5 Community Partnership Principles

I have been strongly reminded this month that this neighborhood work is a messy work.
Contrary to popular belief, I'm not here to just provide a community service (trash pick-up, put out fires, repave a road...), I am here to empower and equip people to improve their neighborhoods.
These are 5 of my principles that I think makes for a good neighborhood partnership.
  1. Empowerment: If you come to me with your hand out, I ask that you reach into your own pocket first, then take a quick inventory of what and who you know to help you accomplish the task.
  2. Ownership: I can assist you, I can guide you, but you have to do it. It isn't mean to say no, because it is often the only way the effort will last and it will mean something to you for accomplishing it. Start simple and grow as your resources grow.
  3. Respect: Value your partners, when you undermine the work they do, they will not run to your aid so quickly the next time. Stand up for them, respect them, challenge them, and be honest with them.
  4. Unity: It has to be done together and can not be done alone, each person has a role they can fulfill better than most others. Do it, do it well, and do it together.
  5. Adaptability: Everyone starts at a different place, so what has worked for one may not work for another. Treat everyone fairly, not necessarily the same.

White Flight, Christian Separation, And Good Citizenship


So we have been talking a lot lately around the office concerning the influence of financial mobility and its impact on local school choices. Then this article on the Huffington Post pops up and brings up some great points for discussion:
Why White Parents Won't Choose Black Schools:

Many people I know explain these choices based on very inaccurate perceptions of our public school systems. Some people blame the philosophies of "secularism," a need for "separation [i.e. religious focus]," lack of "safety," too many "socialistic teachings," or promiscuously biased "sexual education" as the reason they choose other schooling options [alliteration intended].

But as this article points out, there are often just bad perceptions, unannounced/un-admitted stereotypes, unacknowledged fear, and hidden racism that underlie many of these excuses. Parents that believe in these dangers of their local urban schools and with the financial ability to do so, are often either moving to the suburbs, turning to private/out-of-district schooling [if they can afford it] or homeschooling [if private schooling is not affordable or not readily available or want even more control].

Don't misread what I am emphasizing, I fully support the idea that parents should be the ones to choose what schooling arrangements meets the needs of their child and family. Just don't based those decisions on false conjecture, skewed perceptions, or biased parental fears. We all are part of this community and therefore all have a part of the reason for why "that school" is the way it is. What is that I see quoted all the time: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." (Edmund Burke) Remember, this applies to our public educational system too, we weren't called to abandon the world just yet, but to be a force for positive change.

We see this in churches and social circles too where we now viewing our public/volunteer lives as a consumer interactions that must meet my needs and desires rather than fulfill our responsibility to be good citizens, meeting the community's needs, and challenging our school/churches to be better because they are "ours" and not some unknown other persons.

As believers we need to get real about our great commission to "go unto ALL of the world" and get ready to be "TOO diverse" in our worships, our gatherings, our fellowships, our organizations, and our relationships.

The Apostle Paul said it often:
"For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" Rom 10.12-14
In full disclosure, my kids do go "out of district" out of convenience to our family's lifestyle. However, I will refuse to bad mouth our neighborhood school, and will do whatever I can to support and promote their success.

As an attendee of a public schools for over 19 years of my life (college included), and in very diverse communities, I can attest to the quality, the values, and the richness that being involved and committed to our community schools can bring. Not to mention the influence of my Christian parents on my friends was an invaluable testimony that many parents often forget (i.e. stop being selfish about public education views, it isn't just about your kid it is about our calling to be "in the world but not of the world").

You see the age old rebuttal was that it "isn't fair to make our kids missionaries in the "lost" public school" is based on the same flawed philosophy that they are "protecting their kids from the bad influence of liberal teachers." This flawed philosophy rest on the belief that teachers are the only ones who are the keepers of the keys to a good education. In fact I agree with many that use this flawed argument: Education is more than just good teachers and yes it does begin at home, but that applies whether you are in public, private, or home-schooled.

We have to stop taking a relatively easy way out and say that "the right school will be the solution to educating our kids." Keep in mind that it is only a small piece of the equation that should look more like this:
(parenting) X (teachers + school + community + friends + students) X (prayer + fasting)
= Student Success

The scary thing for many modern parents is that they are only one part of that equation in which that they have direct influence on, however, it is a vital piece to that equation and defines these results. I have witnessed too many friends who have gone by the wayside or hit some very rough patches in their lives because even our Christian parents forget the principle of community influence and parental foundations.

We must begin to critically look at our perceptions and motivations that drive our decisions. I know for some this is going to be major paradigm shift in worldview, It will likely take them from a comfortable homogeneous society to a very diverse, heterogeneous community that values our differences as unique but unified for the cause of Christ and the betterment of the community.

But for that shift to occur we have to remember who we, as believers, are honoring in those decisions. Am I seeking a parenting award for successfully educating my kids in all things by being everything in that equation? Or am I living a life that puts my family in unique opportunities to be a witness of the good news?

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." 2 Peter 2.9-10
{...steps off of small soap box and goes back to reading..}

Health in Unity, Strength in diversity

So with a day off, I have been doing some thinking (watch out, have about 6 posts almost ready to graduate from draft form). So, just as the counter party offers a response to state of the union, this is my Non-Papal Address...
"...that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light..."
I have come to believe that when a church begins to lack a vision for the fields, both local and abroad, that are ready for harvest, they begin to look only within themselves, at the local body, and atrophy, loading strength and ability to fulfill its calling.
I also believe that we have become way too sensitive with fellow believers. We would rather give up on one local body for another local body than accept our differences and celebrate them together. There are several spots on the spectrum of believers.  Some, it seems, are ready to "help" those that "look less spiritually mature" and it has driven some believers to find less challenging congregations.  Others it seems finds it easier to just seek absolute stability and unity, willing to sacrifice themselves (and others) for the sake of the group, letting others turn away without effort to meditate. And there are those who ache for the unity of others and yarn to see growth and unity, building bridges between church bodies. These are the ones needed most these days, the ones who see the similarities and gifts of everyone and seek to create new connections that strengthen the body.
You see, to me the diversity of how we praise, pray, proclaim, profess, relate, reachout, refresh...is what makes Christianity special and unique. It is in the inclusive opportunity of the exclusive truth of the gospel can we find great, lasting unity.
If I am true to this ideal of what other believers around me should be,  I don't want to see myself replicated, but the beautiful creations of Christ that stand out from the crowd of self made righteousness for their unique love for one another.
Lastly, I believe the greatest risk for today's churches isn't government sanctioned persecution but the internal breakdown of the unity of the believers. It was this unity that Paul continuously wrote about, a unity that transcends the earthly organizations to which we belong but are joined by something deeper, stronger, and more flexible than any other. Yet, our "spiritual body" that we call churches are plagued with an arthritis, a painful inflammation of our "spiritual" joints,  that is keeping us from focusing on the beautiful work we have been called to do.

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

As you relax this labor day,  think about how you have helped your church's body lately. Are you building up and helping to strengthen these earthly fragile bonds with heavenly healing? Or are you creating unnecessary friction in the body in the name of revival? Or are you sitting silently by, feigning helplessness rather than speaking up,  encouraging, and reconciling?
Practically,  we have to stop thinking we can church shop, we have to be real with our struggles, our disagreements, our direction, our hope, our common ground. We have to protect all members of the body, we have to uplift, build up, fortify, and not "give up" on anyone. What if Christ decided that instead of calling out the pharasees, he just went to another city,  what would happen to those in the first city that missed out on his teaching when he gave up treaching there because of the critical few? We are due some serious,  intimate, concerned conversations in our churches. Not Facebook rants, blog posts, or gossiping questions of why, but real sincere conversations that are held in a spirit of unity and growth. We must do it together,  within the congregation, and between congregations. Every day souls are lost, hearts are hurting, members are stumbling, and we continue doing the same thing we have known, it is time for a change.
Hope you enjoyed your day off... now is our time to get real and get busy doing great things together. We have been called to do show the praise of a great God, in a marvelous way... now let's do it.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
1 Peter 2.9-10

Charitable Giving: Investing in Solutions, not Servitude

I was watching Dan Pollotta's TED talk on charitable giving practices and I have to agree with his assessment of current misconceptions on compensation for non-profit leadership (this includes public service, teachers, public safety and pastoral/missionary service in my opinion). 

One key business principle stands out, you have to invest more to make more (i.e. money follows money). If we short change our giving practices we are more likely to see short lived change in our "charity" work.

I believe the Apostle Paul understood this principle of giving freely as well...
6Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. 7Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. 9And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. 10As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. (Galations 6:6-10)
The translation of "communicate" includes the idea of giving more than just words, but also of resources. Give (communicate) good things... give beyond what you are able (Not be weary)... give anytime you are able (opportunity)... give to the benefit of both believers and non-believers (all men). I don't see anything in this passage about giving only to feed the poor, cloth them with the cheapest clothes, or to help them give a cheap apartment. The direction is to give, give freely, give to those who don't deserve it (especially to those who are believers and teachers).

I think the hardest example of giving to follow is the giving that Christ instructed believers to follow:
40And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. (Matthew 5:40-42)

(Makes it hard to turn down the cold call donation asks. This kind of living is certainly a measure of our faith, to balance stewardship and to be a generous giver.)

This approach to giving is not a silver bullet to solve all of the challenges we face in our societies but definitely worth considering.

(By the way, Dan Pollotta is speaking on his book in Downtown Norfolk this month. More information here: TCC Roper Center.)

For Dan Pollotta's TED Talk: Dan Pallotta TED Talk

Do Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly - The Eric Garner Ruling

Today we struggle with understanding our justice system and the impacts of the power we bestow on certain individuals in our society. We see the permanence of our actions, as a national community, and the residual effects of our ancestral decisions in the decision announced today. We question how we view others, how we hold each other accountable, and how we maintain an orderly and welcoming society. 

First, please see NFL Player Benjamin Watson's post (it is very spot on in both incidents):


Let me explain my understanding of the current events and my perspective:
  • The ruling in the Eric Garner case is not a controversial case, it is a heart breaking case.
    • Unlike the questions that remain in the Michael Brown case, the Garner case was recorded from the initial the confrontation to the moment that he went unconscious (and eventually died).
    • Eric Garner was not a perfect, model citizen, but that is not a reason to arrest someone or take them down with a prohibited use of force. There are little things called due process and reasonable suspicion that are required and have not yet been presented publicly in this case. This is what makes the case even more disturbing and fosters greater frustration (as my friends have shared numerous stories of "driving while black").
  • The choke restraint was not allowed as a use of force by NYPD and it specifically cited as the cause of death, which was ruled a homicide (whether death was intentional or not, 7 minutes before CPR efforts doesn't seem accidental). 
    • When a crime by a public servant is recorded on tape, a homicide is the confirmed ruling by a public official, and the decision is quickly made to not take it to trial... justice is not complete nor served.
  • Even those who are chosen to protect and serve make bad choices, sometimes don't know their limits, and they can get caught up in the moment, it does not excuse them from legal responsibility.
    • I have no doubt that this is an incredibly difficult job and ever more difficult these days than ever before. The demand for safe communities are higher, the potential for litigation broader, and the lack of staffing and increased demands on fewer officers makes keepers of the peace an ever tougher career. 
    • However, they have the legal and physical power to take away every right and privilege that any of us have ever had, including freedom and life itself. This responsibility is an incredible one and I deeply respect my friends and coworkers who have entered into this profession and served our communities proudly and effectively.
  • This is more than a race issue, it is an assumption and a relationship issue. 
    • Race issues are learned assumptions about other groups that guide our thinking and ultimately our actions. These issues are about how we relate to one another, an aspect in which this society has lost the ability to do in ways that we once new. The tension that exists politically, religiously, socially, and racially (and any other -ly) is greater than it has been in a long time. This tension has caused us to only have "easy" conversations and perpetuate an isolation of ourselves into groups that only think like us, further enhancing our relational tensions.
  • We all have a responsibility to stand together in the face of injustice, justice requires the community to stand and speak together, not as mobs and rioters but as a community and as an American people.
    • We may not agree on the causes, the solutions, or the who is at fault, but if we do not come together to stand against injustices, we cannot heal the deep wounds of our forefathers and foremothers. A color blind or politically correct response will only get us through the immediate crisis, but through open and honest dialogue can we begin to hear, understand, and move together towards a stronger truly American society. These will not be easy conversations, but they are necessary.
This brings me to the mini-message that I can't seem to shake. God clearly tells us that he expects us to walk with three key principles in our lives. These principles should guide all we do and be the lens through which we see our imperfect and challenged world. These three principles reflect the very character of God, the embodiment of his personage in the Godhead. 

What does the Lord require of us? Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with our God

Do Justly
We are to be as our heavenly Father and proclaim his perfect wisdom, his law, his holiness that does not tolerate the weak to be taken advantage of, the good to be wronged, the kind to be abused, and the lesser to be destroyed. His justice is perfect and true, he is consistent and fair, his eye is pleased by the work of the righteous, and his joy is from his children that follow his ways.This should be the basis for our blind symbol of our justice system, the system that rules with no consideration for race, clothes, stature, or appearance.
We are called not only to rule justly but to DO justly. This is an active and engaged work, a value that should exude from us in our actions and walk. The action of justice is one that observed, inspires, and creates the great societies that we aspire to live in. An actively just society is one built on trust and dialogue, one that is genuine and stable, one that supports and care, and one that protects the weakest and uplifts the poorest.

Love Mercy
Mercy is the work of Jesus Christ, the gift of the just Father to redeem a fallen world. Christ embodies the love of mercy, his mission to give his life a sacrifice for us, a substitution for our condemnation, the payment for our conviction. He was full of grace and truth, the perfect law and the perfect love.  "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." He is the example of giving and seeing others as greater then they deserve and worth of his greatest attention. He lived with the rejected and despised, he taught the wisest the simplest truths of neighborly love, he met both spiritual and physical needs and gave of his greatness for the most undeserving.

We are called to LOVE Mercy, it should be the thing that fills our hearts. Mercy should be the thing that motivates, empowers, and thrills us. Giving of ourselves out of our strengths and our weaknesses should be the hope of our life. Our love for mercy should move us to act and not just feel bad, it should move us to share and not just wish others the best, it should move us to be a part of the solution instead of creating barriers. Our love for mercy drives us to what is right, it drives us to do justly, it puts other first and ourselves last. A love of mercy gives no matter the return, the reward, or the gratitude, it gives and excuses because it loves to. The love of mercy is the act of charity, it is the forgiveness of wrongs and the attraction of peace.

Walk Humbly
The walk is guided by our powerfully humble comforter, the Holy Spirit. He reminds us of our position, our potential, and the power that resides in us. He guides us and encourages us, he builds our faith, our knowledge, our strength, and matures our spirit. He reminds us of others, their need, and speaks on our behalf when we cannot. He is Christ reigning in us. He is the King's spirit that directs, instructs, and empowers. He is able to "do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." It is through him that we bear the fruits of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. 

To WALK Humbly impacts all of our life, the private, religious, public, employment, and spiritual. When we walk humbly we walk differently, the value of others is greater then ourselves, the walk is not what is expected in this world. The humble walk is one that values life, even the lowest and most unlovable ones. Through humility we see other's perspectives, we learn how to see other's needs and values and how to live a life of giving for the best of others. The humble spirit is perceived not announced, it is subtly bold and quietly proud, it finds strength in something other than itself. Humility from the spirit bears fruit for self control, inner peace, and deeper purpose. 

So when I see the case of Eric Garner, I feel many different and conflicting things, the greatest being outrage in our imperfect system, our imperfect society, and our imperfect answers. I must turn to the source that brings peace, that shows love, and that acts justly. 

I can't help but pray for his family through this time and hope that they find peace in this same source. That they trust in the God who promises justice, who freely gives mercy, and gives us the strength to walk walk humbly. 

I pray for our country, my friends, coworkers, and our families. I pray for their protection, their care, and their perspective, that they see others through the Spirit's eyes, they show mercy as Christ did, and they act out of justice as God has blessed. 

I pray for a justice system that seeks heavenly guidance, considers merciful decisions, and rules mercifully and honorably. 

And I pray that I always serve my community, locally and beyond, in a manner that reminds others of the Justice, Mercy, and Humility. 

This I pray.