This is OUR City!

Last night we had the great pleasure of attending the “This Is Our City” launch at Northminster Church in the Northside of Richmond, VA.  Hosted by Andy Crouch and the team behind the project, the event had about 3o0+ local people in attendance.  Richmond is the 2nd city of 6 to be revealed in Christianity Today magazine covering “Christians contributing to the flourishing” of their city.  Special guests included some of my friends and co-laborers Erik Bonkovsky, Brian Gullins, Corey Widmer, Amy Popovich and Danny Avula.  Alex Mejias, David Bailey and others provided an awesome multi-cultural musical performance as well.  You couldn’t help but feel energized and enthusiastic when you left.

These stories are just the beginning.  The featured stories are those who in recent years have benefited our city.  However, I also know that there are many more out there!  Especially stories of the people who have been living in and serving our city for DECADES! There are many who have gone before us who have been living and toiling in our city going virtually unnoticed and unrecognized.  They haven’t been brought on a stage to talk about their work, but they are people who make a HUGE difference in the daily lives of the community.  Some refer to them as ‘remainers’.  Others call them ‘historical neighbors’.  They are agents of God whose presence was here long before I (or any of my friends) moved into the city.  I challenge us to find them…celebrate them…encourage them…thank them….talk about them.  If you know someone who has been living in, loving and serving our city in the name of Jesus for a long time, let’s get busy.

There are 3 different ways we can get their story told…

1 – Reply in the comment section below.  I will get the information to the team.
2 – Submit your story at this link…  This is Our City Stories 
3 – Email the story to connect@thisisourcity.org.

I praise God for the opportunity to serve Him in my neighborhood and my beloved city, Richmond.  May God and only God be glorified in all that we do!   Enjoy some pictures from last night’s festive gathering.


 


“To Give or Not to Give?” Bob Lupton

Yesterday, I posted How Rich are You and I?.  At the time, I didn’t know that this would be a series on spending and giving.  This question always comes up!  My friend and ministry partner, Charles Fitzgerald (who spent 33 years on the streets doing everything under the sun) and I were having that discussion just last night while running ministry errands and meeting his new neighbors in Highland Park.  Do you or do you not give money to the “homeless” or rather…panhandlers on street corners?  Now that I have read this, I can say that although I understand all 3 points of view, Charles and I agree with Ron Sider’s approach presented below.  What about you?  Do you choose to give, or not to give?

To Give or Not to Give?

February 2011

by Bob Lupton, February 2011

Should Christians always give money to street people who ask for it? That’s what Christianity Today recently asked three veteran ministry leaders known for their commitment to the poor.

Yes, freely!” answers Gary Hoag, known as the Generosity Monk whose passionate mission is to encourage Christian generosity.  To him it is very clear in scripture:  “Freely you have received; freely give.”  It is not our place to judge others, to evaluate them as worthy or unworthy of our assistance.  God is the judge, not us.  What they do with our aid is between them and God.  We are to love and give unconditionally.  Gary’s theology of generosity is summed up in his quote from contemplative priest Brennan Manning:  “God’s call for each of us to live a life of unlimited generosity is rooted in his limitless love and care for us.”  Through our free and generous giving “the postmodern world will see Jesus in our generosity.”

Andy Bales, CEO of Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, sees it quite differently.  “Giving cash to someone in need is the least helpful and most temporary solution and should only be a last resort,” he says.  His years of experience with street people has taught him that most panhandlers are not really homeless at all.  Most are scammers who may collect $300 a day from kind-hearted passers-by and at the end of the day walk a block or two to their cars and drive home.  When someone approaches Andy for money for food or a place to stay, he gives them his card and invites them to his mission where they can get not only food and shelter but other support as well.  Very seldom does he give money, and then only when there are no other alternatives.  Like Hoag, he too has scripture to back his position.  His biblical example is the lame man who asked Peter and John for some money.  They offered no money but rather something better – healing!  “People experiencing homelessness and poverty need a community,” Andy says.  “People need permanent help in becoming strong.  They need a connection with Jesus Christ and a faith community.”

Absolutely not! So says Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action and author of best selling Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.  A quick donation is cheap love.  There is simply no way to tell whether a story is legitimate, or if a person will spend the money on drugs or alcohol.  Supporting immorality, laziness or destructive behavior is simply irresponsible and clearly not a loving act.  Scripture demands that we stand on the side of the poor but it certainly does not tell us to give irresponsibly.  Rather than give money, Sider suggests taking the homeless person to lunch and listening to his story.  “People almost always need love even more than money,” he says.  Generous giving should be directed toward effective, holistic programs equipped to deal with the deeper socio-economic issues, ministries that share the love of Christ and “truly empower, liberate and transform.”

Three respected Christian leaders, all committed to helping the poor, all relying on the scriptures to guide them, each with distinctly different convictions on how to rightly serve – opposing convictions.  They take their stand at opposite ends of the charity continuum, from “always give money” to “never give money.”  Who’s right?   Whose counsel do we listen to?

Andy Bales certainly has the most direct experience with the homeless, living and serving among them for decades.  His “last resort” giving position is shaped by years of personal involvement, watching con games on the street, seeing first-hand the long, up-and-down battles of those trying to break free from addictions.  Pragmatic experience has taught him that healing is far more likely in a supportive community environment than struggling alone on the street.  Of course he believes it is better to steer street people toward a program like he runs.  He has committed his life to it.

Gary the Generosity Monk, on the other hand, views scripture (and the world) from the ivory tower of religious academia.  Not that he’s removed from humanity – he’s certainly not.  He’s very engaged with the Christian community, particularly as it relates to generosity.  But he doesn’t live among the broken.  In one sense, his reading of scripture is purer, uncontaminated by the troubling realities of life on the street.  His “yes, freely” theology of giving is fashioned around a compelling body of scriptures such as “Give to anyone who asks” and “Freely you have received; freely give” and “If you have two coats, give one.”  And his examples of the extravagant giving of historic heroes of the faith are inspiring.  His message is clearly directed toward an affluent church that needs for its own salvation to be freed from its bondage to material things.  Giving freely is a prime way to break the strangle-hold of materialism.  But is his “unconditional giving” doctrine informed by the real-life down-stream impacts of unexamined charity?

Ron Sider understands poverty from a systems perspective.  He pores over statistics, scrutinizes legislative motivation and decision-making, holds up a biblical standard of justice by which to evaluate public policy and practice.  He is a prophet to a nation that has subsidized poverty, eroded a work ethic through dependency-producing entitlements and decimated the family structure of the poor – all in the name of doing good.  He knows better than most theologians the vast number of scriptures that deal with God’s concern for the poor.  And theresponsibility of God’s people to care for the widows and orphans and strangers.  His plea, like the prophet Amos, is to “let justice roll down like a river.”  The quick donation, whether for expediency, sentimentality or guilt-relieving, is cheap love that is neither merciful nor just.  Prophets are not pragmatists.  They speak in absolutes.  Understandably, to Sider, irresponsible giving is just plain wrong!

Always.  Sometimes.  Never.  Who’s got it right?  I guess it all depends on the level of the platform you are viewing the poor from – ground-level practicality or elevated theological theory.  Your altitude will determine your attitude.