Tag Archives: poverty

Friday Faves: OK to NOT be OK Edition

9 Dec

How are you doing?  By that I mean, how are you *really* doing?  Yesterday the receptionist at one of my doctor’s office (two appointments with doctors in one!!!) asked me this question and I was tired, tearful, and a plain ol’ mess.  I thought about saying, “OK,” which would have been a bold-faced lie.  I was clearly *NOT* OK.  I told her that I was having a rough day. She smiled sympathetically, talked to talk to me about my dogs (usually a great topic), but I wouldn’t budge.  I was not OK, and I couldn’t pull it together to have fake cheerful small talk.  Sometimes small talk just seems so, well, small. 

I needed someone pastoral to talk to, and since I don’t know the pastor at my new church that well, I decided to call my buddy, Brently, at First Pres in Bethlehem.  He was OK with me not being OK, listened to me, and then he prayed for me.  He told me that I totally need to check out the Christmas rock concert at the church next weekend and promised to give me two of the worship bands CD’s (I’m holding you to that, Brently).  Thank you, Brently!  After praying for me (over the phone, nonetheless) , I felt the Peace that surpasses all understanding–all because Brently took the time to listen to me when I was not OK.

Therefore, I want to offer a bit of advice for you when you’re not OK:

1.  You’ve heard “fake it until you make it.”   If I’m truly glum, faking it just makes it worse.  Be honest.  “Today I am not OK.” “Bad day.” “Dealing with some stuff.”  And remember, if the person asks you if you want to talk, you aren’t required to talk.  Just say, “No, thank you.” 

2.  God’s OK with you not being OK.  He longs to comfort His child.  Not being OK drives us to His arms.  The world is brutal; we need God’s comfort.  I like to journal my little heart out and read Psalms.  All of them. 

3. Talk to a safe person.  Don’t give away pieces of your heart to people who can’t be trusted with it.  Find someone who’s OK with you where you’re at and just let loose.  It’s one of the best things you can do–to find God’s peace. (If you don’t have a safe person, pray that God will provide someone…or take a risk on someone you think could be safe.  I mean, you could fall flat on your face.  That will hurt, but it’s worth risking to find that person that will point you to God.  And it’s not easy at all.)  Be wise about this, though.  Talking to the wrong person can be horribly painful.

4.  Listen to Bebo Norman, lots of Bebo Norman.  I’ve said in previous posts that Bebo Norman’s music has this incredible quality to calm me down and provide peace in many different moods.  Find your “Bebo Noman”–an artist, a book, a Bible passage, whatever, that comforts you and draws you into the heart of God, that calms your spirit, that helps you with not being OK.

I know these tips aren’t earth-shattering or anything.  They probably won’t change the world.  You probably know and utilize them already, but this is what’s on my heart.  And maybe, just maybe, there’s someone out there who needed to be reminded that it’s OK to NOT be OK as much as I did this morning.

I’m thankful to report by my NOT OK has returned to OK, thanks to the prayers of faithful friends.  I love you, guys!

Now that we’ve had our little affirmation session for the week, let’s get on to those Friday Faves, shall we?

*Last week I told you about the splediferous Jason Gray CD giveaway I’m doing here on Backseat Writer to celebrate “Remind Me Who I Am” hitting #1 on iTunes.  Apparently, you didn’t get the message, so I’m extending the giveaway a little bit.  GO ENTER THE GIVEWAY FOR AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF A WAY TO SEE IN THE DARK!!!  Even if you already own the album, enter if you know someone who NEEDS this album.  Seriously.  I want this album to go to a person who needs it.  Enter so we can make that happen.

*Earlier this week, Jenny Jones posted this video from Preston Leatherman I just had to re-share it here. The videos this character does are hilarious. Check out his version of “Footloose.”  Looks like he’s at Target, Wegman’s.  The mall.  And wearing Tom’s Shoes, which I can’t wear because I have wide feet, but I’m glad Preston can wear ‘em. And getting folks to dance with him.  Preston reminds me of Sue Heck’s “boyfriend” in “The Middle.”  This just makes me smile–might be a good thing to watch on those not OK days.  You gotta give Preston Leatherman mad props for the creative promotion of his music, which I kind of like.

*’Tis the season for FREE CHRISTMAS MUSIC!  Amazon always offers free downloads (25 days of Christmas songs–a new one each and every day), but there is a plethora of Christmas selection, including MXPX’s “Punk Rawk Christmas.”  While I’ve outgrown my punkish MXPX days, maybe you haven’t!  (And if you have, there are lots of other songs to make your days be merry and bright, like Leigh Nash’s “O Holy Night!  How I adore Leigh Nash.  You can also snag Eisley’s version of the songIt’s my very favorite carol, so I can never have too many copies of it.).  Also, my favorite site for checking out new artists, NoiseTrade, has a bunch of great music, which you can get for exchanging information, telling your pals about what you’re downloading (and leave a tip if you enjoy the music, so that artists can keep doing it).  Personally, I’m enjoying Folk Angel’s three-song sampler as well as Merry Christmas, Good Night, which is a smattering of various artists, and A Child Is Born by Sojourn (though somehow I obstained Advent Songs, which I can’t find on NoiseTrade right now).

*Musician Shaun Groves wrote an excellent post on his blog called, “Fan Mail,” about how he thought he was going to save the Christian music industry, but then realized how music, even the music some disdain, has the power to change people’s lives because of God.  Great post!

*My friend, Amanda Danziger, makes indie documentaries about the plights of impoverished people.  So far, she’s talked about street kids in Africa, women living in the slums of India, and now she’s taking on the City of Brotherly Love with her latest project,The Backyard Philly Project.”  The video above explains what the project is all about, and I’d like you to consider giving to this project.  I know I will!

I have more to share, but our attention spans are so short in this day and age.  I know I’m already tired of reading this post, so have a wonderful weekend and do leave a comment because it makes me more than OK. (And you don’t have to answer all of the questions, or any of them.  I just write them to invite conversation.)

What is something you read, saw, encountered that intrigued you this week?  How do you deal with not being OK?  How’s the Christmas shopping going?  What kind of cookies are you making?  Would you dance in the mall with an iPod?  Are you ready to fall asleep from exhaustion? (I am!)

Friday Faves: Midnight Oil Edition

17 Jun

It’s Friday, which can only mean one thing, time for Friday Faves!  Can you just feel the excitement building?  I can’t because it’s past midnight and Cassie the Peekapoo is snoring on the floor next to me.  However, I will burn the midnight oil so you can have your Friday Faves bright and early this week.  And then I’ll sleep til noon.  Sounds like a plan.

Yesterday, BFF Sarah and I ventured down to the Macungie Farmer’s Market for the first time.  Imagine our surprise when Memorial Park was filled with…trucks of all sorts (particularly Macks, which were originally manufactured in the area.)  Apparently, there’s a truck show in town this weekend and one truck-lovin’ out-of-towner assured me that many more trucks were a’comin’.  I just wanted to know where to find the farmer’s market–something that seemed downright loony to this man, who lived and breathed the open road in his semi.  I guess when you’re living a trucker’s dream, fresh fruits and vegetables do seem a tad ordinary.  However, after walking around only to meet more truck lovers (and a dog named “Jack”), we did finally happen upon the farmer’s market.  It consisted of about 12 vendors with overpriced items.  We returned home empty-handed and felt disappointed that our hickish town didn’t have a better showing at the weekly market.  Maybe next time.

This week, my gal pal Crystal Rowe over at Soul Munchies introduced me to Spent Challenge, a “game” put together by Urban Ministries of Durham in Durham, NC.  The object of the game is to get a minimum wage job, rent an apartment, buy food, and hope you have enough money to make it to the end of the month.  The first time I played, I only lasted seven days, but the second time I won the game.  Here’s what I said on Crystal’s blog post: “The second time I made it through the month with $294 to spare (rent is due the next day), but to do so I pocketed my kid’s $10, didn’t return the $10 I saw fall out of someone’s pocket, lied about breaking the dishes at work, didn’t pay a couple of bills (got my cell phone disconnected).  I didn’t worry too much about the electricity because I decided it was during winter when electric companies cannot legally turn off the electricity (don’t know what I’ll do when summer comes).  I did let my kid go out for the sports team since he apparently stinks at math.  His only chance at a future is in athletics. Wow, I’m off to an awesome start.”  Check out Spent, learn about poverty and homelessness, and find out what you can do to help.

But that’s not the only thing I found intriguing this week…

*NoiseTrade, a site in which you exchange information (or moolah) to download music, sucks time out of my day far too often.  I go to the site to check out one artist and end up learning about 10.  This week, I discovered a talented chap by the name of Graham Colton, who released an album earlier this year called Pacific Coast Eyes (Take 5 with Graham coming in the near future).   After perusing Graham’s website, I couldn’t help but share the above music video for the album’s title track.  Cute, isn’t it?  And that’s how I spent the rest of my afternoon–watch Graham Colton music videos on YouTube.  Readers, I’m in love…with Graham Colton, but only a superficial, you’re a rock star and I’ll never meet you kind of love, so we’re good.  AND…I even learned AFTER putting in an interview request that Graham (yes, we’re on a first name basis…I’ve decided) was even on “Ellen.” (Video evidence.) You know how I love Ellen!  You can download Graham’s Twenty Something EP on NoiseTrade and then head over to his website for more Graham Colton goodness!

*My friend, Shannon of Books Devoured, did a celebrity death match between Kindle and Nook Color to see which eReader would reign supreme.  Or maybe she made a video comparing the two devices.  See for yourself and join the debate: “Kindle VS Nook Color? My View.” By the way, Shannon used to be in the military, so offer her a salute and a word of thanks for her service to the U.S.A. (if you’re a fellow American.  If you’re an international reader, you can just say, “Hey.”)

*The above video, “Lioness Tries to Eat Baby at Zoo,” has a misleading title.  Or these people think the lioness is related to Aslan from the Narnia books, who is “not safe, but good.” Whatever the case, the sensationalist title got me to watch this video, which makes me kind of a sicko, doesn’t it?  Why would I want to watch a lioness try to eat a baby?  I have no idea, but I was on a YouTube kick this week because I watched more videos of lions “attacking” kids, like the one below.  My opinion is this–if I was a lion or a lioness and a bunch of screaming kids were banging their dirty fists on my glass enclosure…yeah, you get the picture. It makes me question the wisdom of keeping lions in this sort of set-up–one that seems to aggravate the animals.

*Speaking of kiddos, Kara shares an adorable story about how her six year-old daughter “ran away” from home in her (in)courage post, “The Prodigal Daughter.”  I remember “running away” as a kid. I packed essentials like frozen orange juice (I don’t know why), crackers, and books. It started to rain, so I hid under the sliding board of my backyard play set for shelter. I came back half an hour later and no one even knew I ran away. Sigh.  While this story is oh-so-cute, I also like the simple lesson it offers to Christians.

*And, finally, Andye, Amy, and the rest of the gang at Reading Teen are FREAKING OUT over the announcement that J.K. Rowling is going to make an announcement.  Apparently, J.K. bought the domain “Pottermore.com” and something BIG  is coming.  Personally, I think J.K. is going to inform readers that she mistakenly killed off all the good characters in Deathly Hallows (including Fred Weasley, who isn’t dead) and wants to rewrite the ending, and the epilogue because that was pretty lame as well.  Good for you, J.K., writing and righting literary wrongs!  Parents, youth leaders, random cool people, Reading Teen is an excellent resource on YA reads (translation: “young adult literature”.)  This is one site you want to keep handy in your bookmarks, or better yet subscribe via email or RSS Feed.

I’ll see you back here on Monday morning with not one, but two riveting book reviews on the SAME day!  I know; it’s utter madness!  That’s what I get for accidentally signing up for two tours at once.  Have a good weekend, kids!

Alright, I need to know…have you ever been attacked for a lion…for real?  Did you live to tell about it?  What do you think of Graham Colton?  Do you think that’s his real name or his stage name?  Are you going to download his EP from NoiseTrade?  Have you ever run away?  If so, how far did you get?  What does the “J.K.” in “J.K. Rowling” stand for?  What do you think the Pottermore announcement is all about?  Did you play Spent?  How long did you survive?  And, finally, Kindle or Nook or Nook Color or other–what’s your eReader of choice? Comment for a chance to win cool points, which are redeemable for, uh, coolness.

Book Review:: To Have Not by Frances Lefkowitz

8 Jun

To Have Not by Frances Lefkowitz is a fascinating memoir about an impoverished street-smart kid growing up in 1970’s San Francisco.  As Lefkowitz describes living amongst rats and cockroaches in her substandard housing, she describes poverty in terms that most of us “haves” have never experience; Lefkowitz says that poverty isn’t just a physical state, but permeates one’s sense of being.

Lefkowitz is a talented writer, telling her story with both humor and sometimes heart-breaking honesty, yet she doesn’t bemoan her upbringing.  Instead, she states the facts with astounding detail, neither sugarcoating nor exaggerating the truth.  What amazed me was Lefkowitz’s recall of her life as a child—of her house as 16 and Sanchez, the summer her father packed up the family and left the city to find Land (with a capital “L”), squatting with friends and camping into the autumn months.  Lefkowitz talks about her parents’ divorce, life as a kid in Section 8 housing with her two brothers and mother (at one point Leftkowitz’s bedroom was a greenhouse on the apartment balcony.)

Brilliant and gifted, Lefkowitz excelled in school, got a taste of the life of the “have’s,” while her mother was off “finding” herself in artistic  endeavors.  Left to her own devices, Leftkowitz snagged a scholarship and headed off to an Ivy League school in Boston, though she never mentions the school by name.  Trying to find her place, Leftkowitz jumps from place to place, always scrimping and saving, despite having the means to indulge a little.  For instance, Lefkowitz learns how to surf and when moving from the East Coast back to the West Coast, her co-workers give her a gift card to purchase a new surfboard (apparently West Coast and East Coast surfboards are different.)  Instead of buying herself that shiny new board, she instead finds a used board and then uses her gift card bit by bit on supplies, even though a new board was well within her means.

While the financial difficulties I’ve experienced since college are to a much lesser degree than what Lefkowitz knows, I saw bits of myself in her journey.  In fact, in some way we’re all “have-nots,” which has shaped how we define ourselves—maybe we don’t have family or beauty or money or  success or children or a spouse.  Though, I suppose, Lefkowitz’s depth of not having permeates her entire being—it was all she knew, so when she started to “have,” it not only felt foreign, but scary.  Like me, she knew that at any moment all that she earned could be taken away.  Towards the end of the To Have Not, Leftkowitz does find a sort of peace within herself, but this book doesn’t have a pretty ending tied up with a bow.  Lefkowitz’s life and story continue on.

Lefkowitz’s memoir is painful, interesting, and sprinkled with humor.  You may never look at poverty the same way again, and if so, then To Have Not has done its job.

*Thank you to BookSparksPR and Frances Lefkowitz for my review copy!*

I’m not OK with it, Rick Warren!

3 Mar

RT @RickWarren: Half the world lives on less than $2 a day. One billion people live on less than $1 a day! Are you OK with that? // How much do you live on per day @RickWarren? –@amysondova, via Twitter

This is how I started a war with Rick Warren on Twitter.   Shots were only fired in one direction. Directly at Rick Warren and his Hawaiian shirt.

It started like this.  I was on Twitter trying to win a giveaway and someone reTweeted this message from Rick Warren: “Half the world lives on less than $2 a day.  One billion people live on less than $1 a day!  Are you OK with that?”  Rick Warren—who makes millions in book sales, has a ginormous congregation with several satellite campuses, and who despite giving a lot of money to charity still makes more money than my roommate and I put together—asks me if I am OK with that.

I’m really not OK with that.

I’m especially not OK with Rick Warren pointing this out to me.  I feel bad for half the world that lives on less than two dollars a day and the other billion that live on less than one dollar a day, but I don’t have any money left to give them.  I always want to sign up for a Compassion child at concerts (when I go because I have a free press pass), always want to give to those Salvation Army bell ringers at Christmas, always want to donate to the ASPCA when those sad puppies light up my television screen.

I just can’t afford it.

Sometimes I tell a friend or family member, “I should stop wasting my money and give it to the poor.” To which I get the response, “Amy, you are the poor.” Oh, good point. (I wish I could elaborate on this—wait for the book.)

Unless I win a gift card or obtain a review copy, I can’t even afford a Rick Warren book.  Rick Warren, are you OK with that?

To be fair, I really don’t have anything against Rick Warren.  He seems like a nice guy.  I am just sick of the “thought” statements well-known mega-pastors and other Christian celebrities throw out to “challenge” the flock.

Do they have any clue what it’s like to be poor in America?  To eat peas and noodles for dinner? To stop answering the phone because it’s just the creditors again?  To go through the humiliation of bankruptcy?  To wonder how the heating bill will get paid?  To shop at the thrift store out of necessity, not just for fun?

While the poorest of poor probably don’t grace most churches in the United States, believe me, there are those struggling in her midst.  There are elderly folks who can’t afford their medications and young mothers who can’t buy milk and out-of-work college graduates who are grateful for a job at Wal-Mart (don’t ask how they are ever going to pay back those college loans!)  There isn’t an easy solution to these problems, yet desperate prayer keeps people up at night.  Stomachs gnawing, acid builds in the throat, and sleep never comes.

So I asked Rick Warren how much he spends a day—right out in the open, right there on Twitter.  I don’t expect a response from him or anyone else.  I decided to check out Rick Warren’s history of tweets, which were mostly comprised of happy encouragements for the masses with a challenge here and there.  Strangely enough, on Feb. 27 one of Warren’s tweets read, “You can’t understand the pain of others until you’ve suffered deeply yourself.”

Now most of us live on more than $1-2 a day, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we’re wealthy or even have an extra dollar to spare.  It also means we probably understand the struggles of the have-nots much more than the haves.  And we also acknowledge that we’re lucky to live in the United States, have a home, and all the rest of the stuff we’re told to be grateful for.  Of course, we praise God for all that!

But we certainly don’t need Rick Warren asking us if we’re OK with it.

Take 5 with Josh Wilson

9 Sep

There are two things I’ve heard consistently about Sparrow Recording artist Josh Wilson—he’s a nice guy and an excellent guitar player.  Upon further discovery, I have also learned that Josh Wilson is a great lyricist, an exceptional producer, and a man with a heart that beats for God.  I’m a big Josh Wilson fan, which is why I am so excited about the release of his sophomore album, Life Is Not A Snapshot.  The seven-track album features Josh Wilson’s highly acclaimed (“Keaggy-esque) instrumental version of “Amazing Grace,” a love song for his new wife, and songs of encouragement for Christians like “Before the Morning” and “Right In Front of Me.”  Life Is Not A Snapshot is a potent little album that delivers lyrically, instrumentally, vocally, and spiritually. Despite just returning from his honeymoon and prepping for his album release, Josh was kind enough to “Take 5” with Backseat Writer.

Life Is Not A Snapshot feels like a very personal album.  What would you say is the over-arching theme of the recording?

If I had to sum up the album in one word, that word would be “hope.”  As Christians, we live our daily lives knowing that whatever we are currently facing, there is infinite joy and peace that waits for us when we finally see the face of Jesus.  Thematically, the songs on the album range quite a bit.  There’s a song of praise (“Sing”), a song about doubt (“Right In Front of Me”), and even a love song (“How to Fall”).  The title simply means that sometimes the individual snapshots in our lives don’t look exactly like the bigger picture.

My favorite song on the album is “Before the Morning” or maybe “Right In Front of Me.”  It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all so good.  Anyway, tell me about “Before the Morning” (and “Right In Front of Me”).

“Before the Morning” was inspired by my friends Tim and Paula Beal and their son Jayken.  A few months before Jayken’s due date, the Beals went to the doctor to find out if their baby was going to be a boy or girl.  During the sonogram, the doctor discovered that Jayken’s heart and kidneys were not fully functioning, and he said Jayken had a 2% chance of living longer than four days past his birth.  The doctor said their only option was abortion.  Tim and Paul went home and prayed and fasted, asking the Lord what they should do.  They decided to go ahead and have the baby, and by the grace of God, Jayken is now 7 years old.  He has had multiple heart surgeries and numerous complications, but his life has been a beautiful picture of God’s grace.  The song says that the pain we feel is “just the dark before the morning,” and reminds us, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

“Right In Front Of Me” is about my struggles with doubt.  I had a particularly hard time during college, when everything I had ever learned about God was being challenged.  I did a lot of searching, reading, and praying.  God was and is faithful to reveal Himself to those who seek Him, but sometimes it does take a lot of seeking.  The main idea of this song is from Romans 1:20, where Paul writes that God’s existence and power are made evident by what He has created.

Every girl who listens to your album is going to swoon over “How to Fall.” Does the song have anything to do with your August marriage?

Absolutely.  This song is the story of how I met Becca, who is now my wife.  I actually wrote this song before I proposed, and it was a very honest and real-time description of what was happening.  The chorus says “I don’t know how to say it / Don’t know how you’ll take it / Don’t know how to fall in love / But I want to learn with you.”  Our wedding was August 8, and we love every minute of being married.

What was one of the most challenging songs on the album for you to write? (And why?)

“Do You Want to Know” was a very hard song to write because it challenges my comfortable American life.  The song poses the question: If you could really see the world how God sees it, would you want to?  Last summer I went on a short-term mission trip to Belize and witnessed first hand what poverty looks like.  We all see commercials on TV that talk about “feeding the children,” but it’s different when the hungry children are standing right in front of you.  You can’t change the channel.  These kids receive a little food from the school they attend, but they go home everyday to parents who can’t afford to feed them.  If we see the world the way God sees it, one of two things is going to happen.  We’re both going to do something about those who are hungry and hurting, or we’re going to lose sleep because something deep in our spirit tells us that we as Christians are the ones responsible for helping.

On the album cover for Life Is Not A Snapshot, you’re running over a chair.  Can you really do this?  If so, what other amazing bodily stunts can you perform? (And will you consider adding a stunt show to your next tour?)

Actually, yes, I did run over that chair about 8 times.  We didn’t really know it was going to be the album cover, but the photographer thought it would make a cool shot.  He showed me what he wanted me to do, and after a couple tries I finally got it.  As far as other bodily stunts, I can actually wiggle both of my ears at one time.  No lie.  Ask me next time I see you and I’ll show you.

For more information on Josh Wilson, check him on online at joshwilsononline.com.  Also, check Josh’s MySpace for Tuesday blog updates.  Just so you can be sure to get all pertinent Josh Wilson news, be sure to friend him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.  Oh, and if you see him in concert, take him a block of cheese and ask him to wiggle his ears for you! Plus, read my interview with Josh about his last album, Trying to Fit the Ocean In a Cup.

Blog Action Day:: Poverty Sucks

14 Oct
A squatter settlement outside a church.

A squatter settlement outside a church.


Last year when I was at a convention in Atlanta, I got a free shirt that reads, “Poverty Sucks.” The irony was that while I was in the city, I learned how much poverty really does suck as I walked a mile from my hotel to the convention center each day. Each time I was approached by a vagabond asking for my help, and I turned him or her away. I didn’t want to get mugged, right?

Yet the more I face poverty, the less shocked I become.  To see a woman shuffling down the street with all her possessions in a shopping cart is “just how it is.”  The tent city under the bridges in the urban area of town are just there.  It’s sick the excuses we make to allow poverty to go on in our cities.  We dismiss the homeless as mentally ill drug addicts who are up to no good.  When, in fact, I met some perfectly lovely individuals living in shelters while doing my graduate school internship.  One man in particular was brilliant.  He just happened to fall on tough times, and here he was traveling on the bus across town to grab lunch in a soup kitchen.  I’m sure if I asked “Ted” if poverty sucked, he would agree that it does.

The thing with poverty is that it’s not just overseas in desperate areas like Rwanda or Kenya–it’s right here in the United States.  Yet we step over the stinkin’ corpses of our own impoverished to do what’s fashionable–to donate gobs of money and time to overseas work.  Yes, there are areas in the world whose homeless suffer far worse than homeless people in the U.S.  Still, it bothers me to think that only a few miles away, a family could be sleeping in a tent held together with duct tape because the shelters are full.  I pity the man who’s belly aches with hunger pains and the woman who’s hiding away in a shelter.

On days like these, I want to take action.  I want to build a million houses so everyone has a place to live; I want to bake a million cookies so no one has to starve (though they may all go into sugar shock), and I want to build wells on every continent in the world so that everyone can have free water.  If I had one wish, today it would be for poverty to cease.

But then I remember what Jesus said, “The poor will always be with us.”  It’s a sobering statement, yet a true statement–there will always be poor people.  That is, until God comes back and makes everything right.  We await that day with the full knowledge that we have been COMMANDED many times in Scripture to feed the poor, to care for orphans, to protect widows.  To ignore this calling is to ignore the sharing of the gospel, to blatantly refuse to do what Christ has asked of His people.  Shame on us, Church, shame on us!

Trips to Africa and Haiti and other nations wrecked with poverty give people a global awareness of a dire situation.  Yet we continue to ignore the homeless in our own communities figuring that there’s someone else that can help them.  Many wait and wait and someone else never comes.  There’s one message that can unite everyone in this global crisis–poverty sucks.  But a message on a t-shirt won’t change the world–that’s up to you and me.

On Backseat Writer, we chose to highlight OneMillionCan, an organization started by the Passion Conference folks.  Read all about it here.

Why Not a Gazillion Dollars?

19 Sep

When I heard that we may spend a trillion or more dollars bailing banks and other financial institutions out of their current crises, I find it hard to put my fingers on what a trillion dollars looks like.  But I think it’s something like this–I watched this show called “Duck Tales” starring Scrooge McDuck and other duck characters.  Every so often Scrooge McDuck would go for a swim in his big ol’ vat o’ gold.  And, of course, the basic plot of the show involved criminals trying to steal his money.  I think that Scrooge had at least a trillion dollars worth of gold.  (Watch the intro to “Duck Tales” below and see “Uncle Scrooge” swimming around in his vat o’ gold.  The lyrics are actually in German because it just seemed more entertaining).

Of course, Scrooge, who originates from the highlands of Scotland immigrated to the United States and earned his fortune making savvy business decisions.  He isn’t actually swimming in taxpayer money, is he?

Even though I watch “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” I don’t understand the goobly guck behind all this financial jargon, but I do know this much–companies like Lehman Brothers and AIG going bankrupt is very bad for our economy, so much so that the government is willing to bail ‘em out.  However, they could use upwards of $2 trillion to do it!  Two. Trillion. Dollars. (Full story)

Besides the fact that the government is using *our* money to do it, when have these companies ever given us a break?  I mean, sure, they’re getting bailed out, but what about all those crazy bills we still have to pay?  How is it fair that the government will pay these guys not to go bankrupt but requires me to pay off my measley student loans? In comparison, my college/grad school loans are pocket change.

Without getting into specifics, I know the pain and frustration of not being able to pay bills.  I remember the sleep I didn’t get while the financial figures kept rolling around in my mind.  I still cringe sometimes when the phone rings as I recall bill collectors nasty collection calls.  I seriously thank God that I’ve got enough resources and cash to provide for me, even though I wish I had a little more (don’t we all?)  But, my goodness, imagine the people who with the utmost of dignity attempt to pay their bills every money.  The ones who sit up late after the kids have gone to bed and talk in whispers about which bills could be skipped this month.  When I think of a trillion dollars, I think of these people.

And, no, they’re not all living in the ghetto or people who have charged up credit cards buying plasma televisions and Nintendo Wii’s.  A lot of them are hard-working people–your neighbors or friends or family–that may have taken out a bad loan to buy a house or fell behind due to high gas prices or job loss.  Perhaps they fall into that health care coverage gap and had to pay full price for their medications for a couple of months.  An unexpected car accident or a disability–who knows?  The point is that many in this crunch aren’t people who were careless; they were people who had life happen to them.  People like you or me or maybe you and me.

The truth is that working hard isn’t always enough and hard work isn’t always measured by a pay check.  There are a lot of hard working people who are underpaid or unemployed or disabled that can’t make ends meet.  To me, it seems that these are the folks who should be getting a couple trillion dollars, not big businesses with CEO’s who retire mutiple millionaires.

I know that by bailing out these companies we’re avoiding (or trying to avoid) economic collapse, unemployment, and perhaps a depression.  At the end of the day, perhaps more lives are being preserved using these extreme means to save big business.  However, I don’t know anyone who works for a big business and I don’t dine with financiers.  You might say we travel in very different circles.  I can’t even afford the gas for their circles.

I do know a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck, who are barely scraping by, if they scrape by at all.  I’ve seen financially secure people become insecure wrecks as the pills pile up.  It’s for these people I am crying, not AIG or Lehman Brothers.  I just imagine how two trillion dollars could not only improve the lives of people here in the U.S. but also to those abroad who we support with aid.  But then again, what’s a couple of million to people who are millionaires?  Just the difference between life and death for the vast majority of the impoverished all over the globe.

Brandon Heath: Missional Musician

13 Mar

Written in April 2007

By Amy Sondova Three months ago recording artist Brandon Heath was at a Kenyan clinic sharing information on breast-feeding with HIV-infected mothers. But on the day of this interview, Heath is in Dallas chatting on his cell phone from a Target parking lot only an hour before catching a plane to Grand Rapids. Towards the end of the interview, Heath asks apologetically if he could check his e-mail, “I’m gonna carry my phone into Starbucks, okay?” What a difference a day makes.

A self-described “recovering introvert”, Heath was launched into the public eye last year with the release of his debut album, Don’t Get Comfortable (Reunion). Having written songs for artists such as Bebo Norman and Joy Williams, this songwriter never expected to record an album himself. Ironically, it is Heath’s 2007 Dove Award-nominated song, “Our God Reigns,” that started his journey into the music spotlight.

“The song itself was written on a plane ride home from Seattle, WA in 2003,” explains Heath. “I just saw President Bush on television talking about the war and I thought about the hopelessness in the Middle East. I thought, ‘God are you there, too? Because it sure doesn’t seem like it.’ And the answer was, ‘Absolutely!’” Realizing he had been putting too much faith in President Bush and not enough in God, Heath was struck by the majesty of God, “It was a moment of ‘God, You reign over all the earth, not just Nashville or in the U.S., but over all the earth. You are omnipotent and omniscient and I’m gonna praise You right here on this plane!” Writing the chorus of his now famous song on the plane and finishing it when he got home, Heath then sang his new worship song in church that Sunday, where it caught the attention of fellow worship leader and producer, Dan Muckala (Backstreet Boys, The Afters).

When Muckala approached Heath about recording an album that would include the song “Our God Reigns”, Heath was a bit ambivalent. “Being a recording artist, you have to put yourself out there and be somewhat of a public person. I’m kind of private,” he explains. It was then that Heath decided the life he was living was a bit too comfortable so he made some changes that included visiting India with close friend, Bob Goff, founder of Restore International.

After being adopted by the Goff family, Heath says that Bob opened his eyes to the atrocities being committed against others worldwide, “I’d heard about the slave trade and sex tourism with little girls and it disgusted me, but I didn’t think I could make an impact until I saw what Bob was doing.” Using his skills as a lawyer, Goff who hails from San Diego travels to countries such as India, Uganda, and soon Nepal, where the human trafficking is rampant and lobbies on the behalf of the enslaved.

A native of Nashville, Heath and fellow musician Matt Wertz did something even more risky, they moved to a low-income part of Nashville, where gunshots sliced through the silence of the night and drug deals are commonplace. “There weren’t many people like me—not the same race, not the same demographic, not the same age and it was very uncomfortable for me for the first couple of months that I lived there, but it’s changed me. I’ve learned to live with people who don’t have much. I’ve learned a lot from listening to their stories and finding out who I am in contrast to who they are,” he shares.

As if that wasn’t enough, Heath then decided to join friend, Charlie Lowell of Jars of Clay, and seven others on a trip to Africa. Led by 25 year-old Jena Lee, the main force behind Jars of Clay’s Blood: Water Mission, the group toured poor villages who had received wells from the mission. That’s how Heath found himself at an AIDS clinic also supported by Blood: Water Mission talking to new mothers about breast milk.

His voice full of emotion, Heath explains that these AIDS-infected mothers learned for the first time that their breast milk could infect their babies with the HIV virus. Never in his life did Heath imagine he would sit down and educate people on another continent about AIDS, “Honestly, they were thankful to know what they had because they knew they were sick; they just didn’t know what it was. That was huge for me, to be part of the solution.”

Eager to return to Africa, Heath’s heart for the oppressed is evident, “These people have been through so much—through genocide, through famine, through a lot of sickness, through being a forgotten people in the world.” Ironically, originally Heath wasn’t sure he wanted to go to Africa because he was afraid of how he would be changed.

Then he heard how AIDS was changing the face of the continent and knew that being uncomfortable was exactly what he needed.

In fact, Heath has now characterized his life by just that—being uncomfortable. “I’ve never seen Christ so real in my life because I have to trust that He’s with me in what I’m doing—living in a high crime area, going to Africa where I could very well get malaria. I’m definitely not comfortable, but I like life better this way.” Life is more real for Heath who’d prefer to live the life of a disciple, rather than that of a cultural Christian.

Of course, life on the edge also has its moments of inspiration. Take one Christmas Eve when Heath spied a woman looking for food around the front of his house. Heath says, “I opened the door and said, ‘Are you hungry?’ and she said, ‘If you got any food, yeah, I’d love that.’ My family was there so I invited her to come and join my family for Christmas Eve dinner.” As Heath and his roommates befriended this ragged woman, they began to share the love of Christ with her.

It was this woman who inspired “Red Sky”, one of the most poignant songs on “Don’t Get Comfortable”. The song combines the old sailor’s saying, “Red sky tonight, sailor’s delight;, red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning” with the reality of living in a fallen world. According to sailor’s myth, a red sky at night signifies that the next day would be smooth sailing for a ship, but a red sky in the morning signaled a day of stormy seas. Heath says he thought it could be a metaphor for the Christian faith, “What a cool way to say, ‘God, show me that tomorrow’s going to be a better day because this one is scary. If you’ll give me a red sky, at least I’ll know that tomorrow’s going to be a better day.’” It is with a red sky that Heath prays his friend will be covered.

Living an authentic life is important to Heath. “I’m not as cool as you think I am,” he assures and then emphatically adds, “I don’t think people just want rock stars anymore. They want to know that people who are doing music are just like them. That’s what I want! I look up to people who I feel are somewhat attainable and their lives aren’t squeaky clean.”

Heath’s ability to be real about his experiences not only shines through his music, but his lifestyle as well, “It’s a challenge for me to live what I preach. If I say I’m gonna do it, I gotta do it or I’m a fraud.” And if anyone will spot Heath as a fraud, it’s the teens he works with at Young Life summer camps.

After becoming a Christ-follower at Young Life camps as a teenager, Heath has devoted part of his summers playing music for and with teenagers at camps. “A lot of times kids bring their guitar to camp and they may or may not be a good songwriter. So I’ll sit down with them and we’ll write a song together, then I have the kid come up on stage and we’ll sing,” Heath says. Empowering teens is an important part of youth ministry according to Heath, who didn’t write himself until a camp counselor gave him a journal. Heath felt that it was the first time in his life that someone gave him “permission” to write. Doing the same thing for inspiring songwriters in your youth group can be the push students need for success, but be honest when you give your student feedback, Heath advises.

“Do things that inspire you,” Heath says, still talking about teenagers. “Don’t be afraid to write down your thoughts and share them.” But, then again, it’s a message everyone needs to hear. Sometimes following God can cost a great deal, even our comfort. But if you ask Brandon Heath, life is far better when it’s uncomfortable.

Update: Brandon Heath recently joined together with fellow musicians to raise nearly $20,000 for the Macon County, Tennessee hurricane victims. He has also received three 2008 Dove Award nominations in both the Song of the Year and Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song categories for “I’m Not Who I Was” and also a nomination for New Artist of the Year. Click here to see the music video for “I’m Not Who I Was”.

Print copy of article.

Shane Claiborne: An Irresistably Missional Revolution

24 Feb

By Amy Sondova Since the wild success of his book, The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne has become the poster child for missional living; however, Claiborne would humbly argue that he’s just following Jesus. Delighting emergent circles with his no-nonsense talks full of wit, Claiborne is causing people to reimagine how they do ministry and missions. “One of the greatest tragedies that we’ve done to missions is allowing people to see it as a short-term experience rather than a way of living. We’ve carefully compartmentalized it—it’s trips you go on, it’s experiences you have.” He pauses and then adds, “The exciting thing is that a lot of people are seeing missions as something we do with our lives—we live missionally.” Living missionally is just what Claiborne, among other things, does. He is one of the founding members of The Simple Way, a faith community located in the one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of Philadelphia. Through their simple faith and love, the group seeks to build relationships with their neighbors citing that Jesus often spent time with the poor, downcast, and homeless.

For Claiborne and the rest of The Simple Way, “missional living” isn’t a simple buzz word thrown around to be hip or trendy; it’s a call on their lives. But it all began with a simple call says Claiborne who admits, “I had all kinds of mixed motivations when I started doing work in the city. I don’t know that we ever get fully pure motives. The truth is that a lot of people come into the city and think they’re bringing the gospel to the poor folks, but they find that the poor folks are bringing the gospel to them.”

Claiborne is calling (white) middle class Christians out of their comfort zones and into the uncomfortable. He cites the parable Jesus told in the gospels about the rich man, who built a wall around his property, to keep out the poor, like Lazarus. “The point of the story is unmistakable. We build these gates up, we build walls around our country, and we build fences around our suburban homes. We do that thinking that we’re creating a life of security and prosperity, but we’re actually creating a life that is very lonely and compartmentalized. We don’t know people and have relationships and that’s the very things we’re made for.”

Building relationships with “outsiders” has always been risky business for Christians, especially with our Christian alternatives to secular institutions. Many youth leaders are longing for more than mountaintop experiences and exotic summer missions—they want to learn to live and teach their youth to live missional lives. Claiborne says, “The beginning point is to bust through those gates and walls and fences and all those things we build up that insulate us, especially from the poor and people who are suffering. Everything in our world is teaching us to distance ourselves from suffering and to live lives that are safe, secure, and comfortable.”

By encouraging people to see God’s image in everyone they meet, they can start breaking down the walls that divide, but first they have to start building bridges to their neighbors. According to Claiborne, “This is a point where we begin to see the poor not as a project. Jesus says, ‘I no longer call you strangers, I call you friends.’ Jesus was a friend to the poor, not a missionary to the poor. He entered into their struggle.”

While Claiborne’s heart is clearly for the poor and disenfranchised worldwide, he also passionately believes that missional work must start in the neighborhoods where individuals are already living. While exposing groups to different types of people is important, it is also important to teach youth how to love their next door neighbors, “There’s an element of Mother Theresa that I quote in my book, ‘Calcuttas are everywhere, if only we have eyes to see them.’ We have to have eyes to see the people who are lonely around us, migrant workers, people who are having a hard time making it, and old people who don’t have family,” shares Claiborne.

Missional living, then, is encouraging others to spend time chatting with their elderly neighbors, talking to the kids who get picked on in class, and to intentionally reach out to those who are in need of the love of Christ. Claiborne adds, “We need to invite young people to use some imagination with their gifts and creativity saying, ‘Just don’t use your gifts to make money for your family, use them to transform the world.’” He also says that we are called to feed and clothe the poor, “Jesus isn’t saying to the poor, ‘Come find the church.’ He’s saying, ‘Go into the world.’ We need young people to do that, to take that step of discomfort, to begin moving beyond those walls that divide us.”

However, Claiborne is the first to admit that there is always an element of danger involved when Christians, especially youth, begin to interact with their world. He recommends that youth get involved in organizations already at work in the city, if they’re interested in urban missions. “Programs like MissionYear provide an opportunity to explore vocations and reach out to neighbors who are struggling. So it’s not like you’ve got to move into Kensington and buy a house—I don’t think that’s the wisest decision for a young 18 year-old who doesn’t know anyone in Kensington.”

While Kensington can be a creepy place to visit for some, Claiborne shares that often danger comes in places where he least expects. “One of the scariest times I can ever remember is when there was a sting operation in our neighborhood that went wrong. The police raided our house and they threw our women on the floor and ripped one of our woman’s shirts off. It was very, very violent. And, what do you do? Call the police to come?” He laughs at the irony, and then adds, “Security lies not in guns for us, but in relationships and friendships with neighbors and people here. We protect each other.”

As scared as some churches may be of urban ministry, Claiborne finds irony, “We are not nearly as scared of the overt dangers of the city as we are of the subtle dangers of the suburbs, of raising our kids in an environment with people who look like them and the implicit fear of the city. Those are a few of the things, as Jesus says, that can do damage to the soul. We are careful of our lives, but we understand that there are things more dangerous than guns and knives.”

Everyone is not called to move to the inner city, yet every Christian is called to advocate for the poor. Instead of trips that allow youth to pop into urban environments now and then, Claiborne says, “We need to interact with people not as machines and computers that effectively allow us to live the lives that we do.” To do so, he suggests, “We need to ask crazy questions like—who makes our clothes? Who grows our coffee? Where did this food come from? Who are the invisible people who clean our toilets at school?” Youth workers need to start these conversations with their youth groups and continue them so that youth understand that their school custodian, a child laborer in Indonesia, and the coffee bean picker in South America are all individuals made in the image of God.

There is no how-to guide on how to start living missionally (outside of the Bible) and missional living can look different for everyone from pastor to youth worker to church member to student. “There’s not a cookie cutter model of the call, but it is a call to live in closer proximity to the poor and to have imagination with the way we live,” says Claiborne.

The biggest thing that Christians can do to help youth live more missional lives is to encourage others to look for areas of commonality with those who are different. By finding common ground, we can build relationships that will last while also agree to disagree. “One of our greatest witnesses to the outside world is our ability to disagree well. I think that’s especially important around issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality—that we really call people to the best of who we are meant to be and we celebrate the wisdom that each person has because of the tradition which they are a part,” says Claiborne, also acknowledging the value of learning things from those who disagree with us.

Plenty of people disagree with Claiborne as he has been turning the heads of secular media, church leaders, and politicians for the past few years. So while some call him a radical, a hippie, a peace-loving tree hugger, and a liberal fascist. Others call him a prophet, a Jesus freak, an author, a hero, and a theologian. But the folks on the 3200 block of Potter Street in Kensington call Shane Claiborne their friend.

And Claiborne encourages others to join his irresistible revolution, so that everyone can all find the community for which each person is so desperately longing. Maybe, just maybe, that toothless beggar on the street or the restroom attendant at McDonald’s will be teaching youth and youth workers more about what it means to follow Jesus than they could ever imagine.

Print copy of article.

Banned from Church

19 Jan

When I was in high school, I decided to start taking half-days my junior year, which evolved into full days off my senior year. No, my parents did not know about it, but they found out eventually and boy, was I in trouble! How did my Christian high school punish me? They suspended me from school! That’s showing me–I don’t want to go to school, so they retaliate by telling me I can’t come. It didn’t make a lot of sense.

Neither do some of the churches that the Wall Street Journal covers in the article, “Banned From Church” . The piece is all about how some conservative Protestant denominations have brought back the practice of church discipline, including excommunication. Speaker/author Dale Fincher first brought this article to my attention on his blog, so you can read his thoughts here.

There were some great stories in the article, that would have been laughable had they not been truth. The piece opens up with a 71 year-old lady getting hauled out of church by the police for trespassing (after the pastor called “911″ because you know this is a real emergency). Apparently, the little old lady had a big ol’ mouth and dared to speak out against the great and powerful pastor, so she was banned from the church she had attended for the past 50 years.

Here’s a quote from the article, “While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders.” This is where my lead-in story comes into play–you can get disciplined for skipping church. I mean, that’s a great excuse, “Hey, why didn’t you go to church today?” Answer: “Because last week the associate pastor was forced to call 911 when I showed up.” Gotta love church discipline that punishes people for skipping church by telling them they can’t go to church. I’m sure they start small and ban the sinners from potluck dinners first, then youth car washes, then small group, and finally from the Big Sunday Service itself.

Undoubtedly, the best quote from the article is this story about Lakeview Baptist Church in Alabama, “Once, when the congregation voted out an adulterer who refused to repent, an older woman was confused and thought the church had voted to send the man to hell.” Gee, the elderly can’t catch a break at these churches, can they?

I think adultery is sad, especially because it broke up my own family. But voting an adulterer out of church? Isn’t church one of the places this person could hear the truth? Obviously, God can work in people’s heart outside the walls of a building, but doesn’t this building exist to proclaim the gospel, to allow people to fellowship, to set the captives free?

The leaders of these churches point at Matthew 18 and say, “See, it’s right there!” Of course, if the congregants opened their Bibles to the book of Titus or a few of Paul’s letters (you know, the books that talk about the qualifications for elders, deacons, and pastors) and addressed the conduct of elders, the pastor, and other church authorities, they would be shunned before they could finish their first sentence.

Then there’s the problem of that rebel Jesus (thanks to Jackson Browne & Bebo Norman for that title). He liked to hang about with folks who had questionable moral character. Jesus even says so: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ‘ But wisdom is proved right by her actions” (Matt. 11:19).

Obviously, we need to find the ever touchy middle ground between turning our churches into temples of hypocrisy or crack houses. But that is why church leaders need to depend on the power and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (Uh-oh! I mentioned the Third Person of the Trinity…I’m going all Pentecostal now!). Perhaps the most ignored Person in the Church today is the Holy Spirit, who is to guide us in decisions and help us know what to do when the going gets tough. He’s in the Bible, too. Both testaments.

Legalism never led man to God, nor did the gospel of prosperity. Perhaps we should throw both away, stop calling 911 on little old ladies, and get over ourselves. The problem is not just the people in the pews, but the people who wouldn’t be caught dead in the pews.


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