One of the great philosophical minds of the 19th century, Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard, writes a poignant meditation on the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story well.
One day three men walked down an ordinary, dusty, Middle Eastern dirt road. All were on the same road. Presumably the same day. Nothing special about the road. Yet one man stops and responds in a way that displays the heart of God. That’s the man Jesus elevates and calls our attention towards.
“It’s not the road you travel,” insightfully captures Kierkegaard, “It’s how you travel the road.”
His point is direct and clear. The actual road is NOT of critical concern. It’s actually inconsequential. What’s consequential is how the road is traveled. Three men. Same road. Two men are inattentive and blind to the moment. One man travels with an open heart, turning an ordinary walk into an opportunity to reflect the love and compassion of God. It’s not the road.
I find Christians often getting caught up in what I call “the other road syndrome”— always looking for another, better, easier, grass-is-greener kind of road. It’s our nature. “One day,” we lament, “when I get on the right road, the better road, the more secure road....then I’ll begin traveling with the attentiveness and goodness of the Samaritan.” It’s not the road.
Currently, most of us are on a road we would never choose to travel—it’s a road unimaginable two weeks ago. Given the choice, we’d exit this current road and take the nearest off-ramp. We’re separated from our kids, worried about our parents in their retirement homes, watching our 401ks plummet, wondering if we’ll have a job next month, cautious about doorknobs...... Who would choose this road? It’s a difficult road we’re on. I do not want to make light of our current reality.
But this is our road...for the moment. So let’s engage like the Samaritan. Let’s travel differently.
The apostle Paul reminds us that the reason Christians travel differently is because of our unique wardrobe. We have been given a different set of clothes. Our travel bags possess a special set of garments.
“As God’s chosen people...clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Colossians 3:12
This is our clothing: God’s grace and courage, as you transform your difficult road this week into a display of God’s transformative power.
- Have you decided to accept this road you are on, or are you still focused on the “other” road?
- What would it look like in your life to be the Good Samaritan during this time?
- If you’d like, share a story with us about how you or someone else is walking this road with compassion, kindness and patience. We would love to hear about it! Email Bruce your story »
Building wooden boats at UrbanPromise involves a lot of sanding—wood, fiberglass and epoxy. For the kids, it’s their least favorite part of the build. Tedious, time consuming and dusty. Tiny, harmful irritating particles fill the air.
So every student in the shop must wear a high quality, industrial N95 face mask to protect their lungs—the same kind of masks needed by our front line healthcare workers dealing with the coronavirus.
“We had 160 brand new masks in our storage closest,” revealed Tommy Calisterio, our BoatWorks Director. “I contacted a friend at Cooper Hospital. They desperately needed masks for their front line workers.”
Wait a minute? A small, grassroots, community-based non-profit that has literally lived hand to mouth for 32 years—made a donation to a local hospital with hundreds of millions in assets? Yes! Tuesday to be exact. Cases of brand new masks were delivered. They will save lives.
“What is in your hands?” asks the Lord of Moses.
You remember Moses? He was that reluctant leader in Exodus who never feels worthy of the challenge to which God has called him. A flawed man, full of self-doubt and excuses—gladly passing off responsibility to the next guy in line.
Moses looks down at his hands. He sees nothing at first glance. Just some blistered fingers and calloused palms belonging to a fugitive shepherd. But he looks again. An old worn stick? That can’t be of any significance!
“Throw it on the ground,” says the Lord. A decision confronts Moses. Is he hallucinating? Does he respond? Walk away? Ignore? Laugh?
Moses obeys and throws it to the ground. To his utter surprise the stick becomes a snake. And this stick—now in the hands of a man who opens his heart to the possibilities and direction of God—becomes an instrument used to liberate a burdened and oppressed people.
My fellow urban minister Bob Lupton writes: “And so it has been down through history—God using the ordinary assets of ordinary men and women to accomplish divine purposes.” Bob is spot on. It’s the boy with the fish and the loaves. The widow with a few coins...
What is in your hands? A stick? An N95 mask? A skill you’ve forgotten about? A spiritual gift? A cell phone?
This past week I’ve challenged the UrbanPromise community to ask this very question. For many of us it’s been a week of re-inventing, re-tooling, re-purposing. Two weeks ago we had lots of assets in our hands—clearly defined job descriptions, physical classrooms, chemistry equipment, child care, transportation, sold out fundraising events. Many of these assets are now gone.
Should our team just pack it in? Give up? Lament about the good old days? I don’t believe so. It’s not God’s way. God is always about doing a new thing.
So our teachers and staff are discovering new assets in their hands—and are witnessing God using these overlooked, forgotten assets to feed our community, educate our children, and connect with our families in deeply purposeful ways.
How about you? What’s in your hand needing to be discovered and released for God’s purpose this week.....
Forward in hope—
Author AJ Jacobs describes himself as “petty and annoyed”. He’s forgetful of the 300 things that go right everyday and focuses on the 3 things that go wrong. This self-avowed curmudgeon decided he wanted to become a better person—to learn to be more content and grateful. But how? He decides to take a “gratitude journey.”
This gratitude journey began by thanking everyone involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. Everyone! You see, the act of noticing is the first act of gratitude.
So Jacobs intentionally thanks the barista who rings him up at his local shop, finds the guy who roasts the beans...and thanks him. He calls an artist in Seattle who designed the lid for his cup. Thank You! He tracks down truck drivers and the warehouse workers, the people who pick the beans in Columbia, and the customs workers who guard the borders. Thank You!
Of course the workers are bewildered. They’ve never been thanked. Jacobs even drives out of New York City to the Catskill Mountains and thanks those who guard the watershed. 99.9 % of our coffee is water after all. Every Thank You on his journey turns into a story. New relationships are formed. A deeper appreciation is developed for each person’s role in his coffee supply chain.
By the time Jacob finishes his “gratitude tour”, 1000 people have been thanked. Crazy to consider: A thousand people involved in creating his morning cup of coffee! In retrospect he finds himself embarrassed for complaining about paying $2.57 a cup.
Years before AJ Jacobs ever thought about gratitude, the Apostle Paul was eloquently suggesting that he had discovered a “secret”—a secret possessing the power to transform a life.
“I have learned the secret of being content in EVERY and ANY situation,” he wrote.
Some of us might have reacted defensively to Paul’s claim. “Wait a minute,” we refute. “Paul doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s an ivory tower theologian who is detached from reality.”
Not so. Paul writes these words from a Roman jail—a rather hideous place. Literally holes in the ground where one’s family had to provide food to stay alive.
So from this hellish place, Paul writes to ordinary, working class folk with no health care or 401ks. He has learned an important secret: Contentment. An audacious claim isn’t it?
Paul challenges us to consider a truth: contentment is a state of being independent from our possessions and circumstances.
Deep down most of us know this to be true. We have met people living in bitter poverty...yet they are full of joy. We’ve known people who have suffered tremendously, yet still forgive and love. We know people who give the shirt off their back, because their needs are secondary to others. History is sprinkled with people who transcend their circumstances to discover the secret of contentment.
We don’t know the full economic implications of this pandemic yet, but many of us are already living with less—less food choices, less mobility, less accessibility to service, less savings, less toilet paper.....
As we move into this unknown territory of “less”, the question for each of us is—will we rise to the spiritual challenge Paul places before us? Contentment is liberating. It’s a gift. It’s a secret worth discovering.
- What lessons are you learning during this time of living with "less"?
- What would contentment "look" like for you in this season?
Above all else, protect your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
– Proverbs 4:23
I love to tell a story to our UrbanPromise kids about a young boy who was always getting into trouble.
He couldn’t help himself. His desire to do the right thing was there, but when it came time to act—he’d always go the wrong way.
So his mother sent him to visit Grandpa. He was a pretty wise guy. He’d been around the block a few times and had made a few mistakes in his day.
“I’m just always getting in trouble, Grandpa,” lamented the young boy over a glass of ice tea. “I want to do what’s right, but I always get pulled in another direction. What should I do?”
So Grandpa paused, scratched his day old beard, and tenderly replied:
“Ya know son, in your heart there are two dogs. One is good. One is bad. And they are constantly fighting one another.”
His grandson nodded: the metaphor clicked. It was a perfect picture of his inner turmoil. Two dogs, constantly fighting one another, one good and one bad.
“Grandpa, I’m curious,” queried the boy with a sense of urgency, “which dog ends up winning?”
Again, the old man paused, gazed into the eyes of his grandson:
“The dog who wins? It’s the dog you feed the most....you need to feed the good dog!”
This past week I’ve thought a lot about this little parable. It causes me to ask the question—which dog am I feeding? You and I know there’s a lot out there to fill our hearts—fear, anxiety, negativity, worst-case scenarios, panic....lot’s of unhealthy food.
And to a large degree, what ends up filling our hearts profoundly influences the way we lead and respond to this current crisis. What’s in our heart impacts the way we treat people, make decisions and think about the future.
The writer of Proverbs speaks to me because he understood the intimate connection between our heart and our actions. That’s why he penned these words centuries ago—words still relevant for this moment:
“Above all else, protect your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Everything flows from the heart. Everything. We need to protect it.
So our challenge this week is not to simply play defense with our hearts. Our challenge is to proactively feed our hearts with good food—the healthy, non-toxic, spiritually enhanced, no preservatives kind of food.
For a helpful menu we need look no further than the Apostle Paul.....
"Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—dwell, meditate and focus on these things."
Practicing these truths will fill our hearts with the right kind of food.
None of us know what’s coming our way this week. We can’t control what’s happening. The one thing we can control is being selective about what enters our hearts.
Feed the Good Dog—
- What does it look like in your life when you feed the "bad dog"?
- What does it look like in your life when you feed the "good dog"?
- Is there someone you can share your habits with who will hold you accountable to practicing habits that will feed your soul rather than your fears?
Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart’s full of hope, you can be persistent when you can’t be optimistic. – William Sloan Coffin
I find myself in an interesting state of mind—I’m sure you do as well.
Our current reality is sobering. Nobody really knows the potential long term impact of this current crisis. We know it will get worse. We know people will suffer. We know that the worst of humanity will rear its ugly head. We know that the path forward is full of ambiguity and potential chaos. This is our reality.
One of the reasons I remain committed to my Christian faith is that Christianity is not afraid to stare reality in the face—with all its warts and uncertainty. Karl Marx got it wrong when he said “religion is the opiate of the people.”
Authentic biblical faith is no opiate. It’s no crutch. It’s not about denying the harsh realities of the human condition. It’s not about irrational scapegoating to avoid looking into our own hearts. It’s not about blaming and shaming.
Faith calls us to stare into the darkness, to hold our gaze on the unpleasant, to not be surprised at selfishness and human depravity. Little has changed since biblical writers reminded people that life is fragile, people are irrational, and life can take difficult unexpected turns.
But here’s the difference.
As Christians, we possess the hope to embrace the sobering reality of our circumstances. How? Because we believe, with a kind of stubborn tenacity, in God’s ability to transform the most despairing and difficult of circumstances. We are Easter people.
It's been my experience. My truth.
Thirty-plus years ago a community of Christians stared into the most dangerous, violent city in America. We didn’t run. We didn’t pretend there were no problems. We didn’t blame people for their circumstances. We refused to let fear guide our vision.
As a community of faith we acknowledged the brokenness we saw in our neighborhoods, we held the pain in our hearts and we called upon our faith to provide practical ways to change this despairing reality.
God showed up. There’s no other way to explain it. Again and again and again. People surrendered their lives to service. People sacrificially shared their resources. People joined hands across racial and political lines. Kids were loved. Miracles happened. Hope took root in one of society's forgotten gardens....and blossomed.
I believe this same God, who has faithfully provided and guided us for 33 years, continues to infuse each of us with wisdom, patience, love and hope.
We nervously step forward into the unknown—with a bar of soap in our hands, common sense in our pockets, grace in hearts, courage running through our spine...and the tenacious hope that God will show up repeatedly and unexpectedly.
That’s a promise I’m counting on...an urban promise.
- Reflect on a time in your life when fear was replaced with hope? What allowed for the shift?
- What is an action you can take today to cultivate hope for yourself and/or a loved one?
Here’s my end of year confession: In 8th grade I wasn’t really interested in the things of God.
But Sunday School attendance was required in the Main household, so I would dutifully change into my Sunday best, jump in the Chevy Impala and get my “father-driven-Uber-shuttle” to the front steps of our Baptist church.
My 8th grade Sunday school class was comprised of a ragtag group of 10 boys from different parts of the city. Besides Kevin—the one kid who could recite all the right prayers, always won the Bible trivia, and always made us feel spiritually inferior—the rest of us were little rebels who did everything to make life miserable for our volunteer teachers.
That 8th grade year, seven (yes, seven!) of our Sunday School teachers resigned—a church record still holding strong today! Special elder and prayer meetings were held, all trying to solve the problem of the boys' 8th grade Sunday school class.
Then Al Klatt showed up—a twenty-six year old, retired, semi-pro hockey player. Al had learned of the notorious 8th grade class, but wasn’t deterred from a challenge. Six years in the rough and tumble minor hockey leagues was more than enough preparation for our little class of preadolescent rebels.
“Here’s the deal, “ began Al at our first meeting, “Sunday School lasts for an hour. We’ll play 50 minutes of floor hockey. But the last 10 minutes you’ll have to listen to me.”
By far, this was the best offer we’d ever been given. Fifty minutes of floor hockey in the church gym—and just 10 minutes of Bible study! Unanimously we consented—except, of course, Kevin. He thought it appalling to use “the Lord’s” time for such frivolous activities.
And Al lasted as our teacher. Through our high school years he guided us, kept us out of trouble and taught us about the things of faith. He cheered for us at our high school games, let us paint our Sunday School classroom with psychedelic colors and bought Kentucky Fried Chicken to accompany the Super Bowl Party he hosted at his apartment.
Forty years passed between visits with Al. A year ago we reconnected. He’s aged a bit and now battles early Parkinson’s disease. He shared how he had followed my career and was encouraged by what I had done with my life. I got to thank him for his influence on me.
Without a doubt, my life has been impacted by many people. But Al Klatt, intervening at a critical time, made a big impact and influenced my life’s vocation. I’ve never forgotten.
This is why I’m still so passionate about UrbanPromise. We find caring adults, who connect with kids, and ask them to shepherd, guide and love young people through their turbulent years. And it still works!
So as this year comes to a close, please think of those who impacted your life—and help the UrbanPromise team continue this vital work.
A wonderful 2020!
Founder & President
PS. Was there a person who made a difference in your life? I’d love to hear about it. Perhaps you can call and thank them!
PSS. Better still, consider giving a gift in their honor. That would be meaningful!
“Courage unparalleled, opened her utterly.”
-Denise Levertov, ‘Annunciation’
“When you told me about this reality,” shared my friend Colin, “I just had to do something.”
Two years ago I was invited to a speaking engagement in Toronto, Canada. The church put my wife and I up at a local hotel for a couple of nights. The first morning we noticed 20-30 children streaming off the elevators and shuttled into a back room. Curious, I followed the group, only to discover that the hotel was hosting about 100 refugee families from numerous African countries—some had been living in the hotel for over 6 months. Evidently the children were bored and didn’t have much to do.
I shared my observation with a dear friend from Toronto named Colin McArtney. Colin decided to act by mobilizing a handful of young Christian leaders to care for these forgotten kids.
“I’m now doing youth programs for refugees in various hotels around the city,” he continued. “We just hosted a series of Christmas parties for over 800 children. Look what you started!”
What Colin is doing was actually started long before me.....
At the heart of the Christmas story is a young woman—named Mary—who said "Yes" to God. In the words of poet Denise Levertov, Mary displayed “unparalleled courage” which allowed her to say yes to a journey of faith for which she did not know the ending.
Regardless of the uncertainty and potential pain, by saying "Yes" Mary ignited a chain of events which literally birthed God’s mysterious work into the world—that new, creative, beautiful and redemptive work found in the person of Jesus. It all started with a peasant girl opening her heart—utterly—to the spirit of God.
By saying yes to the promptings of God, my friends in Toronto are living the essence of Christmas—and they’re bringing hope and joy to dislocated refugee children trying to find their way in a new and foreign land.
My prayer, for us all, is to be those Christmas people who find the courage to “utterly” open ourselves to God’s spirit—becoming the hands, feet and heart of Christ to those who thirst for hope.
Founder & President
“It always took him about 30 minutes to get from the front door to his desk,” shared the receptionist with a smile. “He’d say good morning to everyone as he walked by—asking them about their son’s little league baseball game, their ailing mother-in-law, their recent vacation. He just cared for people.”
That’s one of my favorite Joe Holman stories, an UrbanPromise friend and supporter who built a small regional Ford dealership into an international business (Holman Enterprises) with over 7000 employees. No matter how large the business grew, people were always a priority.
Mr Holman passed peacefully away this week at the age of 93. Up until a week ago, he went to the work every day! He seldom missed an UrbanPromise event.
This past summer I had the privilege of hearing his daughter Mindy—now CEO of the company—speak to a group of young UrbanPromise leaders. “I remember hearing a story about my father,” she reminisced. “His assistant told me that he always separated his outgoing mail into two piles. One pile got the company stamps. One pile got his personal stamps. He believed that using company stamps for personal mail was stealing. My dad had integrity. He believed in honesty.”
This week the UrbanPromise community is deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend. We are also saddened that our world has lost a kind, compassionate, humble leader who cared deeply about his community.
But despite the sadness, I am also grateful—grateful to have known a leader who, despite his prodigious success and influence, never lost his moral compass. And by doing the right thing the right way, decade after decade, he built a company culture that not only affirmed the worth and dignity of its people, but also enjoyed financial prosperity and respect amongst its peers.
In a world that increasingly celebrates leaders who willfully display egregious acts of hubris and sell their souls for short term gains, it’s a gift to be reminded that humility, kindness and decency are not antithetical to success—they’re actually the ingredients that create a world in which we all desire to live.
So thank you, Joe, for showing us the way. Rest In Peace.
Five months after delivering her first daughter, Michelle missed the bottom step while descending a staircase, tripped and broke her leg.
A few weeks later, to make things even more challenging for the new mother, she slipped again. This time Michelle broke her wrist.
“Navigating with crutches, a boot cast, a splint on my left arm and a baby in tow was a bit of a challenge,” she now chuckles. “Have you ever tried changing a diaper with one hand?”
I wish we enjoyed some kind of divine protection from sickness and calamity. We don’t. Michelle is grateful to have health insurance.
Michelle and her husband Andy are one of UrbanPromise’s “founding families.” Michelle initially came as an intern in her 20s, directed one of our afterschool programs and eventually taught as a first grade teacher in our elementary school. She met Andy at UrbanPromise.
After graduating from The College of William and Mary with a BS in Physics (and a MA in International Security from the University of Maryland), Andy joined the UP team and has served faithfully for over 20 years — he now oversees our schools.
UrbanPromise is blessed to have missionaries like the Joshua family — families that stay year after year, welcome wayward youth into their homes, and create a community of consistency.
“As a mother of 4 children,” Michelle reminded me recently, “decent health insurance gives me the peace of mind that our family will be okay in the event of emergency. It definitely allows our family to continue to serve with UrbanPromise.”
Last month UrbanPromise renewed its health insurance policy for the coming fiscal year. It’s one of my least favorite activities.
Our total bill — to cover all our staff and families — is approximately $373,000. A substantial part of our budget.
Despite our best efforts to shop for various plans and reduce costs, we still incurred a 12% increase from last year — roughly $40,000.
Here’s a plan so we can continue providing quality healthcare for our community:
We need one gift of $15,000
We need one gift of $10,000
We need one gift of $5,000
We need three gifts of $1,000
We need six gifts of $500
We need six gifts of $250
We need 25 gifts of $100
Keeping great people at UrbanPromise is my goal. Please consider helping me make up the increase, ensuring our staff continue to have quality healthcare.
Thanks in advance — families like the Joshua’s extend their gratitude.
PS. Please read a few of these inspirational testimonies from our staff. You’ll see why health insurance is so critical.
I just became eligible for healthcare through UrbanPromise this year -- and just six months after that, I needed major emergency surgery with no warning at all. The bill for that would have been astronomical; I can’t express how grateful I am to UrbanPromise for giving me the tools to handle what life throws at me.
Development Associate, 2 years
I think I’m the longest serving employee at UrbanPromise —besides Bruce. This is home to me. This place changed my life. As I continue to deal with the ailments of aging, I am grateful to have a job that cares for my health and well being.
DORIS "YA YA" QUINONES
Receptionist and “Resident Grandmother,” 23 years
I never had health insurance growing up in Camden and I got a lot of medical bills due to some health issues. So I’m now grateful for affordable co-pays and insurance that covers my doctor visits. There are people raised in the city who want to serve like me. It’s just not feasible because they can’t find organizations that provide benefits like UrbanPromise.
AfterSchool Program Director, 10 years
Did you know that only two groups of potential military employees get invited to the Pentagon for their job interviews?
Your guess? That's right: nuclear engineers and chaplains! Yes, those are the only two....
So when our very own CamdenForward School History and Bible teacher, Joe Delvalle, was called to Washington last month, he knew he'd made the final cut to serve as a Chaplain in the US Navy.
Joe, or as the children affectionately call him, "Mr. D," got started at UrbanPromise as a child growing up in the Cramer Hill section of the city. "I was a camper at Camp Hope," he reminisces, "those were fun times and formative for my faith and life."
Life took Joe into the military where he travelled extensively. After his service, Joe came back to UrbanPromise and continued to serve in the Reserves on weekends.
"My first deployment as a chaplain will be with the US Coast guard," he revealed. "I'll have responsibility for about 5,000 men and women who serve in this division." When asked what he'll be doing specifically as a chaplain: "I keep my finger on the pulse of unit morale. I'll do church services, a lot of counseling and spiritual direction."
The students and staff at UrbanPromise could not be prouder. "I'm sorry to be losing an amazing teacher," shared our principal Terry Bullock (also a veteran), "but I'm so proud that he was chosen to serve our country in this way. It's a honor."
We wish you the very best, Mr. D! Thanks for your 4 years of service at UrbanPromise. We pray for God's blessing upon your service with the Navy.
President & Founder