A little public service announcement

If you are all car savvy just ignore this post.

The other day I used a 3M Headlight Restoration Kit to polish the headlights on my car. It worked amazingly well:

So, if your headlights seem dim and the lenses are all foggy spend the $25 and 30 minutes it takes to restore them. It makes a big difference.

I was thinking this might be a business opportunity. What if you restored peoples headlights while they were at work? The system is completely portable, so you could go to the parking lot. It would only take a few hundred in start up cost, and some savvey marketing. You could probably charge $30, and I think it would take around 20 minutes to do the whole process once you got good at it. You would have to factor in some travel time as well…and of course all the normal business expenses like insurance, replacing worn out gear, etc.

I’m not sure the status of micro finance in the United States, but it seems like the amount of money it takes to impact an individuals ability to generate wealth is much higher here then, say, on the African continent (this is pure speculation). A business like this could be funded through some sort of micro finance or peer to peer set up, and might be a viable option for somebody looking to start a low cost business.

On Yesterday

Three posts in one day? This blog is getting down right chatty!

Yesterday I spent about 4 hours making conversation with people I don’t know. Now, if you know me at all…im not big on just having conversations with people. It is exhausting to me. I had a headache the rest of the day.

But it was good. Basically I spent the day hanging out with a lady who lives under a bridge, a lady who lives at a shelter and a guy who lives with a pastor we know. I was privileged to be allowed into their community for a few hours. There were a lot of things that we talked about, but here are two that i thought i would share:

Community is everywhere: This is nothing new, but yesterday I saw a great example of this.  If our only idea of community is centered  around small groups at church then our view is way to narrow. Everybody needs people to live life together with, and even a fiercely independent woman who lives on the streets recognizes that in her life.

Programs don’t work: I have a limited perspective on this right now, but for these three the programs, rules and systems that have been built around the homeless in Tulsa don’t work. All of them are taking active steps in their lives to change their situation (working jobs, doing the paperwork to have a nursing licenses restored, taking GED classes, etc), its not that any of them are looking for a system to save them. However, in the eyes of these three, the system in place has not helped them move from where they are now to where they dream to be. I don’t want to paint to broadly here, I know there are some people who the systems in place have helped, and I am only seeing a very narrow view right now.  Greg has something to say about this.

Any way, that’s enough for now…

Reflections on story and development

This is my reflection on one of our recent classes with Mark of TellTheirStory.org

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It seems that there were two basic areas we talked about with Mark…related but distinct. Ill start with development.

I do of course really appreciate the approach of micro finance, partnering with people in empowering relationships, and involving investors and donors in a very real way. Jacqueline Novogratz’s idea of patient capital (long term investment where the return is more about social change then a monetary percentage), is a really compelling idea to me, and is very closely related to what Mark is doing.

The thing that stands out from that conversation was the idea of approaching economics from a standpoint of scarcity or plenty. I do think in terms of plenty…I have no doubt that there is plenty for all. But I guess it seems like it depends on what you are measuring. Here is my worry: what if there are some things that do have to be given up to allow others to have plenty? The easy thing to pick on is anything we have the can derive from exploitation (cheap stuff, diamonds, coffee, sugar). What if we, as people with plenty, think we don’t have enough to make sure factory workers in China are paid a living wage? Now, I don’t want to be cliche with this stuff, the issues of trade, labor, wage, exploitation, etc. are very complex (see The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade), even if you just try to look at one single industry. Understanding it on a global scale seems impossible. But my worry stands; what trappings of plenty are possible because somebody has less?

I’m not sure where im going with this. I guess that I wonder if there is in fact something that has to be given up? I’m not talking about some sort of redistribution of wealth, that those with plenty will have to have nothing so that others can have something. But, it seems that there are some things we have that are built on the shoulders of the poor. It seems that this a lot of it is unimportant stuff though, cheap stuff from wal-mart. I don’t know, I might just not understand the economics of it all well enough, but it seems like this issue is less cut and dry then just saying that everybody can have everything. I found this picture a long time ago painted by the artist Banksy:

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I think about it a lot. So, what if we are unwilling to pay 10% more on a meal so that the guy washing dishes can earn enough in a 60 hour week to pay rent? Part of this I suppose has to do with thinking long term. The person buying the meal might happen to own an antique shop. If this person only thinks short term then this is a situation of scarcity. There are only $10 in the meal and they have to be divided up. Somebody does not get enough. Or the customer can give up the extra dollar and pay $11, thus insuring that everybody had enough, except that he is out the dollar. In the short term he loses. But, I suppose, that if you look in the long term he might not. If all the dishwashers in the world have a bit of extra money some of them will start collecting antiques, and he gets his dollar back. I don’t know…i think i would need a degree in economics to really understand all of this!

There is another issue around this that we did not really talk about but it is related. For the sake of simplicity lets say that we (us) are obsessed with having stuff, with being comfortable at all costs, that we have built walls between us and nature, that we don’t know what it means to be connected to people, that we have to be entertained, that our priorities are wrong…all the negative stereotypes of the privileged that you can think of. So, say we invest patently, empower people, develop economies and create wealth. Are we just giving people tools to be us? To end up in a life obsessed with having stuff, with being comfortable at all costs, with walls between them and nature, without connections with people, needing to be entertained, with wrong priorities? I have two thoughts about this right now:

First, Jacqueline Novogratz returns. She has some interesting things to say about this. First, she throws out the romantic view of poverty. This is the idea that people with nothing are really better off because they understand family, community, and generosity. These things may be true, but the also have to walk five hours a day to get water, are always hungry, and their infant daughter died last week. So, Jacqueline says that we are giving people a choice. Through smart investment and development we allow people to choose to stay where they are, or to start down the path of developing economies and all that comes with that (good and bad). If they are really better off where they are, they will stay.

Second, I think this issue speaks to part of why development and spiritual formation go hand in hand. The thing that prevents people from becoming us is having the right person at the center of the story. If I am at the center of the story then naturally I can become obsessed with having stuff, with being comfortable at all costs, have to be entertained and with wrong priorities. However, if Christ is the center of my story then I probably will still become all of those things, but I will be fighting it. Christ will teach me to use my stuff to help others, to bring comfort to others, for my entertainment to be something more then mindless, and to have right priorities.

There is a bunch of stuff about this at Speaking of Faith if your interested.

On to story.

It is clear that Mark has thought about story a lot more then me, which is not surprising. It’s also clear that I have thought about economic development a lot more then story…

The question of exploitation is obviously important to me. I want to make sure that as I record what people have to say and take their picture that I do not use them, manipulate their words, be untruthful. I am really still processing this. I think the biggest place where this tension exists for me is when you are telling stories for the sake of an organization or project. Tomorrow I am going to start making a list of people i want to interview for a specific project. This project has a broad purpose, essentially it is to profile the community around the church so that we can give a taste of east Tulsa during a fund raiser. All i have to do is document what is, what people really say. Yet there is a temptation to shape the story. I want to show a “realistic yet hopeful” view of the community. I am already putting my agenda on it. What if there is no hope? Then what? In this case it’s actually not really that big a deal. I really can just show what I find. But what if Mark goes out and interviews a local hero and by the end the gist is “we have been working hard for 10 years, and now the water pump is broken, im tired of this, one of our co-op members stole all our money, and we are no better off then we were 10 years ago. It was better when people just showed up every now and then and gave us free food.” Then what? If it were me I hope I would be willing to take that story, put it in context, put it on the web site and be honest in saying that what we do is hard, that we don’t always have the answers, sometimes we might be wrong and make mistakes, that there are setbacks, and that it takes perseverance. But I think i would probably be scared to.

In the end I think that this is not solvable. You just have to know that this tension exists, and make sure that you are constantly checking yourself.

The most encouraging part of the conversation was hearing mark talk about the value that recording somebodies story brings to them. That just by taking the time to listen you help somebody feel like they have worth and value. Over the last several weeks as i have been interviewing a few people I think that is part of what I have enjoyed the most, is that they have seemed to really appreciate getting to share a bit about themselves with somebody. I have enjoyed hearing the stories and have learned from them, but i think (hope) that they felt valued because of the time I spent with them.

A reflection on community at GCC

During our class we discussed three characteristics of communities of spiritual formation: people tell the truth, power and goals are different from the world and fear is diminished.

It seems this is a good framework for some reflection on the Garnett Church of Christ community.

People Tell the Truth:

This community values the truth. One of the most stark examples of this to me is how the leadership of the church handled the case of a young couple in the church who had a baby together before they were married. This would be a prime chance to ignore a situation, sweep it under the rug, or try to handle it in some secret cliche way. Instead the leadership of the church chose to handle this in the open. the leadership stood before the church at acknowledged that there had been sin, that there were consequences to what had happened. The couple then stood before the church and everybody laid hands on them and prayed for them.

So, it was awesome to see truth told, but it was truth backed up with love. They could have told the truth of sin and consequence, and it could have lead to rejection and isolation, but instead it is (i think) leading to healing and restoration.

I often hear (or are part of) conversations about transparency between leadership and the congregation. This transparency ranges from budget discussions to ministry leadership. I think that this openness and honesty is something that is truly being strived for.

A sort of institutional honesty is a big part of this of course. But it seems that there is another aspect to this, and that is how individuals relate to each other. Do they tell the truth and are honest? This is harder to know about of course, Its harder to know and understand what is going on within individual relationships. There are some times though when I feel like there may be some untruth between individuals. I don’t really have any specific examples of this, I think this is normal relationship stuff…people avoiding conflict, wanting people to like them and not saying no. I don’t at all think that this is some sort of indication that there is some secret covering up of truth, rather that people are people in every community.

Power and Goals are Different from the World.

There is clearly a different goal at Garnett. I have never really felt like anybody is looking for power or to build a kingdom. They truly are trying to create a place where God’s love is shown to all people. People on the outside see this. Greg has told me that even Mayor Cathy Taylor saw that Garnett Church loved all people, and that this was unusual, even at times among churches.

I think that the question of process vs. program is interesting at Garnett Church of Christ. I have never felt like there is a drive to create some sort of program that will drive people to the outcome that the church wants. At the same time I think they are still trying to figure out the process. Not that this is a community that has no direction and is just wondering around. It is clear that this community wants all people to know God’s love, but the question of how this community does that is not as well defined. This is not surprising (or even bad really) considering that the church in its current form (leadership, etc) has been around for less then a year. I guess the bottom line is that this place does not seem to want to have anything to do with programs that shoehorn people into set expectations and seek out preset conclusions. They truly are seeking ways to serve people through relationship and knowing them.

Fear is Diminished.

I have one story to tell that I think sums up this point about Garnett:

Yesterday i was interviewing a lady who has gone to Garnett Church of Christ for the last 40 years. I asked her what the biggest struggle she has overcome in her life was. She said her divorce. Some time ago, i really don’t know exactly when, her and her then husband attended church at Garnett. They were active members teaching Sunday school together and being very involved in the Church. Then he had an affair. She went through a lot, but the church stood by her. I asked if she was ever worried that the church would reject her because of her divorce, that she would in some way be marginalized. Her answer: “Never. It never even occurred to me.”  No doubt she felt a lot of fear and rejection during this time. But the community stood to accept her and to help her overcome that fear.

A lot is different about this church then it was 20 or 30 years ago, but on this point I don’t think much has changed.

on exploitation and story

Last week we got to spend some time with Mark Regouby of TellTheirStory.org. We talked a lot about how to tell somebodies story and not exploit them. Mark works to connect people from the states to microfinance projects in the developing world. He also records and tells the stories of the people who are part of these projects. So, here is the question: how do you record and tell somebodies story and not exploit them? Especially when your organization (and livelihood) depend on somebody hearing the story and being compelled to some action. I’m not sure the answer…perhaps you just have to live with the tension of that.

Tonight I was out walking around taking a few pictures. As I was walking I noticed a homeless man sleeping. I must say, this might be the hardest picture i have ever taken:

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It’s not even a great picture, but it took me a long time to decide to take it. I think there is an important story in this picture…a story about homelessness, hopelessness, perhaps something about economy, health care, family…despite that it does seem a bit exploitative. Did I just take it to satisfy my desire to take an interesting picture? Or to make a blog post about something I have been thinking about? I envy great street photographers who can take pictures of people and compel the viewer to consider how to react to the situation. Perhaps someday I will take a picture that does that…but i hope that I never lose sight of people, and never disrespect the story of the people in the picture.

what do you think? How do you take pictures of people, how do you tell the stories of people without turning them into mere subjects?

18 Years

The other day I had the chance to meet a man who came to the church looking for help with rent. I ended up sitting at a table with him just talking. He had an amazing story.  He had done a bit of everything, from living in the woods with a bunch of wandering people, making drums for a living, carrying a cross around Salt lake City….he had done a lot of things in his life, the last 18 years of which he had spent in prison.  It was a pleasure to hear his story. I have to say I am a bit untrusting when i hear amazing stories of massive life change, I guess i have some cynic in me, but despite that it was encouraging to hear somebody talk of how God has meet them in a difficult time in life, and to hear his faith that God will provide in the future. The hard part now for him of course is finding a job. It’s hard for somebody who has committed a crime worthy of 18 years in prison to get a job.  I hope the right person is willing to take a risk on him, that somebody is willing to be part of a small redemptive work in Tulsa.

Another idea for churches

Im reading a short history of the church we work at. It’s interesting stuff. Here is something interesting:

Can you imagine if churches across the country began opening the doors of their empty facilities and inviting the community to come in and do business, celebrate family events, hold seminars, or take advantage of a host of social services?  Imagine how it would change the perception of the church in the eyes of the community.  And imagine how it would force congregations to wrestle with what it means to be the church, and what it means to be Christ to the world.  It could even change the way church buildings are designed.  Rather than spending money on padded pews or stained glass windows, churches might install loading docks or even service bays used by an oil change business during the day and a repair service for the elderly at night.  It could change the way we deal with congregations located in aging communities.  We are called to feed the hungry and take care of the widows, the orphans, and the poor.  But many times, just as a neighborhood begins to need the healing touch of the church, the church takes it’s money and moves to the suburbs.  Imagine the resources that can be injected into an aging community when the local congregation becomes a business center, a mission point for wealthier congregations, and a gathering place for a wide range of people with a wide range of needs.

Another interesting line:

Many of you will remember our motto “We want to be the best friend this community has ever had”.

Those are amazing ideas to me. If we are called to love no matter what, then why can’t our church buildings be part of loving? How awesome is it that for a family in one of their greatest times of grief the place that served them was a church that is just a part of the community, no strings attached (well, there were some strings, they had to rent the space, but that is part of the deal, if your going to open your doors in a sustainable manner then somebody has to fund it in a sustainable way). And how awesome is it that I got to be a part of serving them.  There are churches doing this kind of stuff, it’s not unique to this place. And I don’t really think every church in the world needs to do this exact same thing (if anything there is not a big enough market). But what if every church just threw away the conventions and destroyed the box…and was bold enough to take the risk to do something truly new.

why not? To scary? To uncomfortable? Will it make to many people mad?

An idea for churches

I have talked to a lot of people during the last few week who have told me about the dechurced of tulsa…basically 20 somethings that have grown up in the church and left. There are a lot of issues around this of course, but for now im thinking about the church structures that make this happen. Part of this problem can be seen at Garnett Church of Christ. The church is great for families, but when it comes to 20 somethings not as much. Basically college students and 20 somethings dont have a great place to fit. Now…I have to say that overall I think there is a need for churches to have structures that make it so that everybody of every generation is plugged into real communities, and I think that ideally these communities should span generations. I have something to learn from people who have lived a bit more life then me. But I also recognize that sometimes what a 26 year old needs is not the same as a 45 year old with 3 kids.

Here is the next interesting part: In the last 2 weeks I have talked to 3 people staring churches for 20 somethings in Tulsa. One of the challenges of these churches is that they grow up. Eventually all there people get married and have kids, then they have the 20 something gap again.

Next interesting part: The Green Country Event Center is the location for 3 or so churches, including Garnett Church of Christ, and Doxa, one of the new churches for 20 somethings, are 2 of the 3.

Here is my random idea: what if churches stared adopting a model of always having a bunch of churches in one building. Kind of a church co-op. There could be some shared resources, but the bigger thing would be to create a culture of one body. So, if your family goes to the great family church but you are 23 you can go to the young hip church across the hall. Or somebody who goes to the young hip church and has a baby can put the baby in the childrens program at the great family church. I know this sounds like it would be like a big church that has several services for different demographics, but I think it is different. Garnett Church of Christ has its history and DNA. It will never be able to be Doxa. The mindset that forms Doxa is completely different. It would also be really cool if there was a really wide range of churches. What if a Catholic Church, A Bible Church, a Baptist Church, a young hip church, an Assembly of God church and 4 or 5 others for spice were all working together and learning how to share space, resources, and work together, it might go a long way towards helping people get over some denominational silliness.

Next Day Update ——————————

I have been thinking about this some. I still think this is an interesting idea. I think that sharing some resources and churches bumping up against each other all the time would be a good thing. Doing joint ministry would be even better. But I think that this: “I have to say that overall I think there is a need for churches to have structures that make it so that everybody of every generation is plugged into real communities, and I think that ideally these communities should span generations” is more important than I gave it credit for. One of the things I really appreciate about the church I grew up in was that it spanned generations. I learned a lot from hanging out with old people! So, creating a church community that somehow connects generations seems like a really good thing. It seems like there are 2 big things that it takes to do this: 1) My generation needs to get over its pickyness, need to be entertained and  aversion to all things traditional. 2) The generations above us have to be open to new things, new styles of leadership and new types of community.

Reflections on a weekend

I spent my first weekend hosting at the events center, it was a good (if long) weekend. Mostly I ran sound for 2 events, the first was a funeral. The lady who died was Hmong, which is an ethnic group who migrated to the United Stats from southeast Asia. The Hmong have a tradition of a very family centered funeral that spans 4 days. This seems long…but when you consider it is a family reunion rolled up into a funeral its not that long. I have to say though…mixing for a service that is several hours long and nothing is in English can be a bit tedious after a while.  That said, I appreciated being able to be an observer, and get to see a part of Hmong culture. The Hmong seem to be a very warm and inviting people, and I’m excited to get to learn about their way of life.

The other thing I hosted was a graduation, which was simple from a hosting stand point. The school is a college focused on people who already have families, kids and jobs who are looking to move into new jobs, mostly medical and office professionals. It was cool to see a lot of people who have gone through a lot to graduate. I think they probably appreciate there own accomplishment a lot more then those of us that did college right out of high school before we had families.

So, good weekend…