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Child Advocacy Award Has Staying Power

May 15, 2019

The question of the day should always be: “How are the children doing today?” People in children, youth, family ministry and related child-centered fields know that when the children are thriving, love and justice abide.

When I attended a retreat workshop recently called Resurrection Release hosted by Epworth UMC in Chicago, co-led by Pastor Hope Chernich and Pastor Lindsay Long Joyce, and facilitated by Rev. Jacki Belile, pastor at Eden UCC and director of Living Well Ministries, there was Beth Palmer to my surprise. Beth and I greeted one another being reminded of our common bond not only through children’s ministry in and through United Methodist local churches, but more significantly, we are both recipients of the Katherine B. Greene Child Advocacy award through United Voices for Children. I received this award in 2009 and was thrilled to present the award to Beth in 2017 during the Annual Conference when UVC holds its breakfast.

Beth Palmer with Catherine Inserra (on right)

We reminisced about her excitement at receiving the award. She shared with me her travel plan at the time to arrive at Pheasant Run in St. Charles by 6:45 am for the breakfast. She lives in Chicago, so it was a matter of catching a bus to the Blue Line, in order to catch her ride from Jefferson Park. She did not miss a beat describing her excitement at being recognized for her lifelong passion helping children to improve their academic and social lives. These wonderful children live in an economically deprived and ethnically diverse community. Beth provides tutoring and all kinds of opportunities for musical fun to encourage children model Christian love to each and every one of them. I shared with her the importance of receiving this award at a time when I was doubting my ability and calling. It was a complete surprise to me, so much so that I could not be present to accept it because of an out of town commitment. My home church, First UMC Park Ridge, made sure I received the award during worship which was super special bolstering my gifts and calling to ministry and advocacy for children, youth and families. Beth and I enjoyed our serendipitous encounter that day! The retreat workshop was excellent!

For all the past recipients of the Bishop Jesse R. DeWitt, Katherine B. Greene and Rev. Margaret Ann Williams awards, your tireless advocacy for children and youth impacts us yet today! Thank you. In particular, we remember Rev. Dr. Kwane John who received the Bishop Jesse R. DeWitt award in 2012. He passed away this past April. He and his wife Mrs. June Porter received the award together.

UVC is looking forward to the June 4, 2019 Breakfast during this year’s annual conference.  You can find the details here:  https://unitedvoicesforchildren.org/programs/annual-breakfast/     Make your reservation by Friday, May 24th by  contacting unitedvoicesforchildren@gmail.com 

Come, connect with remarkable individuals and catch up on just how the children are doing today!!

Deaconess Catherine Inserra is the Manager of Faith and Community Relations at ChildServ and is secretary of the United Voices for Children board of directors.

 

Forethoughts for Fifth Sunday Appeal

March 5, 2019

As a Christian Educator, I am always on the lookout for engaging ideas for Children’s Messages during worship. In addition, as a person who cares deeply about the safety and well being of all children and the adults in their lives, it is important to help everyone make these very important connections to giving and receiving as people of faith. Recently, I was able to do just this very thing during the month of December – a great time of year to model giving and receiving! Plus, December has 5 Sundays in it, so I knew there was an opportunity to promote the 5th Sunday Appeal for United Voices for Children.
 
Here’s the back story:
Several months ago, a Christian Educator colleague had shared the idea of giving every family a copy of The Family Book by Todd Parr.  Her congregation is incorporating creative and fun ways  to encourage a more meaningful connection to what it means to being a Reconciling Congregation welcoming LGBTQ persons and well, everyone especially all families! I tucked this idea away in the middle of my mind as a ‘good idea’ for future use.
 
Fast forward to November and I am working on ideas for Children’s Messages when I realize I could make a meaningful connection to the Holy Family and the families served by United Voices for Children’s 5th Sunday Appeal (in December) inviting children to give money in their own personalized envelope. I purchased copies of The Family Book by Todd Parr to give to each family and prepared United Voices for Children envelopes for each child to receive. I wrote on each envelope at the top the name of the child and “Child of God!” h en
 
During the Children’s Message two weeks before the 5th Sunday, I read a few selected pages from the book and showed the pictures to the children. We talked about families – all families. Each family received a copy of the book (which was such a surprise!). In addition, each child received an envelope, so they could participate in the 5th Sunday Appeal two weeks later or that very day. The intentional effort to draw attention to the 5th Sunday before the 5th Sunday created some curiosity on the part of the children and the adults making it a forethought not an afterthought. Being able to give a copy of the book to each family was special, but not necessarily a must if a congregation cannot afford it. Or, ask a member to sponsor this gift? I bought 12 and had just enough.
 
Modeling generosity in this way is a powerful lesson on caring about others at any time of the year not just Christmas. Children are truly generous givers and care deeply about other children. They continue to lead us. May we listen and respond with generous hearts.
 
Deaconess Catherine Inserra
formerly Director of Family Ministry, Trinity UMC Wilmette
now Manager of Faith & Community Relations at Childserv
 
 
 
 
 
 

Star Words

December 29, 2018

Churches often mark the end of Christmas with a retelling of the visit of the Magi, or wisemen, on Epiphany (January 6). The Magi’s support and savvy may make them the earliest recorded child advocates. They serve as an example of how we might advocate and support children in Illinois throughout the coming year.

“Star Words” (https://www.buildfaith.org/guiding-stars-an-epiphany-activity-at-home/#gref)  are an newer Epiphany  tradition in which individuals or families choose a guiding word to follow throughout the year. Written on stars, they help navigate the way through the year with intention and focus.

photo by permission of Traci Smith and Building Faith.

United Voices for Children asks you to consider choosing a word that helps to remind you to support children and youth in every season. Potential star words can be found in UVC’s Child Advocate description: speak and advocate, collaborate and organize, support and promote.

Speak and Advocate:

During the  Magi’s visit to Jerusalem they are searching for a newborn king. The predicted king was  the one whom we know as Jesus, who was deeply concerned for children and those in need and  whose life, death and resurrection offer hope for all people. Matthew 2:3 says that Herod was “frightened,”  presumably because this child would be a threat to his power. Rather than report back to Herod as asked, the Magi protect Jesus by returning home another way. What actions can you take to keep children safe this year? A list of resources can be found here: https://unitedvoicesforchildren.org/links/resources/

Collaborate and organize:

The Bible doesn’t state how many Magi came to Bethlehem (we often imagine three because there were three gifts). Regardless of the exact number, we know that there was more than one who came to see what new thing God was doing in the world. United Voices for Children collaborates and organizes by partnering with child serving agencies, local churches and individuals.  In its 39 year history, UVC has raised over one million dollars, organized rallies in Springfield, and offered meaningful workshops on issues directly affecting children and youth. Join our email list to receive more information about becoming a UVC Child Advocate: https://unitedvoicesforchildren.org/links/resources/

Support and Promote:

“Wouldn’t blankets and diapers have been more useful than frankincense  and myrrh?” we’ve heard jokingly. Regardless of why they brought what they brought, the Magi materially supported a young child. Please consider a monthly gift to United Voices for Children https://unitedvoicesforchildren.org/donate/. UVC’s revenues are disbursed directly to our affiliated agencies—ChildServ, MYSI and Rosecrance—in support of their mission and direct services, as well as UVC’s mission to equip congregations to advocate for underserved children, youth and families throughout the Northern Illinois Conference.

Promote and follow us on social media:. https://www.facebook.com/
www.unitedvoicesforchildren.org/

Speak, advocate, collaborate, organize, support, promote. Chose a word that encourages you to increase your advocacy efforts this year.  Write your word and your goal on a star and place it in a visible location. We’d love to see a picture of your star word on Facebook.

On behalf of the United Voices for Children Board, thank you for your support of children and youth in need.

Christine V. Hides is Director of Christian Education at the Kenilworth Union Church and a member of the United Voices for Children board of directors.

 

Positive Psychology

July 12, 2018

What makes an individual psychologically healthy? You may have some difficulty answering this question. As a matter of fact, you will likely have difficulty answering an even broader question, what makes people healthy in general? One of the reasons for this is due to our contemporary conceptualization of health and well-being. Pervasive in both medicine and psychology is the biomedical model. The biomedical model of health does an excellent job at helping us understand disorders, disease, and pathology; however, it falls flat in helping us identify similar measurables for health and well-being.

In fact, the typical indicators for identifying healthy individuals is the absence of pathology and problems. The truth is; however, the absence of problems does not equate health. Just because you’re not depressed, does not mean you are happy and content. Just because you’re not in a highly conflictual relationship, does not mean you’re happily married. Fortunately, the fields of medicine and psychology have been steadily shifting for the past two decades and now more attention is being placed on the other end of the bell curve. Scientists and scholars have worked to identify what makes people happy and healthy and practitioners have supplemented their interventions to help people improve well-being and not just focusing on decreasing symptoms of a problem.

The first step along the path of improving well-being is to identify your core signature strengths. Cross-cultural research has identified 24 character strengths in the areas of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Some examples can include a love for learning, honesty, kindness, leadership, or even hope. By understanding and deliberately utilizing our core strengths on the different life tasks in positive psychology, we can find joy and meaning in life in a way that feels compatible with our personality and who we are.  To take a free character strengths test, please visit: www.viacharacter.org.

What are these life tasks in positive psychology? Research in socio-emotional well-being has found five areas that are highly correlated with feeling content with one’s life:

  1. Positive Emotion

If I were to ask you how satisfied you are with your life right now, your answer would likely be heavily influenced by the mood you’re in. Experiencing positive emotions improves our outlook on life, whether it is positively reflecting on our past or looking towards the future with hope. We need to experience positive feelings. Research in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has taught us there is an inherent relationship between our thoughts, actions, and mood. Thus, there is truly value in exploring ways to be generous in our interpretation of ourselves and others. If you look for the bad in life, you will find it. However, the same goes for the positive and the reasons for which you are grateful. Training our brains to scan the world for positivity can only help our experience of positive feelings.

  1. Engagement

Are there activities that you can “lose” yourself in? The idea of “flow” or engagement is that we each have the capacity to engage in activities in which we experience a state of utter, blissful immersion in the present moment. Utilizing our highest strengths to meet our highest challenges can often be a path to engagement. There is a plethora of possibilities, including working, creating something, sports, or even playing some games. These activities suspend our feelings and our sense of time. They bring us to the here and now and make us feel valuable, confident, and productive. Regularly engaging in “flow-like” activities is a path to well-being.

  1. Relationships

The research is very clear that connection is everything. We are hard-wired to connect with others. Disconnection causes a number of difficulties for us emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. Therefore, utilizing our core strengths to help us build strong, deep, and vulnerable connections with others where we feel like we are seen and accepted for who we are is the path to happiness. Relationships are complicated, they can be messy. However, the way forward with respect to well-being is always in the company of others.

  1. Purpose and Meaning

Another facet of well-being as you reflect on your life is your overall sense that your life has meaning and purpose. Research in positive psychology defines this as dedicating our time and resources to something greater than ourselves. Utilizing our core strengths will ensure that we are also engaged in this work.

  1. Achievement and Accomplishment

For our overall well-being, we need to have hope and confidence in our abilities and capacities. This is best attained by reflecting on our past successes. When we succeed in the past, we are more likely to be encouraged and motivated for future challenges. What is neat about this task is that accomplishment is a bit subjective. What matters is that you are able to look back on your life with a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Utilization of core strengths and progress in these individual tasks are the themes that positive psychologists have found when researching the happiest people around the world. Part of hope of the positive psychology movement is that by learning through tasks early on, we can chart a course for ourselves so that we can also reflect kindly and fondly on our lives as we grow older. 

For more information on positive psychology, please visit: https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/

Louis V. Haynes is a licensed clinical psychologist and the Clinical Director for Counseling Center of the North Shore, a nonprofit community mental health center. To learn more about Dr. Louis V. Haynes, please visit www.ccns.org or reach out to him directly at: lhaynes@ccns.org

 

Signs of Addiction in Teens: When to Get Your Teen Help

May 17, 2018

More than 40 percent of American teens have tried some type of alcohol, tobacco or illicit drug, which is half of those who were presented with the opportunity — this is a staggering statistic. Rosecrance wants you to understand the signs of teen addiction, so you can seek help before it’s too late.

Rosecrance has a long and successful history of treating adolescent substance abuse. It is our mission to change these statistics — one life at a time. People in need seek our help so they can break addiction habits, develop coping skills and new healthy behaviors and restore their sense of hope and purpose.

When teenagers develop drug dependency, it can disrupt their brain chemistry, often leading to unhealthy and sometimes dangerous behavior. It’s important to understand the signs of addiction and seek help as quickly as possible to stop these self-harming and potentially life-threatening behaviors.

We have a unique approach to treating teens suffering from substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. We not only treat the substance abuse and any underlying mental health issues through a variety of experiential therapies (including, art, recreation, horticulture, drumming and mindful meditation), but we are dedicated to educating and helping young people realize their full potential. In fact, everything we do at Rosecrance is about restoring hope and giving our clients a chance to start a new life filled with purpose and passion.

While it’s be difficult to diagnose drug abuse in teens (because many of the signs are similar to typical teenage behavior), you should keep a watchful eye for sudden or severe changes in your teen’s behavior.

 

5 warning signs of drug abuse in teens

  • Changes in behavior and mannerisms

 This is one of the earliest warning signs of drug abuse in teens and may include a sudden change in friends, withdrawal from social interactions and disinterest in hobbies or activities they previously enjoyed.

  • Mood changes

 Watch for sudden irrational or dramatic actions, these may indicate it’s time to intervene. Teens suffering from drug abuse may be more irritable, verbally abusive or even violent with friends and family.

  • Changes in personality

This is another early indicator; if you notice marked changes in their personality (e.g., poor morale, low productivity, lack of self-control, aggression, low test scores), don’t ignore it and seek immediate help.

  • Physical changes

Drug use and abuse has a host of physical signs like bloodshot eyes, sudden changes in weight, frequent nosebleeds, tremors, drowsiness and red, flushed cheeks.

  • Possession of drug paraphernalia

Don’t be afraid to snoop. Possessing things like weight scales, bongs, cigarette lighters, needles, balloons and vials are the most definitive signs that your teen is abusing drugs.

Recognizing the warning signs of drug abuse in teenagers isn’t easy, so the best thing you can do is talk to your teen first to find out if they need help. Rosecrance offers the best opportunity for lasting recovery. If you still feel uneasy about their mental and physical health and well-being, please contact us for an immediate assessment at 888-928-5278. We offer a variety of effective treatment programs to help your teen address their substance abuse — and live a happy, fulfilling and sober life.

This article is published by the Rosecrance Health Network: www.rosecrance.org

A Role UVC Can Play in our Society

September 30, 2017

When I think of the role that United Voices for Children can play in our society and to those of us associated with this organization as child advocates, I believe we are here to focus on those values that can help children realize their potential as they grow toward adulthood. Hopefully, this focus should be experienced at all levels of life in our communities– personal, family, and neighborhoods, as well as through the broader governmental entities that shape our communities and personal lives.

As a prison chaplain in an all-male institution, I found the most meaningful experiences in my ministry to these young offenders were the group meetings I held during the week. In these group meetings, I would invite 6-8 of these juvenile offenders to come to my office where we would have frank discussions on what they could do to change their behaviors when released from the institution.

In one meeting I remember we were discussing the commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” I asked the group, “How would you describe a good father?” One young man said, “A good father is one that would take me to a Sox ball game and buy me a beer.” Some talked about the fact that they never knew their father, but the person they respected most was the guy down the street with good looking clothes standing by his brand-new Cadillac that he had just stolen.

Because these young men lived on the streets in such a “raw” environment, it was hard for them to understand the meaning of love and respect for their families, their neighborhoods, or even respect for themselves. This is why when one of these young men was ready for parole, I would try to find the neighborhood where he would be living after leaving the institution. I would then contact a pastor from that neighborhood (quite often United Methodist) and ask that person to get to know the young man being paroled and to help him prepare for a job, or pursue educational opportunities that would take him away from continued criminal activities.

This is why the work of child advocacy can be so relevant when it focuses its efforts toward motivating communities, churches, schools, legislators, and businesses in our neighborhoods to develop programs that support these young men (and young women parolees) in their attempts to live productive lives. Congregations in our communities can encourage businesses to find ways to train and hire these parolees, so they can gain money through their employment rather than by stealing. Pastors and church members through mentoring these young men and women can help them to function more positively in their relationships with others.

Those of us associated with United Voices for Children have two important challenges–(1) motivating church folk to take to the streets to work with vulnerable youth and children, inviting them into the warmth of your congregations, and (2) working with your legislators and community leaders to see that resources become available through prevention-oriented programs that will motivate these youth in becoming upstanding men and women in their communities.

The Rev. Mason Scholl is a Lifetime Honorary Board Member of United Voices for Children & a retired institutional chaplain. 

 

Who is my neighbor? Easy answer.

September 13, 2017

My neighbor is the friendly family on either side of our yard. He is the guy who takes in my mail when I am on vacation. He is the kid who shovels my driveway in an emergency and pushes me out of a ditch when I do a doofus slide into one. I do the same for them. We look out for each other.

Homeless Jesus status, Washington, D.C.

A poet once said good fences make good neighbors. Not sure what he meant, but I suspect he meant something other than a privacy fence. My hunch is a good fence makes for good neighborliness especially in the spring after winter’s stormy blasts have damaged the posts and stones built up and around them. 

Here are a few lines from Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” He is the one who first said it—twice. I have taken the liberty to mess with it a little bit—not to change or add to it but dis-include a few lines so it makes sense—for our purposes here.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs.  The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side.  It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors?  Isn’t it
Where there are cows?  But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’  I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself.  I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Frost is not so certain either that a wall between neighbors is a good thing. His neighbor is. Broken fences offer an opportunity in the spring of the year to work together on a broken wall. His father taught him good fences make good neighbors. They bring us together from the coze and comfort of our homes to work together, perchance to speak to one another, and one could only hope to understand, know and learn to love each other, too. My neighbor is the one next door. He is someone I am comfortable with, someone I trust with my spare keys. It’s all about conviviality and being there for one another during times of need or even during times of storm and stress. That’s my neighbor.

Along comes Jesus—you knew he would—to spoil cushy assumptions. Neighbors are not always likeable or easy to love. Neighbors can bring the best out in you, but a lousy neighbor can bring out the beast. A child got killed not too long ago because a neighbor on neighborhood watch was allegedly doing his job watching for invasive thugs on the prowl who were there to deal drugs and such. You remember the story. Assumptions were made. Violence happened. All in the name of being a good neighbor. Robert Frost and Jesus are anachronisms. I tease my wife now that we have moved to an apartment near the Chicago Loop. I tell her I have learned to hunch my shoulders, do a little slithering down an alleyway and make certain to look this way and then that. Before I moved to the city, I would push a button in my car to open the garage door and then push it once again so it would close the moment I entered. Safe and sound. Home. No bad guys or unwanted neighbors to disturb my peace.

Along comes Jesus to push my button—my other button—the one attached to my soul, the one who alerts me to my other neighbor, the one who is not so pleasant to be around such as that homeless fellow sleeping on a park bench. I can overlook that other neighbor because he is merely a child or an adolescent who just can’t seem to get his life off crack and on track. Just the other day, I walked by a few of them along the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. It was as easy as pie to unfriend them on the facebook of my soul. I’m not comfortable with that neighbor. Good fences and sensors keep strangers away. You see, I don’t always get Jesus “in here,” in my heart of hearts. Jesus doesn’t buy into a merely defense-minded soul-set. He has no time for people who have no time for the least and the lost—the child he wants to come to him, put his arms around and be with.

I love Jesus, but sometimes, I do not know whereof I speak. Jesus lives and dies for neighbors I don’t want to hang with. I may share a common communion cup with them or open a soup kitchen on their behalf. I will even support a treatment center for God’s sake or my safety’s sake, so they can kick a habit. But don’t ask me to love them. Let them be mission projects. But pals, friends, good neighbors who go down to the property line during the spring to repair a fence together? No way. Come to think of it, I guess that is a picture of hell— lots of fences to keep the “other” out of my back yard and out of my heart as well. Both Frost and Jesus would ask us to gather around those fences in the spring of the year to mend whatever divides us. Let us come together because like a good neighbor, Jesus is there—for all of us. He is the all-inclusive Lord and Savior of us all.

The Rev. Dr. William Lenters is the Church Relations Coordinator for Rosecrance.

 

Skin In the Game: Why Being Racial Competent Is Critical to Ministering to Children of Color

July 17, 2017

Register here for Skin in the Game: Equipping Congregations to Address Racism on August 19th

Whether we want to admit it or not, race matters, especially in America.  Whether we want to admit it or not, systematic racism affects children of color, in particular, black and brown children, emotionally, spiritually, physically and often socio-economically. Particularly harmful is the form of colorblind racism which denies, dishonors and devalues students of color culture and God-given physical attributes.   To be colorblind – to not see race, is to refuse to see the beauty of God’s creation in students of color and to assimilate them into our own ideas of normalcy.  It is also to be unaware and/or unwilling to contend with the reaction that the wider society has towards children of color that is often detrimental, not only to their physical, mental and spiritual well-being; but also affects their ability to thrive educationally and socio-economically.

Several recent studies highlight the effects of racism on children of color, especially poor black and brown children.  Studies show that for many children of color, especially those who are from low income homes, racism affects their physical, emotional and mental well-being even while they are still in their mothers wombs.[1]  Once birthed, racism still continues to take its toll on children of color.  A May 2017 devastating study entitled The Detrimental Influence of Racial Discrimination in the United States cited that accounting for socio-economic differences, children who were discriminated against had twice the rate of anxiety and depression as their white counterparts; and four times as much to have ADHD.[2]

In addition to study that provide ample evidence of the devastating effects of racism on children of color in terms of their physical, emotional and mental well-being, others cite that young black and brown children are often perceived to be much older than their white counterparts.  Consequently, young black males are perceived to be more violent and young black females less innocent which often results in not only their dehumanization by law enforcement and school enforcement, but also harsher treatment and punishment.[3]  In fact, a July 2016 U.S. Department of Education study found Black students are disproportionately suspended from class as early as preschool, citing that preschool Black boys are suspended 3.6 times more than their white counterparts.[4]   These disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates of students of color has led some to refer to its effects as the “school to prison” pipeline.[5]  

Lest we think that these statistics are simply “behavioral” issues in that black and brown children need to learn how to “behave respectfully” a 2016 study by Vanderbilt University School of Education Professors Jason Grissom and Christopher Redding found that regardless of their socio-economic status,  students of color, in particular Black students, were least likely to be recommended for gifted programs, even when high grades and test scores would indicate otherwise, especially when their teacher was white.[6]

As heartbreaking as these studies are, my interest in helping those who minister to children understand the devastating effects of racial discrimination practiced by those outside and within the Christian community had to do with my commitments as a Christian;  as a United Methodist who holds the tenets of John and Charles Wesley dear; a pastor and a scholar.

First and foremost, as a Christian, I formed by Scripture that clearly demonstrates that the fruit of our love of God is demonstrated by acts of charity and justice – not only attending to persons immediate needs for food, clothing, shelter and community; but also contending with the powers and principalities that created the unjust situations in which they find themselves.  Second, as I have grown in my understanding of the founders of the Methodist movement, namely John and Charles Wesley, I am convinced and convicted that what made Methodism the religiously and socially reforming force of its day was due to the insistence of John Wesley that Methodists understand the social issues of the day, especially as they pertained to the poor and people of color through developing relationships; and work to dismantle systems that oppressed them. 

As a pastor, I understand that my responsibility is to not only equip the laity with regard to public and private worship, what Wesley called the “works of piety” that helped us grow in love of God.  As a Unite Methodist pastor, I am also called equip the laity with regard to those acts of charity and advocacy that lead to the dismantling of oppressive systems.  In fact, it is this aspect of being willing to engage in advocacy and in joining with the oppressed for their liberation that has led A.M.E. historian and Vanderbilt University professor Dennis Dickerson to maintain that Methodist Christians can be found at the heart of most American liberation movements.

As a scholar, I know that to not enter into the “existential” existence of children of color by maintaining colorblind racism that seeks to assimilate them into American culture and society is to fundamentally deny the incarnation, miss the ability of evangelism to heal us of our own “isms,” question God’s sovereignty regarding creation, and to deny the Spirit’s ability to maintain diversity-in-unity which is fundamental to our understanding of the church.  First and foremost, Phil. 2: 5 – 8, reminds us that Jesus exchanged the glory of heaven and took on human flesh, specifically Jewish, male and oppressed human flesh.  Jesus enters into our very existence so we can better relate to him and be lifted up.  In the same way, this passage argues that we should have the same mindset towards others, especially those who we deem lower than ourselves.  Second, to not engage the culture of those different from us and recognize the systemic impact of cultural oppression on them is to deny the healing nature of evangelism to deliver us from our “isms.”   This is easily demonstrated in the encounter between Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10.  While many Bibles describe this encounter as the conversion of Cornelius, I would argue that it is the apostle Peter and the church that is in need of conversion.  Peter and the Jewish Christian Church have an underlying race issue that God must confront if the gospel is to be spread beyond its Jewish boundaries with any effectiveness.  Third, to say that we “simply don’t see color,” is to lie and to deny the beauty of God’s creation and God’s sovereignty in creating humans as God sees fit.   God creates humans, all humans, in God’s image. Period.  Finally, to assimilate or attempt to assimilate persons into a dominant culture strikes at the very heart of God’s design for the church.  In 1 Corinthians 11 – 12, the apostle Paul admonishes the Corinthian church that to fracture the church based on cultural expectations is to eat at the table of Holy Communion unworthily.  He especially reminds them that diversity, especially diversity-in-unity is God’s idea and God’s gift hinted at Pentecost.

Finally, I am encouraged as a former seminary professor who has seen first-hand the impact on ministry when predominantly white students work hard to understand the devastating effects of racism on communities of color and the larger society.  Using a wide variety of tools from videos to student participation exercises, I have seen white students, especially those from more liberal backgrounds and/or those who truly believed that our society was post-racial, discover the hidden reality and destruction of colorblind racism on all aspects of society, and their own, often unconscious participation in forms of systemic racism.  Once they face the demonic aspects of it, many of these students went on to develop creative ministry projects within their own, often predominantly white congregations, which brought about holistic and healthy ministry for the congregation and the communities in which they ministered with.   In fact, taking time to understand racism and its effects in the 21st century positioned students to better affirm the culture and contribution of communities of color. 

Rather than understanding ministry as something we do “to persons,” they were better able to see ministry as with persons who had been gifted by God to be part of the solution.  The end result was to disengage in relationship with communities of color as patron-clients; but rather as brothers and sisters, together the family of God.  Not so surprisingly, scholars have discovered that when children of color are affirmed as being of equal worth and are affirmed of the value of their cultural experiences, they not only survive but thrive.[7]

[1] Jyesha Wren Serbin and Elizabeth Donnelly, “The Impact of Racism and Midwifery’s Lack of Racial Diversity: A Literature Review;” Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health; Nov/Dec2016, Vol. 61 Issue 6, 694.

[2] American Association of Pediatrics, “Study Finds Exposure to Racism Harms Children’s Health,” AAP News; May 4, 2017; http://www.aappublications.org/news/2017/05/04/PASRacism050417, accessed July 5, 2017.

[3] Phillip Attiba Goff, et al., “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology; Apr2014, Vol. 106 Issue 4, http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-a0035663.pdf, accessed July 5, 2017.

[4] Casey Quinlan, “New Data Shows The School-To-Prison Pipeline Starts As Early As Preschool;”  Think Progress, https://thinkprogress.org/new-data-shows-the-school-to-prison-pipeline-starts-as-early-as-preschool-80fc1c3e85b, accessed July 5, 2017.

[5] Matthew Lynch, “ Black Boys in Crisis: The School To Prison Pipeline;” Education Week Blogspot, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/2016/08/black_boys_in_crisis_the_school-to-prison_pipeline.html, accessed July 5, 2017.

[6] Alia Wong, “Why Are There So Few Black Children in Gifted Programs?” The Atlantic, January 19, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/why-are-there-so-few-black-children-in-gifted-and-talented-programs/424707/ accessed July 5, 2016. Also see, Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding, Discretion and Disproportionality: Explaining the Underrepresentation of High-Achieving Students of Color in Gifted Programs, January 18, 2016, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2332858415622175, accessed July 5, 2017.

[7] Adriana Umaña-Taylor, “A Post-Racial Society in Which Ethnic-Racial Discrimination Still Exists and Has Significant Consequences for Youths’ Adjustment,“ Current Directions in Psychological Science; Apr2016, Vol. 25 Issue 2, 111.

The Rev. Felicia Howell LaBoy, MDiv., MBA, Ph.D. is often described as someone who moves “from the seminary to the street, from the pulpit to the pavement.” An Elder in full connection in the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church, she has 14 years of urban and multicultural pastoral ministry. She currently serves St. John’s UMC in Oak Park. 

Intertwining Our Lives

July 5, 2017

“You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful—I know that very well. My bones weren’t hidden from you when I was being put together in a secret place, when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.” Psalm 139: 13-15 (CEB)

The stand-alone Sequoia Redwood trees have a natural way that it forms relationships by nature joining them together. Birds build nests among their branches. The heat rays embrace the branches; gentle breezes caress them; and the friendships of the unseen, small underground universe of lively creatures encourages them. Sequoias have large tap roots that on the surface appear to stand alone, yet actually they have countless outward growing roots which interwine with their neighboring sequoias, forming  soul mates, a security connection with a foundation of safety, belonging and love. And they hold each other up even in the fiercest of storms.

At some time in our lives we experience loneliness. It’s normal and necessary. It should be appreciated not feared. During seasons of loneliness, the dis-eased soul can discover the greatest of cure with time, prayer and surrender —God’s constant presence. We are never truly alone no more than the stand-alone Sequoia Redwood tree.

Prayer: O God, let us always remember to pray for one another and be alert to opportunities to lend our support to others who are suffering. As we interwine our roots, our spiritual lives,  to help hold each other up, we will remain secure in the fiercest storms. We know without Your instruction, we can loose direction.  In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

The Rev. Henry Williams served over a decade as Lead Pastor in The United Methodist Church. In 2014 he started HDW Counseling Services, a private counselor practice, and also serves as On-Site Pastoral Care Counselor for Hope UMC in Southfield, Michigan.

 

Deus ex Machina

May 23, 2017

“Tell me how you and God are getting on these days.” I often ask this of our adolescent clients during spirituality sessions.

They know Rosecrance is a church-affiliated agency of the United Methodist Church. They see the cross and candles in the stained glass chapel. Then they meet the chaplain—or “Spiritual Bill”—the name dropped on me after working at Rosecrance for 15 years. They are not dumb. Still, they are wary and on guard when it comes to religious language.  Why so guarded?

Most of our kids are somewhat acquainted with “god talk.” They may not know the stories. Adam and Eve? Yes. Cain and Abel? Never heard of them. But most of our clients have been taught that prayer for help to the God of their understanding is important. They know they should be praying for their well-being. Few do. Or, when they do, it is a bailout prayer. It is the little red lever on the wall: “Pull in case of emergency!”

Many of them have suffered disappointment with God: “Where was God when my friend died from an overdose?” No answer. No help. No miracle. Disappointment with God makes them wary.

They have learned God is primarily a Deus ex Machina.

We know the origin of the Latin phrase, meaning “a god from a machine or a device”—some scaffolding, some magic, or some marvelous other-worldly contraption or contrivance. Greek poets squabbled over the propriety of using the device to resolve an imminent tragedy. Horace was one of those poetic professors who instructed his students to never resort to a god from a machine to resolve a plot “unless a difficulty worthy of a god’s unraveling should happen.”

Many of our kids have read William Golding’s classic, The Lord of the Flies, which is a literary version of the Deus ex Machina. Golding employs a passing naval officer to show up on a deserted island just in time to rescue a gang of naughty school boys who were annihilating one another.

We have not totally recovered from our habit of using magical thinking to rescue us from our defects, our brokenness, our diseases, our depravity—and especially our addictions. The grease of both literary and theological genius keeps the old “deus ex machina” running smoothly, if not grinding away at our good sense.

How? We keep praying for divine interventions to save us from a messy life. We turn to God as a genie in a bottle. God is not going to inject fossil fuels into the ground so we can burn up still more fuel or scrub the air clean from our carbon dioxide poisoning of the atmosphere. God is not going to jump off a scaffold or spring from a trap door to rescue us from our foibles. We know that.

But we still want it to happen. We hope God will show up to heal us from our diseases. We want God to clean up our messes as a Cosmic Mr. Clean with gleaming pate, toothy smile and muscular physique. And I know as well as you do, only responsible choices, quick wittedness, good common sense, and hard work are going to make the difference in the holy living and work we do on behalf of peace and healing.

The choices we make—moral, amoral or immoral; rational, arational or irrational are up to us. No one will stop us from our stupidity, our gluttony, our lust, our insensitivity and our hostility. No one but us. The devil doesn’t make us practice evil and neglect. And God does not stop it from happening. It’s on us. The Lord may well inspire us—through 1001 ways from David’s psalms to Mozart’s music. But after the reading is over and the concerto is done, we need to do the work.  

During one dark and stormy Tuesday, there was a blackout in our neighborhood. I ran for the shelter of our storage room passageway—a shortcut to an outside stairway. I opened the door to the storage room and the door shut behind me as I entered. Outer darkness. I immediately became disoriented and dizzy. I hugged the wall, slithered alongside of it and proceeded to get lost in a room with which I was familiar! Five minutes of stumbling and groping. Finally, after a moment of sheer panic and a foxhole prayer to boot, I made it. Afterwards, my wife asked if I had thought to use the light from my smart phone to find my way to the door. Answer: “No, I was not smart enough to do that.”

God won’t help us out of a dark place or even the dark night of the soul. But a flashlight will. Thoughtful reflection of how much we matter to God and praying to Him might help us through desperate times. But when we pray, we should pray— not for the deus ex machina to drop down out of the sky but pray for the constancy of God’s presence and voice.

Recovery at Rosecrance is about getting a tool kit and learning the discipline to use the tools. Holiness, the good life, and a good clean earth come about because we are knee deep into doing the work God called us to do. The job we were hired on to do in Eden is still ours to do. We haven’t been fired or retired. It’s on us. Imagine—no more addiction. It takes work.

The Rev. Dr. William Lenters is the Church Relations Coordinator for Rosecrance.