Planning a visit to Caine’s Arcade

If you haven’t seen thisĀ viral video yet then you need to. The LA Times did a nice story on this young man who created his own arcade out of cardboard boxes and used auto parts. I found out that he’s 1.5 miles from my church, in the adjacent neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Caine is my neighbor.

This Saturday April 14, rain or shine, I will be travelling to Caine’s Arcade and see if I can met the now infamous young man who now has over $100,000 in a scholarship fund for his college education. Having a science background myself, I am secretly hoping he becomes an engineer and be a geek like me.

I look forward to meeting Caine tomorrow and enjoying his arcade and will post again afterward.

It’s raining in LA but a little sunshine is bursting forth from Boyle Heights at Caine’s Arcade!

 

Can Charity Be Toxic?

I finished reading a book by long-time community developer, Bob Lupton, callled “Toxic Charity.” I think every Christian organization should read this and I have a few people at my church reading it and engaging in discussion about its implications of how we do ministry at Union Church.

Among the many great things he said from his decades of first-hand experience, he talked about the “betterment” that most well-intentioned Christians engage in when they really should focus on “development”.

Betterment does for others. Development maintains the long view and looks to enable others to do for themselves. Betterment improves conditions. Development strengthens capacity. Betterment gives a man a fish. Development teaches a man how to fish” (167).

Lupton argues for a lot more thoughtful considerations in his book but this idea of betterment versus development ended up in the back of my mind as I had dinner tonight with some very special people.

I spent a couple hours with a few new friends that I met through the Skid Row Housing Trust. It was a great night to have some good food and build community with the diverse population that lives, loves and works in downtown L.A. My friend, Katherine, was there as one of the hostesses of the night and I had the pleasure to sit with Hal and Amy who are both professionals with ties in L.A. But the real pleasure was the chance to sit and chat with Lavonna and Tracy, who are both formerly homeless but now residents in one of the Trust’s many developments. Hearing Tracy share her story of how she ended up on Skid Row and her struggles to get out of chronic homelessness was both heartbreaking and inspiring.

One surprising but significant conversation we had was more than sheer coincidence. We discovered we had a mutual acquaintance who ended up on Skid Row after getting out of jail and that we both unknowingly were trying to help around the same time last year. She told me that’s he’s back in jail which explains why I hadn’t heard from him in months. We both talked about if we could help him better the next time by doing some things differently.

We wondered out loud when helping becomes enabling and when saying “no” can actually be a compassionate answer, especially when someone is asking for help for something he can do for himself if he put more effort into it. We didn’t come to any dogmatic conclusions about how to help our friend better, though Tracy definitely encouraged me and my church to keep helping. Unbeknownst to me, our mutual friend was really appreciative of our church even though we ended up saying “no” quite a bit in the last weeks before he left our church. She did remind me that there’s a lot of enabling that goes on when well-intentioned people are trying to help without putting more thought into what their actions might be doing to undermine peoples’ self-sufficiency and responsibility.

She’s a living example of the need for all people, and Christians in particular, to keep Lupton’s principles in mind regarding betterment versus development while also valuing being a listener: “LISTENING COMMUNICATES WORTH” (147).

Talking with Tracy tonight and rethinking Lupton’s wisdom reminded me that relationship building is so essential. Your help becomes toxic in particular when no relationship is built and when actual listening isn’t happening. Lupton emphasizes this in the book as well. I was relearning how to listen by spending time with some new friends from Skid Row and our coincidental mutual acquaintance also forced me to revisit how our church can truly help those we come in contact with.

I highly recommend not only reading Lupton’s book but to also place yourself in new situations where you can build relationships with people with from diverse backgrounds. Listening is important and so is reevaluating if some of the help we try to do is more toxic betterment instead of dignifying development. Let me know what you think of Lupton’s book and how you are pursuing relationship building through listening to those you seek to come alongside to help.

Something to Smile About

Avery drew her first picture of her “Papa” all by herself with just a little encouragement from yours truly (that’s a belly button on my body in case you were wondering if she was drawing a mole of some kind). She’s pretty proud of herself as you can see and her Papa is impressed even though my arms are coming out of my chin!

I thought I’d bring a little Lenten joy amidst the ashes of our lives, reminding myself at least, that God’s beautiful and creative Spirit resides in two-year-olds trying to draw for the first time. I know I need a little help seeing God’s presence living in a big city with a lot of brokenness that surrounds me.

I’m not sure how this becomes a post about Palm Sunday or Holy Week or Lent (perhaps posting a cute picture is the main reason for this post) but it is about celebrating the good things of God this Lenten season right in the middle of our difficult situations.

I encouraged our people at Union Church in downtown L.A. during Lent to remember that amidst the ashes of our lives that we look forward to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a real historical event that matters because it means that even though we are surrounded by ashes–relationships dissipating,  living in broken cities, struggling with finances, faith dismantling–we have hope because Jesus has the last word over death, destruction and dismay.

I’m simply enjoying a little beauty that God has brought my way today and celebrating the fact that our King Jesus gave everything so we could embrace His beauty and goodness.

I hope you have a wonderful Holy Week and Easter!