Saturday, December 31, 2016

How to traumatize an already traumatized people.

How do you traumatize an already traumatized people? 

It's simple really, just post a sign telling folks you'll be sweeping the street 2 days before Christmas, make them move all their belongings and tents from the damp concrete to the snowy hillside, and then send an army of workers to execute the plan. Keep them on their toes with how these sweeps will go, making them fear being arrested and their stuff being tossed. Not only that, use your power and privilege by trying to convince everyone you're doing it all for their own good and well being.

It's a known fact that most people experiencing homelessness have been through various forms of trauma throughout their lives and the act of becoming homeless is traumatic! War, rape, prison, and domestic violence are just some of the traumatic events people have been through and then add to that the trauma of becoming and being homeless. Homelessness itself deprives people of their basic needs and puts them in constant unpredictable and risky situations; homelessness dehumanizes people and makes their lives stressful and uncertain. Living on the streets, sleeping rough or in homeless shelters is undoubtedly stress-filled and traumatic!

I, along with many others, have been at quite a few of these cleanings and sweeps. I know they cause unbelievable stress and trauma. I have spoken to a large number of Tent City residents and they believe sanitation and cleanliness aren't the primary motives, but rather, they believe it's intimidation tactics by the "powers-that-be" to get them to move. They know only these Uptown viaducts are being cleaned, they know it's politically motivated by leaders who pretend they're doing it for them while lining their pockets with money from gentrifying developers. They know they are being bullied by the very people who are supposed to be protecting and lifting them up. 

While the leaders play their games, homeless people are being used as collateral damage. I have watched people miss work or appointments because they had to ensure their belongings wouldn't get tossed. I have helped people move their tents and seen them rip in the process, making what little protection they have even more unsafe. I have seen an elderly man shiver and shake uncontrollably in frigid weather because he couldn't crawl into his tent and find a little warmth. I have seen the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite escalate during these sweeps!

2 days before Christmas, it hit me (again) how traumatic these sweeps truly are! The Christmas season is already stress-filled and traumatic for those remembering "what once was" or dreaming of "what could be". No one wants to live in a cold tent under a Highway on a day dedicated to family, togetherness and good food, so a sweep at this time feels like the dagger is getting dug deeper into their backs. On that day, 2 days before Christmas, I saw tempers flare on and off all day, because these sweeps are torturous, painful, stressful and cause immense trauma for an already traumatized people! 

Anyone who works or lives with those experiencing homelessness, knows we need to be incredibly sensitive to what they may have gone through and are going through. Trauma affects someone's whole being, and we need to do our best not to escalate the tension and stress; these sweeps do just that! Traumatized people need others who'll be patient, persevering and forgiving; traumatized people need others who'll love them, be compassionate with them and show mercy; traumatized people need others who'll go the extra mile for them. Every day, I have the privilege of witnessing many kind-hearted folk doing just this in Uptown; not forgetting to love their neighbors. The homeless themselves, activists, outreach workers, clergy and countless others have united together to reduce the trauma. What I love to see is God's Kingdom and His love flowing freely amongst those who are willing to lift up and fight for those who are bullied and have been stomped on, helping our brothers and sisters feel loved and reducing the extent of these traumatic events! 

As I write this, another sweep is scheduled for tomorrow morning in morbidly cold temperatures, with windchills that could hit -20F. Tomorrow morning, this cruelty will again traumatize an already traumatized people. Lives will be put at risk and tensions will be high. Yet, as those in power execute an unjust war on the poor, ordinary people will continually live out God's Kingdom here on earth, loving the weak, lifting up the poor, setting prisoners free, and being compassionate and merciful to one another and those who don't need any more trauma in their lives.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Stings, Sweeps, Spinsters and Successes!

What a year! 

I live in an extremely diverse neighborhood; where rich and poor come together, where different religions, ethnicities and races live in close proximity and have to face one another. This is a beautiful thing, but to some, this diversity sadly causes rage, harassment of the poor and bullying of the weak. Uptown is never a dull place, full of lovers and haters, full of her vast contrasts, striking contradictions and beautiful community!

With this mind; 2016 has been a year plagued with many negative ramifications and cruel tactics, yet despite it all, hope continues to rise out of the ashes of despair. Despite all the complexity of this year, I want to sum 2016 up with 4 words; Stings, Sweeps, Spinsters and Successes!

Stings:
The leadership in our neighborhood oversaw 2 major drug busts this year in Uptown, where combined, over 50 people were arrested. Our alderman and other leaders used their tools of propaganda to highlight how they'd captured drug lords and the community was safer because of their efforts. Yet, through a little research and knowing many of the victims of these stings, none of these captured men and women were gang kingpins like Jeff Fort and Al Capone, but rather they could be considered as the poorest and weakest members of our community.

These 2 stings successfully incarcerated those who are elderly, homeless, from Nursing Homes and have disabilities. Knowing they craved money, undercover cops successfully tricked these weak, mentally ill or addicted citizens into purchasing illegal substances for them, helping them earn stints in jail. Because they couldn't afford bail or were on parole, some are sadly spending Christmas behind bars, while others have been released and have shared their story with me, affecting them beyond their "time served".

Despite our leadership's progressive rhetoric, these stings do not gel with the "harm-reduction" and "housing-first" models they love to verbalize, in fact, these incarcerations increase harm and make housing harder for these individuals. I know of a few of these guys lost housing and ended up homeless again because of these stings, while others lost opportunities to get housed. The original problem has been exaggerated through these meaningless and costly stings!

I'm not speaking hot air, I know, because we've had to help them start again! What they really need is not someone crying "harm-reduction", because it's the latest word, but leaders who will actually live out it's implications and view addiction as a health issue and not criminalize them, and that's how we can help these individuals and make our community safer.

Sweeps:
Anyone who comes to Uptown is struck by the extent of her homelessness. The fact there's people living under Lake Shore Drive is obvious to all, and the sight of many tents on the concrete has caused some of the community to foam at the mouth with rage, while others have displayed remarkable acts of generosity and compassion. Some call for increased criminalization of these poor folk, while others fight for their legal rights. Some call for their disappearance, while others (like myself) have dedicated many hours in trying to help people get into safe suitable housing.

As a result of this pressure, the Mayor and his people initiated a Pilot Project, to help get a certain number of these individuals out of Uptown's Tent Cities and into permanent housing. Though slow, and well behind schedule, the project was successful for these certain folks and them alone, while ignoring those hidden or came later! This success happened mainly because of a group of wonderful dedicated Uptown workers networking together and because temporary "bridge" housing was made available, saving people from the life-threatening elements this winter.

Yet, despite all this, the viaducts are still jam-packed full and the remaining residents feel harassed by Rahm, Cappleman and those under their commands. Frequent street sweeps and cleanings were ordered by those in power, making those living in tents feel discriminated against by the very people that should be fighting for them. Because these sweeps are even happening through the bitter cold of the winter months, City Tent residents feel these sweeps are torturous and a passive-aggressive way of getting them to move. 

Imagine having to move all your belongings every week. Imagine ripping your tent while moving it, knowing that gaping hole can cause hypothermia. Imagine having to miss work to ensure that your tent and important documents don't get tossed. Imagine being a sickly 72 year old man and having to stand in freezing temperatures and wait until a large number of highly paid police and city workers come and do their job. Imagine being homeless and watching thousands upon thousands of dollars being spent weekly on these sweeps which could go toward housing and achievable goals. Now imagine feeling stomped on already for being homeless and having to go through this indignity as well.

Spinsters:
These stings, sweeps and the closing of a local shelter a couple days before Christmas have highlighted how much spinsters love to justify their twisted schemes. I've watched as the machines of propaganda tell different stories to different audiences, letting them hear what they want to hear. Their words and actions are traveling on vastly different paths and we're all witnessing the lies and deception!

How can it be out of love and compassion, how can you build trust, when you torture people with these sweeps?
How do these stings benefit those struggling with mental illnesses and homelessness? 
How can you justify using the words "harm-reduction" and "housing-first" while locking up the "poorest of the poor", while wasting thousands on sweeps, while spending millions of tax dollars on luxury high rises, while not providing a little extra cash to stop a men's shelter from closing just days before Christmas? 

Successes:
Despite all the negativity, 2016 was not lost! Success happened. Movement happened. Good things happened! Many people, with love and compassion in their hearts, rallied together and refused to let the powers-that-be bully and terrorize those at the bottom! Just as Jesus brought His Love and Grace into a world with a corrupt empire, just as Jesus brought His ground-on-up Kingdom into an environment where religious and political thugs controlled their surroundings, I witnessed people at the bottom rise up together with love and compassion for the "least of these" and challenge the bullies that seek to control Uptown and Chicago.

Despite the ugliness of this year's stings, there have been people who haven't ignored them, letting them know they're still human, are worthy and part of society. Incarcerations squelch hope, arrests are dehumanizing and things are sabotaged through the process, but I've witnessed those who help people start again, assisting them not stay in a rut, by getting important documents and press toward housing and self sufficiency. 

Despite the cruelty of this year's sweeps, compassion and advocacy for those at the bottom has risen enormously. It's been such a beautiful sight, as someone who's done outreach for well over a decade, I remember years when it seemed no one cared for folks sleeping rough, but now tons of compassionate people bring tents, blankets, mats, socks, hand warmers, food and so forth every day. I remember times when we'd find someone frozen under a viaduct without a tent and barely a blanket, and we'd pick them up and take them somewhere warm. Those days are now over; people are rallying together, networking together, protesting together and giving together so those being stomped on can rise up together and move upward and onward.

Despite the spinning of all the spinsters, people are bringing the truth, not allowing these bullies to speak unchallenged and relentless lies! Fearless protests and actions have happened all year, advocating for those without a voice, giving the voiceless a voice. By watching what the "powers-that-be" do, they can no longer just arrest people without cause or toss someone's personal belongings away. The beautiful thing is, the spinsters are being held accountable and their hypocrisy is being brought to light, as the poor are being lifted up and loved by a wonderful network of people who truthfully care! 

Despite mourning, I am comforted and have hope! Despair will never leave us, but we are called to follow the example of Jesus and live out the Kingdom of God in a world of evil empires and oppressive regimes. We are called to bring hope, peace and love into our communities. We are called to bring light into the darkness, and I've had the privilege of seeing that this year. 

Successful movement happened. Miracles happened. People who had no keys, now have keys. People who slept on the cold hard concrete, now have a warm comfy bed. People who slept on the crowded floor of our shelter, now have a place to call their own. Homeless families who had to cram in a tiny room, now have a three bedroom apartment to spread out in. People who had to sign up for showers and line up for food, can now move freely at their own schedule. People who were once trapped in homelessness, now live with new freedom and hopeful expectations. 

With all odds against them, I was able to witness tons of people go from the struggles of homelessness into permanent housing. This has been a record year of successful movement for us at CCO and for those sleeping rough in Uptown. I have never witnessed so much movement! This happened because dedicated caring people rallied and networked together for the sake of those who've been marginalized and ostracized. This happened because people experiencing homelessness lifted each other up and encouraged one another! This happened, because as Dr Seuss said, "a person's a person, no matter how small."

Be encouraged; rally together, fight together, network together, be compassionate together, be truthful together and do right together, for in doing so, God is glorified and successful movement does happen despite all odds!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

People Pleasers

I don't like to disappoint people.
I don't like to make people upset. 
I want to give people what they want when they want it and how they want it! 

To be honest with you, I want to please those around me, so when I can't do that, it troubles me! It worries me! I've gone to bed too many times with a heavy heart, knowing I've disappointed someone. I've lost sleep too many times, with someone "living rent-free in my head!"

To those who have this struggle, I'm with you! I understand. As long as I can remember, I've battled with being a "people pleaser". It's not easy. I hate to say "no", even when the answer is blatantly obvious.

Because I feel so weak in this area, it's something I've often had to pray about and seek God's grace about. As my life has become busier and I've been given more responsibilities, I've had to face this. I can't just push it under the rug anymore. As much as I've wanted too, I find myself unable to dodge it. Working at a shelter, with all the decisions I have to make, I often feel uneasy, because I cause some people to celebrate, others to despise me, others to get angry and others just give me that stare of disappointment.

The truth is, for me, it's not an easy burden to carry. I've discovered being a "people pleaser" can be very unhealthy. I've discovered, even when we try and please everyone, we still hurt people and put ourselves through unneeded stress. 

About a year ago, this one guy did something that justifiably got him put out of the shelter. He came to me and begged for mercy. I faced a dilemma, I couldn't please everyone, half of my staff and some clients thought he should stay away, while the other half of my staff and some clients wanted me to let him back. Both sides thought they were right and both had good reasons.

I had to make a choice! Ignoring it was still a choice. I ended up choosing mercy and let him come back, and as a result, some people were angry, others were disappointed, some didn't care and others were overjoyed.

Even when we think and pray over our decisions, we affect others! Even when we choose mercy, we can cause anger! Even when the outcome produces success and healing, some folks will be disappointed and will hold a grudge. It's important to remember, we cannot please everyone and we never will.

So, time and time again, I've had to ask myself, "What does the scripture say about being a people pleaser and how do we live in a way not to live in constant condemnation?"

Tonight, I want to look at 2 verses that have helped me. These verses may seem contradictory, but they have both encouraged me not to give up when I know I'm making people angry and disappointing others. They help me know I can't please everyone and that God doesn't expect me too either. 

The first verse comes from the Apostle Paul, he says in his letter to the Romans, "Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (12:17-18)

His words, "if it is possible, as far as it depends on you", shows us that our burden isn't to make everyone happy. Our responsibility is to do what we can, the best way we can, with what we have. Our burden is to do right. Our responsibility is to make every effort to seek peace with everyone, but the results won't always go the way we want them too.

Some people won't be on the same page with us. Others will tamper with our efforts. This verse also indicates that when we are at peace with some, those actions may disappoint others at the same time. The truth is, even when we do our best, we cannot make some people happy, so instead of fretting over this, Jesus calls us to lay this burden at His feet.

When we seek to do right and do our best to live at peace with everyone, God does not condemn us if we're holding up our side of the bargain. We can find peace in God knowing that we cannot change others, we don't have that power, we can only do what we can. 

Now I'm going to the second verse. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:10)

When Jesus used the word "righteousness", He was telling us to do right in His eyes, not the eyes of other people! Righteousness means making things that aren't right, right! Righteousness also means making things that aren't just, just! In Matthew 5:6 Jesus called His followers to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Jesus was calling His followers to have an intense craving and desire to make everything right and just in all our relationships and surroundings. His ways are not naturally our ways, so Jesus calls us to follow His example, by bringing Heaven to earth, by doing what God wants us to, by seeking first His Kingdom, wherever we may roam.

There's a catch to this, some people like this, but many won't. When we operate under the authority of Jesus, we cannot be "people pleasers". When we pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God, our first and foremost goal should be to please God, not others. Doing right brings persecution. It brings opposition. It brings hatred. I know this isn't easy, Jesus knew more than all of us that this isn't easy, He suffered and died as a result of bringing His Kingdom to earth. He wants us to follow His example, and when we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we become Jesus pleasers, not "people pleasers"! 

Look at the Gospels, when Jesus went around the countryside preaching the good news and healing the poor, mobs of people loved Him and flocked to Him. The people were pleased, they wanted what He had. Yet, even though He was bringing hope and compassion, opposite rose because He hungered and thirsted after righteousness. He brought a Kingdom that challenged their kingdoms of money and power. These haters wanted Jesus to conform to their ways, but Jesus made it clear He submitted only to God. Even though He was bringing Good News to all, certain people started hating Him and despising Him. This opposition and persecution took Jesus to the Cross. 

When we follow the example of Jesus, when we live the way He wants us to live, when we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, there should be no doubt in our minds that we won't and can't make everyone happy. It may be hard to deal with like it continues to be for me, but God calls us to have this intense craving after His righteousness, and therefore, we'll struggle, suffer and even be persecuted for it.

I live and work on the Northside of Chicago, in a homeless shelter. I do a lot of outreach. My neighborhood is a gentrifying neighborhood, which means a lot of rich folks are coming in and want to develop it, trying to push out those who don't look the way they want them to look. They don't want to see homelessness, or low-income housing, or people struggling with addiction or mental illness out their front doors. These folks aren't trying to help solve the issues, they just don't want them in their backyards. 

I tell you this because a few of us often go out and pass out mats, blankets, clothing and food to those living under viaducts. We also try and help them move from homelessness to housed. These small acts of compassion obviously help prevent people from getting frostbite and other life-threatening dangers, yet these "nimby" (not-in-my-backyard) folk complain and make life hard on us and, more sadly, those living outside. Mean and horrible things are said and done.

By pleasing some people, by seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness, we are causing others to rage! People pleasing traps us, not allowing us to freely move in the direction God's calls us too. If I sought to please these neighbors, I would be disobeying the call of Jesus to "love our neighbors as ourselves" and to show compassion to those He called "the least of these!" (Matthew 25)

This hostility and lack of compassion for those suffering is something that doesn't make sense, but it's a sad reality in Uptown. People foam at the mouth and lose sleep because others show compassion, buy tents, purchase food and give socks to folks living on the streets, and they feel completely justified in their anger. 

I tell you all this not to make you mad, (though it does that to me), but to encourage you. We will always have people around us who we can never please, but we all have to make a choice; to please God, or please those around us! To seek first His Kingdom or to seek the praise of people. We can't be swayed by the opinions and emotions of others because they will take us all over the map and they'll take us away from the heart of God. We need to follow the way of righteousness, of Jesus, and let Him be our guide, because when we do, He'll take us on an unbelievable journey.

I encourage you all, make every effort to please Jesus before everything else, because He is our Hope and Salvation!



A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
 
  
This was a sermon preached on 11/29/16, in response to this question; People Pleasers
I have a lot to make up for in my past, so I’m always trying to please everybody. The problem is, I try and make one person happy, and then everyone else complains that I’m not doing enough for them. So I end up shining people on, telling them what they want to hear. Does God have a way out of all this? If I can’t please everyone, who should I try to please? I feel like I’m trapped, and I don’t know how to keep people from being disappointed in me.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Respect!

Today, with love and respect, I want to remember two veterans who passed away in 2016. 
Two veterans I was privileged enough to walk and talk with along some rugged terrain.

Both men experienced homelessness in Chicago and stayed with us at Cornerstone.
Both men were hardworking and loved to help those in need.
Both men overcame much adversity...
 but are now resting in the Lord's Loving hands!

It was an honor to know them both and to call them friends...

Rest in Peace Ed... 
You are truly missed! 
It was an honor and pleasure to see your creativity and to work with you!
Thank you.

Rest in Peace Frank...
 You always challenged me! 
Your passion, energy for doing right and your faith was contagious and inspiring! 
Thank you.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Difficult Choices

I have never encountered this problem personally within my family, but it's something I've had to deal with many times over the years. I work at a homeless shelter, and there are times when people come, we develop a strong bond with them, but things get out of control, which causes us to have to make some difficult choices. 

Making these hard decisions is never easy or simple. In fact, there are times, when making these decisions feels so heavy, that I've been left feeling drained and unable to sleep. Dealing with this drama will impact the people we love! It will affect us, affect them and affect those around us. 

A few years ago I knew this guy named Troy. He was homeless and lived on the streets for years. We got on really well. He was an older guy who loved Jesus and the Bible. But when he would get drunk, he became very loud, aggressive and opinionated. There were times I'd find him sleeping in alleyways and other dangerous places, making me very concerned for his health, safety, and well-being.

At our shelter, at that time, we opened these rooms that we put some older guys in. So I took Troy in. At first, he did really well. In fact, he sobered up. He saved money, his area was immaculate and his big KJV bible sat opened next to his bed all the time. He did not sip a lick of alcohol for quite a few months. People around him loved him too. 

Then sadly, things slowly changed. His bible closed, his savings were being used and he started drinking again. I'd talk to him, we'd work out healthy solutions, we'd set goals and he'd slow down, but within weeks, the chaos would rise up again, often worse than the time before.

Finally, the time came when everything got out of control. He went on a binge, was extremely intoxicated, was yelling profanities, cussing people out and he even dropped his gin bottle out of the 4th-floor window, just missing a mother with her baby in a stroller below. 

Obviously, a hard decision had to be made. I had tried and tried again, offered some solutions, but he blatantly pushed them away. He had gone beyond the point of listening. It had come to a point when he needed to move on. We weren't doing him any good! He'd put a child at risk and I couldn't stop the downward spiral he was on. He was hurting himself, putting others in danger and had become increasingly hostile. It hurt me, because I loved this guy, had prayed for him, I wanted to see him do right, I wanted to see him successfully move on, but I couldn't prevent it, he was going to do what he was going to do! 

Hebrews 12:11 says; “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

When we love someone, it can be extremely hard and painful to discipline them. But there are times when we have to make these hard decisions. We often don't want to do what needs to be done, but if we love someone, we need to do it!

When God disciplines us, He does it for our good. He does it to bring about change. He does it to bring about repentance. He does it to bring us back to Him. He does it to bring about the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 

If we find ourselves in a similar boat, we need to do likewise. If we need to make a hard decision like this, we need to follow God's example of how He disciplines us. 

I know in my life when God has disciplined me, or when my parents disciplined me, it was a painful experience at first, I didn't understand it, it made me angry, but as time moved on, it brought about positive change. When I look back now, I'm actually thankful for those times. 

If we're in a situation, where we need to make these sorts of difficult decisions, I want to encourage you all with 3 things tonight. 

Firstly, Jesus calls us to love, no matter the circumstances. To love as He called us to love. To love through the good and the bad, to love with an enduring love, to keep on loving no matter what. Troy said some ugly things about me and my family during this time, but as children of the Kingdom of God, we need to keep on loving and not give up on someone when they let us down or hurt us. Through all our decisions, however painful they may have been, we need to keep on loving our neighbors as ourselves.

It's not an easy thing to do. I live in the same area as the place I work, so I frequently encounter people I've had to make some hard decisions about. To keep on loving them isn't always easy, especially since some of them were put out because of violence and threats. But that's what we've been called to do! That's what Kingdom Love is.

Despite all the wrong I've done, Jesus never turned His back on me, He still loves me, and I need to follow his example by loving others with His enduring love!

Secondly, as followers of Jesus, we are called to show Mercy. Our mercy can't stop because of these decisions we make. Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." With Troy, I tried things again and again. Sometimes it would work, other times it wouldn't. Just as God shows mercy to us when we don't deserve it, we also need to show mercy to those who don't deserve it. 

We may set boundaries, but that doesn't stop us from being merciful. It's important not to shut the door completely, it's important for them to know they're still loved. It's important to give when we can! 

Thirdly, as followers of Jesus, we are called to forgive people. When asked how often; Jesus replied "70 x 7". In other words, we should never stop forgiving people. Sometimes it seems, there are certain people in our lives who never learn, but each time they hurt us, Jesus says "I have forgiven you for your heinous acts, you need to do likewise!"  

Even when we have to make hard painful decisions, we shouldn't hold a grudge, we need to forgive. That doesn't mean we need to put the rest of our family in danger or keep on getting ripped off. It means we put ourselves in the vulnerable position of letting them know, by both our words and deeds, that they are still loved. 

Troy's story didn't end in tragedy. He endured a brief period where he hit rock bottom. Things were awful during that time. Eventually, he gave up the bottle again and moved into a Nursing Home, where he found peace and lived the remainder of his days. Through it all, he kept on loving Jesus, and Jesus never gave up on him. 

Remember: God doesn't give up on us. He will never leave us, nor forsake us. Even when He disciplines us, He keeps on loving us, He keeps on showing us mercy and He keeps on forgiving us. 

We, as followers of Jesus, need to follow God's example and do likewise. 




A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
 
  
This was a sermon preached on 10/11/16, in response to this question; “Family living situation drama”
"There’s a family member staying in the house with us that isn't paying rent, and is causing a lot of chaos. I’ve been trying to be Christian about this, but the situation hasn't gotten any better. What do I do?"

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hungry and Thirsty

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." 

I had to memorize this verse and the rest of the beatitudes when I was a child. What they meant to me 25 to 30 years ago, is so different to my understanding today! 

What were once "feel good" sayings, are now words of inspiration, of encouragement, of conviction and of challange! These beatitudes, are words, that should embrace every millimeter of our lives, not just snippets of it. These are words that bring the Kingdom of God to earth and in our midst! These are words that should embrace the whole Christian community, not just us as individuals. These beatitudes, are words, that should bring us closer to God, words that inspire us to be more like Jesus and to follow His ways!

Jesus embraced all the beatitudes 24/7, with His whole life. These words were lived out, in both word and deed, internally and externally, wherever He went. He brought His Kingdom to earth, and lived out the prayer he taught us to pray, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven". He calls us to do likewise.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” 

When I memorized this verse as a child, I thought all it meant was we had to read our bibles, pray, and if we're really good, fast a lot. I also thought it meant being good, by making sure we didn't swear, we listened to the right music and went to Church twice every Sunday. I did all that, apart from fasting, but I didn't feel satisfied, I was disillusioned and felt ripped off. It didn't make sense! I felt frustrated at God.

When Jesus said "blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness", He was challenging and convicting us with something far deeper and life changing. My hope and prayer is to encourage you all this morning. 

The first question I want to ask is; "What does this word righteousness mean?"

When I went to Bible College in New Zealand, I briefly studied Greek, and one of the first things we examined was the meaning of the word "righteousness". The greek word is "dikaiosune", and basically, through looking at this word and the root words we find that righteousness and justice are related and should not be separated. Vines Expository Dictionary describes righteousness as "whatever is right or just in itself, whatever conforms to the revealed will of God." Righteousness is about making what is wrong, right, or making what is unjust, just! 

A second point of clarity about the word "righteousness", it is used differently by different authors in the New Testament. Righteousness in the book of Romans indicates how we were wrong, but God, through His grace, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, has made us right before Him. Matthew, however, uses righteousness in a different way; to him it's our "ethical conduct in keeping with God's will." In other words, Jesus wants us to live by His standard, not our own way, and He clarifies this in Matthew 5:20, by telling His followers, "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven".  

When Jesus speaks of righteousness here, He is calling us, as believers, as people who've been justified by God, to live a life where we bring heaven to earth. Righteousness is doing what Jesus wants us to do, in the way that He wants us to do it! This means, loving our neighbors, being peacemakers, being meek, being merciful, being pure in heart, being poor in spirit and, of course, following the example of Jesus in what we do and say. 

The second question I want to ask is; "How do we Hunger and Thirst after this Righteousness?" 

In the ancient world and in certain parts of the world today, droughts cause starvation and death. Obviously, in such climates, hunger and thirst are the strongest biological drives for humankind. It's hard for us to understand this concept here in Chicago, because food and water is so readily available. Today, we might say, we need to hunger and thirst after righteousness just like an addict craves after her fix, or an alcoholic needs his alcohol, or some of us need to be online, on our phones or need to watch the next episode of our favorite shows! Jesus is talking about a craving so powerful, it's next to impossible to resist! 

Basically, Jesus is telling us we live in a messed up, unjust, violent world and our strongest cravings should be to right the wrongs around us! We need to represent and imitate Jesus in our midst. We need to bring the values of heaven down to earth, we need to live out His kingdom values here in our neighborhood, we need to be salt and light in our communities and wherever we may roam.

The third question I want to ask is; "How do we live out this verse here in Uptown, in Chicago, today?"

We live in a neighborhood that's hurting. We live in a neighborhood where we witness and know of too many things that are so unfair and unjust. We just need to walk out our doors and see the tents down the street to know that inequality exists. Within our neighborhood, whenever I speak to those who are poor, mentally ill, addicted or have physical disabilities, I mourn over the huge obstacles they face. I listen to their cries for justice! I listen to those who have been oppressed because of their race, and see how they weep over how unjust and unfair things have been and are for them! 

It's sad, but every day, I witness and experience things that are not right! It's not right that my 67 year old friend, who's mentally ill, has cellulitis and is a veteran remains homeless. It's not right, when a few of us at CCO witnessed police taze a young man who wasn't violent and wasn't being a threat. It's not right, when I turn on the TV and see the rich and powerful get away with horrible crimes, while I watch Clarence get tossed in jail for stealing some cough drops. 

It wasn't right, when my friend named Bernard came to see me on Wednesday. I helped him get into a place recently, but on this day, Bernard had tears in his eyes. His 22 year old son was shot and killed in Englewood last Friday. 

All this isn't right! This world isn't fair! This world needs the Kingdom of God to reign right here on earth, right here in Uptown. Uptown needs God's will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven! 

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus proclaimed his mission, what bringing heaven to earth means; “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lordʼs favor.”

Jesus is calling us to saturate our surroundings with righteousness. Jesus is calling us to fight for those who are weak and poor! He calls us to be salt and light to those around us! Just as Jesus lived out this verse, we need to do likewise.

He calls us to hunger and thirst for the elderly, widows and orphans.
He calls us to hunger and thirst for those who struggle with mentally illnesses.
He calls us to hunger and thirst for those suffering with sicknesses and disabilities.
He calls us to hunger and thirst for those in prison and who continue to suffer because of their past.
He calls us to hunger and thirst for those who are experiencing homelessness. 
He calls us to hunger and thirst for those who suffer because of the color of their skin or because of their gender. 
He calls us to hunger and thirst for those who've been abused, bulled and assaulted
He calls us to hunger and thirst for anyone and everyone who's been brought down by the cruel hand of oppression and injustice! 

Craving for righteousness, doesn't mean we all become activists chanting and waving signs in the street. Craving for righteousness can be loud. It can be quiet. It can be peaceful. It can cause chaos! Craving for righteousness is the desire to love our neighbors as ourselves and trying to bring the ethics of God's loving Kingdom to those around us! 

Craving for righteousness is quietly sitting by a cancer patient. It is changing someone's tire. It is singing songs in a nursing home. It is hugging and listening to a victim of abuse. It is visiting those in prison. It is buying someone a sandwich. It is not abandoning the veteran who suffers with PTSD. It is making every effort to spread the love of Jesus to all we come in contact with. It is bringing the good news of the gospel, even when people try and stop us! 

Loving our neighbors and bringing the gospel into our streets will cause reactions! Jesus broke the rules, He healed people on the Sabbath, He dined with prostitutes and He harshly challenged and rebuked the religious and political leaders of His time. Craving after righteousness attracts haters, it brings about persecution. Let us not forget, craving after righteousness took Jesus to the Cross.

Through my job, I have the privilege of knowing a lot of people in Uptown, and when we talk about Jesus, most of them tell me they love to see Christians uniting together to overcome what's wrong in this world. They want to see us living out the gospel. They want to see us challenge injustices. They want to see us taking risks. I constantly have folks asking me, questioning me, or even thanking me about our role, as Jesus People, in the community! When people see believers coming together to live out the gospel, I've seen even those who've turned their backs on God, glorify Him. I've seen it time and time again! Despite the opposition, when the Church hungers and thirsts after righteousness. God is glorified and people are drawn to Him! 

The fourth and final question I want to ask is; "if we hunger and thirst after righteousness all the time, how will we be satisfied?" 

As with all the beatitudes, the final phrase of the verse carries mystery. How can we always be hungry and always be thirsty, while at the same time, always feel satisfied or filled? It doesn't make sense.

I believe these beatitudes carry the "already, not yet" tension of the Kingdom of God. In eternity, we won't need to hunger and thirst after righteousness, because our God makes all things just and right and we'll be perfectly satisfied. But while we're here on earth, our cravings to overcome the wrongs should never cease, and yet at the same time, Jesus promises us we'll feel satisfied or filled. Jesus lived this way, we should too! 

I would describe it this way; I have the honor of helping homeless men and women get housed. I hunger and thirst that our homeless brothers and sisters overcome whatever barriers stand in the way and successfully move into their own homes. It gives me so much satisfaction and joy when I have the opportunity to take a picture of someone, like our friend Linda, proudly holding her keys! Yet, as much pleasure as it gives me, I know that as soon I finish congratulating them, there's plenty of other folk needing to get off the streets too! Within me stands a tension of mourning and hope, and in that, I'm mysteriously satisfied. 

Sadly, there will always be inequality, violence and unjust laws wherever we go. So when we fight to bring the kingdom of God into our neighborhoods, when we hunger and thirst to bring hope, to bring peace, to bring mercy, to bring love, to bring the gospel and to bring Jesus into our surroundings, Jesus promises us, we will feel satisfied at the same time. 

This beatitude is a mystery that's hard to describe, so I want to close with a story that summarizes what I've been trying to say. This was a time where God taught me about the importance of craving after righteousness. This is also a story where God filled me up when I thought I'd feel empty. 

Years ago, when I was relatively new at CCO and Chris was out of town, I had to run our soup kitchen. It was crowded, there may have been 200 people in our dining room. A group near the front of the line called out to me and snitched on this guy who was pushing in. I approached him and told him he needed to go to the back. He didn't like my request, felt embarrassed and refused to move. When I got persistent, he got irate!

He didn't stop. He followed me around the room. He got in my face, was yelling at me and threatening me. This happened before we all had cell phones, so I approached the front desk and started dialing 911. With the phone against my ear, this guy winds up and punches me twice in the face and runs out the door. 

I was angry. I was embarrassed. I wanted revenge! The room was crowded, and everyone saw it! I couldn't stop, I couldn't run away, people were hungry and needs had to be met, so I went right back to running the program. I suddenly found myself in an awkward position, people were watching me to see how I'd react.

I had onlookers who offered to mess this dude up for me, people who could have and would have done serious damage! On top of this, because of my position and because he was homeless, I had the power where I could have made this man's life a lot harder than it already was! People were watching and wanted to see what I'd do! I had to ask myself, do I seek revenge or do I hunger and thirst after righteousness? 

I knew what Jesus wanted and I knew what I wanted! I wanted revenge! Jesus wants mercy, love and forgiveness, and this was the challenge. I didn't want to see him again, I wanted another staff member to address him, but that didn't happen. It was up to me! Jesus wanted me to be merciful and a peacemaker. He wanted me to face my fears, face this man and restore what was wrong. I couldn't do it on my own, I knew the only way I could do it was through prayer and God using me in my weaknesses. 

It wasn't easy and it took a while. Through prayer and pursuing what was right, our broken relationship was restored. I learnt his name, Clyde and I became friends, I was able to help him with his housing and Darrell and I attended his funeral a few years ago, where we were honored to meet his mother. The fight to right this wrong, gave me this mysterious satisfaction. It filled me up! It gave me hope, because I realized God can use a broken vessel like me to make what seems impossible, become possible. 

Through getting punched by Clyde, God taught me something. He taught me, however weak we may feel, He wants us to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and when we take that risk, He'll strengthen us and use us to bring heaven to earth and to glorify His name.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Uptown's Hope Alley!

When people come to us to stay in our shelter, they are often in a state of desperation; all are homeless and over 80% percent of our residents are without income! They come seeking hope and answers!

When people from the neighborhood come to us for food, clothing and assistance, they are often in need; most are dealing with poverty, food insecurity and limited resources! They come seeking hope and answers!

This week, the people who came into our alley, found hope!
Hundreds of hungry tummies were filled.
Hundreds of tired bones found rest.
Hundreds had showers, got toiletries and fresh clothing.
Hundreds felt safe, found community and ongoing support!

This week, hope reigned, because there were some who were also blessed with keys to their new apartments, symbolizing a long journey of perseverance, through networking, case-working, finances, a whole lot of effort and a ton of love.....

Congratulations Bernard, Cedric, Ali, Tim, Robert, Robyn, Anthony and Greg; for all successfully moving into your own apartments this week! You all did it; Yay!

And isn't this what the Kingdom of God is all about; Jesus calling us to "love our neighbors as ourselves", and "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me"



Sunday, August 28, 2016

Another Crazy Eclectic Successful Day!

People often ask me what an average day looks like to me, and to be honest, I always struggle to answer that question. Most days are different! Any hope for routine and structure vanishes quickly almost every day. My chaotic job requires me to always be "on my toes" and be ready to respond with the love of Jesus to whatever or whoever comes my way. Despite any lack of normalcy, I actually like the chaos, I like the variety!

Today (Wednesday) built onto an already crazy-filled eclectic week. It was nonstop busy, but great things happened and lives were touched. It was a blessing to have lived it; it was a blessing to see God working. It was also a blessing to see how networking and collaborating together with other people truly helps others successfully move forward. 

The day before, I'd ventured out to find certain people and tell them about appointments they all had. This outreach effort paid off! Even though it was raining this morning, they all came except one, who sadly landed in jail the night before. 3 out of 4 ain't bad, and then unexpectedly, the 2 brothers showed up as well! These appointments were vital, because they were with someone who helps homeless people find suitable housing. The end result was, these 2 brothers should be off the streets and into their own apartment tomorrow. Yay! 

As the "Housing Locator" was meeting with each them individually, I was assisting one of them get her ID. With her boyfriend locked up, she expressed her very real fear of sleeping outside alone, so I called another outreach worker. He had a unit available, so by the end of the day, she got her key and started living in her new crib! 

These 3 individuals, who together, had amassed well over 50 years of homelessness, were suddenly all getting housed within 24 hours! I couldn't believe it! 

As these things happen, there's always random questions and needs being asked and responded too. 2 ladies came to CCO and were trying to secure housing for families experiencing homelessness. As a result, we were able to set up vital meetings, which enabled parents to know their rights as they send their kids to school this year. This is important, as homeless kids in schools need advocates who'll make sure they're given a fair, just and unbiased education.

During lunch, I had to make sure a working freezer was taken to the Gym, where our men sleep. The old one had broken, so today, they got a new one, ensuring what needed to stay frozen, stayed frozen! 

As these things were happening, a mother and her adult son were dropped off to us. This is nothing unusual, but we occasionally get ones which take unexpected turns and call us to be creative. Today was one of those days! We quickly found out that this fella had seizures, short term memory loss and his mom had to administer his medication, resulting in knowing that there was no way he could stay at the Gym. How would he walk those 8 city blocks without getting lost? What if he had a seizure on the steep stairs? How could he administer his meds on time and the right way?

Homelessness never fits into a box!

These 2 had been homeless in Chicago for a couple months. When they were dropped off, no one who'd organized this had revealed their unique circumstances. Unfortunately, this happens too often! People don't know how or won't make the effort to respond to a tricky situation, so they pass them on with smidgens of truth. The mother told us about their sad rugged journey of homelessness in Chicago; how they'd been robbed, ignored, given fake help and false hope, and now, they'd been just passed on, to us. We didn't want to be another place that said "sorry' and pushed them into the dark again. We needed to be creative! We needed to work something out! We had an opportunity to be the light in their dark journey.

Well, we did figure something out and they ended up staying with us! Together! Since they'd been robbed, they needed to start afresh. We began by assisting them with their birth certificates, IDs and transportation. Their Chicago homeless experience started changing today, their worrisome faces transformed into smiles and words of thankfulness. They felt safe, loved and hopeful that successful movement could happen.

Throughout the day, another reason for celebration happened; 3 men got jobs! This is no mean feat in today's climate. Yet, they faced a huge problem, they're all homeless, have no income, were employed in the suburbs and 2 of them needed steel toe boots. They were stuck! They could see the opportunity, but they needed help to reach it!

Obstacles, that seem small to some, are huge when experiencing homelessness!

We had to make this happen! We couldn't squash their hope! Through networking with the Emergency Fund, all 3 men had RTA cards and 2 of them had brand-new steel toe boots within the hour. It's hard to describe the delight these man had, they thought these jobs were just fleeting illusions. They had the guts to ask for help, and we were able to deliver! They were ecstatic, they thanked us empathically for caring and ended up praising Jesus. 

On Wednesdays, I help with dinner. Tonight, as I watched over 200 people peacefully eat a good meal, I saw an eclectic group of people who have been united by poverty and homelessness. It wasn't tense, it was chaotic, it gave me hope....

I watched the mother and her adult son being helped by people who are often rejected and feared; they smile, they eat and know they're safe. I felt at peace too!

I watched the brothers gobble down their food next to their friends; they leave the cafeteria with giant grins on their faces, we joke and they promise me they'll make to their appointment tomorrow, knowing keys are almost in their hands.

I watched the 2 guys, with their new steel toe boots, laughing and joking in line, knowing they got to grab this opportunity; they leave the facility, they both shake my hands, thanking me again for helping make what seemed impossible, possible.

I watched as single women got their trays, sat at tables and enjoyed their steak; as I sat there, I received a text from the outreach worker ensuring me that the lady I'd referred to him in the morning was now placed and safe in her own apartment. This made me smile, I felt peace and I texted him back a big thank you.

I watched as kids played and ate with giant smiles on their faces, making their parents relax and know that love and compassion still shines, even when you find yourself in a situation you never dreamed of being in; as these families left the cafeteria, they still had hope and they were thankful for the roof and food we'd been able to provide.

As I sat there, I was reminded once again of how we bring the compassionate Love of Jesus, His peace and His hope into the lives of so many.

There's no denying, lives were touched today, they're touched every day, and that's why I like to rename the street once known as "blood alley", to the more realistic "Hope Alley". 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Can't Read or Write

We live in a world full of computers, smart phones and countless signs that beckon our approval and need our attention every minute of every day.....

Imagine living in that world, but not being able to read or comprehend what you need to know.
Imagine not being able to read or comprehend instructions, texts or emails.
Imagine not being able to read or comprehend job applications, housing contracts or the countless forms we need to fill out to help us move forward.

There are many people experiencing homelessness who are highly educated, freakishly intelligent, or just have a good ability in being able to read and comprehend whatever is before them. Yet there's another side, a large number of individuals suffer with a crippling reality in today's world; they just can't read, write or comprehend what they see before them! 

By noticing this debilitating disability, I am often weighed down by the shame and agony people feel. I have to assist people read and fill out the simplest forms, and I see how this struggle makes small hurdles enormous. Being unable to read and write makes someone incredibly vulnerable in today's day and age.

Imagine just trying to get your Birth Certificate. Imagine not being able to navigate the Internet to work out how to get it. Imagine not being to read the form. Imagine not being able to fill it out. Imagine not being able to read the directions to the Cook County Clerk to finally get it. Imagine how embarrassed you'd feel having to ask for help to accomplish a task that should be quick and simple.

Even though I witness these realities every day, it shocks me that this issue is often ignored and forgotten among homeless providers. The Housing First model rightly tries to find those who are most vulnerable and get them into housing as soon as possible. It focusses on mental illness, substance abuse, physical disabilities and chronic health problems, but it often ignores those who struggle with a low IQ, are intellectually challenged or have a learning disability.

There are countless reasons adults struggle to read or write, but I do not believe it has to do with laziness. My son, Cyrus, has been diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and ADHD, resulting in laboring through books, awful spelling and poor results in standardized testing. I tell you this, because Cyrus is smart, artistic and has an extraordinary ability of putting together difficult puzzles. His brain works differently, so he therefore struggles to navigate through our westernized system!

Because of our privilege and Beth's tenacity, Cyrus got the assistance he needed. Reading, spelling and filling out forms will never come easy for him, (other things do and will), but he now has the tools to survive in a world that isn't friendly to those with dyslexia. 

When I have someone in front of me who can't read, write or comprehend, I always think of Cyrus! I'm fully aware that if he didn't have the schooling, resources and opportunities he had, things could have been completely different for him! With his diagnosis, I realize that if he lived in a different location, had endless drama, limited money and a life fill of tragedy, his story would be completely different. Cyrus wouldn't have been someone who couldn't read any word, but he could have been a guy who lived without reading books or fully comprehending signs, forms or instructions. Cyrus, through tutoring and learning various tools, now enjoys slowly reading books like "The Lord of the Rings", something which wouldn't have been possible without the loving help he received and continues to receive.

Being unable to read or write is crippling! It is devastating! It is embarrassing, people facing this often hide their shame and that is why people don't want to reveal their secret. Very few people openly admit to this disability and become very good in hiding their struggles and that is why case-managers need to be alert, attentive and sensitive to this possibility. Noticing illiteracy in people and acting compassionately creates new opportunities and shows them we care and love them.

I could tell many stories of people experiencing homelessness, whose biggest obstacle to successfully moving forward is not being able to read and write. Unfortunately, people end up focusing on other vices, often ignoring or not noticing this one, not knowing that if they don't help in this area, important forms will never be filled out and movement doesn't happen! Even though it's awkward to read things out loud to adults and then help them fill out their forms, it needs to happen, for their sake!

Sidney, (not his real name), had been homeless for decades. When people tried to help him, they focussed on his obvious alcoholism, forgetting his complete inability to write anything except his name. Therefore, he lived all his adult life in Chicago, with no ID, no income, no food stamps, no benefits and no place to call home. He wanted these things, but he was stuck!

Sidney grew up in poverty, his parents died young and ended up homeless as a young teenager. Even if he'd had a stable, supportive background, reading would have been very difficult for Sidney, as he seems developmentally delayed. Even with all odds stacked against him, Sidney knows how to hustle and survive. He had his friends and his church, but he needed one more thing: to get off the streets and into his own crib.

When people started noticing this, reading for him and filling out the forms, good things happened. He was taken to get his ID, his Social Security card, his Birth Certificate and to housing appointments. Without the help he received, this 50 year old man wouldn't have been able to navigate this city, the internet or the forms placed in his hands.

Today, Sidney doesn't live in alleys, under bridges or in abandoned buildings, he lives in his own apartment, thankful that he survived well over thirty winters in this city which isn't friendly to those who can't read or write.