Saturday, December 11, 2010

Book Review: Under the Overpass

As I type this review, my kids are watching Diego on a flatscreen TV, I have a cup of coffee by my side, I am sitting in my recliner in my climate-controlled house, and my belly is quite full. The reality is that every day, thousands of people in every major city would give anything for these luxuries. Right now, they are outside, trying to find shelter from the cold rain that is pelting my windows. This is the plight of the homeless and the genesis for the writing of Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski.

Mike was a student at a Christian college when a sermon at church challenged him to examine whether or not he was the Christian he said he was. As he mulled over what that meant for him, he wondered how he would react if he put his comfortable life aside to live "alongside of those who live with nothing every day." That spurred an idea in his spirit to become voluntarily homeless to experience what they experience every day, and hopefully increase his heart for the homeless. After discussing his plan with trusted people and loved ones, and after finding a traveling companion, he set off on his five-month journey.

The book follows his - for lack of a better word - adventure through six major American cities: Denver, Washington DC, Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, and San Diego. In each of the cities, the reader is exposed to the real life struggles that every homeless individual experiences: Where will I eat? Where will I sleep? Am I safe here? How can I get warm? How can I get cooled off? Where will I go to the bathroom? and so on. I have been on numerous mission trips and have worked with lots of homeless individuals, but this book painted their struggles in a completely new light. I have a new appreciation for the hardships with which they daily have to deal. But perhaps the biggest struggle that stood out to me in this book was the relational one. You read first-hand how the homeless are prejudiced against, talked down to, yelled at, and treated like dirt, and this sometimes by 'Christian' people. In a Q&A with the author at the end of the book, Mike writes, "By far the hardest aspect was the lack of strong relationships." Comments like these will help me be more conscious of how I treat the homeless when I encounter them. They are, after all, people created in God's image, just like any other.

I really enjoyed this book, if you can enjoy reading about someone's struggles on the street. It opened my eyes even further to the struggles of the homeless, and I had a hard time putting it down each night. But perhaps the best review I can give it is that I am different as a result of its reading.

This book was originally written five years ago, and this is an updated an expanded edition, including an epilogue to the updated edition and a Q&A with the author. It was cool to read how the experience had changed the course to the author's life, as he is now living in community with others who are homeless and doing life with them. The publisher, Waterbrook Multnomah, now offers an Under the Overpass action plan for Christmas, which you can access here. If you would like to read the first chapter (which I would highly recommend!), you can do so here. Once you do so, chances are good that you will end up buying the book, so be prepared...

Monday, December 06, 2010

Flash Mob Beauty

These are probably my two favorite flash mob videos. If you are unfamiliar with what a flash mob is, first of all, where have you been? These things have been quite popular over the last several years. Second, according to the Urban Dictionary, a flash mob is A group of people who are organised via various mass communications to come together at a specified place and time, perform some (typically whimsical) action, then disperse.

The reason why I love these two is because they amount to random acts of beauty. God is all about beauty. Look at the world He created. Look at a newborn baby. Look at a sunset. Look at images from the Hubble telescope. You can't do any of those and argue that God doesn't like beauty. And when I see things like this, I see God's creative work in the world to make it a more beautiful place, and that's never a bad thing. How cool would it have been to be in this food court / department store and randomly experience the beauty of one of the greatest works of art ever? I don't care how bad of a day you may have been having; it would have been better after this. That's what beauty does: it inspires, uplifts, and encourages.

The question for today i: What are you - and I - doing to bring beauty into the world and the lives of others?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

LeBron's Return

I proudly wore my Cleveland Cavaliers t-shirt on Thursday in preparation for LeBron James' return to Cleveland after making The Decision on July 8th, when he jetted Cleveland and took his talents to South Beach. I didn't think the Cavs would actually win the game, but was hopeful that they would have a good showing, which they didn't. When I saw the Cavs line-up and some of the players who came off of the bench, my thought was, "Who are these guys?" Many of them weren't even on the team last year. An it wasn't a matter of Cleveland picking up some high-price free agents; these were the only scrubs they could pick up after James made his decision so late in the game. It was not a lot of fun to watch.

I had at least one friend ask me, and a few others menton on Facebook, that they didn't understand what the big deal was. These people are clearly not sports fans, especially ones of Cleveland sports teams. When you become a sports fan - especially when you are raised as one, like I was - part of your civic pride, part of your identity is wrapped up in those teams. Those are not just sports teams; they are YOUR teams. So when someone pulls something like LeBron did, it's not simply a business decision, as he claims. It's personal.

And the bigger problem with LeBron's leaving is that he did it to Cleveland. I have been a Cleveland sports fan for 41 years now, and am still waiting for one of my team to win a championship. The last major sports team to win anything was the Browns in 1964 - that's pre-Super Bowl, for you uninitiated. So when LeBron came along, Cleveland felt like, "Finally! Someone is going to do it!" Especially since he said that his goal was to bring a championship to Cleveland, and wasn't going to leave until he did it. The way he did it was pretty unclassy, too, on national TV. If you're going to go, OK; don't rub it in our faces. And it was an even bigger deal after all we had gone through:

That's a lot of heartbreak for one city to have to deal with. Time and time again, our city had been beaten up in the sports world, and just when it looked like we were pulling ourselves up off of the canvas to fight again, we get blindsided. So was it just a guy choosing to go to another team as a free agent? Yes. But it is so much more to those of us who love Cleveland sports. It's one more chapter of frustration in the book of Cleveland sports. It will not be quickly forgotten, if ever. Art Modell can't really come back to Cleveland after having moved the Browns in the early 90's because he is not welcome; James will likely get the same kind of treatment for the rest of his career...

For a really good read about Cleveland and the effect The Decision has had, check out this article by Wright Thompson at