Saturday, September 27, 2008

One thing I think is strange about (post III). . . .


I grew up in a small town in Southern Oregon with a population of 10,000. Portland, with the 568,380 people who live there, seemed humongous. Chicagoland (the area south of Milwaukee through the city of Chicago to Indiana) has a population of 10 million residents. It is the 3rd largest metropolitan area in the United States behind New York and Los Angeles. It took us nearly an hour and a half to drive 15 miles from the suburbs to Uptown Chicago and it wasn't even rush hour. It was really interesting to see the different boroughs we traveled through in such a short distance, from Latino to black to Jewish communities, sometimes within a few blocks.

I don't know about crime statistics in Chicago, but instantly I noticed these hard-to-miss boxes attached to some of the telephone poles.

The blue lights on top of these boxes flashed so that citizens wouldn't miss them, the department actually dubbed them "Operation Disruption" in that they hoped it would deter crime. They are pretty hard to miss, the "Chicago Police" logo on the side, CPD trademark black and white checkered stripe. We knew what it was, it was somewhat annoying and obtrusive, and we could see them from blocks away. Basically they were screaming "you are entering a high crime area!" These little boxes have 360 degree surveillence, and gunshot detectors that can find the location of a gunshot within 20 feet. Many people like the surveillence boxes because they deter crime, and it is a constant presence. And they are even paid for with seized drug money -- kinda funny, drug dealers and drugies are actually paying for the police to watch them :)

Now the strange part. They are moving towards a second generation of police surveillence -- hidden cameras. These things are less obtrusive and in-your-face. Unless you know what to look for, you wouldn't even notice them, which won't "disrupt" much crime if people don't know they are cameras.The biggest question is when will the government start to move towards completely undetectable surveillence? I'm not a big conspiracy theorist, and I don't spend much time worrying about what the government is watching me do -- mainly because I'm not doing anything illegal -- but it reminds me of George Orwell's 1984.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One thing I think is strange about (post II). . . .


Throughout the downtown area you will see red parking meters with the words "Denver's Road Home." Which is some sort of slogan for a social works campaign to support the local homeless outreach organizations. Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a knock on this organization, they are probably doing great work.

When you see these meters you can park in front of them, or just go up to them and put money in the slot. A portion of the proceeds from these parking meters go towards helping the homeless in Denver with community programs that provide meals, job training and education services, substance abuse help, and affordable housing, all good things by the way. Each of these meters are located in an area of high homelessness and panhandling, in hopes of encouraging you to instead of giving your loose change to a panhandler, rather, insert it into these "donation" meters and "help end homelessness."

I have never been an advocate of giving any money to panhandlers, it is impossible to tell if you are truly helping someone with a meal, or helping continue an addiction. I have and will continue to ask people who are panhandling if they would like me to take them to lunch, or to get a cup of coffee, or even to buy them a bus pass, but I will not give them my loose change.

To be honest, I'm not sure what I think about these "end homelessness" meters by the city of Denver. Instead of crossing a street and giving your loose change to a meter when you are presented with an awkward interaction with a homeless person, why don't you just save up all the change that you would have done that with and then take a street-person out for breakfast? At least then the person would be treated with dignity and respect rather than ignored, which is what I think these meters do to a certain extent: allow us to ignore the homeless and interact with a coin machine instead. All the while making you feel pretty good about "helping" the homeless with your gift of charity (they will probably start issuing receipts that you can claim on your taxes).

The reason I think this is strange is that even though the article I read claimed that over $2,000 was raised by these meters in the first month, I can't even imagine what the interaction would look like. Can you picture it? A lady is walking down the street and sees a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk strumming his guitar. As she approaches she begins to feel uncomfortable, she diverts her eyes and looks down at the tires of the cars parked on the street. She has an idea and reaches for the cell phone in her pocket and acts like she is talking to someone on it. She is now within 10 ft. of this man, but low and behold she sees a red meter - ahhh, her saving grace, she can now feel good about herself and donate to this meter rather than engage with this grizzled man, listen to his song, or ask him about his day, you know, treat him like he is a human being. Besides, I'm not sure if Jesus would encourage us to avoid human interaction and help God's creation by placing money in a meter, and I'm almost positive that since this is a city sponsored program, none of the proceeds go towards faith-based organizations.

A side note: Denver is the same city that while we were there prior to the Democratic National Convention, the city was trying pretty hard to persuade the street people to move somewhere other than downtown Denver in order to paint the picture that Denver was a special place to live.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Truth

Charity. . . . . . . .
without grace and love . . . . .

is worthless.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Violence of Suburbia*

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a family who chose to relocate and serve God's people in a poor neighborhood in Kansas City. The wife brought up the topic of fear and specifically of the fear for her children while in a place that statistically is more violent and physically unsafe. She said that the Lord has released her from that burden and that the fear of having one of her children harmed or hurt has never been an issue. The Lord has done much of the same with Serenity and I. Many people have expressed (or thought) similar fears for us while on the road in what the world would view as unsafe and possibly violent urban areas.

I will admit that there have been times where I have felt unsafe, and I have removed my family from that situation -- I believe that was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, not fear. The violence in cities around the globe is so overt, it is in your face, it is obvious violence. The murders, the rapes, the muggings, the beatings, the blood, it is so obvious, it is so visual. What I am reminded of however, is a term that was discussed in the conversation we had in Kansas City: "The violence of suburbia." This type of violence is subversive, it is hidden, and it breeds in complacency. The Old Testament prophets, long before the 20th century creation of the suburb, spoke out about it. This violence isn't brought about by guns and knives, but by materialism, by greed, by consumerism, these all bring on death. This is what Derek Webb was writing about in his song "This too shall be made right."

I don't know the suffering of people outside my front door
I join the oppressors of those I choose to ignore
I'm trading comfort for human life
and that's not just murder it's suicide
This too shall be made right

This is by no means a justification of the physical violence that is prevalent in our cities today, but rather, it is born from a desire for God's people to wake up and see that God counts these hidden, and sometimes unrecognized, sins just the same as when blood spills on the streets. And as the mother in Kansas City said: "I'm not willing to see my children grow up with a sense or understanding that materialism and consumerism are acceptable and that violence only happens in poor, urban neighborhoods."

*Postscript: I still own a house in suburbia. I'm wrestling with all of this myself :)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

One thing I think is strange about. . . .

This is a new type of post I decided to start writing. I will try to write these while we are actually in the city, rather than hundreds of miles away. Some of them might be people we have seen, others might be stores, or products, while others might be, well, just about anything.

First up. . .

Calgary, Alberta, Canada First off, they use a different type of measuring system, seriously, who in the world does this? Not only do mathematically-challenged police officers hassle me about how much vegetable oil weighs in pounds, but they insult me by having a sign on the way in that says "Think metric." Well Canadians, maybe I will, maybe I won't, but I will not be brainwashed.

Secondly, I guess Oreos were not good enough in the United States so they put a little twist on the product and made the creamy filling "squishy." I'm sorry that I don't have a more scientific term for this description, but to fully understand this atrocity you must travel to this country and see for yourself.

These last two really don't matter too much to me, but they do fall under the category of "strange." (1) We could not find circular hamburger patties, they were all oval, and (2) the ATM machines were all called ACM in an attempt to be different (Automated Cash Machines). Do with those as you will.

This list could go on, but I don't want to spend much more time on Canada, I'm trying to forget the "Oreo Incident" as we now call it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Average-Everyday-Ordinary Radical

I don’t exactly fit the mold of an anarchist or revolutionary. At least the picture I have in my own mind of a Christian radical: long hair, possibly dreds (because seriously, if you are truly bringing about the neo-Kingdom, do you have time to wash your hair), long whiskers, dirty clothes because doing wash uses precious water that somebody else should be using, no meat because that hurts one of God’s creatures, and a special body odor because the parent company of deodorant manufacturers tests their product on cute furry bunny rabbits.

I have always had this picture in my mind of what a revolutionary should look like, someone who rejects mainstream culture and attempts to live closer to God’s economy, closer to what Jesus may have looked like, and I don’t fit that description. I’m not exactly sure what that might look like, and seriously, the above description is a joke, but I just didn’t think I was going to come across people living this life out in a radical fashion who looked much like me, who loved watching such a violent sport like football (or MMA), or coached a “blood-sport” such as wrestling.

On this journey I might meet a few new friends who would much rather invite a couple homeless guys to a college football game, buy some free-trade coffee to share and drive the veggie-bus to tailgate, before they would protest the game for being too violent, or condemn all of the people who drove to the game because they are slaves to the oil companies. It actually gives me hope that God doesn’t look at me in the same way I look at myself. It doesn’t really matter what I protest, if I’m loving God and loving other people, God doesn’t care what I look like, or what my “views” are.

What I have come to realize is that many who are chasing God in this way, people we have met in a few of the cities we have travel to, are normal everyday people who when Jesus came knocking they decided to answer and then saw no other way than to live an authentic and real existence learning to love God and others around them. Some are professionals, others are professional protesters. Some find each and every rally so they can express their desire for change, while others want to develop community and friendship by inviting me to an MMA pay-per-view. I’m realizing that maybe I fit in with your average-everyday-ordinary radical.