Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

A shout out to Eugene Cho and the work of One Day’s Wages.  The New York Times covers the organizatoin as part of a larger piece on everyday giving: (New York Times article).

Check out the video launch of One Day’s Wages:

More info on One Day’s Wages at http://www.onedayswages.org

Check out the work of Eugene Cho.  Aside from being my evil twin (or am I his evil twin?), Eugene does some great work in combating global poverty.  Check out the ministry of One Day’s Wages:

web: http://onedayswages.org

our story: http://www.onedayswages.org/about/founders-story

video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UZ5VA9wexU

NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/12/giving/12CIVIC.html?pagewanted=all

Seattle Times article: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2010221500_eugenecho07m.html

Over the summer, both our cars were stolen from right in front of our house. First our Scion xB was stolen. Great little car. Gets great mileage. It was stolen on the first day of my summer intensive class and I ended up getting to my own class very late. We ended up finding the car parked a few blocks away from our home. Since we had already filed a police report, I had to wait by my car for the police to come and release my own car back to me.

If you have ever had a car stolen or your home burglarized, you are familiar with the sinking feeling you get when you realize that something has been stolen. It is not merely the sense of losing property, but more the deep sense of being violated. Someone has invaded your personal space and property. We were, however, very thankful that we got our car back without any major damage to our Scion.

So I went and got Clubs for both our cars, changed the locks on our house and added an alarm system for the house (ridiculously overpriced for what you’re getting and they don’t fulfill their incentive offer. Never trust ADT, but that’s another blog entry). The need for the home security came from my wife’s bike being stolen from our backyard about a week after the car was stolen. The second year in a row we have had a bike stolen in Chicago on Father’s Day.

About a week and a half later, I’m at a conference in California when my wife texts me that our minivan has been stolen. Again, our car was directly in front of our house. I rush home (paying exorbitant fees to change my flight by one lousy day). The car was recovered with some minor interior damage. So now, our family is on edge. We have had two cars stolen as well as a bike – our sense of security was shattered. We became a bit more suspicious of our neighbors and began to discuss what it meant for us to live in an urban context. Other questions came up as well. Why do we pay such high taxes and get ridiculously inferior public education? Why is there only one beat cop for an area covering about one square mile? We began to cast suspicious glances at the youth in our neighborhood. We were facing the reality of life in the city.

A few weeks later, I found myself in an inner city church on the West Side of Chicago. This was really da hood. Not the urban oasis that my family lives in. Sure, we live in the city, but despite the rash of thefts we still live in a fairly safe part of the city. The church had just wrapped up their worship time and opened up the floor for prayer requests from the congregation. I seriously considered asking prayer for my family as we were worried about having our two cars and a bike stolen from our house.

The first person to share was a fortyish woman who asked prayers for the children of her community as they returned to school. She talked about how this past year, in her neighborhood, they had seen a high number of youth who had been shot and killed. Another parent stood up and asked prayers for his neighbor who had lost a teenage son to a shooting during the summer. Person after person stood up to ask prayers for family members lost to violence and testified to violence that occurred right in front of their home. This is real life in the city. There is nothing romantic or exotic about it. It’s just real life. In my self-absorbed concern over an inconvenience, I forgot that there is genuine pain and suffering in the real life of the city.  I join with the prayers of many families and individuals who seek the peace of the city.

To learn more about efforts to bring peace to our city, see: Chicago Peace Campaign

gran-torino-poster

In the past year, I’ve presented on the topic of the Next Evangelicalism and the changing face of Christianity and of American society in various settings. In almost every setting, I’ve been asked whether I’ve seen the movie, Gran Torino. Either this was the greatest movie ever made or there was something in this movie that applied directly to The Next Evangelicalism. So about a month ago I finally capitulated and watched the movie on DVD. I’m assuming that most have already seen this movie, so if I reveal major plot points, you’ve had more than enough time to see this movie.

The story takes place in Detroit, but it could be extrapolated to any Midwestern city or any post-industrial city in the United States: Detroit, Buffalo, Paterson, NJ, or Minneapolis-St. Paul (particularly with its prominent Hmong population). One of the people who strongly recommended the movie to me stated in no uncertain terms that the movie took place in Minneapolis, MN. The story focuses on Clint Eastwood as a curmudgeon war veteran (is there any other kind?) and retired auto worker (hence, the Detroit locale and the movie title) who is adjusting to life in a rapidly changing neighborhood. His neighborhood is being overrun with street gangs and immigrants, like his immediate neighbors (a Hmong family), who practice strange customs like having lots of friends and family over for dinner parties. Eastwood, of course, doesn’t like what’s happening to his old neighborhood and tries to keep his distance from the Hmong family next door – particularly the teenage brother and sister in the family.

Because this is a Hollywood movie, the Hmong teenage boy and his sister gradually win over the crusty old man. He develops a nice rapport with the kids and eventually when the dangers of the neighborhood threaten his new friends, he intervenes. The climax of the movie comes when Eastwood’s character decides to take matters into his own hands. It appears that Eastwood is ready for a shoot ‘em up with the local gang. However, it turns out that he is unarmed when he confronts the gang and he is gunned down on the street, dying with his arms in an outstretched position as if he were on a cross.

The movie had some interesting and unexpected moments; namely, the acknowledgement of an increasingly multi-cultural and diverse urban dynamic. It is interesting how the cross-cultural relationship is with a Hmong family, not a Mexican family or an African-American family. The movie recognizes the complex cultural mosaic that is now America. The relationship that develops between the Eastwood character and the Hmong family was certainly a feel good aspect of the movie — showing that cultural barriers could be overcome when the white person opens his heart to the strangers living next door. And it is genuinely moving that the Eastwood character gives up his life for his newfound friends.

Which actually provides the most problematic element of the movie as well. As Eastwood dies, he stretches out his arms as if on a cross in what was a pretty obvious attempt at portraying the Eastwood character as a Christ figure. He sacrifices his life in order to save the Hmong teenagers. So what’s the problem?

Hmong Eastwood

I try to interpret this movie from the lens of my experience in urban ministry. I greatly appreciate the concept of relocation that is espoused by many who move to urban neighborhoods from places of privilege and affluence. I think a great sacrifice is being made by those who are urban relocaters. However, I worry a bit that this idea of relocation is misunderstood by whites (and others of privilege and wealth) who may have the best of intentions, but end up ultimately harming the community they hope to reach. I found it uncomfortable, that once again, the white male is portrayed as the Savior in Gran Torino — that the immigrant community needs a white Messiah to rescue them. Our Savior is a Jewish Messiah, who ultimately empties himself of the heavenly places in order to save us. However, no human can play that role nor should one aspire to that role. Is Gran Torino glorifying a white Messiah to save those needing help? Instead, could a downtrodden, marginalized community rise up from within? Could the Hmong teenagers figure out a way to work within the community to bring about transformation and renewal? Maybe Eastwood’s character could have worked with them towards that goal rather than doing all the work for them (again, a Messianic reference)? Would it be more powerful if instead of Eastwood being a Christ figure / Messiah for the immigrant community, Eastwood walked Hmong them (okay, now I’m pushing it). But that wouldn’t make for a good Hollywood movie.

I recently returned from the Mobilization to End Poverty in Washington D.C. sponsored by Sojourners. The event was advertised as “a history-making gathering. Christians from across the country will come together in a powerful movement committed to the biblical imperative of reducing domestic and global poverty.”

So did we make history?[1]

There were many things to celebrate about this gathering (despite the disappointment that President Obama was unable to be there in person, he sent along a personal video greeting).  As someone who has attended past mobilizations by Sojourners, this gathering was by far the largest gathering I have attended.  I remember one conference where it felt like there were about 100 people gathered in a church basement.  So to be part of a gathering of over 1100 Christians committed to end poverty felt like a major step forward.

Previous gatherings tended to skew to an older demographic with a large percentage of the participants from mainline denominations.  2009’s mobilization was successful in drawing from the wide range of American Christianity.  Individuals from more evangelical and theologically conservative churches joined with mainline churches to form a stronger Christian voice.  The mobilization’s most significant step forward was the large number of younger participants who are deeply concerned about addressing the social injustice of national and global poverty.

This broader coalition bodes well for Biblical social justice movements in America.  In American church history, there has been a historical divide between theologically liberal Christians and the Biblically conservative ones.  Twentieth century Christians split their priorities with liberal Christians focused on social justice and the conservative Christians focused on personal evangelism.  (The major exception to this rule would be the lack of such division in the Black Church which has consistently had a healthy intersection of justice and evangelism.)

Despite Christianity Today’s insistence, this movement is not the religious left.  It is instead a broad coalition of Christians concerned and committed to the Biblical call for social justice.  It was a pleasure meeting many evangelicals who are increasingly becoming an important part of the dialogue on Biblical social justice.  I met many individuals who previously had no concern about social justice issues (who saw this as a politically liberal agenda) actively participate in the plenary sessions, workshops, and even the visits to Capital Hill.  The Mobilization to End Poverty was a historic event in that we are clearly moving beyond the liberal-fundamentalist divide of a previous generation.  Younger evangelicals are no longer encumbered by the artificial and unbiblical divorce between evangelism and social justice.

But we must be aware that significant challenges still exist in our quest to better live out God’s call for social justice.  A key aspect of political advocacy is the ability to genuinely and legitimately reflect the perspective of the poor.  Advocacy requires a high level of relational power.  In other words, we can not represent the voice of the poor if we are not actively involved in the life of the poor.  Talking about the poor is very different from genuinely engaging the poor.  A noticeable gap in this mobilization was the absence of those who are actually struggling with poverty.  That gap was to be expected when the registration fee averaged $250 and hotels in the area could not be found for under $150.  It is imperative that the movement to combat poverty in America genuinely engages and reflects the poor.  It is very easy to become advocates for the poor while losing touch with the actual conditions of poverty.

During my elementary school years, I grew up in a rough inner city neighborhood in Baltimore.  My neighborhood was comprised of poor blacks, poor whites, and recent Korean immigrants.  Gang activity and violence were common place in our neighborhood.  My family was on food stamps and had a block of government cheese in our freezer.  (We’re Asian, we didn’t know what to do with cheese – it just sat in the freezer for several months).  Our apartment was infested with cockroaches and there were five of us crammed into a small two bedroom apartment.

But our mom (who raised us as a single mom after our dad walked out on our family) worked multiple jobs to get us out of that neighborhood.  By my middle school years, our family had achieved the American dream of leaving “the hood” and moving to the middle class suburb of Columbia, MD.  With a much better school system, there were more opportunities for our family.  I was able to attend an Ivy League undergraduate college that bordered a rough neighborhood, but was not actually in the neighborhood.  I went on to attain three different graduate degrees while faithfully moving up the socio-economic ladder.  As my wife and I have started our own family, we have always lived in urban communities among the poor but our family would not qualify as actually being poor.  It has become easy for me to create more and more of a distance between my poor upbringing and my current work with the poor.  If the Mobilization to End Poverty is to be an authentic movement of transformation, then we must engage with, connect to, and hear from the actual poor, rather than relying on our memory of poverty.

So was the Mobilization to End Poverty a history making event?  More like history in the making.  As in, we still have a ways to go.  But at least we seem to be headed in the right direction.


[1] Some full disclosure before going further.  I serve on the board of Sojourners and have been a fan of Sojourners magazine and the ministry of Jim Wallis for many years.