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The latest news and perspective from the Director of Urban Homeworks
I had lofty goals of reading through the “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith. AND, I was forewarned by a scholarly sage from Bethel University to abort mission and go for “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” instead. I shoulda. According to my Kindle reader app on my phone, I’m on page 123 and 34% of the way through… and that’s as far as I’m gunna get. Sorry Adam.
In June, a good friend and member of our board of directors handed me Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital” and said “Schwitters, we gotta get you back into this century…” Message. Received.
Here’s what is emerging for me through some of this stuff: There is a gap between some people’s ability to effect change in their lives and those around them and other people’s ability (this is the working definition of power that I’ve adopted: the ability to effect positive change for myself and my neighbor). There are two primary elements of power: organized people and organized money. How we organize as people (democracy, politics, government, and grassroots) and how we organize our money (from a macro-economic perspective to a micro-economic) may or may not align with what we care about and are trying to positively change.
It seems like (very generally speaking) we’ve confounded the situation by making ‘democracy’ (how we organize as a people) and ‘capitalism” (how we organize our money) synonymous. I have recognized myself and others talking about democracy, but really meaning to address capitalism, and when talking about capitalism really trying to get at democracy.
When I read this through the lens of scripture and especially Luke 12-19, I find myself wondering if we really need to try to examine each of these systems on their own merit instead of all muddled together. The first time I’ve ever seen these two words together was in Piketty’s book: patrimonial capitalism (I admit. I had to look up “patrimonial”). One of the side-effects of patrimonial capitalism is the control it tends to have on a democracy and that influence tends to disproportionally benefit a few and not-so-much benefit the many.
Anyway, I’m thinking that what I would like to work on is liberating our democracy by democratizing our capital. Participating in the Loan Pool and the investing in the mission and work of UHW are stepping stones on this pathway toward the betterness that lies ahead: we all have enough power to effect positive change for ourselves and our neighbors. Come on down to the Depot on 9/16 and join the movement!!!
Can’t make it? We still need you. Together, we can meet and surpass our goal of raising $1,000 representing each family on the waiting list (356 total=$356,000!) Click here and Perpetuate Hope with us again this year!
In just over a month, we will be gathering at The Depot in downtown Minneapolis for a bit of a ‘family reunion’ of sorts. You know how family reunions can be… especially the kind with a pot luck. We all get together from across the many dimensions of our family dynamics to gather around a table filled with a cornucopia of ‘offerings’ knowing that there may be some stuff served that doesn’t grace the pallet as easily as others but confident that there will be something tasty and nourishing for all.
Here’s the deal: To perpetuate the hope of Jesus Christ we have to begin by truly seeing each other. When we see one another, we can’t help but to identify with one another’s experience and reality. When we enter into this identification and awareness we must work towards freedom where there’s bondage and liberation, where there’s captivity and constraint. When we work toward freedom and liberation (spiritual, physical, historical, economic, …) patterns and themes inevitably emerge… and can’t be ignored and remain in authentic relationship.
As clumsy and messy and funky as it is, we are hopefully getting better at grappling with the holy exchange of what happens when we all bring what we have to share. We understand a little better and taste a little more fully what we need to receive. Our hearts continue to break for the 356 households full of mom’s and dad’s, grandpa’s and grandma’s, and girls and boys on a waiting list looking for a place to ‘be home’…. And it is driving us to action.
Our goal this year is $356,000, which represents $1,000 for every household on that forsaken list. $356,000 to fund the ideation, generation, and perpetuation of home for all of us. Help us get rid of that list. PTH 2014.
PS… we have a match this year--- for every new dollar raised, $.50 is matched up to $80,000. Let’s do it.
The dictionary defines it as “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens, or, the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.”
I think “resilience” aptly characterizes how we in the Community Development Community (CDC) approach our work here in the Twin Cities—doggedly pursuing health, strength and wholeness for ALL of us in the pulling, stretching, pressing, and bending tensions of historical, current, and anticipated forces that undermine and exploit the most vulnerable among us: our children and elderly.
I like “grit” too…: “firmness of mind or spirit, unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” Gritty Resilience. I think that pretty much captures what I see in the eyes of my neighbors and friends in my community… and what I pray for the courage to live out. Gritty Resilience is what it takes to develop housing that is dignified and accessible to those of us who are un-housed and under-housed. Gritty Resilience is what it takes to envision a building and/or business into an embedded economic reality. Gritty Resilience is what it takes to challenge, alter, and shape a better and more whole language and narrative that enriches and encourages the humanity and beauty intrinsic every person.
It’s been amazing to look back at the Gritty Resilience our CDC has participated in over the last quarter century in creating more affordable housing, fostering the development of small businesses, and energizing commercial corridors and build upon the accumulated learnings toward even more innovative, compelling, and nimble solutions.
With grit, resilience, and gratitude,
Special note: Jim Roth and the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers, specifically, have been leaders in our community and have passed another year delivering impressive accomplishments. Chad has had the honor of acting as Board Chair and joining them in the incredible work they’ve been doing. Our thanks go to them and to all of our many partners who have made hope-filled progress possible.
To get a better understanding of our mission and how we view housing as a tool to develop community click here.
I just want to start by saying THANK YOU for the creativity and courage in continuing to take bold steps as a community of faith and for including Urban Homeworks as a partner on this part of the journey.
Here’s the deal, ya’ll, after being involved in the mission and ministry of Urban Homeworks for almost 15 years, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that my life has been changed forever…. And, that it is continuing to change and be transformed.
It is because of the amazing, invigorating, intoxicating, exhausting, compelling, fullness and betterness that is being etched into my soul that I am here to do whatever I can to encourage and embolden you to either jump into the deep-end with me, swim a little deeper, or swim alongside and show me the way. --------- I’m here to RECRUIT!
As Paul puts it in Philippians 2:13, “…for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”…
Well, my friends, it is to “will and to work for his good pleasure” that brings us here today.
The collaboration and partnership between Urban Homeworks and Bethlehem Lutheran is to do exactly what Paul is encouraging and commanding us to do. It is to be of “same mind, same love, full accord… to do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit… regard others better than ourselves… looking to the interests of others…
First of all, the “other” needs to be deconstructed where the “those” and the “them” become “we” and “us” when none of us is ‘otherized’. For when I ‘otherize’ I will inevitably tend to ‘marginalize’. Once ‘over there’ through ‘marginalization’, then I ‘lessenize’ you… once I lessenize you, then I tend to ‘demonize’ you… and then, then, it makes it much easier to ‘euthanize’ …either socially, economically, or literally…the demonized-lessenized-marginalized “other.”
And so, step one, is for the “other” to become the sister and the brother. From ‘other-hood’ to ‘sister/brother hood’… from fear and hate and distance, to love and kinship and proximity.
When the other becomes sister/brother, the stuff that threatens to separate and divide becomes more and more visible... and, out of kinship I am now not only compelled but convicted to tear down the walls and to build the bridges because the interests of others becomes my own self-interest.
Let me tell you what I see, from my perspective, as the “interests of others”… that have become my interests and our interests out of proximate, kindred relationships:
I see… 356 households on a waiting list at Urban Homeworks.
I see… People walking by 2 boarded buildings on our block, a 4-plex and a duplex, in order to come into our office to apply for an adequate, dignified home… only to be put on a waiting list so they can turn around and walk by boarded homes with ‘no’ ringing in their ear…
I see… 9,193 households are on a Section 8 waiting list which hasn’t been open since 2007 and when it was open for two days 15,000 people applied.
I see… a wealth gap, home-ownership gap, academic achievement gap, and employment gap that are not equitably distributed but egregiously drawn along racial lines in my neighborhood.
I see us locking up more of our population… our brothers and sisters, than any other nation on earth… by far… we imprison more of us than Russia, Cuba, 3x more than Iran, 7x more than Iraq, 9x more than Germany, and 10x more than Norway… and, we don’t rehabilitate, we warehouse… AND, who we warehouse is egregiously drawn along racial lines in my neighborhood and in our country.
I see…The income and wealth distribution in our society is wider and more lopsided than any other nation on the face of the planet, except for Chili, Mexico, and Turkey.
I see… our challenges persisting not because communities are “resource poor”… but because of an uncreative, disconnected, indifferent and fearful case of affluenza… affluenza defined as: "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."
When I see my kin, my brothers and sisters suffer from the despair within every disparity and I do nothing… I can honestly say that “we,” as a community… and dare I say, generally as a community of faith are NOT of “same mind, same love, full accord… We ARE doing things out of selfish ambition or conceit… We ARE regarding ourselves better than others… We are looking out only for our own interests…”
If the plight of my sister and brother does not trigger a moral, ethical, economic, and theological crisis within me, then I am not “willing and working for God’s good pleasure”… we are certainly willing and working for someone’s good pleasure but it is not God’s.
But let that not be said of today. And, let that not be said of THIS community of Faith, on THIS corner of THIS city.
For today we are here because the work that God is doing within us is welling up to overflowing and we can’t help but “will and work for God’s good pleasure… “
About 6 years ago, Randy sold his company and called me and said that he wanted to get involved. He had a lot of great ideas about how to ‘fix’ the problems and just wanted to jump in and learn.
He started by volunteering with the Quicksilver crew, which is a group of people, generally men, who come every Tuesday and Thursday, have breakfast at Milda’s, harass one another, and then spend the day on an Urban Homeworks project.
Another one of the consistent volunteers with the Quicksilvers is Kurt, a man who has had persistent challenges staying housed. For over a year he was sleeping under a bridge and yet came and volunteered on Tuesdays.
Randy called me after about three months with some urgency in his voice and wanted to get together. He said “I don’t really know what to do, but I have to do something. Here I am, with way more than I need and I have breakfast every Tuesday with Kurt who is homeless… it’s wrecking me, I have to do something!”
Since then, Randy and his family has invested over $500,000 of their own money to help provide the resources to buy, rehab, build, and manage homes for people like Kurt.
The “other” became a “brother,” proximity profoundly altered perspective, the walls “came a tumbl’n down,” the gulfs were bridged because ‘God is at work within us’.
The Prophet Isaiah described the “will and work” like this:
"What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families….
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again."
I am really excited about this partnership. I get really excited when we, as people of faith engage our heads and our hearts, our time and our treasure, and we dream up, scheme up, and live into alternative expressions of Kingdom-community that is fueled by the high-octane hope of Jesus welling up within us and we get the chance… we GET the chance… to “glow in the darkness,” to “bathe in the sunlight”… and to make community livable again… Thank you, Bethlehem Lutheran, Thank you!
Old English notion of “Holy”: healthy, entire, complete, uninjured.
“The holy mix.” An often repeated phrase by Reverend Cowmeadow when reflecting on the compelling, confounding, convergence of what life serves up in relationships and situations.
As we look back upon 2013, it was a “holy mix” indeed. From the 355 families in safe, dignified homes made available (for rental and ownership); the $8.1M dollars invested in redevelopment—86% of the construction & property management dollars going to individuals and business that are local, owned by women, and/or owned by people of color; to the 120 trainees, 1,012 volunteers, 47 Urban Neighbors; and the 806 households supporting us from across the country, 15,423 people on the email, mailing, and social media lists that participate in, and mutually benefit from all the above… 2013 was a holy mix… indeed.
Each ingredient of the mix infuses flavor and life into the others, everything has something to give and something to receive (ANOTHER Cowmeadow quote). Thank you for throwing yourself in, for catalyzing change and being changed, drawing closer to the health, wholeness, and completeness we all aspire toward… a “the holy mix.”
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