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Links to Understanding

In April and May I will be teaching the Bridges Out of Poverty workshop, whiBridges Out of Poverty book coverch I love for its tools to build bridges across differences of socioeconomic status. These articles all connect with some of the major concepts of Bridges.

How Rich People See the World Differently This essay from New York Magazine describes how socioeconomic environment shapes perspective. Researchers found that higher social status correlated with lower empathic response. Why? We don’t know, but one neuroscientist hypothesized: “If you have more power and status, you may not have to care as much about what people are thinking and feeling; and also, if you’re in a resource-scarce environment, where things are a little more unpredictable and maybe a little more dangerous, it would be very adaptive to pay attention to others, how they’re feeling and what they’re going to do.”

On A Plate: A Short Story about Privilege (illustrated) by Toby Morris. For the visual thinker, an illustrated story of how environment influences opportunities.

Infant Mortality Rates in the U.S. are higher than in most other wealthy nations. Why? “The higher U.S. mortality rates are due ‘entirely, or almost entirely, to high mortality among less advantaged groups.’ To put it bluntly, babies born to poor moms in the U.S. are significantly more likely to die in their first year than babies born to wealthier moms.”

There is Only One Way Out of Poverty  In this 5-minute video, Arthur Brooks lays out a politically conservative approach to poverty alleviation. Public policy can be intimidating because it is complex; it is also powerful. It is good to work to understand the assumptions underneath various policies.

How Hidden Figures Reveals Hidden Systems

“White people,” I once heard a white guy say, “are not taught to see systems.”

He was referring to unjust social systems, the way we organize ourselves to benefit some people at the expense of others. In whatever ways we fit into the mainstream of society we tend not to notice that things are arranged. If it’s working for me it feels like normal, fair.

His assertion could be heard as an accusation, but I don’t think it is. I heard it as an observation. This is how things are. We — white folks, people in society’s mainstream — need to learn to see unjust systems so we can help work to change them.

Sometimes learning to see is as simple as going to the movies.


On Martin Luther King Jr. day our family  went to see Hidden Figures. The women in this movie are spunky, smart, and persistent. They have grit. I loved them. I loved their story. But I left angry because their enormous intellectual gifts were buried by an oppressive social system. Their story is of digging, digging, digging out to expose the gifts God gave them. Continue reading “How Hidden Figures Reveals Hidden Systems”

Book Review: Disunity in Christ

Portia was one of the first people I met when I started college. She was a sophomore with a welcoming attitude, eager to help the freshmen feel welcome. I sat next to her on the bus to band camp and as we chatted about our lives, church came up. When I told her I went to a United Methodist church she was delighted. “I go to an AME church – African Methodist Episcopal. We’re the same!”

Basically, I grew up in the white Methodist church and she grew up in the black Methodist church. Portia could have focused on the differences between us instead of finding our common ground. She chose to welcome me. Twenty years later I still love her for that. Continue reading “Book Review: Disunity in Christ”

Helping from Weakness

Life is hard right now. In early October my dear mom died.Stained glass window

Last spring we found out she had cancer and that her time with us was limited. Even so her death is a shock. I feel sad, angry, confused, disoriented. Sometimes disconnected, like a leaf that’s fallen from the tree but not yet landed on the ground

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I was feeling screwed up and lonely and aimless yesterday, so I decided to walk to Starbucks. Continue reading “Helping from Weakness”

How Loving My Kids Teaches Me to Love My Neighbor

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:4

My middle son was barely 7 years old, at the kitchen table eating string cheese and crackers, when he saw the newspaper’s front page photo of President Obama, eyes downcast. “Mom, why is the president sad?”

That was July 2013 and the president looked sad because a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. obama-sad-face-450x278

I took a deep breath and asked God to help me speak the truth in love about race & violence. I am white and my son is black. Like Obama, he was born to a white mother and black father and is growing up in a white family.

It was a stressful conversation. I wanted to be honest but not explain more than he needed to know. I’d explain a little bit and let his questions guide us. Continue reading “How Loving My Kids Teaches Me to Love My Neighbor”

In the News: The Church at Work in Chicago

high-fives-at-oglesby“The children entered the school to cheers and salutes. Every stairwell and entrance was flanked by men, from the basement to the third floor. The men cheered and high-fived students, and before the day was over more than 100 men agreed to volunteer monthly for a literacy program called Real Men Read and to be mentors at Oglesby.”

In this commentary for the Chicago Tribune, Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, tells how 300 men showed up on the first day of school at an elementary school on the south side to cheer for and encourage students.

300! Men! To cheer for them!

This is the church at work, the body of Christ at work in the world to love the children.

Several people came together, doing the work God set before them, for this to happen.

The principal of Oglesby had a vision of how her school could be. She prayed about it. She told her pastor about it. She asked for help.

The pastor supported the principal, recognized her vision, and shared it with the church. The pastor invested himself and invited the church to join him. “I called for men… to join me at Oglesby on the morning of Sept. 6,” he writes.

The church and the community responded. “Almost 300 men, most from Trinity United Church of Christ on the Far South Side, stood with members of the Black Star Project, Nation of Islam and teachers from Oglesby Elementary School in the Auburn Gresham community.”

God bless it. How can our churches work together in our community to be the body of Christ in the world?

Four Steps to Helping Your Community

Do you ever wonder what you can do to make a difference in your community? As in, what action can you take that will create positive change?

Step 1: Hang around some people.

People spending time together is the core of an essential resource for healthy communities. Sociologists call it social capital. Most people call it being involved, hanging out, serving, attending, joining.

community-working-togetherAny kind of activity people do together builds social connections. Having friends for dinner, going to church, voting, attending public meetings, chatting with neighbors.

Strong social capital in a community is connected with better life for everyone in that community. If lots of other people go to school board meetings and speak up for the needs of families, everyone in the community benefits from better schools — whether they attend meetings or not. Continue reading “Four Steps to Helping Your Community”

Offensive Equality

Recently one of the readings in church was the parable of the workers in the vineyard from the gospel of Matthew. It’s a story of the upside-down-ness of God’s kingdom, and I noticed something I’ve never thought about before. Equality is what gets everyone really angry.

Parable-of-Vineyard-Workers-Law-and-Grace-1-10-BT-fs2For the kingdom of heaven is like… Jesus begins. It’s like a business owner who goes out to hire workers for a day. He hires some guys and they agree to $100 for a day’s work.

Later that day, the business owner goes out and hires some more folks. Then later he does it again. Continue reading “Offensive Equality”

Listening In Waukegan

Waukegan FireworksFor the fourth of July, my family went to Waukegan to see the fireworks over Lake Michigan. We live in Gurnee and have always eavesdropped on Six Flags’ fireworks, watching from outside the park. This was our first time navigating an Independence Day crowd.

When we got there, we drove around to check out where we could park and wound up in a big, mostly empty lot. Someone else was unloading a folding chair and cooler from his truck, so my husband walked over to ask his advice about the parking.

Turns out we were in a fine spot.

Our new friend, a middle-aged white man, gathered all his stuff and walked up to our car to keep chatting. He told us he’s lived in Waukegan all his life, that there is “so much opportunity here,” that he went to Waukegan public schools and he loves his hometown. Continue reading “Listening In Waukegan”