Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'
Monday, December 20, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
John Stewart hosted a panel of 9/11 first responders who were speaking out about the Republicans threatened filibuster of the bill. (See the link below.) He was outraged, and brilliant. For blocking the passage of this bill, the Republicans are, in my humble opinion, are deeply wrong. Conversely, the Democrats, including our President, have failed to aggressively promote and pass the bill choosing to focus on extreme left wing proposals that in many ways have divided our nation. Both sides are at fault.
What am I missing folks? This bill, to me, seems to be a colossal 'no brainer'. The Republicans should fall in line and pass it without exception. The Democrats, forever the party of fumblers and bumblers should have made it a priority months ago.
There are many issues I stand for, including the Dream Act, that while I may feel passionate about, despite my opinion I understand the other side's perspective. Even the in the case of the Tea Party, of which I am a vocal critic, I can likewise understand their outrage at ineffective, bloated government. However, for this issue I am dumbfounded.
I'm honored to serve as a Police Chaplain. Chaplains, like my colleagues who serve the East Palo Alto PD, are considered first responders. Who can forget the photo of Father Judge's, a fire Chaplain, being carried out from the Twin Towers by firemen. He is an inspiration to me. If I was in NYC, or if there is, God forbid, a natural or other tragedy in the Bay Area you won't be able to keep me away from helping. If I get sick, I pray there is help for me - and for the police and firemen I serve. This one is getting 'close to home' for me.
To my 'conservative' brothers and sisters, can you call you Senators and express your outrage and encourage them to pass this bill before the holiday break? Can you contact your friends and like minded acquaintances and ask them to make contact. Not passing this bill would be another tragedy impacting a group of folks who daily put their lives on the line, some of whom have been dying a slow death since crawling on the pile at the hallowed site at Ground Zero. l
Check out the John Stewart interview here: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-december-16-2010/9-11-first-responders-...
See a good ABC news piece here: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/jon-stewart-rants-republican-filibuster-911-re...
Monday, December 13, 2010
I'm reading 'Secrets in the Dark' by Fredrick Buechner. Here's a great quote that I've been meditating on:
"Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love , joy are only from God. And, God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another all of us with fight-God, the beloved enemy. Our enemy because, before giving us everything, he demands of us everything; before giving us life, he demands our lives-our selves, our wills and treasure"
Seems like these days I'm always in the eternal struggle of the self, between surrender to a Holy God and fighting for my rights, my reputation and my plans. The 'beloved enemy' so aptly describes my approach to God sometimes. I love him, but struggle to know him and to be loved by him - struggle to allow his Grace to conquer my heart an will. In my head I ascent to the fact that in God there is only freedom through surrender, my will feels very much to the contrary.
This week, I will endeavor to surrender to a Loving God. To allow my heart to be 'pinned' as Jacob was pinned, crippled and blessed by the Stranger.
Monday, June 07, 2010
This Thursday I'm headed to Jackson, MS to celebrate the life and legacy of Drs. John and Vera Mae Perkins. John is turning 80 and they are celebrating his 50th year in ministry. For those of you who don't know about Dr. Perkins and his life here is his bio: http://www.jmpf.org/content/perkins/biography/. We were asked to jot down a few thoughts to share with John and Vera Mae. I posted them below.
As I wrote this and reflected on our journey from youth to now entering middle age (betrayed by the gray in my sideburns and beard), I became overwhlmed with thankfulness for all God has done in our lives and the friends he allowed us to journey alongside.
All my life though some have changed
There are not enough words to express my deep and heartfelt gratitude for the impact your lives have had my life. I wanted to share a little of my journey and how your lives has changed mine.
Born in New Jersey into an Italian family my parents abruptly moved to Florida to save their marriage and refocus their lives. Shortly after arriving in Florida they encountered Christ in what was called the 'Jesus Movement'. In 1970's Florida there was a palpable tension over race. The civil rights movement was not looked upon well and many whites were fighting for every remaining vestige of Jim Crow. My high school experience was marked by frequent fights and riots between African American and White students. When I accepted Christ I moved from the Catholic church where I was reared into a southern Pentecostal church. Racial jokes, comments and outright bigotry was common along with an apparent fervor for the Gospel. When I left Florida at age 18 I was deeply considering the intersection of race and faith and questioning if the Gospel had power to reconcile.
After high school God immediately called me into ministry with an international missions organization, Youth With A Mission (YWAM). In Los Angeles with YWAM I met this stunning young Mexican girl who became my wife. At the time we were working with teenage prostitutes in Hollywood. Shortly thereafter YWAM sent us to Mexico for four years to pioneer a new ministry location in Tijuana on the US / Mexican border. I am greatly indebted to YWAM. It taught me about stepping out in faith, seeking the voice of God and expposed me to a world of joy, pain, hurt and ministry.
During our time in Mexico we encountered a deep level of abject poverty, deeper than anything I had seen in the States. However as such a young age we didn't have the paradigm to process or address the dire situation in which we found the city and nation. We found refugees living in shanties, working to cross the border by any means, struggling for food and shelter. Our Pentecostal evangelical paradigm and methods simply could not address the deep physical needs of the border. I became frustrated and dissatisfied with merely 'leading people to Christ' or simply giving them a ham sandwich. After four years in Mexico, experiencing all we had through the streets of Hollywood to the hills of Tijuana I was tired, discouraged and burned out on evangelical ministry and began to question its theology.
Melissa became pregnant with our son Samuel and we eventually landed in the Central Valley of California. We needed a place to raise Sam, heal and process all we had learned from the streets of the US and Mexico. I thought I was finished in ministry. However God had his hand on us. Through a connection to Larry Acosta and Urban Youthworker's Institute I came across CCDA and your life and ministry. Your book, "With Justice For All" impacted me greatly and 'turned the lights on' again. It truly was a breath of fresh air. No one had been able to connect my deep commitment to Biblical Christianity with the need to address issues of poverty, racism and injustice. Your example, and the example of the leaders of CCDA, provided me with a new approach, a new paradigm and a new way of thinking about community ministry and the poor. I can truly say that I owe my life's work to your example and, perhaps given the situation I was in, you helped save my faith. I am eternally grateful.
In 2000 God moved our family to East Palo Alto. I greatly appreciate the times you've come to encourage our work. As you're aware, you helped us raise our profile with the credit union project (which opened in 2007). Using that as a platform we have developed the FutureProfits youth program teaching over 400 urban students each week life skills and about financial concepts. Additionally we have thrown ourselves headlong into the current housing crisis and are working to save homeowners from foreclosure and homelessness. Melissa serves young unwed mothers in a residential program, New Creation Home. She 'mothers' the moms and their kids and provides them shelter, training and direction in life. Our life and work are a direct result of your Apostolic ministry to us. All we have done and are doing is a part of your legacy.
Melissa and I and our team at Northern California Urban Development in East Palo Alto wish Dad a happy birthday and congratulate you both on 50 years of ministry. We love you deeply. May God grant you peace as you continue to serve him.
In His service,
Rev. John and Melissa Liotti
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I am a missionary. That’s how I am listed on the annual missions report of a suburban church that supports our work in the city. My picture is placed on one of the bulletin boards that line their main hall, along with a score of other sponsored ministries and missionaries that serve all over the globe. My monthly newsletter is also posted there. I am prayed for regularly and am invited to give a field report at the annual missions conference. For years the financial support of this church body has been one of my most steady, dependable streams of income. I am enormously thankful for their support. They have played a significant role in enabling me to follow the call of God to serve among the poor of the inner-city. I trust that I have been a faithful steward of their investments.A while back I was invited to join their pastor and members of their missions committee for lunch at the church. It was for fellowship and encouragement, they said. Not far into the friendly chit-chat another agenda surfaced. They wanted to explore ways their church could be more personally involved in hands-on ministry in the city. Over the years, they reminded me, some of their members had volunteered with us but that was some time ago. They wanted to discuss new ways they could become re-engaged in service with us. They were re-evaluating their missions giving and wanted to allocate their funds in the most strategic ways, which meant having as much as possible the personal participation of members in the ministries they supported.It was a welcome offer. We certainly need compassionate, committed friends to join with us to help shoulder the demanding workload. There are sports teams to coach, kids to tutor, houses to build, widows to visit. But as I went down through a menu of opportunities, I could tell by the expressions on their faces that I was not scratching quite where they were itching. What they would really like, it eventually came out, was a monthly listing of needs and service opportunities for church members to select from and someone from our staff to schedule and coordinate volunteer involvement. A volunteer coordinator to handle the volunteer needs of their church? Is that what they were asking for? Well, yes, they explained. In this way their missions dollars could both support their missionaries and at the same time meet the spiritual needs of their membership to be personally involved in missions. It was a win-win approach. They might even consider upping my support level.My mind went to the growing stack of demands that awaited me back at my office, each with immediate priority. And the staff who were stretched thin trying to keep up with their pressing duties – the tense zoning hearing at city hall that would determine if we could start construction on a house a family desperately needs… intrigue at the school board meeting where a self-serving board member was attempting to torpedo our application for a new charter school… meeting with a banker who would give thumbs up or down on a property we had been working on for more than two years… and, of course, the predictable stream of crises – evictions, break-ins, arrests, runaways, fights, all laced into the routine responsibilities of running an urban ministry. I wondered where in my list of priorities I might insert the additional duties of a volunteer coordinator.The thought of picking up the weight of one more responsibility made my stomach tighten. On the surface I remained cordial, maintained good eye contact, but inside I was beginning to seethe. Did these bright, efficiency-oriented, well-resourced church leaders really think that I should drop front-line duties in order to promote, organize and manage the urban mission outreach for their congregation? And the not-so-subtle offer of a potential increase in financial support? It somehow felt more manipulative than supportive.I inhaled deeply, silently, and released a bit of the tightness (no, anger!) that was knotting my viscera. These were good people, friends, wanting to be faithful and intelligent leaders in their church. They were also busy people trying to efficiently expedite the good works of other busy people. Time is money in their world. Return on investment (ROI) was responsible stewardship. Getting a double return on their mission investment – support a missionary and support church volunteerism with the same dollar – this was good money management. What they were failing to take into account, however, was that someone was going to have to pick up the cost of volunteer management. Me! Had I been more desperate for their extra dollars, I might have agreed to their offer. After all, fundraising is a necessary discipline for missionaries. Instead, I encouraged them to create a position within the church – call it ministry of volunteer mobilization – that would take on this important mission. I would be delighted to coordinate urban service opportunities with that person.The church dropped my support.More recently I have been in dialogue with another church, a rapidly growing young congregation in an upscale in-town area of Atlanta. They are a “seeker friendly” church attracting thousands of young professionals to media-rich services with live contemporary music and winsome gospel presentations. The leadership recognizes the importance of a “love God, love neighbor” theology and is encouraging their congregation to become actively engaged in service, especially among the less fortunate of the city. And their theology is more than mere words – they have a full-time staff person whose responsibility is to mobilize members to active involvement beyond the walls of the church. We have had a number of meetings to explore how their congregation might partner with our inner-city ministry.The reservoir of talent in this church is daunting. Released into society, this energetic, highly skilled force could have amazingly redemptive impact. The church leaders recognize this awesome responsibility and are taking it very seriously. They have rejected the traditional church missions model (missions committee, budget, conference, etc.) and have decided rather to put their energy behind mobilizing members to hands-on community service in a broad range of settings. Money follows vision, they have rightly concluded. As their members catch a vision for ministry in the community and the world, their giving will flow toward the causes that have captured their hearts. The church’s role is to raise their awareness to the needs, help connect them to opportunities and let God do the rest. Last Saturday more than a hundred of these eager young professionals converged on our neighborhood to repair a widow’s home, landscape a blind woman’s yard, paint a community thrift store, pick up truckloads of trash and old tires, and a least a dozen other community-enhancing tasks. The whole event cost our ministry nearly $4,000.The church has made a decision not to give money to ministries like ours. On occasion they might offer a small donation to assist with a project their members participate in. But their major contribution, they contend, is the labor they provide. The real benefit to our organization is not only the free labor but the support their members will offer out of their own pockets as they become involved in our work. This “real benefit” almost always costs us money.I understand their rationale. When a church is attempting to mobilize thousands of volunteers, it certainly isn’t going to have enough funds to support the plethora of programs its members are engaged in. Picking and choosing which ones to fund and at what levels – well, that could lead to all sorts of tensions and conflicts among members. Better to leave funding decisions to the personal discretion of individual members. Experience has shown us, however, that when busy people have sacrificed their precious Saturdays they are hardly eager to fork over an additional hundred or two to cover costs for supervision and materials. So for us it becomes a real challenge to raise funds from other sources to support the service project of an affluent church.I offer this Tale of Two Churches to tee up a question. When a church makes decisions about serving others, whose interests are being considered – the church’s or the ones being served? Regardless of whether a church expects their missionaries to provide volunteer coordinating functions or whether a church expects urban ministries to organize, fund and staff their service project, the issue is the same. Are they helping to shoulder the weight of the front-line troops or are they placing additional burdens on the battle-fatigued?I understand well the need for efficient systems. We face this challenge on the urban ministry end of the equation as well. Take our administrative team for example. Their role is to add-minister – that is, enhance the ministry of our staff by relieving them of the myriad details required to make an organization function responsibly. Handling a dozen different programs all with different accounting demands, cranking out payroll for 50+ staff each with different hours, pay scales and deductions, responding to scores of check requests all of which have immediate priority, monitoring company credit card charges, meeting audit demands and IRS reporting requirements…you get the idea. If they are to keep their sanity and maintain a semblance of control, they have to create systems to bring order to their work. Timesheets in by 3 PM Thursday, three-day turn around for check requests, receipts to accompany reimbursements – all reasonable requests to keep the ministry running smoothly for everyone. But over time these reasonable requests can begin to sound a bit more like dictatorial directives, like authoritarian regulations with penalties for non-compliance. No paychecks if timesheets not in by noon Thursday, no reimbursements if not submitted on proper form and accompanied by legitimate receipts, do not disturb bookkeeper on Fridays. In the name of efficiency the “ad-ministers” tend to devise all manner of forms and rules and procedures to make their job easier. When their goal is efficiency they can easily ignore the time and effort it takes the ministry staff to jump through an increasing number of hoops. The ad-ministers can end up adding burdens rather than lifting the load of those they are supposed to be serving. Believe me, I know the tension.I do understand how this happens – how good people wanting to do a good job can end up creating self-serving systems. And how good churches led by busy people can devise ways to efficiently expedite their duties at the expense of others. But at some point, someone has to raise the question: who’s serving whom? Are administrators serving the staff or are the staff serving the administrators? Is the church enabling missionaries to minister or are the missionaries serving the church? Is the church lightening the load of the front-line workers or are the troops on the ground bearing the additional weight of the church’s efficiently-run service projects? There. I’ve stated it. I feel much better now!Bob Lupton, January 2010