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The Astonishing Decline of Homelessness in America

… and why this quiet trend is about to reverse itself

In the next few years, as Washington looks to cut spending across the board, the public’s aversion to homelessness could contribute to its return. We have seen that some constituents have successfully lobbied to overturn some parts of the sequester, such as the FAA cuts. But the homeless population has notoriously low voter turnout, and certainly has little money to spare for campaign contributions. They are unlikely to have much power in an age of austerity and there seems to be little recognition or reward to be gained for politicians by serving the homeless.

As quietly as homelessness has fallen, so too it will go up quietly – unless there is major intervention. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that sequestration cuts from homelessness programs are set to expel 100,000 people from a range of housing and shelter programs this year. That’s nearly one sixth of the current total homeless population. Far from gently raising the homeless rate, it would undo a full decade of progress.

Losing My Religion

A lot of you have asked why I have stopped posting about items of faith and Christianity here and the reason is pretty complex.  First of all after reading around 5 books a week for 15 years or so, I no longer have the time or the desire to read that much.  Much of that reading was theological or about church life and what has been said on the topic for me has been said.  I still get probably 100 books a year to review and most of them are just rehashing what has been said and said and said again.  On the occasional time when I can force myself to enter into Scott’s Parable, I see the same book, just written by different authors.  I know I am taking some shots at some friends here but it seems like a lot more reflection and a lot less publishing may help everyone.

It goes for me as well, if I don’t have anything to say, I am not going to log in and write anything.  To paraphrase a good friend of mine who used to joke, “If you want a better sermon, get Max Lucado to write better books”, so in other words, if you want a better blog, write better stuff for me to link to.

The more serious reason is that I struggle with the distance between neighborhood/community and the church.  I have read and heard pastors say that they need to vision cast (what a geeky and churchy phrase) or sell their church on the idea that they need to be a part of their community.  This is a phrase I have heard for years but I never realized how strange it was that the church had stopped being part of the community.  Now of course with more and more churches wanting more real estate, they are literally moving outside of their cities and towns so they can create more programs that compete with and pull people away from the communities they are apart of.  The fact that we have to “vision cast”, sell, manipulate, or coerce our congregations to be part of the community, in fact, we had to come up with new church growth terminology to describe what should be our natural reaction as human beings… (I’m missional, your missional, we are all missional) that is our responsibility to make our local communities a better place for everyone to live in. 

Years ago I listened to a series of podcasts by Todd Hunter and Dallas Willard in which Hunter talked about one of the metrics his church used was how far people were travelling to get to his church without realizing the impact it had on local communities.  While that may represent one extreme of the equation, it was quite similar to what we experience as a family in finding a church in Saskatoon.   There is a pull to be a part of the church community, which church leaders tend of think of as a true or at least superior community which puts us in tension with my commitments to other things that are going on in my geographic community.  While I agree there is a need for involvement in the church, our local communities the need is often just as pressing.  So I have kids clubs that interfere with Mark taking karate, small groups that only work for people who work 8-5 (and definitely not for those who like Wendy and I who are work from 7:00 a.m. when I go to work to 10:45 p.m. when Wendy walks in the door from work).   I have prostitutes on my street, a brothel on my block, guys grinding drugs across from the local elementary school, the Terror Squad working out a local restaurant and bar and I keep hearing that my number one priority needs to be a small group in a church.

I follow some pastors and church leaders on Twitter and I realized it’s a giant irrelevant echo chamber where the tweets and retweets reinforce what they believe.  I haven’t lost my faith in Christianity, I am just in doubt that the church is an accurate representation of what it represents anymore.  I was in a room of pastors earlier this year and they were still talking about media in worship, ancient future song writing, and all sorts of peripheral things about church life with great interest and not one of them mentioned life in their community.  A friend of mine sent me a sermon the other day on YouTube to check out as it would cure what ailed my soul.  The stage looked like it was stolen from David Letterman and I am pretty sure it was meant to be a copy and after watching the sermon, I realized that he was speaking in the same style that Vince does while pitching Slap Chops.  Sadly not only did I used to speak like that in public but so do so many other pastors I know.  I realized while watching this that the church had become a parody of itself.  The Emperor has no clothes.

I realized that I no longer see most churches any differently than Kiwanas or another service club but this one has higher fixed costs.  Are all churches like this?  I don’t think so.  One of the great experiences I have had in life was spending a bit of time with Dave Blondel and the Third Space.   Both Wendy and I have said that we would be quite comfortable attending a church lead by my friends, Scott Williams, Randall Friesen, Pernell Goodyear, Kim Reid or Darryl Dash but those kinds of churches and those kinds of pastors aren’t that easy to find.  The problem for me is when I see the kind of church that is engaged in creative ways in it’s community, it’s awfully hard to go back.  When I was down in Maple Creek, I did some pastoral work with people.  We literally put on some orange Salvation Army vests, went from flood ravaged house to flood ravaged house and chatted with flood victims.  Everyone in that community knew the Salvation Army Corps officers, Captain Ed and Charlotte.  Every last person.  When he was in Saskatoon, he was everywhere in the community as well.  If he can do it, so can other churches and their leaders.  If Wendy, myself, my staff, and a bunch of volunteers can work amongst Saskatoon’s poorest, so can everyone.  What we do isn’t brain surgery (umm, except for my staff, you are all brilliant… underpaid but brilliant) but a compassionate response to the community around us.   Instead I find churches that are isolated and focused on themselves.  Too many times over the last couple of years to hear a sermon on parenting, the need for leadership, church growth or again, church growth.  Did I mention I hear a lot of sermons on the need for church growth.  Sadly I am not alone.  A good friend of mine recently left his long time church and said, “I’ve learned all I need to learn from the pulpit on the need for church growth”.  It’s like the church has lot’s it’s reason for existence and is just looking at how to keep paying the bills.  Yet sadly in a lot of communities, the need for the church and it’s redemptive message has never been greater.

The other thing is that while I hate the overuse of the concept of “a dark night of the soul”, it has been an extremely lonely time spiritually for me.  God was extremely distant and I don’t really have a lot of people to talk to about this stuff.  The praxis of my spiritual life was solid but there was no connection.  After exhausting my traditional options, I sought out a Roman Catholic spiritual advisor who I spent a lot of time talking with.  He was the one who said, “It’s not a dark night of the soul, it’s a wounded soul that I was dealing with.”  A co-worker once said to me, “We aren’t normal.  We are so desensitized by what we see sometimes, we aren’t bothered by what should bother us.”  I thought about it a lot and realized that my job had changed me deeply and for the worse and I wasn’t equipped for what that has done to me.  As an INTJ, I am already an underdeveloped feeler which at times makes it hard to fully understand what I am feeling.  Looking at life from a rather cold and analytical mind has it’s advantages but it always makes it hard to look at life when the problem isn’t a rational one and as any of the staff that I work with will say, rational behavior can often be in short supply with what we see some days.  Toss in that the amount of violence and death we have seen this summer, it has taken a toll.  It seems like every murder and suspicious death in the city has been connected to someone I know and it’s hard.  The first thing I am doing in the morning is dealing with another one.  Jaded or not, it has had an impact and those add up a little bit.

As my spiritual advisor and I have talked, I shared that when God reveals himself to me, often I feel He was disappointed in me.  I have long that was my biases, insecurities, and self worth issues coming out.  I have come to seriously wonder if maybe God was quite disappointed in me and the reason for the silence, or just lack of disappointment is that maybe He isn’t anymore.

My evangelical friends don’t really get what I see.  It actually upsets many of them when I tell them what I am seeing.  I was talking to one friend about the fact that there are 600 known prostitutes in the city (of course they move from city to city to city) and he was totally freaked out.  Our conversation ended with, “I am glad our church isn’t on the west side, I couldn’t deal with this".  Yet I talk with some of them all of the time.  They are working tonight two blocks down from where I am writing this.  Addicted to drugs, sexual abuse survivors, acquired brain injuries.   They aren’t abstract numbers but real girls with real stories and real families but the church ignores it.  They also ignore the fact that many of their congregants are the ones that are paying these girls to get them off.  While my faith seems as strong as always, I am no longer interested in a religion that is disconnected from the community it is a part of. 

I know there are reasons for that, Lyle Schaller will tell us that the idea of the neighborhood church died with the rise of the car and cheap fuel but at the same time when I hear that people are living in over crowded slum suites because of sky high rents, there are 600 known prostitutes in the city and the vast majority of them are being trafficked, gangs are taking an toll on our kids, and some local elementary schools have had to cut back to 30 minute lunch breaks to stop elementary school girls from working the street on lunch breaks… doesn’t this call people to do something other than giving away some free clothes and serve soup once in a while?  If young grade seven and eight girls losing their virginity to STD carrying john’s doesn’t call us to drastic action, what will?

Over fifteen years ago, columnist Paul Jackson wrote in The Star Phoenix that the church had abandoned it’s role of social services provider – taking care of widows and orphans – to the government during the 1960s and 70s.  As the economies in North America struggled to pay for their new obligations, Jackson felt the church needed to step up again.  It hasn’t happened yet.  In fact most trends show churches walking more and more away from those difficult tasks and instead continuing to move to younger and younger suburban neighborhoods and therefore away from the problems.  It may be great church growth doctrine but what about the neighborhood and that you left behind.  The east side of Saskatoon has twice as many churches per person than then west side does.  Guess which side of the city has the higher concentration of wealth and guess which side has the core neighborhoods in it.  I’ll let you figure it out.

The Canadian Response to the Haiti Earthquake

Update: Jason Kenney has announced the Government of Canada is expediting the process for kids who are in the adoption process.  At the same time I am hearing that this is the same thing he said a couple of days ago and he didn’t announce any details which as you can imagine, is frustrating adoptive parents considerably.  You can read the transcript of Minister Kenney’s speech here.

The CBC National is covering the issue in depth tonight.

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Some friends of mine are in the process of adopting twins out of Haiti.  Jackie works across the hallway from me and I heard her shouts of joy and shock when the e-mail came to her that her and her husband Greg would be able to adopt twins.  It was a mixture of joy and that same freaked out feeling that all of us get when we realize we are about to become parent.  They had been approved by the Province of Saskatchewan and the Government of Canada but the adoption on the Haiti side of things would take a couple of years.

Around here we made plans to decorate their nursery for them (an offer they never took us up on), I lobbied Jackie to change their names to Walker and Texas Ranger, and a day has not gone by where I have overheard some excited comments about the boys, warnings about what it means to raise two teenage boys, and a general excitement for what this will mean in their lives.

When the earthquake in Haiti hit, all of us were sick and sick until we heard from Jackie that the boys were okay.  All of us breathed a sigh of relief when we heard the orphanage they were in withstood the quake and all of the kids were okay.  Within hours though we heard how important it was to get the kids out of Haiti and into custody of their adoptive parents because the resources and space the kids in the adoption process were taking up, was desperately needed by other kids.  Within a day or so, the Haitian President released the kids and allowed them to be taken home.

While the rest of the western world arranged for planes to pick up planes and bring them to their new homes, France and Canada have been dragging their feet.  Yesterday on Saskatoon’s News Talk Radio, the Hon. Jason Kenney was saying that it was just a rumor that other nations were allowing Haitian orphans in the adoption process to come home despite the images of planes flying home with children in the adoption process.  While the rest of the world is acknowledging that the Haitian government and basic infrastructure has disappeared, Minister Kenney was making statements about reviewing each case on a case by case basis and blaming part of the delay on the damaged Canadian embassy in Haiti.  In that he is right, the Canadian embassy is damaged and doesn’t have much capacity.  The same for other nations.  That is why they are loosening up the rules for kids from Haiti who have adoptive parents to go to.

popupThe United States has also loosened visa requirements and one of those planes that was just a rumor is on the front of the New York Times homepage today and children have been connected with their new parents yesterday.

A group of 53 Haitian orphans landed in Pittsburgh on Tuesday morning, the first wave to arrive after the United States loosened its policy on visa requirements to expedite Americans’ adoptions of parentless children living in the post-earthquake ruins.

This isn’t just an issue of truth and spin in politics.  Last night Jackie e-mailed me with these photos.

A photo of Wilson taken on January 19th, 2010 A photo of Wilson, taken on January 19th, 2010 His name is Texas Ranger, err Wilson, and he is one of the twins.  He is on intravenous and by the oxygen mask, you know he is having trouble breathing.

I don’t know if he is going to make it, no one does but I do know there is a good family in Saskatoon who can’t take him home or be with him right now because for some reason, Canada is afraid of taking in adopted kids whose adoptions they have already approved.  The President of Haiti, has given the okay for kids to leave the country and WestJet has offered to fly down and pick up the kids.  All that is left is permission from the Department of Immigration.  Canada has a proud legislative history of cabinet ministers getting personally involved in cases like this and making bold decisions and I hope that the Hon. Jason Kenney will continue that tradition by allowing these children to come to their new homes.  Not only may it make a difference in Wilson’s life but the space and resources he is taking up is desperately needed to help other children.

These kids need your help.  Please e-mail and call your local MP, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Jason Kenney’s cabinet office in Ottawa and constituency office in Calgary and post a link to your weblog, Twitter, or Facebook and keep the pressure on. So often tragedies like this are so overwhelming that they lose a face.  Well, this one has a face, a twin brother, a family.  He also has a shortage of food, water, and medical supplies.  He doesn’t need to die in Haiti.  There is a family, a way to Saskatoon, and the resources to bring him into this “community of communities” we call Canada, all we need now is the political will to make a quick decision that will save lives.  Help Wilson with that.

Update on Darren

Wendy, Mark and I went to Royal University Hospital to visit Darren tonight.  He is doing as well as one would expect after having his heart stopped for several hours but he was in good spirits and we had a short visit, dance (the famous straw stirring the drink) and prayer together.  They send him home on Friday but it will be a while until he is back to normal.  Thanks for everyone who has been praying. 

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Darren is doing fine

For the next little while Jordon has midnight to eight a.m. shifts at the Salvation Army. So if something important comes up I get to hack his blog.

Our good friend Darren Friesen has open heart surgery this morning. It lasted four hours and was done to see if they could fix one of his valves. It was too badly damaged to repair (which is preferable) so they had to replace it. Darren’s wife Sherryl is keeping me up to date. She did say that the surgery went well and that she will get to see him shortly.

8:00 Update: I just talked to Sherryl and she said that he is off his breathing tube, is at RUH, and continues to improve.  She said that when Darren woke up, he was disappointed that Jordon wasn’t there (weird in itself) and apparently was supposed to be dancing.  Jordon and I plan to go up and visit him tomorrow evening and Jordon said he will be dancing.

Wendy

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Prayer for Darren

Over the years Darren has had to take a lot of abuse being a co-worker and friend of mine. It kind of falls into the category of “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” category. We worked together at Lakeview and now he is the Saskatoon Community Chaplain and he works with some of the guys that are a part of the half-way house that I work at. He is also a partner in crime in the Church of the Exiles and I have hugged him more than any other man in the world (which is unnerving to us both)

Darren is having open heart surgery on Monday and we would all appreciate your prayers for him and the family over the next couple of weeks. Darren asked me if I would post some updates on my blog since he will be a state of mind sponsored by morphine (TM) for a while after the surgery and I will do what I can.

Pocket Edition of the Divine Hours

I don’t how many of you use Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours but I carry one around with me to work and home every day which is no small task (it’s a large book).  This bit of good news arrived in my inbox today and while I don’t generally post press releases, this one made me happy.

This past month, Oxford University Press has published The Divine Hours™ Pocket Edition by Phyllis Tickle.

From the Introduction:

“It is important to remember, as pastors frequently remind us, that it is not the prayers we do not say, but rather those we do say, that matter to God.”

When Phyllis Tickle’s marvelous devotional trilogy The Divine Hours™ appeared, readers responded with gratitude, praise, and a great many requests for an edition of hourly prayers that they could easily carry with them—an edition that would make this ancient form of Christian worship compatible with the pace and mobility of modern life. Now, in The Divine Hours Pocket Edition,™ Tickle has gathered one full week of fixed-hour prayers, providing an ideal companion for travelers, office-workers, people on retreat or pilgrimage, as well as newcomers to this age-old spiritual practice. As Tickle writes in her introduction, “prayer is always a place as well as an action, and the daily offices are like small chapels or wayside stations within the day’s courses.” For all those who want to carry a “small chapel” of prayers with them, The Divine Hours Pocket Edition™ offers a convenient, easy-to-use, and deeply spiritual guide to a devotional practice that extends all the way back to Christ and the twelve Apostles.

Here is it is on Amazon.com