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

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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

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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

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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.

 

Do You Want to Get Well? The Art of Listening

November 14, 2013 by

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – I’ve always been intrigued by John 5. It’s the story in which Jesus questions an invalid who had waited 38 years to be healed at the pool of Bethesda.

When the healing waters stirred, it was believed that the first person in the pool would undergo miraculous healing.

I imagine the thoughts that spun through the invalid’s mind when a Jewish rabbi came up to him and asked,  “Do you want to get well?”

The man probably wondered, “A question? From a Jewish rabbi?” Why is this well-known rabbi named Jesus even speaking with me?

Rabbis were known for always asking questions. In fact, they often answered questions with more questions.

Why did Jesus have to pose this question to the invalid? Didn’t he see the paralysis, frustration and pain the man had endured for 38 years? His clothes were probably ragged and dirty. No doubt that had body odor. Didn’t Jesus know that all this poor guy wanted was to be healed?

Yet Jesus always starts with trying to understand people – who they are, “where they’re at” to use a popular idiom, and I don’t necessarily mean a physical location like the healing pool at Bethesda.

What would it look like if we started trying to understand “where people are” before we rush to offer to help them?

We see it all the time when we encounter the invalids in our midst. They don’t have to be invalid in terms of economic circumstances. They don’t have to be physically impaired to be paralyzed, blind or lame in some way. Perhaps they’re stunted mentally, spiritually or economically – or a combination of all three. They may be “in the place they’re in” because they’ve made bad decisions. Or perhaps they’re trapped by circumstances over which they have no control. Jesus knows. We don’t.

Whatever people’s afflictions, some Christians often presume to know best. We know how to fix them, and sometimes with the snap of a finger. We don’t bother to ask questions, or get to know them in a relationship. We know what’s best.

People make assumptions all the time about low-income neighborhoods and the people who live there. I know I have. I’ve assumed I know about the homeless guy panhandling on the street corner. I’ve been so knowledgeable, I’ve been so smug, that I don’t need to ask questions. I’ve struggled hard to overcome that impulse to assume. I’ve struggled to love the person through Jesus’ eyes

What if Christians’ first impulse to help began with asking questions instead of making assumptions? This impulse to act would come with a catch:  Sometimes the worst thing you can do is hurl questions. Asking questions can come across as nosy and intrusive. It takes years to earn someone’s respect in order to ask questions. I have made that mistake many times, asking questions before I earned trust and gained respect.

Jesus respected the man at the well – he respected him enough to ask questions.

Questions are good when the timing is right, and you’re with the right people – and part of what we need to do is to have the right physical posture, to be genuinely concerned and willing to listen with your heart.

Oscar Morayu, a pastor from Nairobi Chapel in Kenya, told me that the worst question an American Christian can ask a Kenyan is, “How can I help you?” Because that question assumes that something is wrong, that the person can’t do anything about it, but you know you can. Morayu informs me that when Westerners visit Kenya (and the people do want us to come), he recommends that we hang out and just listen.

I believe that we need to learn the art of questioning. Don’t ask questions to try to fix people or to be known as “the answer person.” Just be someone who tries to understand what’s going on beneath the surface. Assume a posture of humility, compassion and empathy as you listen, and listen closely.

That’s the approach Jesus took with a man who had waited 38 years to be healed at the pool of Bethesda. It’s the same place from where Jesus invites us when we try and help each other in any context.

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.

I Stopped Going to Church

November 6, 2013 by

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – Recently I had a conversation with a neighbor who lives on the streets in our community. I invited my friend to our church’s Sunday morning service.

He informed me that he had stopped going to church six years ago. He had grown weary of the politics and people looking down on him. So he stopped going.

I then told him that I had stopped going to church, too. He gave me a very curious look, as he knows that I am one of the pastors at the church in our community.

I shared with him that the version of church to which he was referring is most likely what many people call the “institutional” church. Such churches care more about their programs, their building and looking cool than they do about being a force for good in the specific community where they find themselves.

I am more interested in recruiting people into God’s kingdom than trying to fill the pews of our small urban church. I believe that if people see God’s kingdom, they will meet the master of the kingdom, Jesus. Then they will understand that Jesus has wired them to be in community around Him. And then ideally they will understand that for some reason this king has tasked the church to represent him here on Earth.

When I think of “church,” I think of a group of individuals called by Jesus to gather around the preaching of the word, taking the sacraments, share in community together, and moving out toward our neighbors. I think of people who I know and they know me, and the common bond we share in Christ. I think of people who know my junk and call me out on it. I think of people who know of the image of God that I bear and how God glories in me.

I rarely think of a building or even place. It’s not that I am against building or precise locations to worship, but we as North American Christians have grown too consumed with bricks and mortar and their upkeep. I believe that having an extremely nice place to meet unintentionally feeds a little bit of the need for control and security that so dominates American culture.

I was a part of a church for four years, which had what the pastors called “gray chairs.” These chairs were plastic and not very comfortable seats. The pastor continually reminded the congregation that the gray chairs served as reminders that the action was not “in the building,” in was out there beyond the four walls. The action was in the community, in the neighborhood, and among people experiencing distress.

Bob Lupton’s book “Toxic Charity” defines the difference between churches, which are “church-centric” versus “community-centric.” Church-centric congregations do everything to build themselves up. Community-centric congregations do everything for the benefit of their community. I personally believe effective loving on behalf of Jesus require both/and. A church must exist to benefit the neighborhood around it. If a church is doing its work properly, people will experience reconciliation through and in Christ and will be a part of the church.

So, I have stopped going to the institutional church and instead I gather with people who are committed to Christ, myself and loving our community in the best ways we know how. We are humbly learning what it means seek the good of our neighborhood through Christ. If our church were to move or stop meeting, I would want our neighborhood to grieve and plead with us not to abandon meeting and blessing this place. I would want our neighborhood to genuinely miss us because we no longer would be there.

I hope and pray that this becomes true of the church of North America. I hope and pray we all stop going to the institutional form of church and instead join God’s movement of called-out individuals to seek Christ’s kingdom here and now in order to bless the place we find ourselves in.

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.

My Way Is Best: Learn, Listen, Join

July 29, 2013 by

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – When I interned with Focused Community Strategies (FCS Urban Ministries) five years ago, I remember going to the local YMCA to play ball, and I realized I was the only light-skinned person in the gym.  I loved it.

Today, in our community in South Atlanta, my family is, without exception, the minority.

I grew up accustomed to being on top. I have learned this is  “white privilege, from my brothers and sisters of color:  When someone with a whiter complexion shows up to a meeting, it typically means the whiter person takes charge.

So how does this work for this particular white male and his family, who recently moved into a predominantly African American neighborhood?

I have asked my indigenous neighbors in South Atlanta this question. Their responses have been refreshing and enlightening.

Some of our neighbors, particularly those grew up in the community, say, “There goes the neighborhood” when white people move in. Others are excited and are thrilled when white people move in. They welcome the arrival as an injection of new life.

People ask me how I respond. I reply, “I learn, listen and join.”

When you pursue inter-cultural relationships, you must be eager to learn, to glean life experiences from the people who have lived in the community before you. When you learn, you are humbled. Upon asking one African American leader in our community what leaders of color seek, she replied with one word: respect. When you are willing to learn, you communicate respect to those who have gone before you.

It is equally important to listen. When you listen, you communicate (show) that you don’t know what’s best. Listening means you are not there to force your dominant culture on others. Listening means you are authentic. My friends in our neighborhood can immediately spot who is authentic and who is not. They know who is there to “help,” who is there in friendship. You see, my friends hate being “helped.” If someone is there only to help, this person insults and demeans my neighbors.

Finally, living inter-culturally is a commitment to God, to join in His restoration of that specific place. It is important to ask: What aspects of my dominant culture does God ask me to give up in order to live authentically in this new culture?  This is profound, as there is not a day when I am not aware that I come from a dominant culture.

When I experience resistance from my new neighbors, I remember that their trepidation has nothing to do with who I am as a person. Instead, it has everything to do with the cultural baggage I could carry from the dominant culture. As one African American friend, who just got his PhD, reminded me, “We are one generation away from segregation and Jim Crow laws.”

So I listen, and I listen closely. Listening means that I may be wrong.

And when people are hesitant toward me as a white person who wants to be a friend, I learn patience. I slow down until they invite me in. But I never stop moving. Jesus always moved first. As reconcilers of the Gospel, we are called to move first, too, and to keep moving until genuine relationships unfold.

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.


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