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Sunday, February 28

“Let the little children come to me...” - Matthew 19:14

So I was intrigued when Reverend Hedgis walked into my office—wearing her clerical collar—to share her desire to volunteer. I’d known Sarah tangentially through friends. This was our first official meeting.

After the normal introductory musings, I asked her about her faith journey—and how she decided to become a priest. I was curious.

“We were raised Methodist,” she began.

“That’s odd,” I chuckled. “How did you end up an Episcopalian?”

“We grew up in North Carolina and attended a very large church,” she continued. “Generations of my family were members.  We even had a pew with a plaque on it.”

One day her father announced that he had taken a job in a little town 5 hours away from the city. Population 400.  The local Methodist Church had only 20 members—on a good Sunday.  Overnight Sarah went from a community that knew and loved her—a place where she was an insider—to a place where nobody knew her.

“I heard my first sermon when I was nine,” she reminisced.  “At our new church there was no youth program, no Sunday school. We just sat through the whole service. I claimed the front pew.”

During the service Sarah took notes on the back of the church bulletin. While most children draw and play tic-tac-toe—as I did during my childhood—Sarah really listened.

“I remember thinking it was so cool to see someone stand in a pulpit, talk about God and have people listen.”

So Sarah jotted notes every week: “Pretty boring sermon today.”  “I didn’t know the Bible said that....” “Doesn’t that contradict what Pastor said last week?”  “This is really confusing?”  “Swallowed by a whale, really?” After service Sarah discarded her comments on the pew.

What Sarah did not realize is the pastor’s wife collected her notes, accumulating a small pile. One day she delivered the pile to her husband.

“Sarah,” beckoned Pastor McNeil Sunday after service. “Can we talk for a moment?”

“Now Pastor McNeil was a towering figure,” recollected Sarah. “He really seemed like a giant. I couldn’t imagine why he’d want to speak to me.”

For the next hour Pastor McNeil flipped through the stack of old bulletins and Sarah’s comments. Intently he listened, even asked more questions and took notes himself.

“Would you be interested in critiquing my sermons after church each Sunday?” he asked as they concluded their initial conversation. "Your feedback is helpful to me.”

And so for the next few years Sarah scribbled notes and shared them with Pastor McNeil. If he missed the point, she told him. If the message really connected, she affirmed him. If she had questions or doubts, she confided.

“There were a lot of voices in my community claiming that women had no place as pastors,” reminisced Sarah. “I could have easily listened to those voices. Had I listened, I would have never studied religion. Never become a priest.”

And so Sarah’s calling and vocation is birthed by an alternative voice: a pastor who took the questions and comments of a nine-year-old girl seriously. In an era of megachurches, social media, and pastors who keep their professional distance from those they lead—time to take the unfiltered truth of a child seriously seems...rare.

In his listening this pastor did what pastors are actually supposed to do: help people identify their God-given passions and gifts.  Help people find their voice. By simply listening and validating Sarah’s questions, he awakened a thirst to dig deeper into those questions. It’s made her an amazing preacher and teacher today. It’s helped her become a priest who listens and discerns God’s path for others' lives.

I believe that the meaning of certain words are best understood with the context of human action. We often call those actions stories. A word like “mercy” can be debated, parsed and defined.  But when we see merciful behavior displayed by attentiveness to a child’s scribbles and opinions, there’s something to notice.

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy,” writes James.

I think James may have been describing Pastor McNeil.

Thursday, February 11

“I remember an event called Double Dare,” reminisced Albert Vega. “I might have been seven years old.” 

Albert continued to describe the competition with memorable details.

“It was crazy fun. We had to eat as many bananas as possible in a short amount of time,” he recalled with a chuckle. “I won the competition, but couldn’t get all the banana out of my mouth. One of the counselors helped me.” 

That was 28 years ago. Albert vividly remembers the exhilarating competitions, the safe place to go after school and the summer counselors. (Full disclosure: UrbanPromise did eliminate the banana-eating competition in subsequent years).

Albert’s twin brother Tony also remembers the impact of our programs as a child. “I loved the spring break trips, the Martin Luther King Speech Contest, Math Dare and my summer job as a StreetLeader. UrbanPromise has been there every step of the way, even helping me get through university.”

Finding two people more passionate about UrbanPromise is difficult. These young men have lived the UrbanPromise story and embody our mission of developing leaders from within the community—leaders who return to serve their city.

That’s why it’s an honor for me to make a very significant announcement: 

This month Tony and Albert were hired to fill two senior management positions within UrbanPromise—Tony as director of our StreetLeader Department and Albert the Director of our Children’s Ministry Department. 

These are influential leadership roles—a responsibility to shape our programming for the next generation of children and teens in our city.

“I’m looking forward to being on the creating end of these programs,” added Albert. “My priority is to build and mentor a younger team of front-line workers.”

Like any new position, the first 100 days are critical—especially during this season of COVID. Albert and Tony have exciting plans to capitalize on this window of time.

Like you, I want to ensure that Tony and Albert launch successfully. So let’s send an affirming message by supporting their “First 100 Day” initiatives.

Bruce Main
Founder & President

PS. Meet Albert and Tony in this short interview. You’ll see and hear their passion. 

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Sunday, January 31

Years ago, my friend and long-time Camden priest, Father Michael Doyle, asked me a question I’ve not forgotten.

"What’s the greatest compliment Jesus gave humanity?"

I confess I was stumped—never pondering the thought. Jesus shared amazing parables and taught with wise, pithy truisms...healed the sick ....performed some incredible miracles...but compliments?

"I'm stumped Father," I deflected, trying to disguise my biblical ignorance.

The aging Irish priest looked at me with his deep penetrating eyes and then responded with his mirthful chuckle, "Love your enemies!"

"That’s not a compliment," I countered with a hint of vindication, thinking this Baptist boy had just outsmarted a veteran Catholic priest. "Sounds more like a command to me.” 

After all, who would interpret ‘love your enemy’ as a compliment? A near impossible command, maybe. A radical counter-cultural teaching, absolutely. But a compliment? I was feeling pretty good about my reply.

"It was a compliment," assured my friend with unwavering gentleness. "You see, Jesus believed humans could do something incredibly extraordinary and difficult. And that’s a great compliment.”

Father Doyle had a point. After an undergraduate degree in theology and a few years in seminary, never had I viewed "love thy enemy" as a compliment. It was one of those verses you’d rather erase from the Bible, pretending it was never written—an inconvenient truth. But reflecting more deeply, it made sense. 

Jesus is always calling us to a higher place, seeing greater capacity and potential in ourselves than we can even begin to imagine. 

And that’s an aspirational truth we need these days. The current gravitational force of our culture seems to be pulling us toward our lowest selves and base instincts—not a higher vision of what it means to be fully human and made in God’s image. Social media baits us, feeding our insatiable appetite for reasons to distrust those outside our camps and tribes. Jesus believes we have the capacity to do better.

You’ve probably noticed a little word getting the limelight this past week. Unity. It’s found its way into speeches, songs, poems, talk shows. When shared it’s often associated with acts of healing, putting aside differences, starting fresh. All sounds great, but ask 100 people what unity means—you’ll get 100 different answers. Ask 300 million people the same question...you guessed it. Unity is complicated. Easy to speak about, much harder to implement. So what can we do?

This past week I asked our leadership team what unity means to them—especially in the wake of a very contentious, highly partisan, low-trust, violent, and divisive moment in our nation’s history. Some shared Bible verses, others more theoretical definitions. One shared a personal story.

“There’s a former staff worker who’s been posting a lot on Facebook recently,” began my colleague. “I vehemently disagree with his views. My first inclination was to join the group opposing his positions, pointing out why he is so wrong. But I decided to not pile on the criticism.”

He continued: “Instead I sent a personal email, telling him I missed him and loved him. I thought it might be a way to preserve the relationship, opening a door to one day have a deeper conversation.”  Preserving a relationship rather than trying to win an argument....is that unity? 

Some might say my colleague’s response was a cop out. The duty to speak his true convictions was neglected. Yet if we’re honest, building unity with political foes using terse Facebook postings is a low probability proposition. Behavioral data agrees, suggesting “conversion” rates through arguing with adversaries seldom happens. True unity ultimately needs relational roots. 

Community might be a more accurate description of what our country needs.

Community calls us to work out differences within the context of geographical and social arrangements—neighborhoods, churches, workplaces and civic organizations. Derived from the Latin ‘communitas’ (fellowship), the prefix “com” signifies “with, together, in conjunction.” So true unity is built in conjunction with others—not in the anonymity of cyberspace.

I wish this stuff was easy. It’s not. Difficult days are still ahead. But I’m hopeful. For the past 35 years I’ve had a front row seat watching an eclectic group of God’s people unify across political, theological, racial, economic and social differences to create UrbanPromise—a community where Christ’s love and hope is shared and lived each day. It’s possible. We just need to believe the compliment.

Bruce Main
Founder and President
UrbanPromise

 

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Saturday, January 30

Caroline Mitchell coordinates and directs the UrbanPromise Food Co-Op—a program that engages our community in creative ways to alleviate food scarcity, while empowering local citizens to share food and resources with their neighbors. Under Caroline’s leadership, Food Co-Op membership has grown from 100 to 400 registered families. 

Recently Caroline was selected by the YWCA of Princeton, New Jersey for The Tribute to Women Award—a prestigious award honoring women who have demonstrated sustained leadership and exceptional talent and who have made significant contributions to their professions.

Caroline shared, “Getting this Award has special meaning for me because I connect deeply with and believe in the mission of eliminating racism and empowering women.”

At UrbanPromise Caroline is known for her kindness, humility and servant leadership.  Our Chief People Officer, Pam Foxx says, “Caroline's level of expertise and empathy for those in need of care and support is nothing short of amazing."

“I have thought a lot about my advocacy work over the years and the people I have worked and served with to bring about change in our community." Caroline adds, "I stay committed to the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

UrbanPromise President Bruce Main adds, “It’s exciting to see Caroline get recognized for her decades of community service. Her compassion, commitment and vision to make a difference in our world is inspiring. It’s an honor to have Caroline as part of the UrbanPromise community.” 

Congratulations Caroline!

Friday, January 22

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant...”  Mark 10:43

I’ve been part of a few contentious staff meetings over the years—you know the kind. Walk into the conference room: arms are crossed, no laughter, no engagement, no eye contact between the participants. Anger can’t be measured or seen, but it’s in the room. Thick. Palpable. Trust has calcified, losing its limbering quality of loosening social relations. And then there’s the pit in your stomach. Uninvited anxiety enters your system. Adrenaline and cortisol flow. Deep breath. You’re the leader. Your job—bring the team back from the brink of collapse. 

To be a fly on the wall at Jesus’ Monday morning staff meeting—the meeting after 10 of his disciples discover their two social climbing colleagues, James and John, secretly lobbied Jesus for prominent cabinet posts in the new regime—would have been fascinating. “Indignant” (10:41) is the adjective used by the writer Mark to describe the feelings of the angered 10. Egos apparently bruised, trust broken, emotions running high. Jesus, it’s time to watch a TED talk on “How to Have Tough Conversations.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about this very moment in one of his lesser-known sermons called, The Drum Major Instinct—delivered at his home church Ebenezer Baptist on February 4th, 1968. For those who appreciate homiletics as an art form, it’s an oratorical masterpiece.  The antiquated pre-digital recording (with disruptions, crackling static, parishioners commenting, babies crying) only adds to the drama and authenticity. Oh, and 53 years later, the content is still relevant. Truth never seems to go out of style. 

King notes that Jesus doesn’t judge James and John harshly for their selfish request. He acknowledges that we all battle the same impulse—our primal need to be recognized, appreciated, “first in line”....  It’s the “Drum Major Instinct”, says King, which beckons us to lead the parade. Deep down we all secretly yearn for attention, approval and status. Psychotherapist Alfred Adler argues it’s the dominant impulse of the human condition.

The Drum Major Instinct, however, is only problematic if not controlled—becoming destructive not only to ourselves, but those around us. “It’s vitamin A to our ego,” shares King with his congregation. “It’s what advertisers tap into, compelling us to buy products that elevate our social position, while dragging us into personal debt by living beyond our means.”  Unchecked, The Drum Major Instinct leads to “snobbish exclusion, classism, racism”—why else would we put others down so we can elevate our self-importance?

So how does Jesus facilitate his contentious Monday morning staff meeting?  Brilliantly.  According to King, Jesus doesn’t condemn John and James or even call them selfish. He doesn’t belittle them for raising their ego-driven question. Instead Jesus seems to say: “You want to be great? Wonderful!  You want to be important? Fantastic!  You want to be significant? Terrific!”  It might surprise you, but the “Drum Major Instinct” is NOT condemned. Jesus simply reorders priorities and redirects our energy. 

You want to be first?  Be first in love!  You want to be significant?  Be significant in generosity! You want to be great?  Be great in humility and service!  Jesus provides a whole new definition of greatness—a definition counterintuitive to the human condition. And this leads to one of my favorite lines in King’s sermon—words so appropriate for this moment in history.

“Everybody can be great...because everyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” 

As King reaches the climax of his sermon, he reflects on his own mortality. Not in a morbid way, but in a way that calls his listeners to reflect on their own brief lives. King shares how he’d like to be eulogized at his funeral:

“I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to love somebody...tried to be right on the war question ...tried to feed the hungry....tried to clothe those who were naked...tried to love and served humanity....”

Eerily the recording goes silent midsentence during King’s crescendo—it just cuts off, serendipitously leaving a silent pause long enough for the listeners to place themselves in the eulogy.

And that’s a good space to place ourselves on this important and commemorative day.  A space to reflect on our lives. A space to reflect on the meaning of true greatness. A space to ask ourselves, are we using our Drum Major Instinct for the right things -- like justice, righteousness, peace, humility and service.

Find joy in your service today—

Bruce Main

PS. Here’s a link to the original sermon.  You might enjoy listening. 

King's Sermon

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Tuesday, January 12

2020 was a crazy year; there is no doubt about it. But difficult circumstances are often the moments God uses to show up and makes things good, despite our very human concerns that we will never be able to survive.

Did UrbanPromise survive 2020? You bet we did!

Today, we offer up an enormous THANK YOU to all of you who believe in us, believe in what God is doing here in Camden. To all of you who donated in 2020 and those of you who dug extra deep in December to help us reach our match goal - you did it! We did it!

We hit our goal in 2020 despite a crazy global pandemic. What a faith-building moment for us. Today we begin the work of fundraising for 2021 and we do so joyfully knowing that God is bigger than our circumstances and that all of you are on this journey with us.

With love and gratitude,

The UrbanPromise faculty and staff

Tuesday, January 12

 

“She placed the child in the basket and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.” Exodus 2:3

“Really nice car,” I complimented. The young man in the driver’s seat smiled.

“I own it,” he echoed with a sense of pride. “I bought it with money generated from my business.”

I was heading to the airport after visiting some of our ministries in Malawi—a small subsaharan country in east Africa. One of our directors arranged my transportation. A young man named Peter—evidently in his early 20’s—picked me up in a shiny, new Toyota hatch back. I was intrigued. With so few jobs in the country—especially for young people—and 62% of the country living in less than $2 a day, curiosity got the best of me.

“What kind of business?”

“I raise chickens and sell them to local restaurants,” he added.

“How’d you get started?”

Keeping his eyes on the road, Peter shared his remarkable story. “One day I visited a small restaurant in the city of Zomba,” he began. “I ordered chicken and chips.”   

Peter chuckled. “Ten minutes later the waiter comes back to me and asks if I wanted a thigh, leg or breast with my chips.” 

A thigh was his request. Ten minutes passed—the waiter returned. “Do you want your chicken fried, baked or charbroiled?” 

Peter, now getting hungry and a little annoyed, replied with a hint of impatience, “Fried is just fine.”  But to his surprise the waiter returned a third time. “Excuse me. One last question. Do want the chips and chicken served together or separately?”  Peter gave the waiter a surprised glance, “Together would be nice.” 

At this point I wasn’t sure how the story connected to my initial question—but being a captive audience listened intently. “So the waiter comes back a fourth time,” concluded Peter, “He tells me they have NO chicken—but he’d be willing to drive 45 minutes to the city of Blantyre and get my chicken.” Peter politely declined, paid for his soda and left the restaurant.

“I decided to do a little research,” continued my new friend as he navigated the bumpy road. “I started asking restaurant owners in Zomba how they acquired their chickens. You believe it? They all drove 45 minutes to Blantyre to make their purchases.” 

So Peter decided to seize the opportunity. One small problem. Having recently graduated from college, he had no money. “I was broke. No job. No prospects,” he recalled. “I only owned the cell phone my father gave me as a graduation gift.”

Peter then made a difficult decision—especially for a twenty year old. “I asked myself, ‘Why do I need a cell phone if I have no job and no money?” His new phone was sold for $30 US dollars and he bought his first 100 chicks. Three years later Peter owns a thriving chicken business in Zomba—making enough to buy a car, support himself, payroll a small staff and run a small non-profit ministry teaching entrepreneurial classes to men coming out of Malawian prisons. “God’s using my story to inspire these young men.”

It intrigues me how people respond to adversity. Many would walk out of that restaurant, utter a few complaints and post a negative review on Yelp. Yet Peter sells his cell phone to seed a business venture.  One person has a horrible dining experience. Another sees opportunity.

One of the reasons I’m drawn to the Bible is it’s filled with people like Peter—people who look at bleak, desperate and hopeless situations and see another path forward. Faith inspires their imagination.

Case in point, Moses’ mother in the book of Exodus. She’s one of the great improvisers of the Old Testament. You may remember her story. Egypt’s top political leader, Pharaoh, issued an edict to murder all the Hebrew male babies. Pharaoh, threatened by a growing population of outsiders in his country, creates a policy of infanticide to thwart any threats to his power.

But Moses’ mother isn’t allowing this dark and hideous situation to negate action. Even as a slave to Egyptian masters, her faith preserves and informs her quest to save her son.

Much like my new friend Peter, Moses’ mother takes inventory of what was happening around her...and conceives a brilliant plan. You see, Pharaoh’s daughter comes to the Nile each day. Pharaoh’s daughter interacts with her helpers, thus revealing her character and personality. Moses’ mother watches—her instincts are informed. So her baby Moses is placed in a woven basket, floated to an appropriate position on the river and Moses’ sister Miriam stands in a strategic position. Nothing is left to chance. A hopeful outcome is imagined—and ultimately achieved. “Pharaoh’s daughter took him as her son and named him Moses, meaning, ‘I drew him out of the water.’  A baby’s life is spared.  The tragic consequences of losing a future leader averted. 

Exodus reminds me that we are not the first people in history to suffer, to be caught in the crosshairs of political upheaval and live in a moment riddled with anxiety and uncertainty.  These stories teach me about courageous people whose faith nurtures improvisation and ignites dreams of redemptive solutions to seemingly intractable and impossible problems. 

Yet...sacrificing a cell phone leads to a thriving chicken business and a spin-off ministry. An ancient mother’s vision and a few sticks woven into a floating basket liberates a community of oppressed people to flourish. It’s the very best of God’s people on display.

This is the kind of holy improvisation needed right now, friends.  Don’t give up. Keep dreaming. Keep scheming of ways to overcome evil with good. Remember Paul’s words: “Let’s not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

Onward in 2021—

Bruce Main

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Thursday, December 10

“When you look back on your time at UrbanPromise,” I asked, “what’s your most memorable moment?”  

Fourteen years have passed since Jeanine attended our high school. Now married to Kyrus, (her high school sweetheart), for thirteen years, a mother of two beautiful children, a Master’s Degree in criminal justice and a successful career within the NJ court system as the Assistant Criminal Division Manager, Jeanine responded with little hesitation.

“I got pregnant my junior year of high school,” she reminisced. “I thought my life was essentially over. I lost confidence. I felt shame. I was ready to drop out.”

At that critical moment something significant happened. One day the director of our experiential learning program, Mr. Cummings, asked Jeanine to stop by his office. 
“I wasn’t sure why I was being called to his office,” she continued. “But here’s what I remember: Mr ‘C’ told me that I had tremendous potential, that God loves me, my life aspirations could still be attained and that I would graduate from high school and go into college.  Those words changed my life.” 

Fascinating. Fourteen long years since leaving UrbanPromise, Jeanine’s memorable moment did not revolve around a well-planned teaching module, an exciting UrbanTrekker trip, a Bible study or even a summer job. 

Her memorable moment occurred in the middle of an unplanned crisis—a moment of real, painful, soul-shaking adversity. 

Life happens. Sure, programs are vital and essential. But often it’s a crisis that can define our lives. Jeanine’s life was spiraling downward, when an UrbanPromise staff worker showed up with the right words—words that gave her the courage to persevere.

I’ll be candid. The potential long-term impact of this pandemic on the social, emotional, spiritual, physical and psychological well-being of our children is keeping me up at night. My staff remind me daily that this is a crisis.

For many of our young people, this crisis will define their lives.  The right adults, with the right words, at the right moment will make the difference. 

  • Our staff must be available for emergency phone calls and texts.
  • Our teachers must be available for extra online tutoring.
  • Our Food Co-Op must be open to meet the increased demands of our families.
  • Our counselors must be available for kids dealing with anxiety and depression.
  • Our Trekkers team must be available for coordinating safe, outdoor activities so kids can get out of their homes.

UrbanPromise needs to remain vital.

The final days of 2020 will decide whether many non-profit organizations, like UrbanPromise, make it through the spring of 2021.

With regular spring fundraising events cancelled and economic forecasts unclear, there’s a lot of uncertainty. December needs to be a strong giving month. 

Fortunately seven of our concerned donors have pooled their year-end gifts to offer a dollar-for-dollar match to the first $175,000.

Yes, the first $175,000 cash or stock gift or pledge (monthly or quarterly) will be DOUBLED between now and December 31st, 2020.

Like you, these generous friends want the UrbanPromise community to keep showing up for young people like Jeanine—children and teens who need our staff.

I look forward to hearing from you in the next few weeks. In advance I’m grateful for your generosity.

A wonderful Christmas to you and your family.

Bruce Main
Founder & President

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Monday, November 23

 

“Real religion...is this. Look after orphans and widows in their distress...”  – James 1:27

“At this stage I think I’d rather die from COVID-19 than loneliness,” shared the 88-year-old voice on the other end of the phone. “I’ve not seen my family in 7 months. I’m just so...so tired of being alone.”  I was uncertain how to respond.
The past few weeks I’ve been returning voicemails left on my mother’s answering machine. News got out that she’s recovering in the hospital from a recent fall, and her friends are checking for updates on her recovery.  It’s heartwarming to experience the concern of companions who span decades.

As someone spending 90% of his life thinking about issues impacting children and teens, I’ve found myself unexpectedly thrust into the world of octogenarians—female octogenarians more specifically. Allow me to make an observation—completely anecdotal—based on my recent conversations with Louise, Vernie, Pat, Nancy, Sheila, Marg, and Dorris. All widows. All living alone. All in their 80’s and 90’s.

Besides the fact that this pandemic is disproportionately impacting the health of our elderly citizens, there is an additional casualty: loneliness and social isolation.  It’s a problem. It’s growing. Especially as we move into this holiday season.
My octogenarian sensitization is pushing me to see beyond my normal social sphere of younger colleagues, active 50-something-year-old peers and the friends of my young adult children. It’s opened my eyes to the painstakingly long, empty days our seniors experience who live alone...shut off from social contact with family or friends. Regular routines of socialization disrupted: church online, assisted-living dining rooms closed, bingo nights cancelled, book clubs on hold and the local Curves studios shuttered for mid-morning Pilates.  “We’re just lonely.” That’s the cry bubbling to the surface.  

A few years ago a friend shared a heartening story of his mother. She kept a list of names and numbers by her phone. Her husband of 60 years recently passed, so she’d often find herself a little melancholy at certain times of the day. “When I’m feeling a little blue,” she confessed, “I pick up the phone, call someone who is worse off than me and try to encourage them. It makes me feel a little better.”  Her story surfaced in my memory this week.

“Fundamentally we are social creatures and part of what brings meaning to our lives is to maintain and foster those social connections,” Lisbeth Nielsen, from the Institute of Aging, reminds us. “Loneliness is the sense of suffering from being disconnected from other people.” 

This holiday season approaches after many difficult and isolating months, with every indication that things are getting worse before they get better. Perhaps a special opportunity presents itself for those of us who own a phone.
What if each of us makes a list of people we know who live alone—individuals whose social connections have been disrupted, who are immune compromised, or in an assisted living facility on lockdown? Once we’ve compiled our list, let’s make a few phone calls and say hello, ask a few questions, express a word of gratitude or even say a prayer. Our listening ear and audible voice will be a welcomed gift.

The apostle Paul, when writing to the church of Galatia, says: “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ.”

At this moment in history, loneliness certainly qualifies as a burden. Those of us blessed with the love of family and friends can carry a little burden for those whose wavering hearts pine for days of crowded kitchens and laughter around the supper table. A short phone call can fulfill the Law of Christ—and put a little Thanksgiving joy in someone’s heart.

Bruce Main

Tuesday, November 17

“Please send me a copy of your paper,” I asked with a genuine sense of curiosity. “I really want to read it.”

“Come on Dad,” was the less-than-enthusiastic reply. “You know you’ll just critique it.” 

My youngest daughter Madeline started a Master’s of Divinity program last month. Admittedly, I’m a little excited and find myself vicariously reliving my seminary days through her—asking about the books she’s reading, discussing lectures...and wanting to read her papers.

“I won’t critique it,” I promised. “Just want to see what you’re writing.”  Wink. Wink.

So the paper arrived. Voraciously I began to read her epistle—something about pastoral counseling and the act of listening.Halfway into second page I noticed a couple of lines about a family dinner tradition.

“My father would bring out the ‘Gratitude Journal’ no matter who was at the dinner table.” She then described how everyone was required to share something for which they were grateful. “In my younger years it was boring and awkward,” she confessed. “Especially when we had friends over.” 

Now a 26-year-old graduate student reflecting more deeply on her life, Madeline concluded: “Engaging in the Gratitude Journal made us more attentive, accepting where we were at that moment, and more observant of our thoughts and feelings.” I paused to reread those words. Wait...what?  My rebellious youngest child remembered the Gratitude Journal.

For those who have experienced the blessing (and trials) of raising children, I’m sure you can relate. Despite the demands on our time, financial pressures, aging parents for whom we must care, marriages that need nurturing, and civic commitments requiring our duty—we tried our best, hoped and prayed that a few of the good things we did for our children stuck.  The Gratitude Journal ritual took root! 

I say ritual because the “Journal” found its way to the dinner table regardless of the current circumstances. Gratitude was part of our nightly rhythm. A bad day at school?  We journaled. An argument with my wife about a credit card bill 5 minutes before dinner? We journaled. A tough loss on the soccer pitch? A crisis at UrbanPromise...we stopped, reflected, looked for the good and journaled together.

Robert Emmons, who studies gratitude at UC Davis, makes a similar argument. “And this is what grateful people do. They have learned to transform adversity into opportunity no matter what happens, to see existence itself as a gift.”  The late Catholic theologian Henri Nouwan said it another way, “Gratitude rarely comes without real effort. The more we choose gratitude in the ordinary places of our day, the easier it becomes.” 

Despite the incredible challenges of this historical moment, I still believe there’s an opportunity to “pull out” the “gratitude journal” —especially as we enter this Thanksgiving season.  Let’s choose to discover things for which we can be grateful. In no way am I asking you to sugar coat life. There is real grief, real pain, real disappointment. But let’s push a little deeper and be intentional about seeing the good, pausing and thanking God.

Bruce Main
Founder & President
UrbanPromise

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