A Glass Jar City

The sky was the color of slate, rain tapping against the windows.  I was seated in the office of Peter Barbey, CEO of the Reading Eagle Company.  The organization produces print and online media for the Reading and Berks County region. The room is a page from Mad Men, furnished from a different time when journalists could not conceive of a concept like digital content.

Barbey’s family has roots in the area going back through two centuries.  His interest is professional and personal.  He is a student of history, politics, and numbers, the perfect combination for a captain of media.  We flank a small circular table, issues of Berks Country and Business Weekly framed over Barbey’s right shoulder on the wall.

“Reading is a glass jar city,” he says, picking up an imaginary jar in his hand. “We put all the poverty, addiction, homelessness and other stuff in one spot, flip the jar,” he turns his hand over, ” and say ‘deal with it.'”

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Throughout the journey of this book, the Problem in Reading has taken many forms.  The list is lengthy and detailed.  Industry has fled to the suburbs. The school district is struggling with a lower tax base. Crime increased with poverty. Immigration has changed the face of the businesses and streets.

The deepest issue may be in mind of those under and around the jar.  How do we break down walls and heal wounds? How do we have the difficult conversations about race and responsibility?

How do we change the soul of a city founded before the Revolutionary War?

The process will not be easy.  It will take men like Barbey with the resources and connections to get the ball rolling, challenge old standards, and usher the city into a new era.

It will take time and, at the moment, time may not be on Reading’s side. The glass walls will shatter when the tide turns.  Until then, we stand on the shore and wait, watching the waves crest on the horizon.

~Matt

 

Do the Right Thing

I can think of four or five off the top of my head.

“Don’t hit your brother.”

“Don’t throw the remote.”

“Get off the table.”

“No, you can’t have Oreo’s before bed.”

As parents we have our lines that we hit on a daily basis, instructions that must be repeated over and over. We try to instill a sense of right and wrong in our kids and create a moral compass.  Life isn’t always black and white, though, and we pray they have that gut instinct and relationship with us and God that will lead them on the right path.

The conflict lines don’t ever go away, they just change tone. Some of the hardest challenges we face, growing up and as adults, are the moments we are called to live by our beliefs. Conversations happen and you feel the pressure.

Do you go with the flow or do you make a stand?

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I faced one of these situations this afternoon.

In Genesis, we find the story of Cain and Abel. Abel finds the favor of God and Cain does not.  Frustration builds and, in an instant, you have the first murder.  Imagine the power.  The first time, in all of creation, that a life is taken at the hands of someone else.  This is the precursor to the violence, wars, destruction, and death to follow. The first-born human child had committed the first murder.

Cain kills Abel in the fields.  God shows up and asks him, “Hey, where is your brother Abel?”

His reply is one of the most powerful statements in recorded history.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

When I was a student teacher in 10th grade English, we did a unit centered on this question.  Am I my brother’s keeper?  Should I care about my fellow humans? Is it my job to make a difference?

Cain could have fessed up to his crime.  He decides to deny it and God levies a punishment of work and banishment.  Cain worries about being killed and God offers assurance.

Despite his actions, he is protected.

Always remember, we will be tested.  You’ll find yourself in the midst of a questionable situation, a “dark alley” with snares around every corner.  Your response is key. Know that you are never alone.

If you take the wrong path, there is grace to be found.  No one is too far gone and no sin is too great.  I believe God knew what Cain would do in the field that afternoon.  He walked that ground before any blood fell.

He let Cain walk away.

Tonight, if you find yourself facing one of these choices, know who you are and where you stand. If you’ve taken the wrong road, there is a way back. There is power in claiming our identity.  Jesus said, “I am who you say I am.”

We are believers. We are husbands, wives, and parents.  We are writers, activists, and thinkers. It is our job to do what is right.

We are our brother’s keeper.

~Matt

 

This is Why Poverty Matters

“In downtown L.A., however, as many as 54 blocks — between Third Street and Seventh Street, from Alameda to Main — are almost entirely given over to the homeless, the limbless, the drug-addicted and the mentally ill. Battered tents line the boulevards. Mountains of garbage block the sidewalks. The air smells like urine, feces and burning crack. And everywhere there are people — dazed, disheveled, disabled; stretched out on lawn chairs or sprawled on the pavement; some scoring heroin from marked tents, others injecting it between their toes in plain sight, mere blocks from some of the hippest new bars and restaurants in town.”

On Monday, a cell phone video released showing police in Los Angeles shooting a homeless man to death.  He was mentally ill, living in Skid Row for years and, according to police, grabbing for an officer’s gun.  You can find coverage here. Yahoo’s article starts with the above description.  It continues to say this:

“The more difficult questions, perhaps, are the ones that fewer Americans will ask. Why was a troubled man who reportedly spent 10 years in a mental facility living in squalor on the streets of the nation’s last dedicated homeless district? Why was he surrounded by as many as 6,000 men, women and children in similarly dire straits — 2,000 of whom sleep on the sidewalks? How can a place like this still exist? And what can be done about it?”

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The city of Los Angeles started a Housing for Health program, a push for supportive housing to get people off the streets as a first-level solution.  The first Community Partner of P356, We Agape You, is also focused on a housing initiative for the city of Reading. The answer, as simple and clear as it can be, is to acquire stable rooms and put people in them. Do this and you take a large step against the ills of poverty.

As we read this post in our homes, the world of Skid Row seems far away. The poor are “out there” and we are “in here.” As believers, we like to compartmentalize our missions to the missionaries.  You want me to give something extra?  Sure, I’ll throw some money into the bucket, maybe collect some cans and drop them off at church. As long as we don’t have to get dirty.

We follow a Savior calling us to get dirty.

We follow a Savior who lived his years on the fringes. He ate dinner with those outside of society and angered the religious leaders of the time. He went to those in need. He wants us to do the same.

This is why poverty matters:

These people are all our families. These kids sleeping on the sidewalk are our children.  Their struggles are our own and we cannot ignore it.

This fight is one I’m capturing in my current book project.  Please consider joining with P356 to help the words make a difference. The moment the story moves from the news into your heart is one that you will never forget.  It will change your life and drive you to change the lives of others.

You will make a difference.

~Matt