**I wrote this article for RELEVANTmagazine.com (published on September 14, 2020).
As Harold put away the groceries he received from his church’s food pantry, he found himself treating his cabinets and kitchen appliances with more care, the way people do when they are guests in an acquaintances home. He knew that soon a stranger would occupy his apartment.
Unsure of where he and his sons would land come January, Harold fought against the anxiety and impending doom that 2020 carried in all its unprecedented glory. He could almost hear the proverbial clock ticking.
December 31, 2020 was just over three months away.
After losing his job in May at the local factory due to COVID-19, Harold began to panic. He was living paycheck to paycheck from temporary jobs and just scraping by as a single father of three teenage boys, who could probably eat a whole church’s food pantry contents in one afternoon.
Devastated by the loss of his job, uncertain of how he would pay rent, and with eviction looming, Harold began praying for a miracle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has the authority to place a moratorium on evictions when they believe it is in the best interest of public health. The CDC took this action on September 4, 2020 when they announced the issuance of an order to temporarily halt residential evictions until December 31, 2020 to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. The CDC’s announcement included a clarifying line that has rocked Harold and many others across the country: “This order does not relieve any individual of any obligation to pay rent.”
Harold heard the news and found himself grateful that he wasn’t under the immediate threat of losing their two-bedroom apartment just west of Uptown Charlotte. However, he knew the details of the moratorium. The rent was still going to come due. He ran the numbers every day multiple times in his mind.
Seven months rent times $695.
Harold and his boys were not under the immediate threat of being on the street today, but that bill was still going to come due.
He could feel the anxiety building in his chest.
Making a Change
In my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, there is a shortage of 30,000+ affordable housing units. The threshold for qualifying for affordable housing is different across the country, but the basic premise is that if a person is making less than the median income in their city, they may qualify for a housing subsidy.
The fact is that profit is taking precedence over people in need in my community and countless communities across the country. Low-income families are struggling to make ends meet, and corporations and city builders exploit this reality through gentrification.
Research has shown that in order for a family to break the cycle of generational poverty, they need access to education, employment, healthcare and housing. During 2020, these pillars of financial freedom were robbed from many families. Schools, which doubled as childcare for many families, were shut down and parents became responsible for their kids’ quality of education. Millions of people were fired from their jobs, which were also their only ticket to healthcare. And rent payments stayed the same despite the economic turmoil the majority of families across the country were experiencing.
Even if you weren’t personally adversely affected, odds are you know someone who was.
As the Church, what should we do about these realities? And what can we do about them? One church was never intended to meet every need of its community on its own. Many churches have mastered the art of the food pantry; Harold and so many others are grateful for that reality. But in order to see to all the needs of our respective communities, we need to learn how to open the door and courageously cross dividing lines.
Substantial improvement begins with collective impact. Collective impact is the phenomenon that happens when cross-sector organizations come together to work toward a common agenda. It is time for the Church to start thinking more strategically about our outreach programs and service to the community.
One practical way to explore how to holistically care for Harold – and thousands like him in your community – is to create an asset map of the people, organizations and resources in your neighborhood or adjacent neighborhoods that provide people with the tools they need to break generational poverty.
What organizations are already addressing areas that your church is not?
What programs are already in place that you do not need to start but simply foster or support?
What relationships do you need to build and what resources do you need to gather in order to point people in need in the right direction?
Local churches have the opportunity to pool the financial and human resources of their congregation to help families that are in need. However, it is going to take a unified effort to address a problem that has been delayed by the eviction moratorium. While the looming housing crisis for neighbors in our communities presents a unique opportunity for the body of Christ to come together, we cannot do this alone. We are going to need creativity and wisdom from God and the commitment to build relationships with people impacted by these realities.
The Church can lead the way in strategically organizing resources and organizations that listen to the voices of the residents and bring practical and sustainable help to families in need.
Is your church engaged in holistically and strategically engaging families like Harold’s with grace, creativity, and courage?
My agent, Esther Fedorkevich, has been a friend for over twenty years. She always believed in me and this message, but she also courageously told me I wasn’t ready a few years ago when we first talked about working together. She told me to patiently wait for the message to form in my heart first. She told me she would be there when I was ready. This book is the fruit of that wisdom. Esther, thank you for believing in and advocating for this message.
My main editor, Tori, is strong and courageous. She read my first proposal before we had ever met. During that first conversation, she said that I had some great thoughts but she could tell that we hadn’t scratched the surface yet on what the message could become. Over the last year, Tori and I have worked on countless iterations of what this book could be, and each time it got stronger. I was always nervous to work with an editor because I thought I would lose my voice. Far from that, Tori taught me how to find my voice. I cannot overstate this… Neighborliness would not be a fraction of it’s current form without your brilliance, Tori. I am forever grateful that you came along to partner with me to get this message into the world. We did this together.
Allison was the editor that read the final version that Tori and I wrote. She looked at it with fresh eyes and made some key suggestions and changes to help us deliver the message more clearly and concisely. She is also the creative genius behind the cover design and interior design of the book. Thank you, Allison, for believing in this message and pouring yourself into it. I am so grateful for you.
I genuinely believe that the team at the Fedd Agency (including Danielle, Kyle, Ginny, and Matthew) is full of a bunch of geniuses that love Jesus and share his love with others by using their God-given gifts.
I don’t know what this book will me to the world, but I want you all to know that you mean the world to me. My heart is full of gratitude and my spirt is alive with hope.
Neighborliness is here and it would have never gotten here without you.
I am so grateful to live in America, but I want to live in an America that is fully awake to the experience of our neighbors.
People all over the country are celebrating the July 4th holiday. On this date in 1776, 13 American colonies declared independence from England. However, did you know that many people of color in our country do not celebrate July 4th? Instead, many prefer to celebrate on June 19th each year – known as Juneteenth. This was the date – 91 years later on June 19, 1865 – that the final slaves were set free in Galveston, TX.
To understand American history, we have to open our eyes and understand that history is complicated. We are a nation built on ideals that were created by man. I think we can all agree that not every person in our nation’s history has the best intentions for all of our neighbors.
I’m not against people celebrating July 4th, but I do want people to understand why not everyone is celebrating today.
76 years after America’s independence was declared, an escaped slave who became an influential author, activist, and public speaker – Frederick Douglass – delivered a speech describing the freedom that many experienced was not shared by people of color. July 5, 1852, he said, “The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This fourth of July is yours, not mine.” Slavery would not be abolished (for everyone except those convicted of a crime) until December 6, 1865.
Instead of following your first reaction – which could include defensiveness, exasperation, or anger – could you pause for a moment and try to enter into the pain and lament of a person living as a slave in a country that is celebrating freedom? Think of the way that you would feel if everyone was celebrating something that was within sight but out of reach of your grasp. If you can allow yourself to go there in your imagination, you’ll have a glimpse into the motivation and meaning of this speech.
Freedom is meant to be free for everyone. Let’s remember that as we are celebrating our freedom today.
Here’s a powerful video that includes the descendants of Frederick Douglass reciting his speech – “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Juneteenth is a holiday that is full of spiritual significance and meaningful imagery.
If you did not come from a background that celebrated this holiday, there is no better day than today (Juneteenth is today!) to start to learn. My hope is that one day soon Juneteenth will be recognized as a national holiday and celebrated across the country with family and friends.
Here’s a video that we showed the kids today. We got together in the living room and watched the video and then simply talked about what we saw. Passing on the spirit of neighborliness to or kiddos is not complex. It just takes some intentionality to create moments to learn as a family.
The message of neighborliness explores the greatest commandment: loving God and neighbors. Finding the beauty of God across dividing lines means that we need to take time to explore our hearts and figure out why racial and economic tension has been dividing us for so long. I think this book will help. I pray this book will help.
We wrote a small group discussion guide for each chapter and included it at the end of the book. The end of this book is the beginning of a conversation. The message of neighborliness is intended to be an inward journey exploring our love for God that naturally moves us to loving our neighbors.
I can’t wait for you to read this. Furthermore, I can’t wait to see what happens when people begin to explore these topics in the context of community.
My friend, Peter Moskowitz, said in his book How to Kill A City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the City, “Systems can change because systems are made of people.” I believe that cities can change, too, because cities are made of people.
In order to change your city, though, you have to start in your own heart. I pray that this book will help you begin at home and then take it to your neighborhood.
The thing that I’ve found that speaks the most in our relationships with people is intentionality. The way I see this playing out the most in my life is through parenting. Dara and I love our babies (they will always be our babies) so very much. They bring so much joy to our lives. Max, Mary, Jack, and Ben are my kids, my best friends, and my greatest teachers.
Parenting has been one of the biggest blessings in my life, but parenting can be straight up hard. Dara and I are imperfect at the art of parenting, but we care deeply. We are intentional with our kids in our conversations, our discipline, our teaching moments, and our schedules. Pursuing intentionality is far greater than striving for perfection because it allows for curiosity, mistakes without shame, and deeper connections with the people you do life with.
Whether you are married, single, with kids, or without, I want to share with you how Dara and I are exploring sensitive and complex topics with our children. My prayer is that you will pick up some practices along the way of how we can pass on important lessons from one generation to the next. I want the same thing for you that I want for my kids. I want you to fix your attention on what Jesus said was most important. Loving God and neighbors.
Everything else, after all, is less important.
My friend, Doug Witherup, had me on his podcast to talk about how we Dara and I talk to our kids about racism. Here’s the link to the podcast: