You Cannot Die with Dignity

October 24, 2014 by

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My girlfriend moved in with Chris in the fall of 1999. Chris was dying of cancer. And she decided to live out her days at home. In addition to the nursing care that she was receiving, she wanted the regular company of someone she knew well that could also help her take care of day-to-day things. Jennie, who is now my wife, was that person. She had known Chris all of her life.

One night that fall, I was staying over. I was drunk. Sick drunk. As the evening’s mistakes were launching from my guts, I heard what I thought was an echo. But I soon realized that it was Chris in another restroom. She was throwing up too but for a very different reason.

The next morning, I felt awful. I went into the kitchen to get some coffee and was greeted by Chris with a smile and an embrace. “It’s nice to see you. I’m so glad you are here.” I have to admit that the first thought that went through my mind was unkind – what the hell is wrong with this woman? How could she be so pleasant when she is so sick?

Two months later Chris was dead. In spite of the pain, the loss, and the concern for those who would remain – she lived with dignity until her last breath. Her faith in God not only survived the attack of her illness, it strengthened. Her kindness not only endured but seemed to emanate effortlessly. She did not grow bitter. And she also did not become fake. She had an infant grandson and it grieved her deeply that she would miss so much and that Lucas would live without personally knowing his grandmother.

When I heard the story of Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life on November 1st, 2014 and her decision to leverage this choice to champion the ‘dying with dignity’ cause, my thoughts immediately went to Chris and my heart sunk. What if she had decided to end her life earlier? What if she had concluded that her sickness and pain would so diminish her dignity that dying would be preferable? It’s hard to say, of course, but I’m certain the impact that she had on me and many of others would not have been so complete.

In the video that Brittany and her family posted on YouTube, her mother describes Brittany as “a very autonomous, bright, well-read, well-traveled person who loves adventure.” The implication of this phrase is that as Brittany’s cancer robs her of these attributes, it will also steal her dignity. And so the appeal is made to allow anyone in her situation the right to die with as many ‘dignified’ attributes as possible.

Since Brittany moved to Oregon, she has the opportunity to legally carry out her intentions. The video is a promotion to raise awareness and funds so that more states will adopt similar ‘dying with dignity’ laws. The thing is: you cannot die with dignity by hastening your demise to avoid losing attributes that never determined your dignity in the first place.

Human dignity is not contingent on health, self-reliance, intelligence, or beauty. It does not fly away in the face of pain or loss. Dignity is an intrinsic part of what it means to be a human being. And it is arguably the most important aspect of our humanity. It is not self-generated. Dignity is 100% a gift from God. Our task in life is to embrace our deep value, to live fully with our dignity, and to bring honor to the one who gave us this precious, unmerited gift.

Brittany’s choice is not merely personal. Her well-produced video has been viewed millions of times. The video promotes a view of human dignity to which I am adamantly opposed. It is simply those views that I stand against – not Brittany or her family. I pray for peace and comfort for all of them. But I do hope that she changes her mind and receives the palliative care that she needs as she lives out the wealth of her days with dignity.

The illusion of autonomy (or ‘self-law’) has so permeated our psyche that we have become ashamed of our weakness, embarrassed of our humanity. And so we pretend – to be stronger than we are, to not need God. This pretense is not serving us well. And it is grossly undermining our efforts to serve one another. We look down on the dependent, the dim-witted, and the fearful, believing that these attributes have made them less valuable and unworthy. But our intrinsic value, our dignity, was granted us when God chose to create us in his image. Though tarnished by sin, our dignity can never be fully erased and should always be protected.

The way Chris lived her last days changed my life. By the time she died, I was sober and a small ember of faith was kindling in my heart. And it wasn’t just me. Everyone that came into contact with Chris during her life, all of it, was deeply impacted. And many of us were particularly humbled by the way Chris lived during her last months.

Chris accepted that her life had value, a value that transcended her circumstances. I am deeply grateful that she taught me how to live with dignity. And I pray that her story and the millions of others who have made similar choices for similar reasons will prove to be a convincing testament that you can live with dignity through the most harrowing of circumstances. And that this will provide the hope necessary for Brittany and others in her situation to choose to live out the full extent of their days.

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom is the Founder of the POLIS Insitute and the primary author of Dignity Serves. He can be reached at phil@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-lesson course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

How the Church’s Charity Became Toxic

October 8, 2014 by

Who needs mercy?
The Church’s charity became toxic through a fundamental misunderstanding of the world’s most famous story about helping others – the “Parable of the Good Samaritan.” The prevailing summary of the story recorded in Luke 10:25-37 is “be helpful to people in need, like the Good Samaritan.” While the parable does teach that, this is absolutely not the central lesson that Jesus sought to convey. Making this lesser point the main point has placed its hearers in the role of being or becoming a hero – the ugly seed of our toxicity.***

Interpreting parables is aided by emplacing the initial audience in the story. Who are they? What happens to them? What should be learned from their experience? Answers to these questions tell us what the parable is fundamentally about and how to apply its teaching to our lives.

The initial audience was a lawyer who wanted to justify himself. Jesus would not have taught him anything had he simply said, “be nice to strangers.” This man’s specialty was Jewish law. He knew that one already. And Jesus was smarter than that.

The hero of the story that Jesus tells happens to be a Samaritan. If Jesus wanted to emplace the lawyer in the story as the Samaritan, it would have stretched the lawyer some. Generally speaking, first century Jews hated Samaritans and vice versa. But, at least he would have been the hero in the story. Certainly that would have softened the blow a little.

But the lawyer is not the Samaritan. Jesus tells the parable in response to the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” And after Jesus tells the story, he repeats the lawyer’s question but he flips it around by asking, “So who was a neighbor to the man?” This is the key to understanding the parable.

The lawyer answered that the one who showed him mercy was his neighbor. This answer reveals who the lawyer is in the story and unveils its central teaching. He’s the battered traveler lying by the side of the road half dead. He’s not the Samaritan. He’s the guy the Samaritan helps. He’s not the hero. He’s not the one who has it all together and is able to show mercy. He’s the one who needs mercy.

The central teaching of the parable is, “You need mercy, brother. You are lying half dead by the side of the road. But God, in his mercy, will send you some help. You just may not like who he sends your way.”

The battered traveler gets the help he needs. And the help that God provides is through the efforts and means of someone the lawyer surely looked down on. While it might be difficult to give help to someone you look down on, that can also just reinforce the sense of superiority. It’s an entirely different experience altogether to receive help from those you look down on. No greater path to humility has ever been laid out. And it sets the stage for us to embrace the deepest implication of the story.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He’s the hero. Which means we don’t get to be the hero. Ever. Our over zealous applications of the Good Samaritan parable have led the Church to embrace the role of hero. We have played God for others and encouraged a type of dependence on us that should be reserved for God alone. We have refused to receive help and learn from those in distress, trumping their skills and hopes with our resources and plans. Our efforts have led to a toxic codependence which has resulted in tragic cases of burnout, resentment, and shame.

We like to play God. We like to be the hero. But Jesus came saying, “Good news: You can stop playing God. It’s killing you. I AM HERE. I will pick you up off the side of the road and take care of you. I am the hero.” We killed him for that. Now we just ignore him. And we do so at our peril. For he alone can meet our deepest need.

None of us want to need mercy. But we do. We all desperately need mercy. Whatever has you half dead, don’t let it stop you from accepting the mercies of Christ and the help of those he sends to be a neighbor to you.

[***The term “Toxic Charity” comes from a book by Bob Lupton. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s time. It’ll help you understand this phenomenon more broadly. This post outlines what I believe to be the source of the problem in the Christian Church – arguably the world’s most charitable organization.]

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom is the Founder of the POLIS Insitute and the primary author of Dignity Serves. He can be reached at phil@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-lesson course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

For Me, It’s Personal

May 12, 2014 by

Medi[4]By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – God’s story in ours. God is writing a story upon our lives, which ultimately reveals His glory, through our hands, heart and feet, to give hope, love, opportunity and purpose – in other words, dignity.

So I was humbled when a young woman told me, “Thank you so much for sharing about the topic of racism. I have never heard a white male speak about this and it was so refreshing.”

I was recently privileged to speak to about 80 college students – many of them from African-American, Asian or Latino descent but a majority white. To Atlanta they came, from Ohio State, Miami University and James Madison, to serve through the Medici Project, as an alternative Spring Break destination.

In 90 minutes during my eight-year (and going strong) journey with God to do inner-city work, I shared with the students about what we do through the basics of Dignity Serves curriculum and my experiences loving people who live on the streets.

It was a natural fit with the students at Medici, a non-profit that educates young people about the economic oppression of inner-city neighborhoods. Exposure to the realities of poverty can tap a multitude of compassion and service, beyond religious and culture boundaries.

The students eagerly leaned it to listen as I told them my story, one that is continually shaped, transformed by those around me. How did God choose a white farm boy from Bumpville, Pa., and plop me in the middle of an economically oppressed neighborhood in Atlanta?

I told them about my family, about my debilitating burnout from ministry, my eye-opening exposure to injustice in our world. And then I told them about men and women, so very different from me, who mentored and shaped my life through Polis and Dignity Serves.

Then, in the midst of sharing, I felt the tug of the Spirit to tell share what I have been learning from my friends and mentors of color, their spoken words a canvass of impressions about what it’s like to be a minority in our world.

Racism and white privilege are deeply personal, because as I have witnessed firsthand the way our culture typically perceives certain people of color. And I am not just talking about the way one race perceives another race.

I shared the pain of being with a friend of color in a restaurant that was predominantly white. The penetrating and hateful glares he endured from other patrons seared my soul as well as his. And I am indebted to pastors, mentors, and leaders of color who have heightened my awareness of such everyday indignities.

It was at this point that students who were minorities began to nod and to shoot up their hands in agreement.

Afterward, when a female student approached me to share how “refreshing” she found my views, I responded that I was honored to speak out. I have learned so much from my neighbors, who are predominantly African-American. I told her that I am honestly a better person because I have learned from a different culture, to appreciate the dignity of all people that often goes overlooked.

Daily, I see people I love affected by a prevailing attitude of superiority. That condescension violates God’s basic commandment, and I grieve.

So I encourage people from the majority culture to listen, to embrace and then to speak out. Listen to people who are hurt. Embrace the pain and frustration. Speak out at the appropriate times, when the Holy Spirit prompts you.

Be emboldened to give voice to others, to treat everyone with respect.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Should You Give Money to Panhandlers? ‘Mouthwash Dave’ Offers Lesson

March 27, 2014 by

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By Michael Joe Murphy

“Mouthwash Dave” didn’t earn his nickname because he sought to enhance his oral hygiene.

Dave panhandled on the streets of Orlando, politely asking the kindhearted, one at a time, for 25 cents. When he’d collect four quarters, he’d make a beehive to the nearest Dollar Store to buy a big jug of mouthwash.

He didn’t have money for beer or wine, so he got his fix with an alcohol-based mouthwash.

When panhandlers stop you on a downtown street, do you feel compelled to reach into your pocket to hand over a buck or pocketful change? Or do “will-work-for-food” signs at intersections tug your heartstrings and spur a reflexive hand-out-the-window donation to the beggar?

You might be doing them more harm than good.

Dawn Neff was one of the founding volunteers at Compassion Corner, a “listening ministry” for the homeless in downtown Orlando.

She will never forget meeting “Mouthwash Dave, a “really sweet guy” and gentle spirit, in the autumn of 2001.

Dave had no sooner introduced himself that he convulsed in seizures, trembling and shaking, Neff recalls, and “I’d never seen that before. I called 911.”

Neff sat with Dave in the hospital emergency room, watching in horror when as more intense spasms of pain wracked his body. He was detoxifying.

In the summer of 2000, Orlando banned begging anywhere outside of blue-dotted lines painted on the sidewalk at 25 locations concentrated downtown. But the 3-by-15 foot “panhandling zones” didn’t confine “Mouthwash Dave.”

He wasn’t aggressive. And neither are most casual panhandlers today.

In cities of any size, it’s likely you’ll be approached for a handout.

Before you’re tempted to help someone on the street who seeks money, ask yourself: What’s my motivation? Am I trying to do something immediately to appease the panhandler so he’ll move on and you can get on your way? Or do you want to help in a meaningful way?

Neff, who ministered to the homeless in downtown Orlando for almost 12 years, offers this advice: “Check your motivations. It’s not necessarily bad to give money to the homeless or to panhandlers. But there might be better alternatives for you – and the person you’d like to help.”

According to many studies, most of the homeless suffer from drug abuse, alcoholism or mental retardation. “The last thing you’d want to do is fuel addiction,” Neff says.

Not all panhandlers are homeless. It might be that the person who’s asking for cash needs it for food or medicine or bus fare to get to work.

“If someone at corner looks famished and you can’t stop to chat, consider going to the closest barbecue joint or McDonald’s, buying a sandwich and fries to take back to the panhandler,” Neff says. “Many times it may not be food that they really want, but you’ll be wiser doing that than giving away money.”

If you’re motivated and have the time, Neff says, “Check out ‘the rest of the story,’ particularly if you’ve seen person on the street or you’ve talked before – if you feel confident they’ll do the right thing. If someone just approaches you for some coins, take the time to get to know them. It doesn’t take much to get a conversation started.”

Neff has given money to homeless people in downtown Orlando, “but those handouts have been very seldom. And when I have, I’ve donated to people I’ve really known, who have no dependency issues, who want $2 only to pay for one night’s stay at a homeless center.”

Neff offers one more thought: “Keep in mind that homeless people are prideful, too.”

The same can’t be said for all panhandlers.

Be wary. But also beware making hard-line decisions and adopting a one-approach-fits-all response when you’re asked to help.

Neff stayed with “Mouthwash Dave” throughout his detoxification at the emergency room, as he convulsed in even bigger seizures. A relationship was established.

Dave was a regular visitor among the homeless and the paupers at Compassion Corner for years.

He struggled with alcoholism until he succumbed to cancer.

A decade later, the ranks of men and women without a roof over their heads in downtown Orlando remain.

So do those “blue boxes” painted on sidewalks.

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Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at MichaelJoeMurphy@gmail.com. Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

 

 

 

When We Lose Our Capacity to Receive …

March 24, 2014 by

angryman_Full

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – In 2004 I went through a very bad experience with a church, and for the next few years I struggled through my insecurities about my broken ties with this church. I was an empty person who had found my sense of belonging and acceptance as a pastor. I thought I could solve my own issues through prayer and solitude with Jesus.

In 2008 I was sitting with a counselor friend named Amy. In conversation, she asked, “How are you doing?” Her question was an invitation to peer into my soul in a way that only a trained counselor could.

I immediately began to sweat and shake. I had been caught. She knew that something was not right with me, and I did not want to confess my need.

I had lost the capacity to receive because I thought I could solve my own problems, and I had assumed control.  Moreover, I did not want to relinquish control over my own ”issues.”

I observe this happening all the time with pastors and ministry leaders who are always considered “the answer people.” They are always in the position of helping, serving, giving. They give with little regard to themselves, and often find justification in such. I feel the tension in myself.

This can lead to burnout, a loss of capacity to receive.

Ministry itself can be addicting, because it often feeds something very dangerous in our souls.

Those of us in leadership in any context give and give and give, and at some point, we can lose our capacity to receive.

Receiving is hard, very hard. In American culture, we are typically defined by what we do, accomplish and achieve. Receiving is the antithesis of this. Receiving means that I need to ask for help to get something done. And most Americans don’t like to ask for help.

As Americans, we work for everything we get, right?

I would argue that we don’t want to ask for help because we honestly don’t believe that we are worth whatever someone wants to give us. Whenever someone pays us a compliment or gives us something nice, we hide our faces in shame, saying,  “If you only knew me and how bad I am.”

When you ponder our typical response, you encounter the heart of the gospel. Christ wants to give us good things in the midst of our brokenness.

This is one of the aspects of the parable of the Two Lost Sons in Luke 15 that I love. The younger son leaves home and destroys everything that the Father had given him.  He ends up sleeping with prostitutes. He decides to return home, not to be the son, but to be the servant who works to earn his goodness back.

 The father, however, not only embraces his returning son, but cloaks him with a robe, puts a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And then the father throws a party. Can you imagine what the younger son thinks as a party is thrown in his honor? He is probably thinking to himself, “Dad, I just wasted all of your money by partying and sleeping with prostitutes. I am not worthy of what you are doing.”

I can only imagine the father turning looking into his son’s eyes and saying, “Yes, you are. You are worth everything I am doing for you.”

Christ wants us to receive help.

Why? Because we are fundamentally worth whatever Christ wants to give us through other people. Christ is on our side. He honestly believes in our goodness when we come to him in repentance.

                                                                   *     *     *

My friend Amy and I met for two hours the next day, to begin to sort through some of my issues with God, church, and life.  For the first time, I began to experience Christ serve me as I began to learn what it means to receive. It was the beginning of a journey toward freedom. I am still on that journey today.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Celebrating the Possible

March 18, 2014 by

2014-02-14 11.25.42

Is it possible for a stadium redevelopment project to truly benefit the urban neighborhood in which it resides? This question is burning in the hearts and minds of residents who live near Orlando Florida’s Citrus Bowl.

In 2013, hundreds of them participated in a survey that assessed their interest in being a part of the next generation of the Bowl’s history. In short, they are very interested. The survey revealed eight key ideas for initiatives that residents believe will improve quality of life in the neighborhood. Nearly 200 residents are signed-up to be involved in specific initiatives and about 40 residents have emerged to help lead the way.

Steve Hogan, the CEO of Florida Citrus Sports (FCS), has expressed his commitment to work with the community. FCS is a non-profit that has been using the proceeds of its events to benefit children in the region for decades. Now, as the new stadium becomes a reality, they want to work with the neighborhood in which the stadium resides to focus this positive impact while still creating opportunities for children throughout the area.

Steve is part of a larger group of business leaders now known as LIFT Orlando who are making the same promise – to partner with residents to improve quality of life in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the stadium.

One of the last events held at the stadium before much of it was demolished was a Family Fun Day. Residents were invited out to be the first to see the results of the survey and to hear Steve Hogan’s pledge to meet the neighborhood half-way in order to make positive things happen. Children played and danced. Adults laughed and talked. Inspiring art work from the children depicting their hopes and dreams were on display for all to see. It truly was a celebration of what’s possible.

Now the work begins. Meetings have been taking place. Leaders are emerging. Ideas are taking shape. Here are the initiatives that are being discussed, some of which are underway.

  1. Youth Recreational Programming
  2. Neighborhood Advisory Board to Citrus Bowl
  3. Farmer’s Market
  4. Community Computer Center
  5. Walking Trail/Walking Clubs
  6. Housing Redevelopment
  7. Lake Lorna Doone Park Improvements
  8. West Downtown Business Association

If you are interested in more information or would like to be involved, please contact POLIS at info@polisinstitute.org. If you are interested in reading the summary report distributed at the event, it is available here.

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom is the Founder of the POLIS Insitute and the primary author of Dignity Serves. He can be reached at phil@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-lesson course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Sitting With the ‘Other’

January 27, 2014 by

Cross-Cultural Relationship

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – My life has been richly blessed by sitting and learning from the “other.”

Who is an “other”? I define it as a person from a different background or culture or race. A person who has a different way of seeing the world, sometimes with priorities that we don’t share.

In some contexts I am the “other,” and I hope and pray that I am a blessing to people with backgrounds different from my own.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by “other” people my entire life. A black pastor in Grand Rapids was very influential in my life. He spoke at our large white mega-church and took the time to share breakfast with me. An African-American professor and mentor graciously met with me monthly during seminary to discuss questions about race and ministry in low-income neighborhoods. Authors such as Soon-Chan-Rah, an Asian-American, challenged me profoundly. So, did Janice, a white lady who lives in the increasingly diverse Holden Heights neighborhood of Orlando.

So many good people in Atlanta have taught me so much and blessed me so richly.  In particular, there is Victor, who has become a good friend and partner in our ministry. Victor is black, and his experiences about race and racism in our culture have riveted me in many wonderful and rich conversations. He has pushed and guided me, and sometimes made me uncomfortable as a white male.

Victor’s rich life experiences are so different than mine. He grew up in low-income neighborhoods in Cleveland. I grew up on a farm in Bumpville, Pennsylvania. Although we have such different contexts and upbringings, we share a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

Why? Because we are committed to sit with each other. This typically occurs over lunch. In sitting together, we face each other and share not only our differences but also our commonalities.

This is why I think it’s important to pay attention with whom we sit.  If we spend time with only people just look like us, we reinforce our particular worldview, and there is no opportunity for reconciliation.

When we sit together, we talk and we listen to each other.

America is divided racially and culturally, and sometimes I fear the divide is growing even wider. What gives me hope is engaging in ongoing conversations where the “others” sit together.

When we make our assumptions about another culture or race in a vacuum, it’s dangerous. It is particularly dangerous to let “news” on TV define a whole culture or race.

This is why it is good to sit with each other. It allows us to begin a conversation with people. This is the starting point for reconciliation, for understanding and for friendship.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Community Life

January 14, 2014 by

men-supporting-each-other

May not accept it but our physique is weak.

With a soul thats bleak controlled by a mind thats weak.

All in all its the completeness that we seek.

But by ourselves its of completeness that we leak.

May not accept it but our physique is weak.

With a soul thats bleak controlled by a mind thats weak.

All in all its the completeness that we seek.

But by ourselves its of completeness that we leak.

Our differences fill in the different holes and gaps in which we lack.

Living in community means we always have our neighbor’s back.

But what does it really mean to be complete.

Is it to have the American dream with a nice car, house,  and newest Jordan’s on your feet.

It isn’t. We can’t be God so we strive to be like Christ.

It’s like we can never be Jordan, so we strive to be like Mike.

It’s working together as one to create the ultimate city of peace.

So each by each our differences come together and complete the puzzle piece by piece.

Community is a fixation fixed on intergration.

Because our love for our neighbor should have no segregation.

Understand that I need you just as much as you need me.

That back and forth connection is how we create the love, peace, and harmony.

So we can stop people from acting to harm many. And stop that heart feeling of enmity and larceny. You don’t want to feel targeted so you constantly blame it on your enemy.

Obvious we cannot be perfect, but we can use the idea of perfection to guide our overall direction.

Devron Woodruff

Devron Woodruff

Devron Woodruff, a high school senior, lives in a South Atlanta neighborhood. He wrote this “spoken” word, inspired by helping to teach the Dignity Serves curriculum.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

People Are More Important Than Change

January 11, 2014 by

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – Loving people is very hard at times. I love my family dearly, but it can be very difficult.

We are called to love people with the hope that they will change. But, if I am honest with myself, sometimes I love people to change them.

When people don’t change, I sometimes grow frustrated.  I’m forced to wrestle with my own brokenness as I attempt to love them in the best possible ways.  I discover that I have unspoken expectations for people and how they will change.

“Skeptics are the ones who have turned their ideals into expectations.” That sentence – that wisdom –hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it in school.

Ministry can be dangerous and addictive. I remember my first ministry position, as a youth pastor. When I began, we had a very small gathering. It was not long before I was dreaming about what our group could become, and then I started to “idealize” about it. After I had perfected my ideals, I began to build my expectations about the group. Amazingly, those ideals and expectations turned into reality. The youth group grew, and kept expanding. This success – this surge – fed something dangerous in my soul.

Subsequently, when the church went through some very challenging things and the youth group started to decrease in numbers, I grew depressed. I questioned what I was doing wrong – what was wrong with me.

It was only after Christ called me out of ministry and to Himself that I started to examine the core of my interior life, and in that journey, I confronted the baggage I carried: I was addicted to change in people through ministry. In counseling terms, I was extremely co-dependent.

Upon digging further into my soul, the Spirit revealed to me that when my internal life was chaotic, I tried to control the people around me and to manage the events unfolding in my life. Because I had not properly understood God’s grace and love and truly accepted those blessings on my own, I sought to exert control over the people to whom I ministered.

My selfishness boiled down to this: I needed people to change so that I could feel better about myself.

A friend told me recently that God calls us to be faithful “to” people and not “for” people. The “for” in our attempts to love people puts expectations and parameters on our love. The “to” loves freely and without expectations.

I am not called by God to change or redeem anyone. Instead, I am called to love in the best ways possible. I am called to be as faithful and to listen as well as I can to those I seek to serve.

Perhaps this is what Paul is getting at in I Corinthians when he says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”

I am slowly learning to release the change to God.

God is the author of change, not me. This realization – this truth – makes it easier for me to love my neighbor, to be truly joyful in ministry, because I’m not going to change a thing.  Sometimes it’s incredibly hard and downright difficult at times for me to live out this truth. But when I do, a deep and abiding joy sweeps over me, in the midst of it all.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Socks for the Sole, Listening for the Soul

December 25, 2013 by

Unknown

By Michael Joe Murphy

Stockings hung by the chimney with care … they’re not likely waiting for men, women and children who live on the streets. But gifts of clean, white socks provide comfort and warmth for the tired feet of the homeless who pound the pavement to get to anywhere they need to go.

Thank you, Scott Maxwell, for his Dec. 22  column in the Orlando Sentinel, “12 ways you can make a difference for area’s homeless.” The practical tips are holiday-themed but worth remembering 365 days a year.

Maxwell mentions keeping manna bags — filled with toiletry items and socks — in cars. I work in downtown Orlando. To his advice, I’ll add that there’s always room in backpacks, briefcases or purses for clean socks to give away.

Why white? They’re gender-neutral, good for men and women. Christmas is a prime time for sock drives, but the need is greatest during Central Florida’s rainy season. Even 90-second gully washers can mean wet feet. It’s easy to peel off wet socks and put on fresh ones after a downpour, especially when your best access to laundry is a sink in a public restroom. Clean socks are like gold.

My passion for socks and people who sleep under stars and in shelters was born during volunteering for a “listening ministry” for the homeless when I was out of work a few years ago.

This listening ministry is called Compassion Corner. It goes on at 425 N. Magnolia Ave., in the shadow of the Orange County Courthouse. There is a short video, “If I Hadn’t Met You,” about my fellow “listeners” and the people to whom we listened, and love. We dream that compassion corners spring up around the world.

When you listen, you learn. When you are willing to learn, you communicate respect. I’ve prayed for, and with, people in distress. More important, they’ve prayed for, and prayed over me.

One of the greatest joys is to affirm the dignity of people by listening to and talking with them about what they care about: the Orlando Magic, their children, favorite books and movies. By listening, you discover the gifts and talents that God has given them. You care about them and their stories. They care about you.

The people who live on Orlando’s streets will be there Christmas Day. If it’s not raining then, it might be the day after.

You never know who needs encouragement or a kind word or a pair of socks. Merry Christmas!

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at MichaelJoeMurphy@gmail.com. This commentary was originally published in the Orlando Sentinel http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/opinion/os-ed-homeless-socks-myword-122513-20131224,0,5134590.story.

 

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

 


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