The Compass

I was sitting in an office at Hope Rescue Mission interviewing a resident.  He had lived years of his young life dealing with addiction and crime, illness and death. After listening to his story, he mentioned that he was enrolled in the local community college.

I asked what he was taking.

“Addiction counseling and social work” he said, “I just thought I could give back, you know?”

His life had shifted.

life is a

In the midst of suffering, we feel thrown off the path. The way becomes blurry. Questions that were easy now present problems. Cooking dinner, at the end of the day, looks like a doctoral thesis.

Our pain points are our compass. They are construction signs better than any orange cones on the highway.

They are God’s arrows showing us the way to go.

The trick is to keep moving. How could you give back? What fires have you braved that you could help others put out? How can you turn the emotions into life for someone else who may be in the midst of the same?

We have a choice.  No matter how deep in the darkness, we always have a choice.

Your first step towards reclaiming faith and life in action is seeing a new target and new purpose. It can be the light you need for the next chapter of the journey.

~Matt

What is Radical Change?

“Radical change is achievable and, at times, done with small moves.”

I was in mid conversation with Craig Poole, businessman and general manager of a Hilton Hotel under construction in the city, as “Gimme Shelter” played over the Peanut Bar’s sound system.  We were talking about how changes are made. Mr. Poole walks Penn Street and visits local businesses.  He meets with owners about the future.

He finds a bench in the rough part of town and stops to talk with people, much like he does with me.

“People will ask me about what I do and how they can do it.  I say it is nothing crazy.  The seat I sit in will be empty tomorrow.”

take

What does radical change look like for you?

At my lowest points, it was simply holding hands with Val.  The motion pushed me back to living and chipped away at the emotional walls I had built. If it feels like you are looking up from the bottom of a well, start small.

Find the first stone that provides a foothold.

If your faith has become routine, look for the next empty seat.  Go to an outreach program. Volunteer an hour on a Saturday to serve. Assess your community and support the good things that are happening.

Radical change happens with a shift in:

  • Thoughts
  • Behaviors
  • Speech

Think of a better future. Act on the thoughts to make it a reality.

Speak positivity.

Tell your children that they are “bad” and they will grow up to believe it.  Talk to a child of an abuser or addict and you’ll hear the same story.

Our actions speak into our families, our churches, and our cities. Our compassion changes reality.  Our love completes the picture.

To start your own radical change, consider the empty seats in your life and take the first step to get them filled.

~Matt

 

 

 

New Publication

words can change the world

We write for two reasons.

1-To Be Heard

2-To Change Things

I started P356 with this goal in mind, that the words would make a difference.  Today marks the publication of my next e-book, Lazarus Art: Calling Christian Writing Back From the Dead.

“For too long the world of Christian writing has found itself in the margins. It is time to reach for a higher standard of creation. Using the Biblical story of Lazarus for inspiration, this book examines three critical areas for improvement and challenges writers of all levels to push themselves deeper into their work. Christian writing can change with some valuable first steps and find itself with new and greater audiences. The time to change is now.”

Lazarus Art

You can download the book here.

A portion of any proceeds will go to support Hope Rescue Mission, the next official Community Partner for P356.  The men at Hope are changing lives in this city on a daily basis and I am honored that they allowed me to visit and include their efforts in the current project. You can find more information about their work on the Community Partners page.

As we enter Easter Week, let us not forget the meaning beyond the candy and egg hunts.  We are called to follow, to celebrate the one who lived change on a daily basis to the point where death was no longer the final answer.

Never forget there is hope, light in the darkness, and freedom for those who search.

Sunday’s coming.

~Matt

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.'”

2536576259_a804cf0664
Photo Credit: frankieleon via Compfight cc

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

 

You Will Change The World

Reggie Dabbs, one of my favorite speakers, has visited our church a few times over the years.  He was a product of an encounter between his mother and a man she was sleeping with to get money for groceries.  No one, at this moment, speaks to more high school kids in this country than Reggie. His message of love changes the lives of students, teachers, and their communities.

Last week I met a young man working with We Agape You in the city of Reading.  He had grown up with violence, crime, gangs, drugs, and homelessness.  Now he delivers food to those in need and is building a new life for his wife and soon-to-be child.

Val has had clients who were sick and going through some tough times in their lives.  For the hour or two they are in her chair, she makes them feel valued and welcomed.  She helps them see their inner and outer beauty.

Thursday night Carter and I talked about school.  Out of curiosity, I asked him if there is anyone he doesn’t like.  He said, “Dad, I want to be friends with everyone.”

3416446845_02ed868350
Photo Credit: sdettling via Compfight cc

My visceral response to this is varied.  Ever have one of those Moses moments?  You know, where you tell God you aren’t fit for the calling?  You make up excuses.  Reality, the reflection in the mirror, seems to speak against your heart.

That small voice inside prompts with options.  When was the last time you…sat on the couch and relaxed, had a drink, fed the addiction? Shouldn’t you do something for yourself every now and then? You could always start tomorrow.

Nobody will buy that story/product anyway.

We must turn the focus around.  It’s funny, when I feel the insecurity the most is when I’m focusing on myself. Worry comes in waves.

The fact is, we are not enough. We can’t do it alone.

God, as Moses was told, designed us for a purpose. We are to change the world, to take our stories and tell them to provide hope for those going through the same. We are to be in a community of action and faith, belief and boots on the ground.

We must unite across location, race, economic class, political party, and agenda, holding hands not pointing fingers.

There is someone out there who needs you today.  They need you right now.  They may be a friend or neighbor.  They may be family. Drive to the city and you’ll see them on the corners or waiting outside the shelter. It is not easy but, if you step out in faith you will see God’s hand in action.

When we were driving around Reading this week, we were talking about shelters and the need for work and self-worth. The young man I mentioned above said this,

“Too many places give you a pillow and say, ‘get comfortable.'”

How comfortable are you today?

~Matt

Finding Home

“That was a tent city over there.” I look towards a small park tucked in the midst of a block across from where we were standing. “They cleared it out, called in buses and moved the people to housing.”

Randy Simmons had just parked his white van at the entrance to the Senior Center. It was a clear morning, the sun cutting shafts through the trees and a wind blowing crisp enough to remind you that spring was not here, not in this city, not yet.

We unloaded food, selections ranging from vegetables and fruit to sandwiches, meat, and snacks. They would go to help feed more than eighty residents of the facility. The food was spread on tables and separated by employees. Residents gather and wait as a young man traveling with us, one of the success stories, offers a prayer.

It is a run Simmons does on a weekly basis.

We cross the city, stopping outside City Lights shelter. Today’s construction project is assisting with the clean up on six floors of a building that had just suffered fire damage.  A crowd gathers on the sidewalk. Simmons explains the job and the location.  It will bring some activity, a little money, and lunch.

It will provide a sense of purpose.

14233608801_a52bc122fd
Photo Credit: pougnol via Compfight cc

Our last stop is the building itself.  I watch the workers go inside. A Jeep pulls into the parking area.  George and Nancy Lennert, a husband and wife team of real estate person/writer, and entrepreneurs , exit the van. We shake hands and talk about the story of Reading.

Simmons hurries from the lot, driving to Lowe’s to buy twenty brooms so his guys can work.  Standing around does nothing.  The work will always be there and the ones willing to step up and take the job can make a difference.  Some will get hired and maybe grab the foundation they need.

We join hands in a circle, feet standing on muddied ground and heads bowed. Nancy (you can find her book here) offers a prayer, a genuine cry to see change in the city, for our words and actions to make a difference in the lives around us. The building behind us will become apartments, homes for those who need them.

The symbolism cuts in many ways.  We are all burned buildings, our past behind us and a massive cleaning effort working in our hearts. We are projects and it takes the work of many dedicated men and women to finish the job.

I realized, as I drove away, that I had found a home.  I found the men and women I needed to work with, to be around.  I had found the ones I could help with these words, with this book.  I had seen and felt God’s hand moving, the power of his love flowing in the streets.

This was purpose, the reason behind the story.  This was power.

This is faith.

~Matt

 

The Intersection of Faith and Action

I remember the night like it was yesterday.  Val and I had just started dating.  We were both in high school.  I drove her around in my mother’s green Mazda.  It was winter, bitterly cold, and we were stuck.

The area around our home town consisted of a railroad track that twisted and turned through the suburbs.  An urban legend existed of a park by the tracks that you did not want to visit at night.  Of course, I took us right through it. The road was snow-covered, sandwiched between the railroad tracks and a small creek.  The exit was a choice between a flat road and a steep incline. I took the incline as the car slid to the shoulder and stopped.

I tried spinning the tires, steering back and forth, anything I could do.  It wouldn’t move.  I called my dad and he said he would make his way over with a shovel to dig us out.  I rolled down the window and a dog started barking hysterically from somewhere in the distance.

Val and I looked at each other and prayed.

A minute later, headlights approached. A group of snowmobiles parked behind us.  I exited the car and one of the guys asked me if we were stuck.  I said yes. Three of them pushed the car back to the road.  They never removed their helmets or visors, returned to their snowmobiles, and drove away.

I turned the car around and started back the way we came. We stopped to get our bearings and I stepped out of the car again. There were no tracks on the ground, no sign of a snowmobile.  Two minutes before, I had watched them take that road to leave us.

The snow was fresh and untouched.

76985202_a59f968309

Photo Credit: hodge via Compfight cc

I’ve spent the last eight months interviewing local charities, businesses, and community members, gathering story after story of God’s involvement in the lives around us.

When we seek, we will find.

In the whir of our lives, it is too easy to get caught up in the process. Kids, bills, jobs, starting a business, writing a book, keeping up a website, getting in shape. We tend to miss chances to make a difference.

I prayed, eight months ago, that my words would make a difference. I’d give the writing to God and tell the story that needed to be told.  I’d give voice to those on the front lines of the battle against poverty.  I’d work with faith-based businesses and charities.

My next e-book, coming out in April, will be about reclaiming Christian Arts and producing creations that have deep impact in the world. I have an article upcoming in RELEVANT magazine and will be starting work as a volunteer journalist for BCTV, a local nonprofit covering the Reading and Berks County area. We’re preparing a powerful series of stories on poverty and the efforts happening to reclaim the soul of the city.

Things happen when we decide to serve, when we give our talents back to the God, the Creator who gifted them in the first place. Now is the time to make your move, consider what you can give and ask how you can serve.

The intersection between faith and action is waiting for your arrival.

~Matt

Paris is Full of Surprises

Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis is Vogue‘s style editor at large. She’s my age and has been in the position since 2012. She is also a member of a royal family.  She posted a picture on her Instagram on Saturday from Paris and Fashion Week.  The picture showed a homeless person reading a copy of the magazine with the caption, “Paris is full of surprises…and @voguemagazine readers even in unexpected corners!”  You can find coverage of it here.

The irony in this situation could fill more than a single post and it shines a light on a deeper issue.

85393411_baddc5ed80

Photo Credit: Jonttu Leskinen via Compfight cc

The news article I mentioned above calls out the contradiction of Fashion Week as a spectacle of consumption with the presence of the homeless population in and around the city.  The contradiction of Paris is often played out in our own lives.

We all have reward mechanisms. Go long enough without rewarding yourself and the impulse will kick in. Some people go big and others go small.  It can be good or bad, from a workout to a cigarette.  Addicts hit their reward impulse without reservation and it can destroy their lives.

As people of faith, we struggle with delayed gratification.  We tell ourselves that things will happen in God’s time, as we watch others get promotions, cars, vacations, etc.

The cycle can shift with a moment of recognition.

Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis saw her magazine and not the homeless person reading it. In my time researching and interviewing for my current project, I’ve had a chance to visit the front lines of charities and hear their stories.  When you see someone crying over a pair of donated socks for their new baby, you understand that there are concerns deeper than yours.

You notice the person holding the magazine.

When you see every part of your community, you are inspired to do something about it.  When you give, God’s time stops haunting your worries and starts driving you forward. You become a part of a greater movement.

Suddenly it all matters.

~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?”

5202466987_7aaa250dd4

Photo Credit: bondidwhat via Compfight cc

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

Our Next Step

Today is a big day for P356.  This morning, my guest post went live on our church’s website.  They are starting a message series on the miracles of Jesus.  My post is centered on Peter’s attempt at answering the call of Jesus by walking on water.

You can read it here.

I’ve added two new pages to the site outlining the next step in the growth of P356 as an outreach and organization connected with the fight against poverty.

New Publications

My first devotional is now available for download and in print.  Wing Night, named after one of my favorite activities with friends (the purchase and consumption of hot wings) is a short read for men.  It is twenty days of thoughts, motivation, and inspiration centered around marriage, faith, and family.

The City is my first science fiction novel. It tells the story of two friends living inside the final city existing in the United States.  Their choices will determine the future as society falls apart around them.

You’ll also find links to my other novel and novella publications.  Please check them out.

Community Partners

It was my dream, from day one, that P356 would make a difference.  I wanted the words to matter.  With this in mind, I am donating partial proceeds from the sales of Wing Night and The City, to a local charity I have interviewed for inclusion in my current book project. The first official P356 Community Partner is We Agape You.

We Agape You was founded by Randall Simmons, a friend working daily to change the tide of homelessness in the city of Reading.  You’ll find more details including a link to his website on the Community Partners page.

With each additional publication, I’ll add another partner to the list.  Your support will help make a difference in the fight against poverty.

Every word counts and every person sleeping in the cold tonight matters.

Sunday morning, this song was included in our worship.  The image of chains carries a loaded set of meanings. We can be chained together, chained apart, tied down and tied up. Chains are weight and bondage.  They are stress and pressure.  They are real and imagined.

They are a connection point.

We know that we are a New Creation. We know that we are Free Indeed.  This freedom does not come without cost.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ~Matthew 25:40 NIV

As you start your week, consider how you can make a difference. The hardest step in the first one. Today, these words are the next step for P356.  They mark a new journey. Chains are breaking. The shift is happening.  Reality is changing.

The time is now.

~Matt