BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kiva founder, Jessica Jackley, on TED

Shortly after my post on  poverty's affect on health care access, TED talks released a seminar by Jessica Jackley, the co-founder of
I was delighted to hear how much it related to recent  posts! helps facilitate small loans to empower folks in need (that you can select) that are trying to run their own businesses to improve their lives. I like it because I can recycle the same money: one $25 gift can be used over and over again for different people as it gets repaid (so what was $25, has the actual effect of hundreds)! Then if you are ever tired of it, you can withdraw the money again and you have made a huge impact on people's lives at zero cost to you!

In her talk, Ms. Jackley recalls hearing the teachings of Jesus that say we are supposed to help the poor, but also that the poor will always be around. To her, as to many, this meant that the charge to serve all of the poor in the world was an unobtainable and discouraging goal. Her response, as is so common, was to pull away and to avoid interactions that reminded her of the problems people face and of her own responsibility in the situation. She felt incredible guilt that she wasn't sure how to get around it--the guilt became a barrier to relationships.

Ms. Jackley makes a profound statement about charity: that she would often donate money to relieve her own suffering and discomfort, rather than that of the recipient, in order to "buy the right to go on with our day." I can certainly  relate to this statement and recognize how this obligation-ridden interaction prevents deeper relationships with others in my life.

Ms. Jackley goes on to emphasise that helping those in need is really about the relationship that we have with each other and that one's poverty is a side note to one's identity as a whole. Certainly this is the case if we view each other as fellow children of God. This unifying characteristic should be at the forefront of our interactions, rather the relative size of our bank accounts. She mentions how the people with whom she interacted didn't want donations, but wanted to take charge of change in their own lives. No one wanted pity, just partnership.

Finally, Ms, Jackley emphasises her belief that people care and truly want to help. She mentions that they often care so much, that they are afraid to try and then mess up. So often, I think this phenomenon plays a major role in compounding the distance we place between ourselves and the people with whom Jesus calls us to fellowship. We are scared to make a misstep or say something hurtful, and so we avoid the situation all together--and up feeling guilty anyway.

I have attached the video below. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

A nonprofit organization that sponsors short lectures given by the great thinkers of our time. They propagate these 'ideas worth spreading' to the general public at

Small loans given to low-income entrepreneurs to spur development. Microfinance harness the power of small sums of money that are almost insignificant for one part of the globe, but that can be quite empowering elsewhere. Most famously pioneered by Nobel Lauriet, Muhammad Yunus.

A microfinace website that connects entrepreneurs all over the world with anyone willing to lend $25 at a time. Functions based on the principles of dignity, accountability and transparency. Lenders may withdraw their money once the sum is repaid, or can re-loan the amount to someone else.
                                                                                  Try it out here!

See also:
White Savior Complex
Health Care Reform
Why I love the Church for All People

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Guilt is a tricky thing. On one hand, that little nagging from the conscious can be helpful to point us in the right direction. But it can also run rampant and become crippling. It can get in the way of receiving God's (and others') grace, redemption and forgiveness.

The problem with guilt is that it causes us to focus on receiving absolution and acceptance, rather than motivating us to change our beliefs and challenge the status quo.  It's often easier to feel guilty than forgiven. It's also often easier to feel guilty than to change.

White guilt profoundly affects our relationships across race. It is much easier to pull away. Guilt makes the situation all about US. How bad WE feel, how WE are different from the 'true' racists. We become obsessed with proving that WE are the 'good' kind of white people and how much WE know better.

The popularity of white guilt redemption fantasy movies speaks to the depth of this phenomenon 'Avatar', 'Dances with Wolves', 'Last Samuri', 'Blood Diamond  (see 'The Color of Freedom'). In concept, these movies could have important messages, but if you look closer, they are all telling the same basic white-savior-of-the-savage story: a white male leading character "manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member" (and usually gets some pretty good exoticized sex for his trouble too).

Guilt can hinder relationships between the privileged and the marginalized. We fixate on the divides between us. Relationship becomes one sided--all about the 'we' helping 'them.' This is false charity, not the solidarity that is really needed.

But God has more for us in our relationships than our guilt. God's redemption is offered to all so that we may live as 'redeemed privileged people.' We must redirect our guilt into conviction that will motivate us to action. Maybe small actions, one step at a time, but action nonetheless. We move forward rather than letting our shame paralyze us.

We must face any guilt we feel and wrestle with it. Much in the same way that we would with any feeling of guilt that Satan whispers in our ears that separates us from God. Why do we feel it? How does it affect our relationships? How does it change our actions? What can we do about it? And how can we move forward as redeemed children of Christ into a more wholesome relationship with ALL of God's children?

In the end, we have to work to get over our natural desires to remove ourselves from uncomfortable situations. If we step out on faith and embrace the opportunity that discomfort provides, a deeper community emerges on the other side.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sermon: John Edgar

Shortly after the post "Why I love the Church for All People," Rev. John Edgar gave a terrific sermon at C4AP that touched upon many similar topics. He has a tremendous talent for distilling concepts to their clear essence and communicating them in a way that I can never seem to articulate.  I have uploaded the audio of the sermon here so that others can enjoy as well. It begins with the scripture reading of the day and moves into the sermon from there:

See Also:
Why I love the Church for All People

Monday, January 17, 2011

Letter from Birmingham Jail

16 April 1963

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely."... I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms...

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative...

My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals...

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership.... I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows...

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular...

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust...

Read the complete letter here

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Health Care Access

Regardless of the current debates over health care laws, local medical communities could use significant self-examination about taking measured, practical steps to be more accessible to our under-privileged neighbors. Instead, poverty is often held at arm's length with little acknowledgement of our own role in perpetuating the barriers to health care.

Let's examine the situation many of us are familiar with: When is the last time you went to the doctor? Or dentist? Did you procrastinate scheduling the appointment? Did you look forward to it, or were you apprehensive? How long did you wait once you got there? Were you feel ignored by the receptionist? Did you feel intimidated by the doctor?

Did you feel awkward or embarrassed while you were examined? Did you understand what the doctor said to you? Did you remember to take the meds you were prescribed? Or might you have missed one or two doses? Did you know how much 5 milliliters of syrup was? Did you remember to make the follow up appointment?

These are some of the challenges that I face with any doctor's appointment I make, regardless of my income level. So now let's remember that I rarely, if ever, have to worry about:
  • Taking time off work to get to a doctor's office hours, without getting fired or sacrificing precious income needed to survive
  • Finding and paying for childcare while at the appointment
  • Finding transportation to the doctor's office (if you're lucky there is public transport, but often that isn't not a viable option)
  • Paying for parking (our med center has little to no free parking) 
  • Spending time away from work to simply sit in a waiting room
  • Avoiding dirty looks from the receptionist and other patients because of the way I am dressed
  • Paying for the doctor's visit (you may or may not get health benefits from your job, be able to afford the monthly cost, or even afford the copay)
  • Finding transportation back home (because the person that brought you isn't necessarily available to wait around and bring you back)
  • Finding time/childcare to go to the pharmacy and wait for the prescription to be filled
  • Finding transportation to the pharmacy
  • Paying for medication (again, often without the benefit of insurance)
  • Finding transportation home
  • Reading and understanding the medical instructions 
  • Worrying about how to go through the whole ordeal again for the follow up appointment

Anyone can find themselves in a situation of poverty at a moment's notice: a death of a bread winner, loss of a job, an injury that prevents work, identity theft. Some of us have the privilege of a financially secure family to fall back on (even at the cost of some shame and embarrassment). But if not, you may find yourself the victim of a pervasive form of discrimination that assumes that if you are poor, you must be lazystupid, an addict, or in some other way wholly deserving of your lot.

God is consistent throughout the bible in His heart for the poor. From the slaves of Egypt, the nomads in the desert, Joseph the dreamerDavid the shepherd, and continuing with Jesus's priorities while on earth. Look at how Jesus spent his time with the poor and the rich. Which group did he chastise with stern warnings? With which group did Jesus eat with, socialize with, count as His friends? How does His model match the relationships you value in your life?

Further, it is important to remember that the privileged have the most to gain from a relationship with the poor. This is not a charitable endeavor, but one that is fundamental for own souls. We need to understand what it is to depend on God rather than money, to enjoy every day as it comes, and not to be preoccupied with the rat race that is 'planning for the future,' to gain pleasure from relationships rather than from stuff, to respect natural resources rather than domineering over them, to trust in the daily manna rather than storing up treasures. These are skills that I do not posses in any meaningful way.  Do you? In a world where some churches have million dollar mortgages, we have a lot to learn.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Break In

It happened to my parents living in a white suburbia.
It happened to my aunt living in a million dollar home on acres of farmland
It happened to my classmate living in a private college campus dorm room
It happened to my boss FOUR times living in an wealthy uptown neighborhood.

But when my house was burglarized, it was supposedly because I am living in a "bad" neighborhood. People said it was inevitable, and "what did you expect living there"?

My prominent feeling after the event wasn't of fear, or of violation. But of disappointment and a strong apprehension about telling my friends and colleagues about the occurrence. I didn't want to reinforce the stereotypes they have about my neighbors and I didn't want to add to their anecdotes and warnings. I was embarrassed to inform those that didn't think we should have moved here in the first place, to fan the flames of their fear.

We have good neighbors--warm, loving people that care about each other. We are invested in this community and it is invested in us. There are certainly serious issues regarding marginalization and crime that need to be addressed. But to assume that we are pathologically criminal does a disservice to the good character of our neighbors and the systemic injustices that create the problems of an inner-city neighborhood.

The police suggest folks should move out of the area, but isn't it their job to keep ALL citizens safe? Do we not deserve to live in security as well?
It happens everywhere and might have happened anywhere, but when it's here, they say
we had it coming. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

New look!

Many thanks to Miss. City Athena for the new look of the blog. Get it? It's Strange Fruit (not that there is anything wrong with kiwis and cherries...)!! Be sure to check out her latest post "So who’s a terrorist again?". It's good stuff.

See Also:
Who's a Terrorist?
The Premise
Face Lift
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