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)
Christian Living Culture Social Action

Correlating Poverty to Religion

Image by Charles M. Blow / New York Times

“A Gallup report issued on Tuesday underscored just how out of line we are. Gallup surveyed people in more than 100 countries in 2009 and found that religiosity was highly correlated to poverty. Richer countries in general are less religious.”

Interesting stuff.

Jesus told the rich man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Matthew 19:20-21

Second thought

I’d really like to see a similar chart correlating the amount of money a religion spends vs. the number of participants per capita. I have a feeling that all of the spending in westernized Christianity doesn’t correlate to increased impact.

HT to How to Break Anything & New York Times


The Blue Sweater

the-blue-sweaterOver the past month or so I’ve been working my way through The Blue Sweater by Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz. I think this is a book worth reading for a number of reasons. Here are some high points.

– Novogratz carries a general principle with her that makes a ton of sense: To change a families life you have to work with women. I wouldn’t label her a hardcore feminist, but her point is very valid. Traditionally in charity and community development the money goes to the men. The thing is that very little of that money ends up trickling back to the family. A much higher percentage of the income you invest in women goes towards educating, feeding, and investing in the home.

– Novogratz sees her role in changing the world as a blend of charity and for-profit business. The old adage that “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish he’ll feed his family forever” is an interesting sentiment but isn’t truly solving the problem. This book talks a lot about helping people set up businesses that are sustainable, run by locals on their terms, and yet holds them accountable for their actions. Those are qualities of an ecosystem worth chewing on.

– Justice is beyond charity. There is a huge movement going on about mosquito nets. When Ashton Kutcher gave $100,000 to buy 100,000 mosquito nets this was both good and bad. While it is fantastic that $1 buys a mosquito net, it’d be way better if some of that $1 went to helping build a company that could produce and innovate those nets without the need for more charity. Charity is great… but it doesn’t go far enough to fix problems.

– Dignity is more important than charity. For a lot of us who think about building systems upon which others can build their livelihood, it’s important to remeber that our role is to provide the system and get out of the way. A truly good system is a platform on which others can invest and trust.  The platform should take a backseat to the products developed for the platform.

– For-profit is not evil. There is a sentiment of those who work for charitible organizations that anything for-profit is ignoble. I love how she shows for-profit being as important as non-profit and not-for-profit.

Interwoven in these threads of thought, Jacqueline Novogratz shares stories from the rich tapestry of her life. Each story helps to form a patchwork quilt from various places in the developing world. From her first experience as a young co-ed where she discovers that a blue sweater she donated in America worn by a child in Africa to running a small bakery in Rawonda, to eventually creating The Acumen Fund, Jacqueline shows that she is crazy enough to change the world.

For world changers and those longing to see the world a better place, The Blue Sweater is a great read.

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!