Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Without A Net

We went to California to visit Taylor this past weekend. On the plane I had time to read November's selection for the Urban Engagement Book Club, Michelle Kennedy's Without A Net: Middle Class and Homeless (with Kids) in America. A compelling story about a single mother of 3 and her journey into and out of homelessness, I had a hard time putting it down. I recommend it.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, as of 2000, 1.2 million children are homeless on any given night. Families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, accounting for nearly half of the nation's homeless. 85% of these families are headed by a single mother. Here are a couple of excerpts from one of those single mothers, who spent several months living in her car with her 3 preschool children.

My own journey into homelessness did not begin with drug use, alcoholism, or any of the other things we, as a society, so often attribute to such a downward spiral. Instead, I followed my bliss right into the back of a Subaru station wagon...

By day, I walked the streets of Stone Harbor, Maine, as the completely normal mother of three children, looking in shop windows and going to the library and the laundromat. By night, however, I was driving around town, looking for a place to park and sleep, bathing at the truck stop, and boiling ramen noodles on public grills...

Wandering through the store, I decide that it's more expensive to be poor than to be rich. Because we don't have basic things like a refrigerator, I can't buy concentrated juice for a dollar and make a pitcher to last for a couple of days. Instead, I have to buy individual servings at a dollar apiece. The children have developed a taste for water...

I wish I could have spent time with some people who really understood when I say that it costs more to be poor than to be rich. I wish I had taken advantage of programs I learned about much later, like child care assistance and food pantries and security deposit assistance. But no one prepares you for those things when they are sending you off to the real world. It's hard to accept help when you need it. What's harder is never being offered it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What Americans Believe, part 2

A month or so ago, I mentioned the survey that was released by Baylor University. Time magazine has produced a very enlightening graphic from the research that shows how Americans' view of God correlates to their socio-political beliefs. You can click here to see it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Southwest Richardson is a diverse neighborhood. We live on a short, one-block street, and living among the 20+ houses on our street are 3 hispanic families, a family from the Ukraine, an African-American family, a lady from Chile and another from Venezuala. There are retirees who have lived on the street for more than 30 years and there are families with young children. There are several widows who have buried their husbands. Walking through the park in our neighborhood you can hear literally dozens of languages spoken.

Sunday afternoon Barbara and I attended a picnic at the park sponsored by the homeowners association. There were a couple of people from our street that we knew, but most of the others were strangers from other streets in our broader neighborhood. Sitting there, something occured to me that was so obvious I hadn't really thought about it. Almost all of our social activities are with either family or church friends. We both have friends at work, but we don't spend much time with them outside of the work setting. We are getting better at spending time with people in our neighborhood, but we primarily socialize with church friends and family.

Going back to Luke 10 again, Jesus said to go...

Perhaps one of the places we need to go is simply outside our own circles.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Confession is not telling God what we did. He already knows. Confession is simply agreeing with God that our acts were wrong.
- Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder

Monday, October 23, 2006


I'm not familiar with the group sponsoring this video, so don't take it as an endorsement (or unendorsement for that matter), but I thought this transition remarkably typifies the way that we frequently try to present ourselves - especially in church. Not from the physical standpoint, but from the perspective that we put on a face that hides the pain and blemishes in our lives.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Eat, Heal, Proclaim

The second cluster meeting of the partner churches participating in the Partnership for Missional Church project was this weekend. Friday evening we were Dwelling in the Word again in Luke 10:1-12. In verses 8 and 9 Luke quotes Jesus as saying to eat what is put in front of you, heal the sick, and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near.

One person commented that Jesus may have been telling us something about how to become missional by the order in which he listed these activities - eat, heal, proclaim. I think he may be on to something.

It has not been uncommon in any mission activities I have been familiar with to focus on getting right to the proclaiming. The one exception that comes to mind has been medical missions, which typically combine some healing with the proclaiming. I don't remember a mission effort that focused much on eating, but perhaps we should rethink that as we attempt to be more missional.

Eating implies relationship. Healing implies meeting physical and emotional needs. If we build relationship and address needs, we overcome barriers that prevent the message we proclaim from being heard. And we more closely reflect the way that Jesus went about his mission.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Byron Nelson

Work took me to Ft. Worth one day this week and as I drove past the Richland Hills church building I thought of Byron Nelson. He died a couple of weeks ago and a memorial service at Richland Hills where he was a member drew a large crowd, including many from the world of professional golf. By all accounts Byron Nelson was a man of character, a good man who loved his family and lived his faith. One of the quotes from the service stuck with me - "There may be some debate about who is history's greatest golfer, but there is no question at all about who was the greatest man who played golf."

On the evening of the day that he died, Dale Hanson did a special on the channel 8 news that included an interview taped with Byron on his 80th birthday. The subject of his faith came up and he said that he tried his best to live a faithful life so that he could go to heaven when he died. Hanson continued his tribute with numerous accounts of Nelson's generosity and good deeds and concluded with the observation that Nelson had undoubtedly earned his reward, although there was not much chance for someone like himself.

Hanson was wrong on both counts.

I have no doubt about Byron Nelson's faith or that his faith shaped his life and was the basis for the good he accomplished. Nor do I have any doubt that he faced his maker as an absolutely righteous man. But it was not because of any of the good works that he did. On his best day, Byron Nelson fell woefully short of the holy standard of God. His righteousness did not stem from his own goodness but from God's grace.

Dale Hanson has led an admittedly materialistic and often hedonistic life, yet on his worst day he has not been beyond the bounds of God's grace. He may not recognize it and likely does not believe it. He probably doesn't believe he deserves it and he would be correct - none of us deserves it - but there is nothing he can do that puts him beyond the bounds of God's grace. That is a message that he, and the world that he so much embodies, needs to hear.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Simple Dignity

I commented briefly last week on the reaction of the Amish community to the shooting of their children; Rubel Shelley says it much more eloquently in today's Fax of Life....

Subject: Simple Dignity
Date: For the Week of October 16, 2006

The Amish have adopted something of a fortress mentality against the modern world. They do not confront the world beyond their communities with prophetic denunciations. Neither do they embrace the ways and means of a technological society wholesale. There are good things about their simple ways.

The best-known features of the Amish way are not for everybody. And some of them seem not only "peculiar" but contradictory to their literalist beliefs. For example, the Bible’s appeals for modest dress are meant to keep people from drawing undue attention to themselves. But what could draw more attention to a person in a crowd than eighteenth-century hats and clothes, hairdos and shoes?

In the wake of the shooting of ten little girls in the West Nickel Mines Amish School and the death of five of them, some things more noteworthy than the quaint dress of these pietistic people has come to public attention. They are far harder to come by than hook-and-eye fasteners. And they ought not be preserved by a mere handful of people who live in out-of-the-way agrarian cultures.

For one thing, the Pennsylvania community of Amish who had been victimized by such horrible violence had the dignity to grieve together out of the public eye. They appointed no media spokesperson and hired no lawyers to file lawsuits. They huddled together, prayed for grace, and buried their dead.

As they carried the bodies of children to be buried, they did not route the procession of horses and buggies so as to avoid passing the house of their murderer. They even invited his widow and children to grieve with them.

When the 32-year-old man who had killed their children was buried, dozens of members of the Amish community were at the service. They joined in grief with his survivors. And when a fund was established to receive money for the burial expenses of the murdered girls and the medical expenses of the surviving ones, they insisted that the killer’s family be helped from the same charity.

A Detroit Free Press columnist said: "To an outside world that understands recrimination better than redemption, it was a dumbfounding spectacle." Indeed!

What our world needs so desperately is not a shutdown of electrical grids, the abandonment of computers, and the universal adoption of farming. We need the dignity and grace that come of a God-centered life. We need to learn humility, pardon, and unselfishness. We need to close gaps and build community.

Whether you wear jeans or a business suit, you too can become part of a unique and transforming experiment. Where might you begin the process today?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mercy Now

Dwelling in the Word at last night's elders meeting we read the passage in Luke where Jesus answers a lawyer's question "Who is my neighbor?" by telling the story that we commonly refer to as the story of the Good Samaritan. At the conclusion of the story Jesus asks the lawyer "Who was the neighbor?" and the response is the one who showed mercy. Jesus then says "Go and do likewise."

On the way home I heard this song written and sung by Mary Gauthier about how we all could use a little mercy now - the implication is not only that we could use a little mercy, but that we could stand to show a little mercy. At any rate I thought it appropriate...

Mercy Now

My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor
Fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over It won't be long and he won't be around
I love my father, and he could use some mercy now

My brother could use a little mercy now
He's a stranger to freedom
He's shackled to his fears and doubts
The pain that he lives in isAlmost more than living will allow
I love my brother, and he could use some mercy now

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit
That's going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithfulWho follow them down
I love my church and country, and they could use some mercy now

Every living thing could use a little mercy now
Only the hand of grace can end the race
Towards another mushroom cloud
People in power, wellThey'll do anything to keep their crown
I love life, and life itself could use some mercy now

Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don't deserve it But we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance
Dangle 'tween hell and hallowed ground
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now

Monday, October 09, 2006

Getting Out of Our Ditch

Phil Ware offers a timely observation and challenges us in today's Daily Heartlight...

Getting Out of Our Ditch, by Phil Ware

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. (Ephesians 4:1 NLT Ed. 1).

Two weeks ago, instead of focusing on the horrific news of two school shootings which occurred in the same week, the national media spent hours focusing on the Terrell Owens overdose, or whatever that was. Mental health and drug overdose issues are matters of real concern. However, the issue of gun violence in schools, especially with the loss of life, strike at the core of many parents’ fears when they send their children off to school or out in public in general.

Unfortunately, a particularly warped someone appears to have paid very close attention to what happened in those shootings. No one can be sure the previous shootings triggered the time bomb in the twisted head and heart of the man — whose name will be intentionally left unmentioned —who terrorized and murdered young Amish girls in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. However, some "experts" think it did contribute to triggering his actions. His act of brutal and sadistic violence, couched as revenge and as the emotional thrashings of a man who could not cope with his own losses, horrified us all.

Thankfully, and I say this with as deep a sarcasm as I can muster in print, there were no high profile athletes or movie stars with ingrown toenails, bad driving events with their babies in their cars, or political bones to pick thisweek. Otherwise, the Nickel Mines tragedy might have ended up on page2!

We have become a celebrity-obsessed culture. Character, virtue, and value have completely given way to bling, to image, to street cred, and to personality cultism. Maybe our fascination with the glitzy and the glamorous has always been an obsession. Yet somehow, as we tend to creep toward lives of hyper-reality rather than authenticity, we seem consumed with a covetous voyeurism toward the rich, the beautiful, the famous, the movie star chic, and the athletic. Life is not even lived on the fringes; it is now lived on the rumor, the potential publicity, and the glitz of the pseudo-world of stardom.

So what do we do? What can we do? Or should we even care? We must care! When an athlete’s overdose gains more attention and focus than the murder of a sixteen year old student gunned down by her fellow classmate or principal’s murder by a student, something deep within us has seriously broken. I fear our cultural sense of value is as twisted as the gunman who terrorized those young Amish schoolgirls.

We must awaken and realize that the show on Sunday isn’t God’s goal for us. Instead, it must be the motivation for us to be the people of God who daily live redemptive lives in our communities as the recognizable aroma of Jesus. (I’m not bashing relevant and cutting communication and worship, but if we continue the long-time Western trend of going to church as our Christian focus, our impact on our world will continue to be insensitive political rhetoric and not Jesus’ work of human redemption.) To put it in cornbread English, it’s time to get our church-going backsides off the pews and get our hands dirty doing the work of grace.

We can care! As Jesus seekers, everyday folks committed to carry on the life of Jesus in the world, we can and must serve our communities. There are a jillion ways from volunteering as foster parents, being aBig Brother or Big Sister, working with Meals on Wheels, volunteering as a school tutor, visiting people in the hospital, finding needy people and anonymously supplying them with groceries some time other than Christmas or Thanksgiving, and on and on we can go.

The show on Sunday isn’t God’s goal for us.

So ... let’s quit whining about our culture “going to hell in a handbasket” and get busy lending our warped world a hand that helps and doesn’t harangue! Anything less is simply not worth our time or worthy of our calling.

So here’s the deal. I’m interested in what you think about this. Do you believe we’ve lost our way in this cult of the personality obsession? What’s something you can do to help bless your community and begin to make a difference? I'd love to hear what you think on my blog: http://blog.heartlight.org/phil/2006/10/our_ditch.html

Sunday, October 08, 2006


This morning we began a series on prayer by discussing the Lord's Prayer. As we were talking about asking for forgiveness as we forgive others, I couldn't help but think about the tragic event that took place this past week in the Amish community in Pennsylvania. I can hope that I would be able to display the grace and forgiveness that these people displayed towards the family of the killer of their children, but frankly I doubt that I could.

Grandfathers teaching the children to not look for the evil; compassion expressed for the family of the one who killed their children; the lack of desire for revenge; grace in the world's spotlight. These must come from a faith that is so ingrained in the people that it can manifest itself in no other way.

I can't claim to understand the Amish culture. I can mourn with them the loss of their children. I can admire the consistency they have displayed in this most difficult circumstance. And I can try to emulate their capacity to forgive.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Purpose of Pain

One of the story lines tonight on Grey's Anatomy was about a young girl who had a rare condition where her body did not feel pain. She was constantly getting cuts and bruises and had even stapled one cut closed by herself to avoid a trip to the emergency room. She convinced herself that she had super powers and consequently subjected herself to an increasing amount of physical abuse that resulted in internal bleeding and threatened her life.

One of the lines of dialogue was that "pain is there to keep us from harming ourselves". Pain serves a couple of purposes. In the physical sense, one of the purposes of pain is to protect us, to keep us from injury, to warn us that continuing to do whatever is causing us to feel pain will bring us some sort of harm. A second purpose is to notify us or remind us that we are injured and in need of healing. In sports we often admire someone who can play through pain, even though it often turns out to be to our detriment. (Speaking from personal experience here, as exemplified by my recent knee surgery.)

One of the ironies is that the healing process can also be painful. A popular phrase among athletes who are training and trying to become stronger is "no pain, no gain." It can be difficult to distinguish sometimes between the pain that comes from growth and the pain that comes from injury. It's also ironic that we often embrace the pain that signals harm and avoid the pain that results from growth. One of the euphemisms we use for someone who has had too much to drink is that "he is feeling no pain".

Pain is not necessarily something to seek to avoid, but it is something that we should listen to, whether it is warning us or reminding us that we need healing.

Break from Blogging

It has been a couple of weeks since I have posted anything. When I began blogging, I said that one of the reasons was for self discipline. I don't think I've been any busier than usual the past couple of weeks, but I just haven't had the energy to sit down with my laptop and get online to either read other blogs or to write in my own. I usually do that in the evenings while watching the news or other late night television. (By my definition, late night is after 10 pm, and is usually when I blog.) Lately, I have been trying to read some, but mostly I just nod off and then get up and go to bed. I am struck by how easy it is to get out of the habit of any disciplined activity.

This was reinforced for me this morning at my final physical therapy session. As I finished up my session, my therapist for the past 12 weeks went over the exercises that I am supposed to continue on my own. As I was leaving she said that this might be the last time I see her, but that she would know in about 9 - 12 months. She said she would be able to know whether I had continued doing my exercises because if I don't I would be seeing her again in less than a year. I told her that it was nothing personal, but I hoped I wouldn't see her again. That will be primarily up to me...