and enable and empower impoverished families in the inner cities to buy groceries at reasonable prices? To see the futility of spending each week's paycheck on overpriced food and other items at the local corner store? To break the cycle of poverty?
When spouting off these questions, I wanted to begin taking a serious look at how we can go about teaching people how to fish and to not just give them fish. My intention was and is to look at this within the framework of the following: government and public policy versus private sector (faith-based initiatives and philanthropic programs) and their role in impacting the poor in relation to nutrition, literacy/education and employment and the role of corporate America. Let me pause here and say that we have a lot to learn from impoverished as well.

I would be remiss if I didn't say that when I ponder these issues, I do so with a Biblical worldview. The Word of God is the paradigm with which I see and understand the world. As one who is seeking to follow Christ, I see him as the greatest source of redemption in these areas, because before we can ever find sustained hope in this life, we must find a restored relationship with our Creator. But I do not believe that Jesus only cares about our life after death; he desires for his followers to bring Shalom to this life as we proclaim the gospel in word and deed, to redeem the broken places of this world for his glory. And Jesus gave us the perfect example of what it looks like to step out and love the poor.

So my desire to bring redemption to the impoverished peoples of our inner cities...it can not stem from guilt or a desire to give handouts and "charity", it must be rooted in humilty and a strong desire to bring continued hope and renewal come to the marginalized and forgotten, to pattern myself after Christ. Now that I've established that I am incredibly wordy, I am afraid I must continue this on next time, because people are probably dropping like flies reading this rambling.

In Part III, what's Wal-Mart got to do with it?

You Never Know...


The first time I watched this I thought it was a hoax. Nope.

This is the Title Line

After several months (already?!) of blogging here, I thought it was time for a face lift. Hope you enjoy. If it isn't your style, guess you'll have to live with it. I've updated some links on the sidebar as well.

While I'm here, I'll leave you with a humorous and thought-provoking little story that I heard on the radio from the wisdom of Peanuts:

A Peanuts comic strip showed Linus and Lucy sitting indoors one day as it poured outside. Lucy exclaimed: “Boy, look at it rain -- what if it floods the whole world?" Linus calmly responded, “It will never do that. In the 9th chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” “Phew!” said Lucy. “You’ve taken a great load off my mind!” Linus explained, “Sound theology has a way of doing that.”

Frozen Pizzas and the Cycle of Poverty

I was struck with a realization recently and I thought I would share it with you today. That will have to wait, though, for I must fill you in on the story that was the impetus behind this post.

Not too long ago, Amber and I thought it was about time we actually have a go at a "dinner and a movie" (Can you believe that we've only been to the movie theater once now in about a year?). We were meeting in a neutral location to shave off some driving time for one of us; consequently, we found ourselves on a wild goose chase to find a movie theater that we didn't have directions for. As we were driving around--not lost, but not going in the right direction either--we wound up in an impoverished area of the inner city. Unafraid to actually stop and ask for directions (sometimes for the sake of time, you just have to ignore the testosterone), I suggested we pull off at the next gas station or corner store. At the first gas station, we rolled into the empting parking lot, greeted by a storefront with barred windows and doors. I wasn't even sure the place was still open for business, but after a closer look, we figured that the metal cage was simply protecting the gas station from robbers (and judging by the shear amount of protection, I think this gas station was safe from any kind of warhead or terrorist attack). Amber hesitated, but I assured her that it was perfectly okay. As we approached the door, I still had no idea what is behind it, because the place is blacked out. To our surprise, it wasn't just a cover for a strip club or a crackhouse and there were several people inside. I asked for directions from the first guy I bump into, who is taking a rest on top of a stack of 12-packs, but he's new to the area and didn't have a clue.

Another man, on his way out, stops. His face has patches of whiskers and bears the evidence of years of hard work. I notice that he had stopped in for one purchase: a frozen pizza. I ask the gentleman if he knows the way and he easily directs us to the theather--we were not anywhere close. Fifteen minutes later, a few miles away and worlds apart, I steered the car into the massive movie complex.

It was either on the drive over to the movie theater or afterwards that I turned to Amber and said, "Did you notice what that guy, the one who gave us directions, was leaving with? One Tony's frozen pizza."

I don't know why this particular interaction impacted me so. Maybe it was nothing. Or maybe I saw something seemingly meaningless that was really an tiny indicator of injustice. A frozen pizza? C'mon, lighten up, Jonathan. Give the guy a break. Oh, don't take me wrong, I'm not placing any blame on this chap. It was a frozen pizza for Pete's sake! I buy pizza all the time. So why all the trouble to tell the story?

When I saw that frozen pizza in his hand, my heart sank honestly. Not for the simple fact that he had a pizza, but because of what I knew that pizza represented for so many people there in that part of the city. Here is a guy, late 50s, or perhaps younger, but one wouldn't know it on account of his physical appearance, who has likely lived in the inner city his whole life, born into an impoverished family, maybe finished high school, definitely no college, has struggled through several jobs or maybe he's worked the same low paying job since high school. He may still live with his wife and kids, maybe he doesn't. Maybe he's happy and content. Maybe he's placed his faith in Christ. Maybe he's been to jail, maybe he hastn't. These things I do not know. My intention is not to build stereotypes, but to just be honest about what is true for many who live in the impoverished areas of America's inner cities. But, the frozen pizza...get back to the pizza!

So, the way I see it, this guy is paying 50-100% more for a Tony's frozen pizza at the local, innercity corner store than the typical suburban family is at their local Meijer or Wal-Mart. I have nothing against the latter's lower prices. But what about this guy who's never been free to buy groceries in mass quanitity and pay reasonable prices for them? Now maybe I just caught this man at a time when he was fulfilling a strong urge for a frozen pizza. I'm not foreign to such an urge. But, if you're honest, you know what I am talking about here.

What can we do to bring redemption to our inner cities? To educate and enable and empower impoverished families in the inner cities to buy groceries at reasonable prices? To see the futility of spending each week's paycheck on overpriced food and other items at the local corner store (this isn't a plea to close all inner city stores, please don't hear that)? To break the cycle of poverty?

Next time I'll visit these questions specifically. Until then...what do you think? Does it really matter? What's the bigger picture that I am talking about here? This is way bigger than just buying groceries.