Archive for the ‘Urban Ministry…Concerns’ Category

I live and work in Kankakee, Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago.  It’s a small city of about 25,000 with a mini-metropolitan area (two other towns, Bradley and Bourbonnais, that seem analogous to suburbs).  When my fiancée Bethany and I get married in May, we intend to live intentionally a poor neighborhood, engage in both evangelism and service to our neighbors, and participate with (not dominate) our neighbors in changing the neighborhood for the better.  I realize that this may sound abstract, but for a more systematic explanation of what we are talking about, you can see the Christian Community Development Association website.

When Bethany and I were on the Justice Journey this past summer, which took white and black Christians from the Chicago area to significant spots in the history of the civil rights movement, we felt encouraged to pursue this course of action.  We actually got to talk to the “founding father” of the Christian Community Development Association, John Perkins.  Perkins is an old-time gospel preacher who also has done a lot of thinking and working on community development.  When we told him our idea, he immediately warmed to it, telling us we needed to get a three-bedroom house with a large living room so that we can host our neighbors and other guests for Bible studies and other things.  He also said we should put down a concrete slab for a basketball hoop for children in the neighborhood, and that when choosing a place to live we might want to look for a place near the unspoken boundary that can separate the black and white communities.  We were thrilled that he was taking us seriously! (more…)

shailinneI just finished listening to a 9Marks Audio installment where Mark Dever interview Christian hip hop artists shai linne and Voice.  I’ve heard shai linne’s “Atonement Q&A” before; it’s something like a rap catechism that’s part of his album “The Atonement.”  Shai and Voice are both theologically Reformed, and they view their work as a way to build up the church with “lyrical theology.”  If you’re interested in their explanation of the purpose of their work, the best 15 minutes to listen to are from about 40 minutes in through about 55 minutes in.  They see their artistry as God’s redemption of a sinful medium to be used for his glory.  It’s not intended to replace preaching or congregational music, but instead to do what rap does very effectively: communicate a worldview.  Dever has become a fan and actually says that no other form of music matches the “theological density” of shai linne’s music.

In the last 30 years or so, there have been a lot of Christian “knock-offs” of secular music, clothing, etc.  I think that the “holy hip hop” movement is more original and edifying, although I don’t know for sure yet.  For one opinion, check out Thabiti Anyabwile’s short explanation here. (more…)

christian smithDivided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America is a historical and sociological study of white evangelical attitudes toward white-black relations.  I found it fascinating.  I should also try to read some reviews by trained sociologists who may be able to offer some insight into their research methods.

Emerson and Smith state that America is a racialized society in which “race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships” (7, emphasis in original).  They define racism sociologically, in that it does not have to be intentional; instead, it is an inequality in power that disadvantages one group or another.  One interesting example of this is that more educated whites tend to have fewer prejudices against black people, but at the same time tend to take actions that increase racialization because they are able to pursue higher-quality schools and neighborhoods that tend to be predominantly white.  Thus they are actually more segregated from African Americans.  They also quote another study that argues that racializing practices are becoming more hidden and institutionalized rather than direct and expressed in the language of race (9). (more…)

On the Justice Journey

Posted: June 16, 2009 by Scott Kistler in Urban Ministry...Concerns

From Monday through Saturday this week, I will be going to some of the famous civil rights movements sites with about 40 white and black Chicagoans from several different churches.  We hope to learn about the history of the movement and also work on racial reconciliation.  I hope to have some interesting experiences to write about when I come back.

Of course, the Cubs and Sox have their first series against each other this week, so I hope that won’t create other reconciliation issues as I’m sure that the group will include fans of both teams.  For what it’s worth, here’s some research on the characteristics of Cubs and Sox fans that appeared in today’s Chicago Tribune.

You may or may not know about the stereotypes of Cubs and Sox fans.  The Cubs’ Wrigley Field is in a trendy part of town (Wrigleyville on the North Side) and the Sox’ US Cellular Field is on the South Side, near the old public housing project corridor.  I like to think that Wrigley is great but not nice (it was built in 1914 and isn’t in the best shape) and “the Cell” is nice but not great (it was built as a sterile new stadium in the early 1990s but looks a lot nicer now).  The two groups of fans have stereotypes about each other: Cubs fans often look at the Sox fans as low class, and the Sox fans often look at the Cubs fans as privileged, soft frat boys/yuppies who don’t care about the game that they’re watching.

I root against the White Sox at almost every opportunity, but I do like their fans.  The average serious Sox fan is pretty hardcore and hates the Cubs.  You see some Cubs fans who will root for both teams, but almost never a Sox fan who could ever think of rooting for the Cubs.  Talking with knowledgeable fans of the other team can be a lot of fun, although the fact that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series in over 100 years and the Sox had one lucky year a great run in 2005 means that the Sox fans always have a trump card.

Go Cubs!

On June 15, I’m heading down Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee with members of 9 different Chicagoland churches.  Organized by Willow Creek Community Church, the idea of the “Justice Journey” is to get white and black Christians together to visit prominent sites from the history of the Civil Rights movement and to discuss racial reconciliation in the church.  One of the speakers along the way will be John Perkins, and his autobiography (Let Justice Roll Down) was assigned reading.  Since I had some time, I decided to read two other related books, one by Perkins and another by someone who became part of his ministry, Dolphus Weary.

Let Justice Roll Down is a really powerful story of Perkins’ ministry in Mississippi through the mid-1970s.  He had grown up in rural Mississippi and seen his brother shot and killed by a policeman.  When his family moved to California, he eventually became a Christian in his mid-20s.  As he shared the gospel in the Los Angeles area, he eventually felt called back to Mississippi to spread the gospel and knowledge of the Bible in his native state.  With the early financial support of California churches that included Calvary Bible Church in Burbank, pastored by John MacArthur’s father Jack MacArthur, he returned to Mississippi to begin his work.  He named his ministry Voice of Calvary after MacArthur’s radio broadcast. (more…)

Surveying God’s Truth in Chicago

Posted: March 31, 2009 by Scott Kistler in Urban Ministry...Concerns

Yesterday, I took a bus tour through some different neighborhoods of Chicago: Austin and Garfield Park on the West Side, the Gold Coast closer to downtown, the Prairie Avenue area that boasted the homes of some of the richest Chicagoans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bridgeport (the home of the Daley dynasty), and the former site of the Robert Taylor Homes, a public housing complex massive in both size and in its failure to meet its stated goal of decent housing for the poor.

(Actually, the Chicago machine’s goal with the Robert Taylor Homes and the other projects along State Street seems to have been to find a place to put poor blacks and perhaps even to build a wall of huge projects right along the boundary of white and black Chicago, strengthening the dividing line.  So perhaps they really succeeded.)

We were guided in our tour by Glen Kehrein, head of Circle Urban Ministries, and Abraham L. Washington, the pastor of Rock of Our Salvation Church.  They are partners in the Austin neighborhood, which flipped from white, Catholic, and middle-class to what Glen called a “throwaway community” (one on which society at large places no value) as poor black migration from the South triggered white flight in the 1960s.  This was a pattern that played out all over the West Side in the 1960s, as unscrupulous dealers in real estate used white fears of black neighbors to profit from white flight and those who profit from poverty ran the real estate down.  Personal responsibility of the residents of poor neighborhoods of course must be addressed, but too often the big forces that helped to create the conditions that we see today aren’t understood.

But as John Piper noted in the article that I referred to in the last post, knowing the truth is incomplete if we don’t use it in God’s service.  And Glen and Abraham have made it their business to understand their community in order to serve it.  They focus on both evangelism and the improvement of the neighborhood, unabashedly sharing the gospel with their neighbors inside and outside of church, connecting them to a supportive community of believers to help them to deal with the temptations so prevalent in the community, and offering the neighborhood education and other services.  Here’s how the website describes it:

Circle Urban Ministries and the Rock of our Salvation Church have been joined in a faith-and-works partnership since the Rock Church began in 1983. While the Rock proclaims our faith in Jesus Christ, Circle reaches out with practical acts of service to show our faith is real.

Pretty simple, I suppose, but hearing from the leaders was inspiring.  I hope to learn more about their ministry.

By the way, here are two great books about urban issues:

A Gut-Wrenching, Heart-Breaking Story

Posted: March 24, 2009 by Scott Kistler in Urban Ministry...Concerns

In 1994, a 10-year-old and an 11-year-old tried dropped a boy of just 5 to his death out of a 14th-floor window in a housing project.  Prosecutors said it was because the younger boy had refused to steal candy for the older boys, although one of them now says it was purely an act of bullying.

The perpetrators were sentenced to prison after the Illinois legislature lowered the minimum age for prison-sentencing from 13 to 10.  The Chicago Tribune ran a story today that followed up on the two boys now that they have grown up.  They’ve both been back in prison since getting out the first time.  Even more disheartening is the fact that the victim’s brother is now on trial for murder.

Reading these two stories and watching the video interview embedded in the first story gives a survey of some of the problems of our inner cities today: family breakdown, the dismal failure of the Chicago housing projects, lack of education, and the difficulties that convicts have in reentering society.  Of course, none of these things cancels out the responsibility of the individuals to act morally, but they do provide the context for this awful crime.

How can Christians address the systemic problems that provide the context for the individual choices?  I don’t know.  I think that part of the answer has to do with getting to know our inner cities better and supporting those who are doing good work there.  It may involve more intense and intentional involvement by those who God calls to minister in the cities.

I know that one of the first reactions to reading stories like this and watching one of the murderers interviewed can be contempt.  Sometimes the victims perpetrators in this story seemed to feel sorry for themselves, and perhaps the journalist allows them to do that too much.  I can envision people reading this story and saying that the murders murderers are “trash.”

But I hope that our last reaction as Christians isn’t contempt, no matter what our initial, gut-level response is.  If John Piper is right that “All truth exists to display more of God and awaken more love for God,” then we can remember that Christ died for people just like these murderers.  I pray that they will come to a knowledge of Christ, in whom all of their sins can be washed away.  It’s their, and our, only hope.

UPDATE (6/5/09): I realized that there were a couple of mistakes in my original post.  I have fixed them while striking through my original text.