Solving the Problem

On Thursday I had the chance to visit Hope Rescue Mission for their annual Thanksgiving meal.  The mission serves around 250 people between the guys living there, their families, and others that come in off the street.  The dining area was full as more than a hundred volunteers served plates of food and cleaned up after.

The crowd, and volunteers, spanned a range of ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds.  The local news arrived and taped a segment from the midst of the action. It was a moment of peace and inspiration.  This is the time of year where we should be helping, serving, and giving thanks.

And yet, we know that it is a struggle.

Media, and social media, is fighting a war hundreds of years old. Cities are rocked with violence and protest. Police struggle to maintain order and recover some level of trust with the general public.

So, as a parent, believer, and writer, where do we begin?

The issue of racism is large and encompassing. As a white male, there are things that my sons and I will be able to do much more easily than other men of differing ethnic backgrounds. My sons will have opportunities based on their appearance and gender alone. They will enter school systems where teachers will not cringe or assume when they walk in the room.

At ages 6 and almost 2, they do not know any of this. They don’t see color, they see friends at a playground and on the baseball team. They trust and love, openly and honestly.

My goal is to keep it this way. My goal, as they grow, is to help them be good citizens and be socially conscious. I want them to be activists, to stand up for a kid being bullied and speak up when they see something wrong. I want them to be men of God, to lean on their faith when they are pressed in darkness, and praise when the sun rises again.

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These thoughts were in my head as I stood against the wall watching the Thanksgiving meal at Hope.  I found Steve Olivo, chaplain of the Mission, seated at his table and went to his side.  We talked about the book and I mentioned that, with every interview I conduct, everyone has their own answer for poverty.  He said:

Jesus is the answer.  He changes people.

He is perfectly correct.

We can talk about systematic change, about societal shifts in power and political influence.  We can reform the education system and encourage small businesses to create jobs in cities where they are needed.  We can train police officers and public officials to be more aware of the cities they work in and communities they inhabit.  We can empower those who suffer to make the gains they need to find happiness. These are all valid efforts.

They must all be capped by the perfect love of Jesus.

We are called to serve. To love. To give water to the thirsty and food to the hungry.  We are called to meet needs and give of what we have since it is not ours anyway, merely provision from God. We are called to have the difficult conversations.

We know that grace is enough.

It is time for more churches to get their feet wet, to get involved, to be on the front lines.  Too many are too content to stay in their buildings and have their meetings, to drop off donations monthly and go back to their existence.

It is time for believers to show the love we had modeled for us two thousand years ago.

Everyone is worth it. Communities can be rebuilt. Peace can spread like the fires that light up the night sky in cities around this country this week. Radical love and grace can change hearts. Hands can be held and fists lowered.

It can happen and, I believe, one day it will.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Broke: Moving Past Money

The front of City Hall in Reading reflects the architecture of a city founded in the 1700’s.  It takes me two passes to find a close parking garage.  The interior of the building is all lacquered wood, high ceilings, and glass doors. I find an index hanging on the wall and make my way to the second floor.

The city council chambers are empty.  I pass a snack bar where a police officer eyes me as he picks out his candy. As much as I search, I can’t find Brian Kelly’s office.  Kelly is the only official employee of ReDesign Reading, an organization devoted to promoting social change and combating poverty. Finally I stop at the Mayor’s office.  A receptionist smiles at me as I enter.  I ask her where I could find this mystery individual.  She tells me to wait a second and walks around the corner next to her desk, returning to tell me he will be with me in a moment.

Minutes later, Kelly turns the same corner.  He is taller than I expected, with long hair and the start of a beard.  We shake hands and he tells me he hasn’t eaten yet, despite it being almost four in the afternoon. He asks if I’d join him for some food and I agree.

We walk out of City Hall and end up at an El Salvadorian restaurant where he orders in Spanish. Kelly is my age, a graduate of the Wharton Business School at Penn, and had spent a year working in Guatemala to facilitate social change.  He tells me his Spanish is a little rusty, so he likes to practice whenever possible.  In this small corner of the city, looking across a plate of pupusas with soccer playing on television and Spanish music flowing from the kitchen, we start to talk about poverty.

Kelly tells me the current system is broken, set up to keep the poor in poverty. Benefits are based on income so, in the end, where’s the motivation? Without jobs, why get married when claiming a second income eliminates housing, food, and cash benefits? Real change is based on social connection, on volunteer equity not done with currency rewards in mind.

Kelly envisions a system of bartering hours for needs, of housing co-ops where work equals room and board and fresh vegetables from sustainable gardens. He sees value in every person and knows they are filled with untapped energy.  His passion is matching untapped energy with needs.  He is a catalyst.

Our talk has floated in my head since then and it will be included in more detail in my book about the fight against poverty in the city of Reading, PA.

So could the church exist beyond currency?

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Digest that for a second.

No more budgets, no more offerings.  Volunteer hours are exchanged for food from pantries, gardens and farms grown by members. Outreach programs happen on a weekly basis. Staff members have needs met by a community of believers waiting to come beside them and lift them up.

We call for volunteers all the time, floating out versus where Jesus tells us to serve.  We say, do it, it will be good for you. What if we added a tangible result? What if a childcare volunteer could have his or her children in the church daycare for free during the week? What if a person mowing the church lawn can have their lawn tended in return?

What if we redefined economy for the church?  Why not us? Why not now? Jesus told us how hard it is for a rich man to enter Heaven.

We intellectualized his statement: he didn’t have a mortgage, taxes, kids to go to college and neighbors driving a new Lexus with a greener lawn and personal trainers. 

What if he meant what he said? What if we started taking him seriously? We can break and reset the system.  The church can be a radical change agent. It can start now.

The fuse is waiting to be lit.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: Take a few minutes and listen to the words.  A great song.

The Secret to Getting Rich

I love to write.  I love writers.  In my time at Fairfield University, I made many friends and had mentors who are some of the most skilled writers I know.  I believe in the power of the written word.  On many evenings, during the residencies, people would sit and talk about the big contract, Oprah’s book list, and seeing our work on the shelves at Barnes and Noble or downloaded in the nearest Kindle.

It took one phone call to change my opinion.

Last winter, I had a forty-five minute conversation with a literary agent while in my hotel room during a snow-dusted winter’s night.  He started off telling me that he was going to offend me.  That’s a great way to lead into a conversation.

Can you imagine how it went?

After pointing out all the work I had to do and my lack of skill, he ended the call.  I hung up and laid on the bed.  I looked at the ceiling and wondered what the hell I was doing.  Who did I think I was trying to see this through?

Why did I want to be a writer?

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In the pages of Manhood, Terry Crews talks about getting cut by multiple NFL teams and how he had to learn about the coldness of the business.  Last night I read a line that has stuck in my head.  He said that, during his struggles to build a NFL career, he learned a key life lesson:

Never make a decision based on money.

Think about that for a second.  How many minutes of the day do you think about money? How many seconds? The stack of bills can feel like a mountain. The calls from creditors can seem unending. The money is never enough.

So how is his challenge even possible?

  • Consider the bigger picture- What does your choice mean for you and the ones you love? Considering a job change, a new purchase, a big decision? Think about who you are doing it for and how it will change your life.
  • Know God’s Promises– Consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.  Jesus told us how they are provided for and how much more important we are.  Pray God’s promises in your life. No, he’s not a slot machine. Yes, he will provide. He knows your needs.  Have faith, even when it is a challenge.
  • Give- Needs are all around us. We know about tithing but also look in your community. Search online for charities. Talk to your friends. Jesus told a rich man to sell all his possessions. To quote a bad cliché, there’s no hearse with a U-Haul behind it.

I’m taking all three of these to heart with Overcome, the first book from P356. I’ve partnered with Berks Coalition to End Homelessness and I’ll have some exciting information coming soon about the new goals for this book and how the Coalition will use all profits earned from publication to make a difference for local families.

P356 is growing and the foundation of this growth is writing to fight the battle against poverty. Stories are activism. They can and they will make a difference.

That is why I write.

Can you imagine never making a choice based on money?

With God, all things are possible.

~Matt