Category Archives: Paradigm Shift

The Soul of the City

Walking Pace and the Soul of the CityDid you know that you can use the walking pace of an average city dweller [number of footsteps per unit of time] to determine how many libraries that specific city has?

How about the amount of crime?

The average wage?

The number of colleges?

The population?


Well, at least with a reasonable degree of error.  How reasonable?  Quite!

Jad Abumrad RadiolabIn a recent podcast from New York public radio’s Radiolab, co-hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich aim the powers of science towards that perennial question: what gives cities their unique feel?  Many of us have had the experience of being in a city and sensing a distinct identity or personality from the city itself.  Is the personality of a city something which we imagine or, to use a science term, are there specific elements in an urban environment which create a unique city DNA?

Surprisingly, even though science is not incredibly well equipped to examine things like culture, history, ethnology, social mores and customs, there are data-based judgments that scientists can make about a city from something simple and quantitative like walking speed, that speaks novels about the city in question.

Needless to say, footsteps per unit of time and other telling data all ride shotgun to one, most important, type of data and… it’s so simple it’s almost criminal: population.  No, not population density or population demographics but… just population.   These “specificities, [like] the local history, are in large part insignificant… they are completely overwhelmed by these generic laws of urban scaling”.

I am tempted to say more but, really, this should be listened to.

So, strap yourself in and enjoy an hour of science and the city that can only be explained as fun and full of holy wonder.

Listen to the Cities episode here at

The World Goes Urban… Ministry?

Urbanization of the WorldSocial scientist and demographers have identified May 23, 2007 as the transition date when the world urban population finally went over the 50 percent mark.  It took a long time to happen but in reality urbanization is a rather recent and rapid phenomenon.  In the past 107 years the world’s urban population leapt from 13 percent to 50 percent.  It is projected that by 2020 we will have five hundred cities with more than a million people.  We already have at least a dozen cities with over ten million populations.

Urbanization, however, is much more than population density.  It has to do with distinct forms of human relationship, communication, interconnection, and complex patterns of cultural, economic, political, and social life that transcend the close knit patterns of smaller communities.

Church and the CityThe church, however, is frequently not well equipped to respond to the challenge of urbanization.  Models of the church and of ministry, more often than not, reflect a rural or agrarian understanding of society.  If the church lags in its awareness of and response to the challenges and opportunities of urban life, it may be because seminaries and divinity schools are delinquent in preparing pastoral leadership for urban congregations.  According to a recent study done by Robert Kemper, only one third of all accredited seminaries offer even one course related to ministry in an urban society.

This is one of the gaps we see SCUPE filling.  As you equip yourself for ministry an urban world consider how SCUPE could be a resource to you.  SCUPE offers a variety of high quality courses for graduate and undergraduate students interested in urban ministry, African-American and Latin@ theological perspectives, social justice & community development.

More importantly, SCUPE provides the opportunity for you to use the city of Chicago as a ministry learning context.  This means connecting with some of the most innovative urban ministry practitioners, getting behind-the-scenes insight into the accomplishments and struggles of their ministries, and learning to listen to the city and community through a biblical lens that is both prophetic and imaginative.

Consider becoming involved though:

– our 2011 conference: the Congress on Urban Ministry

– our academic programs: various classes open to seminary students and lay learners

– our summer or semester long urban ministry internship opportunities for seminary students.

– Carol Ann McGibbon

Peacemaking Insight #2 – James A. Forbes

A special invitation from Rev. Forbes as he sums up the Congress and how it will play a role in the path of peace:


– Pastor Emeritus from the Riverside Church in New York and President and Founder of the Healing of the Nations Foundation James A. Forbes

Correction: the Congress dates are March 1-4, 2011

Peacemaking Insight #1 – Dave Frenchak

At the last meeting of the National Planning Committee we had the chance to talk individually with a few of the wonderful minds gathered around that table.  While these videos offer just a slice of the wisdom and experience being leveled at these meetings towards moving us away from a culture of violence through peacemaking, they pack quite a punch.

Dave Frenchak speaks in this video about the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry and the tools and equipping that the gathering will provide to those whose ministries will actively create peace.

Dave Frenchak - Peacemaking Insight I

Dave Frenchak - Peacemaking Insight I

“My best hope is that this event is going to be a disruptive event.  That we will be able, through this event, to disrupt the routines in the culture that cause violence… That we will be able to disrupt the roles that different people play in this culture of violence… the roles that we ourselves play, unwittingly, that promotes a culture of violence… And that we will be able to disrupt the rules, both spoken and unspoken, known and unknown, that all of us obey which actually feed the culture of violence.

So that we can begin thinking out of a different framework: not a culture of violence but a culture of making peace.”

Social Justice and Community Development

A partnership between SCUPE and Loyola University
combines Social Justice and Community Development
into one graduate level program (MASJCD).  Susan Rans writes
about how SJ and CD are not unusual bedfellows.

Dr. Mary Nelson' s Restoring Urban Communities Course

Many current and incoming students have asked for a description of the differences between the Social Justice and Community Development tracks of the MASJCD.  In the past, I have answered this question in a kind of shorthand:

Social Justice ‘thinks globally”; Community Development “acts locally”.  Here, I will attempt to put more meat on those bones.

The biggest idea behind the creation of the MASJCD was to join the theoretical and theological study of social justice to a place-based practice and policy approach to change in urban communities.  While the study of social justice leads toward action, the study of community development provides effective and proven tools for action.  So, another formulation might be that the study of social justice reveals why we must act and the study of community development shows what we can do.

It can also be said that community development is a form of social justice.  Our religious traditions speak clearly about the injustices of poverty, of war and of oppression of the powerless.  Answering this call often leads students to involvement in justice issues like eliminating poverty and hunger, ending wars, empowering women or welcoming immigrants.  Community development–building strong and liberating communities in which the economy is available to all, in which every member is a valued contributor, and in which access to health care, education and secure housing is a mandate–fulfills the social justice vision.

Community development also concerns itself with systems—their analysis and the ways in which they must change to become equitable and sustainable.  Understanding housing policy and the details of housing production are essential to changing the housing system.  Knowing the economics and politics of food production is necessary to work to provide local communities with access to healthy food.  As one Chicago community developer often says, “We need to discover ways to make big systems work for small places.”  Studying community development leads to that discovery.

In the end, an argument can be made that significant knowledge of both areas is essential to real and lasting change, and that’s why there is an MASJCD.  And toward that end, we do not require students to declare a track until one full-time semester has passed (one year for part-time students).  And we highly recommend that students take courses in both tracks early in their studies and even after they have chosen a track—a sort of major/minor arrangement.  The best mix of theory and practice, of global issues and local systems will produce to the best agents of social change—the goal of our program.

For more info and discussion of the program, feel free to contact me.

-Susan Rans
MASJCD Graduate Program Director

Collaborative Planning and the Body of Christ

National Planning Committee

A Meeting of the 2011 National Planning Committee

Can Christians work together in a truly equitable and collaborative manner across boundaries like denomination, race, gender, geography, political and theological viewpoints?  If asked before becoming involved with the planning for the Congress on Urban Ministry I would have easily replied: not likely.  Not only is our culture becoming more polarized but we also seem less and less able to engage in reasoned, open dialogue.  Maybe it is our stunted ability to truly listen or perhaps a reflexive tendency to see the world in black & white but whatever the cause, our ability to reconcile differences, to understand differing viewpoints, and to compromise seems under real threat.  Need evidence?  Watch five minutes of a panel “discussing” an issue on the nightly news.

What is stunning then is that dialogue and listening and compromise and mutual understanding do still happen.  Overall, my acclimatization to working at SCUPE has been minor as they come from a similar prophetic, justice orientated, contextual, and thus, open paradigm.  One significant place where I have been challenged is to see that a part of  being truly open is creating space for the other.  Collaboration, partnership, and conspiring (literally breathing together) become possible only when our stance of being open to the other is authentic… and authentic openness means that we must purposefully be closed ourselves (usually this involves closing, specifically, the mouth).

The rewards of this process are numerous.  As someone who would rather conspire only with those of a similar mind I have come to see how this can in fact be limiting.  Having a diversity of perspectives, emphasis-es, and experiences at the planning table for the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry has meant that we have been taken to unexpected places and found unexpected connections between concepts, paradigms, and practices which we initially considered disparate.

In another sense, this model of planning is essential because it directs the focus and agenda of a church, denomination, or, in this case SCUPE upon a wealth of needs and assets.  Is there a better way to understand the city than as collections of communities that contain both needs and assets?  If a gathering is to step away from the top-down, expert-driven, conference mentality it must allow for the a variety and diversity of voices to be heard.  As we plan for the 2011 Congress I am proud to become a part of a 30-plus year tradition of striving across differences towards the Kingdom of God.

They city is an astounding place of differences rubbing elbows, quite literally, in confined areas.  In a globalizing world in which the world is both getting incredibly small and, most theorists argue, increasingly localized: How would urban ministry be different if we saw our mission in the city as one of creating open spaces where different people groups and ideologies and expressions of life could come together?  What if urban ministers saw their charge as being radically open to the other?  What if we took seriously Paul’s words that the church now is the body of Christ and that this body knows no divisions or boundaries?  I’d like to think that the sort of “getting along” this might inspire might not be just for the kindergarten playground…

Congress Podcast

Episode two of the SCUPE Congress podcast is up for your listening pleasure!

SCUPE Congress Podcast – Jim Perkinson – Art & Faith in a Culture of Violence

We’re extremely excited about this audio exploration as it is as specific as it is far-reaching.  Listen in as we grab the intellectual coat-tails of poet-theologian Jim Perkinson and hang on for dear life.  Ah, the places we’ll go!  The result is a illuminating romp through the often unmapped, but intricately woven, terrain of art and faith… of culture and religion… of spirituality and materiality.

Jim Perkinson

Art & Faith in a Culture of Violence.

In this episode we celebrate the potency of art in a culture of violence and the peacemaking possibilities of faith as we talk with poet-theologian and author of White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity, Jim Perkinson.  We hear spoken word poetry from Jim and a number of other contemporary luminaries including Saul Williams, Billy Collins, and Quincy Troupe.

You can visit the SCUPE podcast library for descriptions and downloadable audio of past podcasts.

Next month we’ll hear from SCUPE President and founding director Dave Frenchak on imagination, prophetic preaching, and the role of hope in theology and the life of the community.