Social Action

We are Israel, We are Russia, We are Mexico

Her day starts long before daybreak. She rolls off a mattress onto a clammy cement floor, hoping to step silently towards the light peaking between the doorframe to get outside. She pulls on the door but it’s jammed a little. Finally, with a thud, it opens. In a breath she looks back to the mattress to see her kids wiggle into her warm spot and slips outside. A car honks down the road in the distance, she exhales, letting sleep go while fumbling into her jeans pocket to fish out a cigarette.

She lights her morning smoke and squats to sit on the step. In the thick air of the morning she sits and waits for her ride. This is the most beautiful moment of her 15 hour day. Fresh morning air, a bird chirping far too early, and a hushed quiet as her neighborhood sleeps.

A few moments later an old Buick pulls up, scratchy brakes announcing it’s arrival. She climbs in the back, squeezing between a few other women to find a patch of seat. In near silence they ride together for 30 minutes to the gate of her job. She pays $20 per week for this ride. She can’t afford it but can’t afford not to.

For the next 9 hours she’ll force her hands into the freezing cavity of a fish caught a million miles from here. She’ll make $200 per week, after taxes, union dues, and check cashing fees, she’ll take home $134.50 on Friday. She wonders what it means to be in a union or even if there is really a union. She knows they aren’t representing her but she’s afraid to say anything because she knows they’ll fire her. The taxes she pays aren’t for her because the number she gave the factory were just made up, anyway. But what can she do? She needed the job.

In a thoughtless motion she makes a small cut across the fish belly with one hand while pulling out the insides with the other. Next she cuts makes another cut, breaks the fish open and places it back on the belt. It takes just a few seconds and she’s off to the next. She works as fast as she can with almost no breaks, hunched over, she and her co-workers all trying to remain invisible to the people they work for. Sometimes while doing this she daydreams and thinks of her childhood, happier days, playing in warm breezes with her friends. Back then she never could have imagined her life would be like this. But mostly she thinks about nothing. She just wants to not draw attention to herself. Plus, if she thinks too much she might accidentally cut herself. So she just concentrates on doing what she has to do and getting out of there. She hates this job but knows that if anyone hears that she might want to look for a better one she’ll be fired on the spot.

When her shift ends at 2:15 she walks quickly to a place to clean up and grab something to eat out of a vending machine before another beat-up clunker comes to drive her to the Motel 6 on the other side of town. Another $20 per week she can’t afford.

She’ll spend 4 or 5 hours there, invisible, cleaning rooms for minimum wage. Even though she fights exhaustion– compared to her other job she’s exhilarated at the hotel. She changes into clean clothes at this job– a Motel 6 uniform, and before her shift starts she’s able to wash herself in the utility sink in the storage room where they keep her cart.

Sometimes, when no one else is around, she fills up the big sink with hot water and hops in, squatting into sink is closest thing she has to a tub. To us, this might seem silly and she feels like a giant baby washing in a sink. But to her, those 5 minutes of bathing are pure luxury. She uses half-empty bottles of shampoo left behind by truck drivers or vacationers to have her own spa.

At the hotel, she finds some semblance of dignity, but also cruelty. Her shifts here aren’t regular and sometimes when she shows up to work she is sent away. She works odd shifts to fill in and her boss would text her when he doesn’t need her but her phone never has enough minutes. So sometimes she shows up to work and there’s no work for her, so it cost her money to get there but she’ll make nothing. To make things worse her ride won’t come back until 9. So she can’t go home to be with her kids, anyway.

Late at night she gets back home. Her 3 year old, the baby, is already asleep. Another day goes by and she hasn’t seen her. Her sons are still awake, one watching TV and the other is next door. She goes next door to get her oldest, the three of them make small talk and play cards for a little while before they all go to bed.

She turns off the light. Barefoot, she walks silently across the clammy concrete floor to the mattress. She leans over, slides the baby closer to her brother as she lays down next to her. The toddler re-settles, makes some sweet sighs, and they both drift off to sleep to do it again tomorrow.

We are Israel, We are Russia, We are Mexico

Often, when we watch the news and we think to ourselves, “I can’t believe those countries treat their people like that. That’s disgusting.” We live our middle class lives, we drink our Starbucks, go to our movies, stare at our phones, and we start to think that everything is an over there somewhere problem.

  • How can Israel justify bombing people in Gaza? 
  • I can’t believe people support Putin, what a monster. 
  • Why doesn’t Mexico clean up those drug cartels once and for all?

Let’s not be myopic. It’s easy to look over there somewhere and forget that we have over there somewhere problems right here in our own communities, too.

We’re no better than Israel. We’re no better than Russia. We’re no better than Mexico.

The woman I wrote about above lives in your neighborhood. She lives in every community in America.

She’s black. She’s white. She’s Latino. She’s African. She goes to your church.

Over there somewhere is right in front of you. She’s not invisible. She’s no better or worse than you. You just refuse to see her.

Photo by A C O R N by Flickr (Creative Commons)
Church Leadership Good News

10 Ways Your Church Can Be Good News to the Neighborhood

I have a fervent belief that if we want to reach a post-Christian society, we have to be Good News before someone will listen to Good News.

Here are 10 ways you can begin transforming your church into a place where Good News flows from:

  1. If you have a building, offer a public bathroom and shower that’s open to whomever needs it during your office hours.
  2. Ask every attendee to get in the habit of bringing a canned food item (you get the idea) to church every week. Then start a food pantry that’s open a couple days a week for people to drop in.
  3. Buy things for the church from local suppliers. Avoid the big box (probably cheaper) stores for ones that support a local company. Encourage your church attendees to do the same.
  4. Encourage people who go out to lunch after church to be generous with tipping servers and conscious of how long they are staying. You want wait staffs to desire the church crowd, they are avoiding it at all costs now.
  5. Require church staff to live within the area you are trying to reach.
  6. Add a requirement to all board and staff job descriptions that they attend public meetings. (Schools, city planning, city council, county government, etc.)
  7. Ask adults to volunteer at the public schools. (Give staff lots of freedom to volunteer)
  8. Participate in organized community events. Cleaning up, planting flowers, helping with parades, etc.
  9. Make church property open to the public. (Playground equipment, skateboard park, community garden, host local festivals, allow the schools to hold events in the auditorium.) Better yet, turn all of your property into a community center.
  10. Create a culture of saying yes to community involvement instead of no.

These are my ideas. What are yours?

How can your church (and the people who go to it) become Good News to your neighborhood?

Current Affairs hmm... thoughts Social Action

Church vs. Government

Christians make strange political bedfellows

Have you noticed that a lot of Christians are exhibiting a hatred for our government?

I just don’t get it.

For those who are mad about the latest government program… (yesterday it was social security, today it is health care, tomorrow it will be something else.)

Just some friendly reminders

  • Anger isn’t the answer, it just make you look silly.
  • Agreeing with everything isn’t an option, we live in a pluralistic democratic society.
  • Living in denial of the situation we live in isn’t an option.
  • Pointing back to founding fathers of the nation is silly, they are dead.
  • Separating from society isn’t a biblical option.
  • Moving to Canada isn’t an option, they don’t want you.

What is an option?

  • Changing your attitude.
  • Being a part of the solution.
  • Loving your neighbor.
  • Caring for your neighborhood and proving it with your actions.
  • Being hospitable to people you don’t know.
  • Stop waiting for your church to start a program.
  • Putting the needs of others above the needs of yourself.

If you are Good News to your community you have to live like it.

If you aren’t willing to be Good News to your community, than shut up and let the government do what you aren’t willing to do.

Doing nothing tangible and also complaining about the government doing a bad job at your job… let’s just say that’s not “Good News.


Help Rebuild Haiti Through the Local Church

I came home two weeks ago from Haiti. And almost every day I’ve talked with a church leader with one simple question: I know about the devastation in Haiti, but if I went to Haiti what could my church actually do?

Starting next week, there will be a unique opportunity to partner– very practically— with an existing church in the greater Port-au-Prince area.

So what would your church do in Haiti? You’ll be a part of rebuilding Haiti from the inside out.

Bonus: For an interesting look at this, check out Tony Compolo’s post at Huffingtton Post

Church Leadership Social Action

Affirm One Another in Christ

We live in divided times. In particular, those of us who love Jesus are more divided than ever. A trip to the “church” section of the yellow pages or Google is heart-breaking.

The church is polarized today.

This is contrary, of course, to what the Bible teaches.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

If we contextualize that statement made by Paul to the church today that statement would read like this.

There is no liberal or conservative, Baptist or Catholic, black church or Korean church, suburban or urban. For we are one in Christ.

I pray that we lay aside or differences… as real and pressing as they seem… and live in the tension and knowledge that all people who call on the name of Jesus for salvation are one in Christ.

It’s easy and childish to focus on what divides us, it is mature and difficult to instead embrace the common mission we share.


Church Leadership

Put up or shut up

Growing up we played a lot of basketball. A core component of playing basketball, especially the driveway versions, is learning to talk a good game. There are people who can’t play but can talk a good game. And then there are the best players who don’t really talk much but just flat our put up numbers.

Eventually, it comes down to this simple phrase in pick-up basketball: Put up or shut up.

I think that phrase explains why so many people get fed up with church: They talk a good game about the poor, mercy, seeking justice, living out Acts 2, exemplifying Matthew 5, or preaching the truth. But at the end of the day they don’t “put up.

Church leaders, if your church talks game it doesn’t have… please stopped talking like you have game. At the end of the day, allow your game to speak for itself.

That’s the best marketing advice I could ever give to a church: Put up or shut up.

Wanna grow your church? Put up or shut up.

Wanna have the best youth group in town? Put up or shut up.

Wanna help people losing their houses? Put up or shut up.

Wanna start a killer small group ministry? Put up or shut up.

At the end of the day you need to allow your church game to speak for you. People are tired of the hype. They are tired of hearing what you want to do. They don’t want to know your vision statement.

They want to see it.

So stop talking smack and get to work!

hmm... thoughts

Stress vs. Joy

I think I’m just exhausted. It’s a feeling of over-stimulation that comes on fast and is wearing me out. The solution is really that I need to get destimulated soon. Fairly soon I will need to schedule some “off the grid” time. Either that or I may post something extra snarky for no reason and I’ll regret it.

I have so many excellent things going on. Or is that just the exhaustion? There’s these competing things in my head. Things that bring me joy are stressing me out. And things that should be stress-filled are bringing me great joy.But very little “meh” in my life right now.

– Our community group getting involved with a refugee family. Stress-free joy.

– Other projects I agreed to help out with at church. Expecting joy but stressed.

– Going to The Price is Right today. [airs February 10th] Stress-free joy.

– Friday’s staff Christmas party. Expecting joy but stressed. 9 miles out of my comfort zone.

– Getting our money situation under control. Stress-free joy.

– Thinking about planned vacation time. Expecting joy but stressed.

– Getting ready for Christmas. Stress-free joy. I’m feeling advent-astic.

– Coming up with an age-appropriate discipline system for the kids. Just freaking stressful.

– Working with Kristen on a new website about San Diego living, our first collaborative project. Stress-free joy.

– Nurturing some relationships from Michigan. Expecting joy but stressed.

I don’t really have a point to this post that’s a take-away. Life lessons, nah. Looking for sympathy. Not so much. It’s just kind of capturing some places in my life that are confusing to me. I think in all arenas of both sides of this stress/joy coin I just need to build some time to rest and wait on God. At least, that’s my plan.