Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An Open Letter to Multnomah County


In your October newsletter you reported about the commission about ending homelessness.

Some of the questions this group is wrestling with include, how do we meet new federal mandates to reduce shelter stays? In a time of limited resources, how do we prioritize who we can help? Do we prioritize by population, for example, should we prioritize families over individuals? Do we prioritize by vulnerability, focusing services on who is less likely to survive outside? Are some groups of people not able to access housing or shelter services and if so, how do we change that? How do we raise attention to this issue and get more people involved in the solution?
As a long time supporter of the homeless in Portland and especially Gresham for 18 years, I have a few things to note:

The only ethical way to reduce shelter stays is to transition people into permanent housing or into a safe context to stay where they will not be harassed.

One of the problems of "ending homelessness" is that we now have a population of the chronic homeless who are not ready or able to move into apartments over the long term.  We have folks who have been in chronic stress for years, who have lived outside, under a different moral/survival code than is found in apartments.  We have a number of people who are frankly claustrophobic or paranoid or both.  Apartments are not the answer for everyone.

My recommendation is to have a variety of options for housing.  To have trailer parks with community centers for laundry and showers and electrical plug-ins might be an option.  To have areas where people could build their own structures, similar to dignity village is another option.  These are less expensive options than building apartment buildings, and more likely to house the chronic homeless (some of the most problematic population).

Also, we need options in the outlying areas of the county.  Churches in East County are trying their best to meet the need of the chronic homeless and Human Solutions (with the county's support) is doing a great job to help homeless families.  But, as you know, it is only a scratch on the surface.  We need assistance providing more support and in finding more funding to provide for needs.  Right now, in St. Johns, there is almost nothing being done for that homeless population.  The 2010 Street Count shows that homelessness is not centralized in the county, but is widespread.  The homeless tend to remain near their home neighborhood.  The majority of the homeless are not transitory, but are home grown and so are our community's responsibility.  We need to provide local compassionate solutions within each neighborhood.  This is not costly, but it does require organization and flexibility in city policy.

Not all the homeless is able to access shelter simply because there isn't enough shelter to be had.  Even with the low numbers of homeless population, there isn't even close to enough shelters for all the homeless.  And many homeless do not want to stay in shelters.  They are crowded, people's items are stolen, and it is difficult for the homeless to sleep in such contexts.  It would be difficult for anyone to sleep on a cot surrounded by a bunch of strangers they didn't trust.  I would suggest that more but smaller shelters be established throughout the county, including more permanent ones.  Having homeless people parked in vehicles at churches is a possibility, if the churches could be convinced that their property would be safe.  But only a small population of the homeless have vehicles.  The rest need to have places that they can camp or public areas they can sleep, in groups of 10.  Again, this requires organization, but not necessarily a lot of finances.

I know that you and your office have done a lot to try to get churches involved.  And yet I can start an outreach to the homeless in St. Johns and I am speaking to a dozen churches, all looking for an opportunity to help the homeless population around them, but they were just waiting for someone to take initiative, to know what the possibilities were and how to contact the homeless.  Suddenly, in a few months, we have a group that are ready to take action now, providing shelter both during the day and on the coldest nights, providing food and giving resources.  If a reasonable plan is provided to churches with...yes, that word again.. some clear, simple organization, then there is an untapped population of volunteers that are ready to work

God bless you in your work.

Steve Kimes
Pastor of Anawim Christian Community

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Pastoral Evaluation

If you've been following this blog for any decent length of time (or have read my brief bio) you know that I'm a pastor to the homeless and the mentally ill.  There are only a few of us out there, so those of us who take on this task are really making it up as we go.

What does a homeless pastor do?  First, I suppose, we need to determine what a "pastor" does.  A pastor is a community leader, but each pastor brings her or his own gifts to the position, making the role suited to what he or she can do.  One pastor is good at counselling, another is good at teaching, another is good at organizing, another is good at vision.  Some pastors are charismatic, some are prayers, some are visitors, some are students of the word.  Every pastor leads a community according to their gifts and the community begins to be shaped according to those gifts.

That is especially true if the pastor is also a church planter.  For the whole life of a congregation, it bears the indelible stamp of the church planter. And every pastor after a church planter is compared to the first, for good or for ill.  The congregation is, in a sense, the model which a church planter MUST create by his or her passion and abilities, and is thus limited by this as well. The congregation might morph beyond that, but there is a central core that a church planter gives and it never shifts from that.

I am both a pastor and a church planter.  I have remained in Anawim not because I don't think that anyone else could lead Anawim, but because it is a full-plus time job with no salary. That requires more passion and commitment than pretty much anyone has for an organization that they didn't build themselves.
So how am I doing as a pastor, given this background?  Of course, I can't evaluate myself objectively... but who can?  My congregation for the most part sees me with starry eyes.  An outside evaluator would have to follow me around and know the goals involved.   Even another pastor might see pastoral work as different than I could make it.

In the end, I would say that I do a fine job with helping people survive, but a less-than-fine job with helping them thrive.  With very few financial resources, I had led my congregation to give meals to many, to give people shelter, to create the building blocks for peaceful community, to clothe and shower so many.  We have lead a number to the Lord and given many a place to worship when they had no where else that would welcome them as they were.  I have taught hundreds, perhaps thousands, the basics of the gospel, seeking God through Jesus.

As far as a seed-thrower, I do well.  I spread the building blocks of survival wide so that many might partake.  My real limitation in this has been finances.  We could have done so much more if we had received donations of more than $25,000 a year.   Yeah, it's true.  That's all we get.  I keep hoping and praying every year that we might receive more finances, but that's it.  We've done a lot with a donation base that wouldn't rise my family of five out from under the poverty line. (My family's personal income has been between 10 and 15 thousand a year, most of that money being made by my wife working for minimum wage part time at a laundromat).

My personality is such that if someone is in desperate need, I try my best to help them.  Jesus said, "Give to those who ask you," and have done this to my utmost.  I try to evaluate need and then to give people the building blocks of meeting that need.  We don't solve all of anyone's problems.  All we do is try to give them the basics to improve their lot.

And improve is what people have done.  People have survived.  People are living, eating, getting the gospel, finding community, getting shelter when it's particularly cold... but almost no one is thriving.  It is to my shame that after people survive in my church, they thrive somewhere else.  In another community, in another church, in another context.  I understand the principle of planting and watering.  I know that our part is necessary.  That to thrive one must first survive.  But I wish I could give someone more than just building blocks at times.

But, frankly, I don't know what else to do than to cast seed.  To help people survive.  To give them basics.  I've worked really hard at trying to understand my people and to give principles of thriving.  But, at least looking at results, that's beyond my capability.

I really believe I've done well with what I've been given.  Again, I'm not objective about this, I can't evaluate myself fairly.  But for who I am, for what resources I have, I think I've accomplished a lot.  I guess, just like so many people, I want more.  I want more for my people.  I want them to do better than they have.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why Punish the Poor?

There may be  a knee-jerk reaction to my title: “What do you mean we punish the poor?  We give to each person what they deserve.  We treat everyone the same.”

There are many situations in which our society treats everyone the same and so we punish the poor.  For instance, if someone pays their utility bill late, there is an additional fee put on that bill.  This does not punish those who have the money to pay it, except perhaps a slap on the wrist.  No, the one whom it truly punishes is the poor person who is unable to pay the bill in the first place.  If the bill is a water bill, and that payment lapses long enough, then the water company must contact the city if there are children in the house, and the children must be taken away.  Only the poor are punished like that.

Only the poor have their means of surviving taken away.  Many communities put restrictions on recycling cans, on busking, on begging, on entering dumpsters, even on offering free meals to the poor.   These are not restrictions because of harm to the community or because of environmental harm to the earth, but simply because the offenders are poor.  The fact that most communities make it illegal to be homeless is an indication that it is the poor that are punished, simply because they are poor.

It is more difficult to be poor, not simply because one is poor, but because society sees the poor as something to be punished.  For instance, banks have some of their largest fees for overdrawing an account… even though the banks are continuously changing their policies making it likely that the legalese-illiterate (that’s most of us) whose bank accounts are on the edge (that’s the poor) will fall prey to their fees. 

Now perhaps the banks aren’t interested in punishing the poor.  Perhaps they just see a vulnerable population that they can make money off of.  But one way or another, society makes it more difficult one a poor person than one who has sufficient funds to function in this society.  Many consider that our society is easy on the poor, and makes their lives too easy, too cush, living on welfare and taking it easy.  However, it has been shown that rarely is it possible to live housed and fed on welfare, even as one cannot live housed and fed on minimum wage.  The poor don’t have it easy.  And there are many societal obstacles to making it easier.

Why is this?  Why do many feel that the poor should be disciplined and treated “poorly”? 

The main reason we punish the poor, is because, for many of our society, the poor punish them.  First of all, the poor make our society look bad, as if our society has done something wrong by having the poor.  “Of course”, many think, “our society is well-functioning.  So the poor don’t need to be there.  But there they are, the blight on our economic statistics, every year. “  For some people, the poor make them feel guilty, as if they were doing something wrong, but when they search their deepest heart, they can’t find that they’ve done anything wrong.   For others, the poor, especially the poor who display themselves publically (such as the homeless or beggars) just makes one feel uncomfortable, and even embarrassed.  Not embarrassed for themselves, but embarrassed that they have to be watching this poor person.

In our intuitive moral systems, those who punish us, even if they did not intend to punish us, deserve to be punished back.  Those who make us feel uncomfortable or guilty should be punished for imposing those feelings on us.  A study in Brown University shows that we desire to punish those who cause harm, even if the harm is mostly accidental.  http://brown.edu/Research/Cushman-Lab/docs/cushman&greene_2011a.pdf?PHPSESSID=4cdd560f5c7168d8264dfde8164ad78a

In the end, many don’t care about the causes of poor.  If poverty makes us feel inadequate, there must be punishment on those who make us feel that way, since we don’t deserve it.

Because we feel justified to punish the poor, we then come up with reasons to punish others.  These reasons don’t have to be realistic or proven by experience or studies.  All they have to be is plausible, and they will be accepted.

Bill Cunningham said, "People are poor in America ... not because they lack money; they're poor because they lack values, morals and ethics. "  In a similar vein, Bill O’Reilly said, "You gotta look people in the eye and tell 'em they're irresponsible and lazy .... Because that's what poverty is, ladies and gentlemen.” 

These reasons, as feeble and unconfirmed as they are,  are accepted by a large percentage of the population, not because it explains poverty, but because it explains why people feel comfortable and justifies punishment and poor treatment of the poor. 

Teachable Moment
Finally, the solid reason to punish the poor is for the sake of discipline.  The poor are “lazy” and “ignorant” and so it is the responsibility of society to make things harder on the poor, to train them to be solid, hardworking citizens again.   One either learns the discipline of working hard in one’s poverty, and so receive the natural consequences of prosperity, or one deserves what poverty one gets.  It doesn’t matter that the studies show that the poor work just as hard as any other segment of society.  It doesn’t matter that poverty is usually accompanied by depression and to put a hardship on a depressed person is an invitation for them to give up.  The ones who give up are considered “lazy” and so deserving of starvation, homelessness and receiving a social stigma. 

What can our society do to provide opportunities for the poor, not blocks or stigmas?  Perhaps we can provide work projects for people to get on their feet, not more difficulties?  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dogs Save Lives

Many dogs save the lives of the homeless.

A dog can protect their human.
A dog can keep their human warm on a winter night.
A dog can be a loving irritant to help their human's character grow.
A dog can give their human family to love.
A dog can provide their human with someone to be responsible for and to take care of.
A dog can give friendship and love.

A dog is family.

A dog can be a reason to quit drugs or alcohol.
A dog can be a reason to control one's anger.
A dog can be a focus to develop love and compassion.

Support the homeless with pets.  It is good for the homeless.  It is good for the community.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


In my business, I deal with a lot of donors and volunteers.  That’s really the lifeblood of work with the homeless.  We don’t have money to keep everyone fed and warm, so we seek donations of food and clothes.  And there is more work that our small group can do ourselves, so we seek volunteers to help us accomplish big tasks.

But there are rituals for donors and volunteers.  Donors usually want their donations to be more than a simple donation.  They’d like a receipt to mark their donation to take it off of their taxes.  Some would like their donation to be recognized in a newsletter or in our blog.  Many donors want to tell us specifically how to use the money, even if that isn’t our need at the time.

Volunteers really want the same thing.  They don’t want to be told what to do, or how to do something.  They want to tell you what they will do, and when to do it.  They want to do something you don’t need done, at times.  And, of course, they want your gratitude, and possibly a letter of recommendation for the hour of work they’ve given you.

Not all volunteers or donors are so insistent.  Most are wonderful, and gracious and so kind.  And I have to say, almost all of the homeless volunteers and donors are wonderful.  And this is because they are giving back.  They are grateful for the opportunity to give and to work, because they feel like they’ve paid a small back for all that they’ve received.  Sure, the clothes they donate may need to be cleaned and the service may, on occasion, need to be done again.  But the gracious attitude is one of the best things on earth.

"Who loves more, the one who has been granted much, or the one who has been granted little?  He who has been granted little, loves little."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dysfunctional Families

A poem by Patty

(...when does it stop?)
(...how can the chain be broken?)
(...will I recognize "normal"?)

Generations of guilt;
Generation of pain;
We're promised sunshine...
We feel the rain
We shiver and shake
Now we're late,
With reprimand
They bind our hand;
Now... they cannot wait
Because of you...
The deal fell through
Too late to shine my shoes!
You know the rules...
Begone!... get off!
My ship of fools!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dying on the Street

In Portland, the Multnomah County Medical Examiner's office released recently a report on deaths that occurred among people who have no known address.

This report admits that the numbers they have are limited and that the report is far from inclusive about deaths of the homeless.  For instance, it does not include those who lived on the street, but died in a hospital or a shelter.  With these limited figures, the Medical Examiner determined that there were 47 deaths on the street last year.  The median age of those dead was 49.  Seven were women. There were more deaths in the cold months than in the warm, although hypothermia was an indirect cause in only three deaths.  Of these 47 deaths, 29 were caused by drugs or alcohol (only three died from alcohol).  The greatest drug killer was heroin, who killed almost a third of those who died on the street.

This is a crisis.  People dying young, dying on the street, and such a large percentage of the street population.  This is, for the most part, preventable.

The recommendations of the report to the county is to obtain housing for people, to build up a health infrastructure, to inform people of services and to get people help to reduce alcohol and drug abuse.

Of course, the other issue is community.  The report mentions that many of these deaths were caused by isolation as much as anything else.  Housing is very helpful, but if one is isolated in a house, there is still many of the same issues.  If we can build communities among the homeless, give them purpose, give them hope, then changes can be made.

That's one of Anawim's main goals: to build community and purpose among the homeless.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In Everything, Love: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 7

Ultimately, we need to remember what the goal of ministry is—the goal of our lives with others is—to love.  We are to see the other person’s needs and try to meet them, whether it be the need of respect, the need of food, the need of encouragement or the need of rebuke.  We should not be acting from our own ambition or self-interest, as it says in Philippians 2, but we should be like Jesus and sacrifice our own interests for the sake of others.

            In ministry we may see someone as an enemy because they are threatening the ministry as a whole.  In that way, we might want to attack someone verbally because they are our enemy.  But Jesus told us that we are to love even our enemies.  This means we are not to attack them, but to see their need and to meet it.  Even if someone is acting inappropriately, we can speak to them with gentleness and respect (Galatians 6:1).  We need to remember, as Christian leaders we are not to judge as the world judges, but to see the other person, no matter how difficult or wrong they seem, as a person in need of love.  And we are to give them what love we have.

            Admittedly, sometimes we are so stressed or frantic or harried that we cannot love as we should.  In that case, we should confess our failings, apologize to the one we have not loved and act more appropriately.
This doesn’t mean we don’t enforce rules.  We certainly do.  But we do so in the Spirit of gentleness, humility and compassion.  As we are to do all things.  To love in this way, we need to pray and ask for the Spirit to give us the peace and love we need to approach others, especially when our buttons are being pushed.

Partnering With the Police: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 6

For most of us who are middle class, the police are a symbol of security and order in the community.  If there is disorder, we might have a tendency to call the police immediately to make peace.  We feel that their uniform itself is a symbol of authority and security and people are more apt to listen to an officer than a simple citizen.

However, a ministry in which conflict is likely is going to be a ministry among the outcast of society—gangs, the mentally ill, the homeless, immigrants and others.  Among these groups, the police are those who judge and attack, who are not the defenders of security, but the creators of disorder.

Both perspectives have their points.  The police, ideally, are supposed to protect all citizens, and they do well in bringing security to homogeneous communities.  However, some, even if only a few, police officers have made themselves the enemies of the outcast, seeing them not as citizens but as “bad guys” and they treat them accordingly.

Unfortunately, what has happened is that the outcast and some police officers are both guilty of the same kind of stereotyping—judging a whole group for the actions of some.  Ideally, in time, the police and the outcast groups would be advised to discuss each other’s differences.

In the meantime, if we are doing any ministry to an outcast group, we have to recognize that the police are usually the opposite of a safe presence.  To call the police or to act like police is to betray the security of any outcast group.  This is not to say that the police should never be called, but it should be done sparingly, if at all.

The police should also be called rarely because to call them for any difficult conflict is to encourage the police to see the ministry as a target for problems, and the stereotyping of the group you’re ministering to would perpetuate.

And finally, the police should rarely be called because they have a different philosophy than a church ministry.  The job of the police is to keep citizens safe, in whatever way possible, and this is usually done by catching people who disrupt that safety and locking them up.  This is an appropriate and fair task for civil servants.  On the other hand, a church ministry that connects with the outcast is about re-appropriating the outcast and creating a place for them to experience the mercy of Christ.  This is a noble task, but the police would be the first to admit, honestly, that it is not a safe task.  Thus, it could be said (and it has been said by some) that the two tasks are the antithesis of each other—the police exile bad guys and the church tries to integrate them.  Both tasks are essential, but it is difficult for them to work together.

            If we are running a fairly large ministry for an outcast population, it might be good to communicate to the police about the ministry.  The police need to know that there will be a group of those who they are concerned about on the church grounds.  They also need to know that the church workers will be doing their best to create a safe place, both for the church and for the neighborhood.  And that because the church itself will be providing their own security, most of the time police presence will be unnecessary.  However, if there is a serious concern, then the church workers will contact the police themselves.

            The police will think that our ministry and the steps for deescalating conflict puts us in unnecessary danger.  Their training focuses on self-protection and stabilizing any situation.  A church ministry instead focuses on offering mercy, calling toward repentance, and loving those who are our enemies.  From a police perspective, this is dangerous business.  And perhaps it is.

            To prevent it being necessary for police to come, we will have to be proactive to prevent conflict.  This might mean acting as mediators between those who are heading toward conflict.  It certainly means following the steps of deescalating conflict.  And it will also mean that we will, on occasion have to put ourselves in harms way to protect others.

            On occasion the police will come on their own.  Perhaps they will see activity that they think could be illegal.  Perhaps a neighbor will call the police if they see a conflict that we will deal with ourselves.  When the police come, we need to politely identify ourselves, and answer their questions truthfully.  We need to encourage them to limit their contact to only those whom they are concerned with.  If some folks get into a fight, it is best for them to be off the church grounds before the police arrive.  This is all to help those who come to the ministry feel that they are safe without police involvement.

            Finally, there are some situations in which the police might be called.  If someone is continually threatening church workers or the facilities, then it may be necessary to call the police to get the person off of the church grounds.  Because the ministry of the church is to be focused on mercy, not judgment, then it is best to just ask the police to have the person go off of the church grounds, but not to press charges.  In this way, those who cause problems see that violence will not be tolerated, but that the church is not concerned with getting any vengeance.

De-escalating Conflict: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 5

The goal within a conflict in a church ministry is not to provide justice through judgment.  Justice, ultimately, is God’s task, to offer the perfect balance of justice and mercy to all men.  Being human, full of human motivation and reactions, our balance between justice and mercy is a bit off-kilter.  Our purpose, again, is to create a place of safety for everyone.  The best way to create safety is not to have a context of crime-and-punishment, but a context of repentance and reconciliation.  This means that the ideal, although not always realized, is to give anyone who is in conflict a place of safety because of their neccessity to have a space apart from the usual actions of the world.  If someone acts in opposition to the rules of the ministry, the main goal is not to punish them for their wrong action, but to convince them that such action is in opposition to everyone’s good.

How to respond to broken rules or conflict:
Patience—First of all, the Spirit fruit of patience is necessary.  Conflict is rarely resolved quickly, and it takes as long as it takes.  If a person is belligerent, then the leader must have “long-suffering” (to use the KJV term) with the one confronting them in order to have the success of bringing peace.  Part of this patience is that we invite them to give us their perspective of what happened.

Approaching Privately— It is best to speak to each person involved in a conflict separately.  Everyone needs to speak their perspective, but in the midst of a conflict, no one is able to hear the other person’s perspective.  Also, if someone is doing something inappropriate, it is best to confront them about it without adding to their shame by confronting them in front of their friends—especially because being in front of their friends might encourage them to act with bravado instead of thinking about the larger perspective.

Listening—In order for us to understand the conflict, we must listen to the reason of the person who is initiating the conflict.  The goal of listening is twofold.  First of all, if we are going to make a right judgment of the situation, we must understand the full context, and that will only be done by listening to whoever is causing the conflict.  Secondly, we need for those who are causing the conflict to feel heard and understood.  Thus, we are not listening as a goal in and of itself, but we are responding to what the other person is saying, and asking appropriate, not leading, questions.  When they feel understood and heard, we can move on to responding.

Objectivity—It is important in a conflict between two participants that the leader not take sides.  The participant must see that the leader is “no respecter of persons”, willing to look at a conflict from both sides.  This means that we need to consider what this conflict means from all parties involved and to speak to each of them from their perspective.  We also need to see that there is almost never a single wrong party in a conflict.  It takes one person to begin a conflict, but it takes more than one to continue it.  It's not our place to place blame, but to create a safe place for everyone.  This means that whomever took part in the conflict must be spoken to, fairly, about their part in perpetuating it.  Also, objectivity means that we cannot take the sides of any of our co-leaders who have perpetuated the conflict.  If any leader—even ourselves!— is involved in aggressive behavior, we must apologize and make no excuses for them because they are a leader.

Find Agreement—One way to quickly defuse a conflict is to find something to agree on with each person you are dealing with.  You can tell someone that you understand their perspective or that you agree that what was done to them was wrong, or just some part of what they said.  To agree with them is to defuse any idea that you are enemies.  Instead, you have made a connection with them and they will be more ready to listen to you.

Humor—Another way to defuse a situation is to use humor in speaking.  Not humor at anyone’s expense, but if you can speak lightly, it makes the situation less heavy and eases the minds of those involved.

Speaking for Peace—What response we give is based on two perspectives—first of all, their point of view, and also the perspective of the community.  Our response to them needs to recognize their needs and speak to them from their understanding of what happened.  Then we need to bring them into the larger perspective of the community, and how their actions aren’t appropriate for everyone else.  A very few people won’t care about others or their needs, but this is rare.  When we speak to them about this, we need to be gentle, remembering that resolving conflict is a part of the ministry to everyone involved, including those who cause the conflict.

Disciplining— For some smaller rules (such as blasphemy) a gentle (even humorous) reprimand is enough.  But if someone has broken a serious rule—stealing, violence or aggressiveness, or selling drugs for example—then there should be a discipline that is appropriate.  If someone is loudly threatening someone else, then they might be asked to leave for the day.  If a person acts with violence, they might be asked to leave for longer.  The reason for discipline is to communicate to the whole community that everyone’s security is important and to communicate that certain actions cannot be allowed in this safe place.  For someone who knows that they have done something very inappropriate for the church, they might actually appreciate a small amount of discipline as a kind of penance.  Again, just make sure that the discipline is appropriate with the rule broken.

How To Increase Conflict: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry, Part 4

If a conflict does occur, that either breaks or leads to the breaking one of the rules, then a leader should be involved.  How the leader is involved will determine whether the conflict will increase or decrease.  If a conflict escalates, then it will become a fire that will spread, and the initial conflict will become a continuing problem, over a long period of time, among more and more people.

Expecting Unearned Respect/Obedience—Everyone has different ideas of how leadership should behave, and how to behave toward leadership.  In some cultures, authority is to be respected without question.  However, in other cultures, authority is only to be granted respect if they are deserving of that respect.  This does not mean that the non-authoritative cultures disrespect authority, they just expect those in authority to earn their respect, through peacemaking.  To act as if respect is to be deserved, not earned, is to set up a context in which a conflict of values is already present.
Escalating responses: “Don’t talk to me that way!  Do you know who I am?”

Undeserved judgment—If a person feels unfairly judged, then conflict will be seriously increased.  Not all judgments are considered unfair.  If a person gets into a fight on church property and is asked to leave, they will probably accept the discipline.  But if their side is not heard, or if they are given a discipline that is excessive to their action (permanent exclusion for a single event, for example), then the conflict will rapidly increase.  Judging the wrong person, or for the wrong motives or with an excessive punishment, will encourage a person to act out against how they are being treated, because there is no reason not to.  To avoid this situation, a person should be listened to carefully, and the viewpoint of the leader should be explained carefully, especially the reason for any discipline.
Escalating responses: “You obviously don’t know how to treat others with respect.”

Excessive demands—If a ministry has too many policies or requirements on their participants, mistakes will be made, for everyone is human.  The participants may not understand which policies are more significant than others, and lines may be crossed.  It is a mistake to take every bad situation in a ministry as an excuse for a new policy.  Too many rules, and soon it will be impossible not to break a rule.  Then there will be conflict at any correction, because the ministry will feel constricting.  Along these lines, having an extreme punishment for an offense will make the whole place feel insecure.  One ministry I know shuts the whole program down if one person gets out of line. So everyone is punished for the actions of one.
Escalating response: “Because you broke the rule of talking too loud, you’ll be excluded from the program for 30 days.”

Misdirected anger—Anger isn’t necessarily a cause of conflict.  If anger is displayed against a common oppositional factor—such as an unjust system—then anger can be useful in building a bridge between ourselves and the one in conflict.  However, if the leader displays anger against the one in conflict, then human nature demands that anger be reciprocated.  The improper response to anger is anger, and this creates or increases enmity.  As Christian leaders, we need to remember that the true enemy is not the person before us, but the spiritual forces of darkness that are causing strife.
Escalating response—“Get out of here, just don’t have anything to do with me!”

Disrespect—The very worst action to take is to disrespect any participant in the ministry.  To speak disrespectfully to one in the church ministry is to shame them before others, and to make a judgment against them.  Disrespectful speech include insults, snap judgments, or disregarding another’s concerns.
Escalating response: “What an idiot!”

Violence—The one thing that should never be done by church leadership is violence or threats against a participant.  If this is activity that we do not want the participants to engage in, then the same rule must apply to the leaders.  If violent action must be done for safety’s sake, then let the police be called (but first see the section on the police, part 6).

Avoiding all of these conflict escalators is especially difficult if these are the same attitudes and actions being used against the leaders.  As mentioned above, the normal human reaction is to respond in kind.  This is one of the joys of Christian leadership: that when despised, we will not despise in kind; that when persecuted, we will not persecute back.  It seems impossible to endure this, at times—to be more than any human can handle.  This is one of the reasons that Christian leadership is not for everyone.  For the Christian leader must expect to be confronted wrongly, but to respond in peace and gentleness.  This is difficult, but through dependence on the Holy Spirit, not impossible. (James 3:18; Galatians 5:19-26).

Creating a Context of Safety: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 3

In whatever context we are in, whether worship, service or benevolence, we need to let it be known that this is a place of safety for everyone.  That our church is going to be a place in which everyone has the opportunity to be safe, which means that no one will be allowed to participate in actions that harm others, whether a church leader, a church member, a guest, a police officer or anyone else.  All are to follow the same rules of safety.

In that, the church needs to adopt a set of simple rules that will allow the most basic level of safety and respect to others.  Anawim—our church of the homeless and the mentally ill— and their programs have adopted five simple rules that everyone can remember and respect, especially in a church setting.  Our rules are these:

No violence or intimidation
This includes not only the acting out of harm, but the verbal or non-verbal threat of harm.

No illegal drugs or alcohol on the premises
This allows those who are inebriated to participate in services, as long as they abide by the other rules.  But the church is not to be a place in which one becomes inebriated.

No stealing or borrowing other’s possessions without permission

No sexual harassment
This allows all members of the community to feel safe from unwelcome sexual advances, whether verbal or non verbal.

No blasphemy
This is out of respect of the Owner of the property as well as the community that manages it.  This is not a rule against low brow language, but rather using God’s name in a demeaning way.

No harm to neighbors
As a church, our goal is to “love our neighbors” both in our church and outside of it. We need to ask those who come to respect those who live around our church.  If for no other reason, it is so that the ministry might continue, because neighbors can cause difficulties for ministries to the poor.

If the rules are simple, then they can be remembered.  Also, the rules should make sense to people that they would be imposed in any of God’s sanctuaries, not special to that facility.

In Anawim, we asked the community we were serving, the homeless, to help us establish consequences for these actions that are fair and preventative.  For instance, some who does an act of violence is asked to leave for a week.  One who acts in an intimidating way (arguing in someone's face, for instance) is asked to go on their own to cool down or to leave for the day so they can cool down.  

Context of Trust
Finally, to build a context of safety in the building, there must be trust built between the leaders of every service and those who are participating in it.  This means that the leaders should attempt to get to know all the regulars of the service, so that if the rules need be enforced, there is a relationship on which one can build such enforcement.  If there is a place of communication and trust between the leadership and the participants, when conflict does occur, then the leadership will know immediately and will be called upon to help deal with it.  If no trust is built, then the leadership will be the last place where those involved in or observing conflict will go to, because they fear how the leadership will deal with conflict.

It helps to build trust if some of the leaders are among the community that the church is serving.  There needs to be a break down between the served and the servers.  This communicates that the church looks at ability to give people work, not at race, social class or other superficial standards.

We need to remember that trust isn't built in a day.  To create a ministry that is trusted by the community it is serving takes a long time of faithfulness and respect given to the community.  Be patient with those who might mistrust your motives.

To be continued...

Flesh v. Spirit: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 2

 Please read part 1 first

3.  Not using the world’s methods
"Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.  "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. " Romans 12:17-21

Paul points out another issue that is associated with Jesus’ command to love all:  that we are not to use the methods of the world against those who do us harm.  It is perfectly natural to want to do harm or violence to those who do harm or violence to us.  As people of Jesus, those guided by the Spirit of God, we are to be led by peace and not harm.  To “do evil” is to harm another, and that is not what we are to do.  Instead of acting with violence or inflicting harm, we are to do good.

 4. Attitudes of the Life in the Spirit
It is interesting that Paul makes two lists in Galatians 5:14-23 that are frequently quoted: the works of the flesh and the gifts of the Spirit.  But a careful examination of the two lists show that, more than anything else, Paul is contrasting those who increase conflict with those who are making peace in community.  I’ll give each list, with just a little bit of editing (check it out yourself in Galatians 5, please), and you can see it yourself:
Introduction (vv.14-15)—“The whole law: Love your neighbor as yourself.  The opposite: biting and devouring each other.”

Works of the flesh (v. 19-21): These are acts that increase conflict and separation
            Enmities—Creating enemies by harming others or accusing
            Strife—Stirring up arguments
            Jealousy—Desiring what another has
            Outbursts of anger—Punishing without control
            Disputes—Irrational arguments
            Dissensions—Separating from others
            Factions—Creating groups in opposition to each other
            Envying—Desiring another’s respect
            Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  To participate in such actions of judgment is to separate oneself from the life of Christ

Fruit of the Spirit (v: 22-23): There is only one result of a life in the Spirit—love.  The rest of the list is describing how love is to be seen in God’s community.
            Love—To think of another’s need before one’s own
            Joy—Rejoicing in the presence of others’
            Peace—Applying the greatest effort to have peaceable relations
            Patience—To not be upset at other’s failings or irritable actions
            Kindness—To see the other person’s need and to assist them to meet it
            Goodness—To act for the other’s benefit
            Faithfulness—To keep one’s promises to others
            Gentleness—To not create drama or judgmentalism
            Self-control—Not being guided by the works of the flesh (above)
            Against such things there are no law.God’s law never opposes love.  We should never apply a law in our congregations that opposes love.

Overall, we can see a distinct philosophy of how we are to deal with the belligerent or violent in our congregations.  First of all, we need to protect our people, but we can exclude no one from that protection, even the one who is being violent.  Secondly, we are to find methods to protect all without causing harm to any.  Thirdly, in order to benefit others, we might have to make sacrifices ourselves, which is part of what we accept if we take on leadership in the church.

 So the natural question is "How can we possibly protect all people when there is violence?  How can we prevent harm from happening?"  The first, most basic principle is that we need to realize that we cannot, ourselves, prevent all harm to those under us.  Everyone, ultimately, is in the hands of God, and there can and will be harm done at times.  For this reason, we must pray for protection for those under our care.
 But there are things we can do, in the midst of being Christ-like that would provide protection, while not causing to harm to anyone.  In the next couple posts are step by step ways to prevent violence in our places of worship and service, where we can practice our love of our neighbor. 

A Different Kind of Leadership: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 1 Part 1

We're all brothers, right?

As a Christian leader, we often have to deal with security issues, conflict and sometimes belligerence within the church.  As a church does serious outreach and attempts to connect with cultures outside of the church culture, there are often more opportunities for conflict and more possibilities that violence might erupt in or against the church.

            Our first impulse is to protect and defend the church community, and this impulse is good.  We all want to do our best to protect God’s people and we all hate to see violence in a house of God.  When these issues come to the forefront, we often find that we're unprepared to deal with the conflict, belligerence or violence, not only because we've rarely had to deal with it, but because we've never really thought about such events happening within a church.  However, churches need to think about these issues now, the more so as anti-Christian sentiment rises.

            It is important for us to consider what we would do as church leaders if belligerence or violence occurs in our church, how we can best prevent such situations from occurring, how to de-escalate such situations and what is the best way to deal with these situations as followers of Jesus.

I. The Foundation of Dealing With Conflict
There are three passages that can offer us a foundation, as leaders, for our dealing with the conflict  of those whom we have in our churches as guests.  These ancient texts—two from Jesus and one from Paul—can help us learn how to deal with conflict as followers of Jesus, rather than in the everyday manner.

Letting another succeed
 1.  A Different Kind of Leadership
And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.'  But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves."  Luke 22:25-27

First of all, our leadership style is to be like Jesus’ and not like the world around us.  The world focuses on security or on how leadership can benefit oneself.  Jesus says that imitating Him in leadership means that we are always looking to the benefit of those whom we are leading.  A leader is not meant to just prevent anxiety in themselves or others, but to primarily act for the good of those whom they lead.  If Jesus is our servant, willing to accept any humiliation so that we can obtain all the benefits He has to give, even so are we, as church leaders, supposed to allow ourselves to be humiliated, even hurt for the sake of others, as long as it is for their benefit.

This is a difficult concept to accept for oneself, but it is the basis of Christian leadership.  Not to do things for one’s own sake, but to sacrifice all for the sake of the other.

2.  Benefiting Those Who Hurt Us
"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."   Luke 6:27-36

Again, in general, dealing with those who harm us, we must act like God and His Son Jesus.  An “enemy” is not one whom we declare to be enemies, but those who do us harm, for whatever reason.  Jesus is saying that instead of giving harm back to those who harm us, we are to love.  Love, simply stated, is acting for the benefit of those in need.  So when someone harms us, we are to look at them as someone in need.  Someone who is deficient in some way.  Someone who could use our help.  The question is, what is the best way that we can benefit a person who has done us harm?

            Jesus then associates this one characteristic—benefiting those who do us harm—with God’s behavior that we should imitate.  And He associates it with a basic characteristic of the Christian life, Love. If all people love, then what greater command does Jesus give to those who follow Him?  He commands us to love all those who are the most unlovely, to love without exception.  So if someone threatens us, hits us or even shoots us, we are to consider their benefit, as well as the benefit of those whom we are protecting.

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Culture Clash

I took the opportunity last night to be yelled at for an hour and a half.   I was told that I was abusing some, enabling others and that I ruined a neighborhood.  For the most part, I couldn't deny it.  I just sat and listened.

For the most of 15 years we have had a ministry to the homeless on a corridor in suburban Gresham.  We provide some food, showers, and a place for the homeless to get out of neighborhoods and businesses.  Some of the homeless were already in the neighborhood, but many of the homeless wouldn't be in that particular place unless we were there, assisting them.

Mind you, the day shelter program works.  We provide a place of peace and opportunities for people to change their lives.  Many of the folks coming to our day shelter have been doing work, gotten housing, gotten jobs, gotten in treatment, and become full time employed.  Mind you, that isn't just from our program by itself, but we are the first step up, the place where people learn to live in community, the place where people find out about the basic helps, the place where they can get the basic needs to sleep that night, the place where they can rest from the stress of their lives in order to have enough brain cells to figure out what they can do with their lives.

Of course, not everyone who wants a shower or clothes or a bite to eat are ready to change.  Most people aren't.  And some people, a few, have pretty anti-social behavior.  They yell and scream.  Many people drink in public (of course, they don't have anywhere else to drink).  And, of course, this impacts the neighborhood.

I invited the neighborhood to come and talk to us about any issues they had, and six people did.  Boy, they were angry.  And they don't like our ministry.  They said that these people just needed jobs and we asked them if they could get jobs for them.  Well, sure, they said, if they don't have a record and have ID and have some experience.  But the prevailing attitude of the meeting is that the homeless are bad, dangerous people and if they can't be out of the neighborhood, they need to be unseen, unheard.

According to these people, there is an impact on the neighborhood, although minimal.  There is a park bench on which our folks drink... that's not good.  In the house next to our church, the couple who lives there are often woke up early on Saturday morning by our people waiting for us to open.  That has to change.  Sometimes there are people on the property when we are closed, which makes the neighbors nervous.  And some of our people go through the recycle bins on trash day.

But they weren't angry just at these true problems.  They were upset that these folks were not acting "appropriate" in church.  (One person said in our sanctuary, "I wouldn't let people speak such shit in the Lord's house."  We all laughed.)They were angry that these people had no work to do, were "loitering".  They were angry that our program was "enabling" them to live an "anti-social" lifestyle.  They were angry that we didn't have enough rules. They felt that these people should just tow the line.  Their line.

They didn't understand that the homeless has a different line.  A different culture.  A different point of view.  I am not saying that the homeless culture is an always successful one, but it works when you are forced on the street.  And the middle class needs to remember that it is their culture that forces homelessness as an option. One neighbor talked about his son, how he wouldn't "follow the rules" and so was kicked out.  "And I don't care" he said, "if he's sleeping in a car.  He can't come home."

One person in the group said it clearly, "I hate to sound like a cliche, but I just don't want it in my neighborhood."  Meaning the homeless.

It is not my job to tell these neighbors to accept the homeless culture.  They have a right to their culture, their way of life. They have built it, and they can have it.  The homeless also have a right to their way of life as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else.  I can't tell them not to live that way.

What neither the homeless nor the neighbors understand is that it is our task, the church's task, to help both sides accept the other.  To bring peace and cooperation to the neighborhood.  To help all in need, no matter who they are, and to create community of love.  It is almost impossible to bring love amidst warring factions.   But it can be done.

The first step is listening to the needs and demands of each side.  The second step is to build trust on both sides.  Eventually, for there to be peace, we must have relationship between the two camps.  I hope we will be given a chance to do that.

I hope I don't die of a heart attack before that happens.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Should Everyone Be a Blogger?

They didn’t have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
“You look like a god sitting there.
Why don’t you try writing something?”
-James Tate  (copyright 1970)

Of course the ape had to be strapped down.  He had no reason to write.  He was not improved by it, because he was already good, already a complete being just by being an ape.  We who write see the writing as part of what makes us a benefit to the universe, as if the universe needed self-reflection, or an observer who would permanently etch their point of view for all time. 

There is nothing wrong with writing.  Evil doesn’t exist within the power of education, or even of replicating that education in others who have that gift or inclination.  I am proud of my daughters who have been writing novels and poetry in their spare time.  I am proud of my son who programs games and creates characters through word and design.  But why would I want to put that burden on an ostrich, a horse, an eagle?  They each have their own nobility, their own glory.  Why diminish that glory by imposing upon them that which they are not gifted for?  Their talents are already so great, why force them to do that which they were not born to do?

Why?  Because we find it difficult to see glory in that which is not reflected in ourselves.  We demand our children be intelligent in the way we are intelligent, to be gifted in the way we are gifted, to see not what we see, but how we see.   Our fellow countrymen and women are only properly citizens if they are literate in the way we are literate, and we expect them to be so.  They must know English as we know it, they must budget as we budget, they must live as we live, and have the benefits that we consider benefits.  If our children, our countrymen, our family does not experience life as we experience it, they are poor, they are pitiful.  And we feel we must do something to improve their lot, or we must blame  them for not achieving the best.  Our best.

So we limit their options.  We establish societal standards that make it illegal to live without electricity, even though our ancestors all lived without it.  We base our functionality on full literacy, although having a society with a majority of literate people is a very recent historical phenomenon.  We insist that most people, especially the poor, live in cities, even though our bodies and biological rhythms are based on agricultural work.   Again, there is nothing wrong with living according to these most recent standards.  But to create a society where there is no place for the subsistence farmer, for the functionally illiterate, for the socially awkward is to deny our heritage, to deny the citizens we have.

Education is essential.  Everyone should be given an opportunity to achieve all that they can.  But if they cannot achieve sustenance in this world, why should they be treated as outcasts, as non-citizens?  The true crime is to take the poor and call them lazy or crooked, when they have done nothing wrong.  The policies and economics of our world are shutting out people who aren’t able to be educated in the traditional sense, whose intelligence doesn’t lie in the classic reading/math categories.

I want to make it clear, I am not comparing the poor to apes.  The poor are human, with their own talents and gifts and secret powers and work to do for humanity at large.  They are no less, no more than any other human being.   But many of them have gifts that aren’t as easily accepted in the society we are building.  Why not?  Why are they excluded?

What if we saw them for who they were instead of how they are not like us?  What if we found a place for those who couldn’t work forty hours a week?  What if we created contexts for people to live and even thrive, even though they don’t meet the requirements of our “new world order” of a society?  Who would it harm? 

What if we actually had a society in which everyone had a place?  Where no one was excluded?  Would it be so bad?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How To Respond To Beggars

It can be a struggle to know what to do for folks who approach us for money, or who are holding a sign asking for support. We want to help, but we often don’t know how. If we give them money, will they use it for drugs or alcohol? By giving them something, are we perpetuating their cycle of poverty? Is it better to give to an organization?

As the debate rages on, and we give neither to the beggar nor an organization that helps them, the one flying the sign is there on the street, in need. The rumors are not true—beggars do not make an excellent salary. A really good day might gain them thirty dollars. But normally, they might get ten or less.

As for alcohol and drugs, yes, some will spend the money they receive to get drunk. Others are hoping to get a place to sleep for the night. Others are just wanting to get a decent meal.

One thing we need to keep in mind, however, that a person begging is desperate for something. No one stands with a sign or approaches people for money unless they are desperate. It isn’t exactly the best employment opportunity—one only takes it if other options are lacking. To beg is to face being ignored, disrespected and openly insulted. No one would take this as their job unless they are at the bottom of their options.

So what do we do? The choice that I have made is to carry around with me items that would assist the beggars, but would not be used to destroy themselves. Below, I have listed a few items that would be used to help a beggar, without any detriment. Some of these items we might have in our cupboards or closets. I just carry these items near my driver’s seat, so I am ready to pass them out to anyone holding a sign as I’m passing by. In this way, I am able to show Christ’s mercy and love without any harm.

By the way, if you would like to hand out tracts to folks, or a list of meals in the area, they are only appreciated if a practical gift accompanies the paper. If you just give paper, that’s a good way to encourage littering. But if you display Christ’s love, they might assume that your offer of the gospel is sincere and not just someone else disrespecting them.

What you can give: 
A friendly chat about the weather
Breakfast bars or energy bars
A hamburger
A coffee
A gift card to a local coffee shop
A gift card to a grocery store (some stores have gifts cards in which you cannot buy alcohol with them)
An apple
A sandwich (Food prepared at home might be refused by some, because they are concerned that someone might harm them)
Foot or hand warmers (you can buy a pack of six for pretty cheap, and they keep you warm for six hours)
A small blanket (not too hard to carry with them)
A kind word (Very rare in their business, and VERY welcome)
An individual juice
A bagged lunch
Individual chips

Besides this, the other thing I attempt to do is to talk to the person to find out who they are and what their specific needs are. Some folks are taken aback by this, but others really appreciate being treated as a human being and not just a post holding a sign (or a monster).

Be Compassionately Wise