Monthly Archives: April 2010

National Guard in Chicago?

In the month since SCUPE announced the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry, violence in the form of homicide has increased in Chicago (home to the upcoming Congress).  A little over a week ago Chicago saw 7 deaths and 18 wounded in one night – predominantly by gunfire.  Outbreaks of violence have raised the profile of the issue across the nation, especially in light of two Illinois State Representatives (John Fritchey and LaShawn Ford) making a public plea for Governor Pat Quinn to call in the National Guard to cap the violence.  The proposed solution, which isn’t expected to gain much traction with average citizens or government officials, reveals an inability to engage the epidemic of urban violence on anything but a surface level.

As SCUPE continues planning and organizing for March 1 – 4 of next year, we are mindful of the vital potential of this gathering.  The theme for the 2011 Congress will be “Peacemaking in a Culture of Violence” and it will seek to address the violence flaring up in our society from a Christian perspective.  We believe that the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry will be one of the most important in the 30 plus year history of the Congress, for rarely has the focus of a Congress aligned so drastically with a pertinent and urgent need in our society.

We cannot effectively respond to the violence in our homes and in our streets if we do not respond to the violence in our culture.  By engaging with both the tragic instances of violence and the interconnected systems that promote and sustain this violence, we will expand our vision for action and the effectiveness of our response as Christians.

As Christians we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks directly to the violence in our lives and in our culture, and that this gathering can be serve both as a refocusing and a re-dedication towards this pressing, radical, and beautiful gospel message.

“So far this year there have been 113 murders reported homicides, according to Chicago police statistics.  During that same period New York has had 139 murders and Los Angeles recorded 199, although both cities have larger populations.  The number of casualties Chicago has so far this year is only slightly higher than last year at this time, 109, and less than the 134 for the first four months of 2008.”[1]


[1] http://abcnews.go.com/US/illinois-lawmakers-request-national-guard-stop-crime/story?id=10478710


Evangelism and Community Development

Roger Johnson

I started out as a youth worker in Chicago’s Humboldt Park in 1973, so I’ve been in urban ministry for a long time. I’ve seen God do some great things during those years, but I’ve also seen too much tension between urban ministers who’ve worked for community development (social & racial justice, full employment, good housing, quality education) and urban ministers whose primary concern has been evangelism (preaching & proclaiming the gospel, teaching God’s word, reaching people with Jesus’ salvation and starting new churches).

I’m now 58 years of age (wow!), and it’s occurring to me that community development and evangelism actually inform and resource each other a lot more than they stand in competition for urban energy, time and dollars. They’re really partner ministries and with complementary skill sets. Let me explain.

Both community development and urban evangelism seem to work best at grassroots levels. Urban leaders serve most effectively as they talk and minister directly to their neighbors, friends, relatives, and people on the edges of community groups, churches, block clubs and service agencies. A good community developer is a busy person who knows lots of people and is constantly calling, visiting, and listening to their needs. A good urban evangelist is is also a busy person with lots of people contacts and is also actively listening to people’s needs. Even when you have important news for people’s lives, you still have to hear their questions and stories first!

Community developers and evangelists both work best when they care for and love the people they’re serving. Each worker may have a strong understanding of their own goals, strategies and tactics; but without some compassion for the people they work with, very little gets accomplished.

It also seems to me that both the community developer and the urban evangelist must have a sense of the large transcendent values if they are to succeed in their work — especially through discouragements that will inevitably occur. The community developer must know that the temporary victories and defeats in their work are laying the foundation for better lives (social, economic, spiritual) for families and individuals. By the same token, the urban evangelist must also have a larger confidence that God is taking the good news they proclaim and using it to build a strong footing in the hearts and minds of people.

Community developers and evangelists are active, people-focused, caring and transcendent urban servants. Both are high-impact and centered upon change in people’s lives. As the community developer and urban evangelist continue to work for change, they complement, teach and even transform each other.

– Roger Johnson

79th Street Festival


Insurrection

Peter Rollins

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to be one of about a hundred people crammed into the upper room (how biblical) of Trace pub here in Chicago for an evening of poetry, song, dj-ism, philosophy, and some of the most courageous and dis-lodging theology I have recently encountered.  The evening, promoted as a “provocative cocktail of incendiary theology, haunting soundscapes and musical lament”, did not disappoint.  Poet/singer songwriter Pádraig Ô Tuama held court with his arresting verbal imagery and “sad stories and sadder songs but with funny stories in between” while artist/DJ Jonny McEwen provided a musical backdrop that held the evening together like a liturgy.

The real draw for me, and most of us there I suppose, was the esteemed and inspiring Peter Rollins.  Peter has any number of things going for him.  First off, Peter is a master story teller.  He weaves narrative a parables (like those in his most recent book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales) that are effortlessly compelling and, more importantly, impel the listener to paradigm shifts that lead to action.

The second thing Peter has going for him is that he is much smarter than you or and I.  He has a wide and deep understanding of the philosophical and theological conversations that have been going on for centuries and well as a willingness to infuse our current context into the discussion.  Pair this with a wicked adeptness for communication complex ideas with ease and you end up with a situation not unlike someone accurately explaining to you in 30 seconds a ten minute conversation you’ve overheard in a foreign language you don’t speak (like this scene from Lost in Translation).  Long-winded analogies aside: you will like what you hear from Peter, you will be challenged by what you hear from Peter, you will be changed by what you hear from Peter.

The last thing Peter has going for him is that he speaks with the most intriguing and beautiful Irish brogue.  It is so pleasant to the ear that I’d probably listen to a recording of him snoring just so long as the accent came through.

Peter Rollins at Trace Pub - Insurrection 2010

There isn’t enough space here to give this Insurrection experience its fair dues.  Primarily, this is because the evening itself was fashioned like a communal parable.  It provoked, inspired, confused, empowered, and moved those of us in that room precisely with its undefined edges and opaque core.  In a way that church seldom even approaches these three liturgical rabble-rousers allowed the mystery of the divine and the resurrection the breathe into the room instead of merely stopping short at trying to explain or classify.  It really was an upper room experience.

Instead of trying to force this mystery into words, allow me to post a few audio moments from the evening so you can experience it yourself.

Audio from the abbreviated NYC Insurrection here.

Insurrection review article: ‘In an Upper Room’ by Devin Bustin


Urban Den-City

Earlier this week I received an e-mail from a pastor in Cagayan de Oro city in the Philippines.  I have to admit that I looked it up on the map.  As my geography skills probably hover just around average for Americans (as 2006 study reported that 63 percent of young Americans were unable to find Iraq on a map… as evidenced in this video) I was surprised to learn how big Cagayan de Oro is for a city I had never heard of.  The 2007 census estimated the population at 553,996 people.  By our own 2007 estimates, this would put the city at about the same size as Portland, OR.

World Population Density By Country

This e-mail from a potential Congress 2011 attendee got me thinking though about how different urban areas are globally.  The most obvious example of this is population density.  I tend to think of Chicago as an incredibly densely populated area but in reality, it doesn’t even crack the top 125 on this list of the most densely populated cities in the world.  In fact, it takes up until #90 for Los Angeles, the most densely populates U.S. city, to even factor in.  That being said, I think I am ready to learn more about cities on a global scale.  How does population density affect oil consumption?  How do architecture and public space affect crime and civic engagement?  How do culture and faith affect a people’s ability to live together peacefully?

Petrol Use by Urban Density

This process of connecting with one of our global partners has been a reminder that people experience immensely different realities depending on their specific contexts.  While we need to be rooted in our immediate communities we also need to be connected to global communities.  Increasingly, we are learning that we are more connected that we could have ever imagined.

Want to learn more about some of the most densely populated cities in the world?  Here is a brief slideshow compiled by Forbes.