Friday, June 26, 2015

Can We Tawk about...Forgiveness?

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Can We Tawk - a regular communication sent out by CSM's President & CEO, Dan Reeve. 

I’m writing this right after our church worship service when our congregation joined with millions of other Christians who shared in a liturgy of grief - and commitment to standing together - with the families of those who lost their lives in Charleston's Emanuel AME Church on Wednesday. I’m tawkin’ about this not because of the racism that consumed the shooter, or the right and/or wrong of guns, or even whether a certain flag should fly on SC’s capitol building. 

I’m tawkin’ about forgiveness because the American Church has a very rare opportunity to prove the truth of the Gospel in the way we imitate the survivors of this tragedy. The daughter of victim Ethel Lance said she forgave the killer and said, “I think he took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you and I forgive you.” The mother of victim Tywanza Sanders, 26, also said, “May God have mercy on you, every fiber in my body hurts, and I’ll never be the same,” but she forgave her son’s killer. 

One of the most important books I have ever read is “Exclusion and Embrace” by Miroslav Volf who talks about his own struggle living in a war zone in the former Yugoslavia. His was a life of victimization, over and again. His dad was tortured in a concentration camp. A soldier playfully put his older brother, Daniel, on a horse-drawn bread wagon. The five-year-old leaned sideways…and his head was crushed between a gate post and the wagon. But his father never pressed charges and ministered to the soldier after his guilt sent him to a mental hospital. He reports that, “My room was bugged…Then for another three or four months, I was interrogated and threatened that I would be sent to prison…” When ethnic and religious tensions exploded into war, Volf was teaching at Evangelical Theological Seminary in his Croatian hometown, Osijek. The entire seminary had to go into exile. “For months in 1993 the notorious Serbian fighters called ‘cetnik’ had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches, and destroying cities. I had just argued (in the presentation of his paper) that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ.” After the lecture his mentor asked the most difficult question, “But can you embrace a cetnik?” 

Volf was taken aback. Where could he find the strength to embrace someone who, to a Croat (or Bosnian Muslim), was the ultimate evil “other?” He writes that he wanted to answer, “No, I cannot—but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.” His book explains that the ultimate goal of human life is a community of love in the embrace of the Triune God. Just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have distinct identities yet live in unity, people who become new creations in Christ retain their identities—and still make space for others.

He admits it’s often hard for him to reach out to Serbs, just as a Serb friend grieves over crimes committed against her people. Volf says that no matter what someone has done to you, you must be willing to begin the process of making your enemy your friend. 

Practicing what he calls “double vision” lets you see a situation through your eyes…and through your enemy’s eyes. It’s hard to forgive someone who’s unintentionally wounded you. It’s even harder when hate fueled the wrong. Even small steps toward reconciliation make a difference.

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.”

How petty are the hurts and offenses against me that I hold on to with dear life, for years? Can we ALL join the testimony of those at Emanuel Church and Dr. Volf, to be witnesses to the Gospel of forgiveness? In this awful tragedy we have, maybe for the first time in a long time, the opportunity to not politicize, fight, riot, accuse, demand revenge or continue to be divided; but instead, we can check our own hearts, let go of our hurts, see others - even those who hurt us - through the eyes of the Christ who loved us, and forgive.

Imagine what would happen if all of those reading this “Can We Tawk” were to join Ethel Lance’s daughter and say, “May God forgive you and I forgive you.”

- Dan Reeve
President & CEO

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Moving from Hopelessness to Hope

I have been involved in the downtown Los Angeles community for over 9 years now and I can say that I have seen many fluctuations in the population of people experiencing homelessness.  Some years it seems like there are a lot less people and then the next year the numbers are overwhelming.  But within the last couple of years it appears that the increase has been dramatic.  There is no denying that the population has increased to an overwhelming amount of people.  

I recently read an article in the NY Times that focused on this issue facing downtown LA. Although it does not address all the issues that lead to homelessness (i.e. domestic abuse, racism, sexism, health care system, foster care system, lack of jobs and job training, homophobia, ageism, and much more), it does address a couple of the major factors. 
It is easy to simply see and/or read about what is happening in the streets of Los Angeles and become hopeless.  However, here at CSM we desire to partner with organizations and people who are truly desiring to seek change and justice.  We desire to be part of the transformation process of hopelessness to hope.  An article like this can bring attention to the problems, but there are people who take this information as a springboard to action.  The people who serve with CSM Los Angeles can have the opportunity to be a part of that process.  This article quotes Alice Callaghan, a long-time partner with CSM.  Alice started and runs an after-school program in Skid Row where several CSM groups have served at.  Many of our groups have been extremely blessed by the hope Alice and her organization offer to the community.  
Let us become aware and then let us take action.  "For with God nothing is impossible," Luke 1:37.

- Rebekah Bolin, CSM Los Angeles City Director

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Interrupted: J.D. Klippenstein

CSM Chicago will be posting a blog series called "Interrupted: The Unexpected Movements of God Working Through CSM's Ministry".  If you have a story about how God interrupted your life through a CSM trip, please email it to!

This month, we thought we’d do something a little bit different and give the subject of our article a platform to offer a firsthand account of how God altered the course of his life. No one can tell a story quite like the person who experienced it. Allow these words to be an encouragement and testimony to the powerful work God is doing in and through His children. Without further ado, this is J.D. Klippenstein’s life interrupted:

CSM has played a major role in shaping my career, faith and identity. My experience as a student volunteer and later as summer staff in Chicago planted seeds that God continues to nourish and grow in my life today. 

I grew up in a white, middle class, evangelical bubble in Reno Nevada. I grew up going to church and got baptized when I was in the 3rd grade. My faith was pretty surface level and didn't extend much beyond Sundays. It wasn't until my junior year in high school that I started to see that my relationship with Christ entailed more than a divinely gifted "get out of jail free" card. Spring break of that year I went with the high school youth group down to L.A. for a week long mission trip. 

One morning we served breakfast at a soup kitchen and then walked over to a nearby park to eat our sack lunches. The whole team sat together on one side of a large fountain. On the other side of the fountain several people who appeared to be homeless were sitting and chatting. As we ate our PB&J sandwiches, I began to feel a bit uneasy with our seating arrangements. I was convicted by the fact that I was there to "serve" and "love" homeless people, but I was too uncomfortable to sit on the same side of the fountain as homeless folks. I remember taking a deep breath and then walking over to the other side of the fountain. I avoided eye contact with my friends because I didn't want them to ask questions and because I wasn't quite sure how I would explain what I was doing.

I sat down and nervously watched the people around me. Something inside me broke in that moment. I felt that in a fundamental way I was connected to those people and their suffering. It wasn't someone else's problem. It was my problem. It was my problem, because I was a Christian.  That experience made me dive deeper into my relationship with Christ and really explore what it meant to live out my faith. 
It started me on the path to discovering that faith was more than a mere ticket to heaven - it was the answer to a broken world. That discovery has been one of the strongest guiding factors in my life.

In college, I decided to join CSM summer staff in Chicago because I had had such a profound experience as a student and wanted to dive deeper into that. That summer was more challenging than I would have ever thought going in and I also learned a lot about myself. Most importantly, working on the west side of Chicago showed me the systemic nature of poverty. Poverty, violence, homelessness, and all the other challenges I saw in those neighborhoods weren't just unfortunate or isolated occurrences. Entire neighborhoods dealt with these injustices because they had been marginalized and disenfranchised. I realized that charity and volunteering alone would never be able to fully address the root causes of what I saw in Chicago and I felt a strong call that I needed to learn how to fight for justice.

That passion continued to grow throughout college.  I had experiences trying to help some friends who were homeless as well as building relationships with a folks on an American Indian reservation that further convinced me that the world is broken and in desperate need of redemption. I didn't know what to do though. No one in my life was seeking justice in the way that I felt called to. I decided I needed to go back to the city that had made such an impact on me and enrolled in grad school at Loyola University Chicago. My program was the MA in Social Justice and Community Development. The classes, conversations, and ideas I encountered in those two years opened me up to a whole other world. For the first time I saw that there were real ways that I could work towards a more just world. I also learned that for hundreds of years in the United States Christians had been fighting for justice. They had worked to abolish slavery, picketed so women could vote, and were the driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement. God equipped me to do the work of justice, just like he has done for followers of Christ for thousands of years.

In Chicago, I worked as a community organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. I spent nearly three years building relationships, developing leaders, and mobilizing communities to stand up for the rights of homeless students. It was extremely challenging and humbling work, but it was also deeply rewarding and transformative. It affirmed that God was real and actively redeeming his creation. I also came to believe that white evangelical churches--like the one I grew up in--need to better embrace social justice and develop believers who engage in the important work of transforming their communities to better reflect the Kingdom of God. Now that my wife and I have moved back to Reno we are back at the church I grew up in, I have taken on a leadership role and I am working to bring about that change in my own church.

It is kind of crazy to think a week long trip to LA in high school, has not only had such an impact on how I have spent the last 10 years of my life, but also continues to motivate me and inform my faith.

Praise God for constantly interrupting our plans and expectations. We pray that this story will help you surrender yourself to greater acceptance of where the Lord may be leading you.

Monday, June 01, 2015

May 2015 City Journal

In there, you'll find...
  • Philadelphia City Highlight
  • 2015 Photo Contest
  • CSM Spotlight: Urban Intensives

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