Friday, September 11, 2009

when helping hurts

I’ve been reading a good book lately. It’s called When Helping Hurts, and it’s written by two Christian economists from Covenant College. The premise of the book is that there are essentially right ways and wrong ways of alleviating poverty. Some methods are deemed to do more harm than good. According to the authors, many well-intentioned initiatives actually serve to perpetuate the very poverty they were created to alleviate. If you’re thinking their argument is a denouncement of liberal politics or government welfare programs, you’re mistaken. The intended audience is the church, not the lawmakers.
Here’s my attempt to sum-up their case...when the church eyes the poverty stricken around her, she is too quick to diagnose a lack of material resources as the problem to be solved. Instead, she should possess the patience and spiritual insight to see the inner brokenness that birthed the outer deficit. Poverty is not birthed by a lack of resources. Poverty is birthed by depravity. The collective depravity of mankind, not just that of the financially destitute, keeps the cycle of poverty in perpetual motion. The poor man suffers from feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness that is spread like wildfire in low-income communities. The rich man suffers from the misguided belief that he is responsible for his own good fortune; and therefore assumes to have the tools to pull the poor man out of his wretched state. Apathy meets arrogance. Brokenness meets brokenness. The result? The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.
Our ministry serves an area that is impoverished by American standards. How we approach the needs that confront us has a lot to say about what we truly believe. This much we must keep in mind; the poor need God, and we’re not Him. By confessing that we don’t have all the answers, we make room for the only answers that matter.

Monday, August 3, 2009


I am a planner. I like to know of things, events, schedules, etc. way in advance. I love to write things down in my little red calendar. So when Josh tells me, Saturday afternoon, we're having some East Side kids over for Sunday lunch, my reaction was less than enthusiastic. I quickly go into 'how am I going to cook for a bunch of kids when I'm not that great in the kitchen?' mode. And then the 'how are we going to pay for this?' mode. And then sadly, 'wouldn't it just be easier to take them back home after church?' mode. However, as we headed into the busy Wal-Mart that evening, we came up with a meal that would be easy and cost efficient: spaghetti. Noodles, sauce, texas toast, a box of chocolate chip cookies and some Capri-Sun to finish it off. That wasn't so bad.
As the nine of us gathered around our table to share a meal together, I realized it wasn't so bad. In fact, it was good. Something happens when you open your home, your table, your family to others. The meal didn't last very long, Anna Grace didn't eat very much, and the spaghetti itself could have been much better but it was the start of something new. May God bless our table and those who come and eat.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

dear mama

Today is Mother's Day. I thought I would take the opportunity to salute two of my favorite ladies, and the two best mom's I know. The first is my very own mother....AKA Mrs. Cynthia... AKA Mama LeRoy ...AKA the architect of the finest in southern cuisine. If you don't know my mom, it's your loss. Her selflessness, sincerity, and generosity are well-founded, and her chicken spaghetti is the stuff of legend. She consistently and without exception puts others before herself, and never gives up on anyone. If she thinks she has unduly offended you, she will not only apologize for the trespass, but will also abstain from sleep for the next week just to make sure. We pick on my mom a lot because she tries so hard to please everyone, all while taking as many pictures of them as is humanly possible. But we would never change her. Like any mom, she is not without her flaws. Yet flaws are far easier to excuse when they spring from a heart of genuine compassion.

Then there's Laura. Of course I was in love with Laura long before she became a mom. I first knew her as a friend , then as a girlfriend, and then as a wife. I've only known her as a mother for a couple of years, but knowing her as a mother is to know her on a level much deeper than before. I'm not sure if motherhood unearthed something that has always been there, or if it created something entirely new. Whatever it is, and whenever it came into being, I now see something in Laura that humbles me as I endeavor to raise a child with her. As I type this, Anna Grace is running a fever. When Anna Grace is well, it may appear to the untrained eye that Laura and I love her equally. But the higher the temperature, the wider the gap between her love and mine. There is a fierceness in a mother's love that even the most affectionate of fathers fall short of. It's not always pretty. In fact, I find it to be every bit as frightening as it is beautiful. A mother casts aside common sense, moderation, and many other virtues in her primal pursuit to lavish love on her children. Thanks ladies.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Portrait of a prophet

Unless you're really into seventies music, or grew up in a Christian home, chances are you don't know much about Keith Green. For many-a-Christian, Keith Green is the guy with a white man fro, who screams whilst beating the breaks off of an upright piano. But for anyone willing to peel back the time-sensitive trappings of his music, there appears a tragically uncommon zeal for holiness, and a prophetic anointing that is rarely stumbled upon in today's pulpits. There are a lot of different definitions of the word prophet. Abraham Heschel defined a prophet as "someone upon whom God has thrust a burden." Certainly, a prophet is someone uniquely gifted to communicate a timely and truthful message, with a sense of divine urgency. Keith Green never called himself a prophet. In fact, he practically rebuked anyone who attempted to place the prophetic mantle upon his shoulders. But a prophet he was. He spoke the truth with remarkable clarity. His message and his music were devoid of pretension. He had empathy for sinners, yet simultaneously managed to uphold an unflinching message of Biblical holiness that demanded radical sacrifice. His words cut to the quick of what separated man from his maker.

When Keith was only twenty-eight years old, he died in a plane crash along with two of his young children. When he died, he was still far from perfect. He was prone to ruthless introspection, and was at times unduly harsh of the established church. Even so, there is an undeniable spark still emanating from his live recordings.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

heaven in a mason jar

It's warm outside today. In fact, it's one of the first warm days we've had recently. I've also been really busy over the past few days, so I made the executive decision to give myself the day off. Being self-employed does have its perks. With the extra time on my hands, I was liberated to cook a leisurely meal that can only be prepared when one is unfettered by the usual time constraints of daily life. It wasn't a t-bone steak that I endeavored to serve, nor did I apply my culinary expertise to attain the unapproachable heights of steamed asparagus or grilled tuna. No, mine is a meal devoid of pretension, and its perfection lies within the reach of any who are willing to learn. It is known in the common vernacular as fried bologna and sweet tea. For all of its familiarity, it is a meal that deserves our utmost respect. One must never think he has mastered it, for it is as we approach it with humility that it will yield its inherent beauty.

We begin with the bologna. I prefer Oscar Meyer, but other brands may produce similar results. The key is to stay away from anything that boasts of being organic or all-natural. Such arrogance can never survive the heat of a well greased frying pan. Second, the bologna must be cut on both sides to avoid the infamous "bubble-effect." The slits should be equadistant from the center of the cold-cut, and must be procured by means of a butter knife, or a sanitized pair of scissors. When the bologna commences its distinctive popping sound, it's time to flip. Remember, the second side will blacken sooner than the first, so remain vigilant. Add two slabs of bread and a slice of cheese. Again, no organic or fancy cheeses. The package should read..."pasteurized cheese product."

Now to the sweet tea. The preparation of genuine southern sweet tea is a sacred act that requires a spirit of reverence. Their should be no background noise, unless you have a small TV in your kitchen and are watching reruns of In the Heat Of The Night. The TV cannot exceed twelve inches, and the reception must be via rabbit ears. During a commercial break, bring water to a boil. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, proceed to add four family sized tea bags. I swear by Lipton, but other brands could conceivably be tolerated. Once the water has reached a boil, and has had time to darken, add your sugar. Key: sugar should always compliment the tea, but never overwhelm it. Tea is the star, sugar plays a supporting role. If you cannot taste the tea, you have added too much sugar. You have hence wasted your afternoon, and should begin penance immediately. A note for all of you yankees.....sugar must be added when the water is boiling hot. Adding the sugar after the tea has cooled will prohibit the sugar crystals from being properly diluted, thus compromising the taste. The tea bags should remain in the water for a minimum of one hour. Take heart. Your patience will be rewarded.

Monday, March 2, 2009


As part of my work with the Bridge Project, I have the distinct honor, and enormous challenge of coaching a group of 16-18 year old boys as part of a program called Hoops and Hope. These are young black men with whom I share little in common beyond a love of basketball, and a compulsive need for a weekly haircut. As the title suggests, we have won nary a game over the past month. After blowing out our first opponent, we've embarked upon a losing streak that currently stands at three games. It's not that we lack talent or athletic ability. We have yet to gel as a team, and we don't play defense. What's worse, even if we had all fifteen players on the court, I'm still convinced we couldn't break a full court press. One act I'm encouraging among the guys is the act of introspection. It's easy to point fingers when you're in the middle of a losing streak, but until each individual has the guts to take personal responsibility, we will continue to have our collective rear flogged in the public square.

The responsibility of course, begins with me. I wasn't supposed to be the coach. My job last year was to essentially serve as team chaplain. Unfortunately, no one stepped up to take the clipboard this season, and I got an unsolicited promotion. Now I'm chaplain and coach. Honestly, it's a very delicate balancing act that I'm still struggling to perfect. Last year as chaplain, I was detached from the concern over wins and losses. I was there to be a spiritual leader. I had the luxury of relating to the young men as people rather than players. How well they performed on the court was of little or no consequence to me. I liked it better that way, especially now that we're losing. As a coach, I have had to surrender my capacity for objectivity. The kid with the better character gets benched for the kid with the better jump shot. That bothers me. On top of all this, I've been pondering Paul's instruction to Timothy to maintain a singleness of purpose. "A good soldier does not get entangled in the affairs of the world," is how he puts it. Have I surrendered my singleness of purpose, or am I just tired of losing?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

life in the bubble

Lament of a young black male............

I live in a bubble. Nobody sees me . You don't see me. You drive past me. You drive around me. You look at me. You look through me. You don't see me. You think you see me. You think you know me. What you see and what you know is a walking, talking, smoking, cussing projection of your own prejudice. I'm not yet a man. I'm not an animal either. Abandonment has hardened my humanity. My spirit-my truth- lie dormant beneath layers of anger and apathy. I don't want you to help me. I don't expect you to help me. I hate you. You know that I hate you. You can feel it. There are few things in existence that you feel more certain of. Yet secretly, deep in the recesses of your soul, in the place that transcends verbal articulation, you are aware of your complicity in my hatred. Your fear of me and my hatred of you are not unrelated. They have grown up together; emerging simultaneously from the soil of distrust. I have my faults. I have deep wounds that need healing. You can help me. You can't help me if you fear me. You have to trust me. But how do you trust someone who doesn't trust you? Making eye contact would be a good start.