Archive for November, 2010

Homeless to Harvard

Posted: November 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

*Check out the story of Liz Murray and how she became a successful author in the midst of homelessness and reckless parents.  We might attempt to bring her to UIndy if she is not already occupied. -Mark Wolfe*

Unsentimental Education



A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey From Homeless to Harvard

By Liz Murray

334 pp. Hyperion. $24.99

Graham Greene once said that writers should keep a chip of ice in their hearts. It’s sound advice, with exceptions. Despite her generous portrayal of her troubled family life, Liz Murray succeeds as an author. Few parents would seem to have been more deserving of contempt than the ones who raised her.

Murray was born in the autumn of 1980 with drugs in her blood (but healthy), and her memoir follows the trajectory of a Narcotics Anonymous narrative — an account of despair and redemption like the ones told nightly, as she writes, in “the basements of urban churches.” In her case, she suffered not from the ravages of her own addiction but from those of her parents. In pacing and style, however, “Breaking Night” reads more like an adventure story than an addiction-morality tale. It’s a white-knuckle account of survival, marked by desperation, brutality and fear, set in the wilds of the Bronx.

Murray’s parents usually burned through their monthly welfare check within a week, spending the money on cocaine, while Murray and her older sister, Lisa, scrambled to stay alive. They subsisted on eggs and mayonnaise sandwiches, occasionally splitting a tube of toothpaste and a cherry-flavored ChapStick to dull their hunger pangs. Once her mother left them alone with a child molester, a man who also supplied their mother with drugs. Despite such appalling, reckless behavior, Murray loved her mother, a “radiant and wild-looking” woman with “long, wavy black hair” who wore “flower-child blouses” in the East Village in the late 1970s and died of AIDS at 42. Murray also admired her father, a graduate-school dropout who kept The New Yorker by his bed and read voraciously, continually renewing his library card in a new name because he never returned the books.

She describes the everyday life of a coked-out household where blood was spattered on the kitchen walls, on clothes, even on a loaf of Wonder bread. She recalls that her mother’s track marks became so thick that her arms looked like “pale hamburger meat.” As children, she and her sister dined on Happy Meals in front of the television while their parents tripped on drugs: “The four of us together. French-fry grease on my fingertips. Lisa chewing on a cheeseburger. Ma and Daddy, twitching and shifting just behind us, euphoric.”

By age 6, Murray knew how to mainline drugs (though she never took them) and how to care for her strung-out parents. She showed uncanny maturity, even as a child, and later managed to avoid that malady of teenagers and memoir writers, self-pity. It was a luxury she couldn’t afford in her crime-ridden neighborhood, where she spent her nights looking out the window to make sure her parents returned safely from scoring drugs. Murray’s stoicism has been hard-earned; it serves her well as a writer.

Murray chronicles her days as a homeless teenager, and as a student at the Humanities Preparatory Academy in Manhattan, after her mother died and her father moved into a men’s shelter. She eventually wrote an essay about her experiences that won her a New York Times College Scholarship. She went to Harvard. She inspired a movie, “Homeless to Harvard,” that was broadcast on the Lifetime network. She survived.

Her mother, Jean Murray, comes across as a tormented character who did her best as a parent, despite addiction and mental illness, and was buried in a pine box, her name misspelled, in a pauper’s grave at the Gates of Heaven Cemetery. (Her husband didn’t show up for the funeral.) Till the end, Jean was adored by her daughter, despite the hardship she inflicted on those around her. “Breaking Night” itself is full of heart, without a sliver of ice, and deeply moving.


Tara McKelvey, a fellow with the Alicia Patterson Foundation, is a frequent contributor to the Book Review and the author of “Monstering: Inside America’s Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War.”

A Purpose Driven Life After 60

Posted: November 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

A Purpose-driven Life After 60

By Rod Dreher – Director of Publications, John Templeton Foundation

“I was really depressed, and had some serious alcohol addiction issues,” he recalls. “I went up to a mountaintop, where I used to do my drinking. I was going to commit suicide. But I had a spiritual awakening, came down, and detoxed myself.”A decade ago, building contractor Allan Barsema looked at the homeless people on the street outside his Rockford, Illinois, business, and saw the man he used to be.

Barsema, then in early middle age, moved to Rockford to live with his parents. They helped him to recover and to rebuild a life shattered by alcohol abuse. He built a successful construction business, and remarried. Then, he says, in the year 2000, he and his wife Cathy “felt God tap us on the shoulder”—and point to the homeless.
“I had been there and done that. I had had an addiction, and I was by most definitions homeless. So my heart was there to help folks, but I had no idea what to do.”

That year, he opened The Carpenter’s Place, a day refuge for Rockford’s down-and-out citizens. Barsema, who has no formal training in social work, applied a building contractor’s methodology to solving the problems of the homeless. He developed a system that coordinated social services for individual clients, with the goal of helping each person build self-sufficiency, not dependency on charity.

“The problem was that so many social service agencies operate out of silos,” Barsema says today. “Until we came along, nobody could keep an eye on each person and his particular needs, and help him get the help he needed to get back on his feet.”

Barsema’s model was so successful that he founded Community Collaboration, Inc., to reproduce it on a wider scale. Today, over 140 agencies in five states use Barsema’s innovative tools and strategies to get homeless folks off the streets and back into life—and 20 more states have expressed interest in adopting this model.

Barsema embarked on his vital new career at a time in life when most people are thinking about retirement. That’s why he was one of five $100,000 winners of the 2010 Purpose Prize, an annual award given by Civic Ventures, a non-profit San Francisco-based think tank, to top achievers in what Purpose Prize founder Marc Freedman calls “encore careers.”

Encore careers are professional second acts that combine social entrepreneurship, personal meaning, and measurable social change. Purpose Prize winners are at least 60 years old, and working in a leadership capacity to address a major social problem in the United States or abroad. Ten people annually win the Prize, with five taking home$100,000 awards, and five others landing a $50,000 prize. This year, the fifth of the Purpose Prize program, 46 other encore careerists were recognized as Purpose Prize Fellows.

Inez Killingsworth, 72, another top-rank 2010 honoree, won for her work fighting community-killing home foreclosures in Cleveland, Ohio. Several years ago, she noticed that some of her neighbors weren’t coming to various meetings. When she went to check on them, she found that many had been evicted when the bank took their house in foreclosure proceedings. Killingsworth later discovered that folks could have kept their homes if they had known how to navigate the system, and how to stand up to mortgage holders taking advantage of them.

Killingsworth’s work with her organization, Empowering & Strengthening Ohio’s people, has kept thousands of distressed families in their homes by teaching them how to negotiate successfully with mortgage holders. Says the feisty community activist: “If you have a dream, you should follow it. If you just sit there and do nothing, that’s what’s going to happen to you: nothing. Get up and do something! It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

Other $100,000 winners were Margaret Gordon, a former housekeeper from Oakland, California, who led a fight to protect the health of residents in her environmentally imperiled, low-income community;Barry Childs of Marylhurst, Oregon, whose Africa Bridge organization helps impoverished Tanzanian children by building schools, opening clinics, and starting farming businesses; and Cincinnati’s Judith Van Ginkel, whose Every Child Succeeds program helps thousands of at-risk, first-time mothers and their babies get off to a good start.

The Purpose Prize is not only meant to celebrate the achievements of creative thinkers over 60, but also to spur them to further progress. For example, Killingsworth plans to use part of her prize money to start a program to help ex-prisoners integrate successfully into society. For another, Barsema is putting his award into a new organization, One Body Collaborative, which will help churches and faith-based organizations coordinate their charitable services efficiently and effectively.

“In these difficult times, we don’t have any talent to waste,” says Civic Ventures’ Marc Freedman. “Purpose Prize winners extend a hand to their neighbors, here and across the globe, and offer role models for us all.”

The Purpose Prizes are funded by grant support from the John Templeton Foundation, which has committed over $8 million to the program, and from The Atlantic Philanthropies. The late Sir John Templeton was keen on the value of working into the golden years, and helping those who wanted to keep giving of themselves in the workplace find a way to do so.

The foundation that bears his name was the encore career of Sir John Templeton, who started the Foundation in 1987 at the age of 75, and who stayed intimately involved with its activities until his death two years ago. At the 2010 Purpose Prize awards dinner, held November 13 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, JTF president and chairman Dr. Jack Templeton shared with winners and their guests a favorite piece of advice from his late father: “Don’t ever retire. You have so much to give.”

In tandem with the Purpose Prize gala, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute honored three Philadelphia area college students as winners of the inaugural Sir John Templeton Noble Purpose Essay Contest. Two students from Eastern University, John Newman and Evan Hewitt, and Villanova student Robert Duffy won the top three awards for their essays reflecting on the qualities of noble purpose.


How far away are you from being homeless?  The speakers from the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) who were at the “What IF?” Speak-In thought that everyone has the chance of losing their home in the blink of an eye.  As such, they felt that service to the homeless was necessary, whether from a call to “love like Christ” or a call to “do the duty that God asked us through the Torah.”

Service to the homeless was definitely the main theme of last night’s interfaith dialogue.  Sixty people of various faiths and traditions came together to make an impact in the world, and by their actions, they succeeded.  The night started with the making of 25 no-sew blankets for the IHN’s homeless center.  During this time, conversation occurred on the motives of the participants; in my group, a Christian, agnostic, and Muslim discussed their drive to be present.  After the blankets had been finished, the IHN discussed their own motivations for working with homelessness, and faith was a resounding answer.  They did not see faith as a dividing factor, though.  Instead, they claimed that they could only solve homelessness by working with others who had a similar drive but a different call.  In conclusion, groups broke off into interfaith dialogue on the call to social action that each faith has.  As a result, many learned new concepts from different faiths and made new friendships.

From the night’s occurrences, everyone learned that the group assembled could make a positive difference in the world by working together.  Indeed, there have already been results from interfaith cooperation.  The most poignant quote of the night was from an IHN speaker named Jo-Ann who said, “I knew a homeless lady through my work with IHN.  Now she is the vice president at a hospital and lives down the street from me.”  If someone can go from homeless to vice president on an individual basis, imagine what the whole of humanity from different backgrounds could do on a communal and global scale.  Let’s show Indianapolis and the world that we are better together!

By Mark Wolfe

IFYC Fellow and President of the Interfaith Forum

UIndy Class of 2013

“What IF?” Speak-In Trailer

Posted: November 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

IFYC Fellow and Interfaith Forum president Mark Wolfe attempts to preview the “What IF?” Speak-In Event with some difficulty.


The Tension of Gray

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

The original blog post by Jeremiah Gibbs can be found at his blog:

Thirteen years ago I walked into a banquet hall with a 12-foot suspended ceiling (the kind you see in hospitals and grade schools) and completely bare walls.  It was once a roller-skating rink, but this night it had been transformed into a worship space. I mean, I guess it was a worship space, but it looked more like a rock concert.  Huge guitar amps and a 9-foot high wall of speakers told me that this wasn’t like the non-instrumental Church of Christ that I attended as a young boy.  When the room filled with more than 500 teenagers jumping to the lyrics “I believe, I believe!” I knew something was about to change in my life.


Within about three weeks, I realized that this was a radical group of Christian disciples.  And my life was never going to be the same.  It hasn’t been the same.


About seven years ago, I had another life-changing experience.  This time it was a small chapel with a couple dozen college students.  There were incense and statues and brightly colored robes with a priest who spoke in a slow and monotone voice. He spent the next hour or so explaining each element of the Roman Catholic Mass.  He told us about how the multiple readings of Scripture pointed to the importance of the whole Bible.  He explained about how the Eucharistic prayer recounted a summary of the whole of salvation history.  And then he handed out little wafers and a quick drink of wine and told the group gathered that Jesus was present in those humble gifts: and he meant it.


But I had long thought that Roman Catholics had hidden the truth of Jesus Christ among their stylized rituals.  Suddenly I realized that the faith I held so dear was at the center of those rituals.  After talking with a few Roman Catholic friends, it became clear to me that life was never going to be the same again.  It hasn’t been the same.


Not only did I discover that I had been sorely wrong about the faith of my Roman Catholic friends, but I began to realize that I may very well be wrong about a great deal of other things.  But you simply can’t live that way.  You can’t walk through daily life without some idea of how the world works and what your place in it is.


So I made a pledge.  I cannot dismiss the religion of another as foolish.  And I must not give up the faith I hold so dear as I explore life and faith and truth with those who see things quite differently than I.  Those notions were formed in the context of a Pentecostal Christian learning from Roman Catholic Christians.  But the tension between these two commitments doesn’t stop at the border of confession of Jesus.


The tension between learning from the Other and holding on to the faith which gives you life and hope can never be resolved easily.  And the generation who I serve as a University Chaplain at UIndy is ready to fully explore a world that is marked by shades of gray.  I think that the future of interfaith relationships is going to be marked by these two realizations.


People in the emerging generation have eaten at table with Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, and Wiccan.  Some of the beliefs and commitments of these folks strike them as dead wrong.  On the other hand, I don’t know very many Christians, even those who count themselves among the radical Christian disciples, who have a prayer life which equals the prayer lives of their faithful Muslim friends.  We have some things to learn from each other, but some of our differences go down to the core of who we are and will never be reconciled.


Dismissing the Other without questioning your own beliefs and practices is too simplistic.  The problem is, you might be dead wrong: just as I was about my Roman Catholic friends.


But giving up the good gift that God has given me as a Pentecostal Christian denies the gift that I have to offer the world as I pray for healing and I live for Jesus.  If I give up my commitment that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” to pretend that we all worship the same God, then it seems that I have little to bring to the conversation and little hope for my life or theirs.


There must be another option: one that is filled with ambiguity.  But the ambiguity encourages a life where faith is the “evidence of things not seen.”  It takes a mature and faithful person to raise their hands to God in worship and be fully aware that another faithfully religious person thinks you are deeply mistaken in that act of worship.  These are things that you discover when you refuse to let these difficult questions at the intersection of faiths be resolved with bumper-sticker theology.


This generation of faithful leaders will not be so easily charmed by images of a black and white world.  And I think their commitment to God will be better for it.


Rev. Jeremiah Gibbs

UIndy Ecumenical Chaplain- Assemblies of God


Language Matters

Posted: November 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

Language matters. Especially when it is language that is used about other people.  I learned that lesson anew in Washington, D.C., when attending the Better Together Interfaith Leadership Institute with the Interfaith Youth Core in October.

This event which brought students and faculty/staff/administration ‘allies’ together to learn, share and plan to make interfaith cooperation and action a greater reality on American college and university  campuses was a tremendous event to participate in.  The energy and excitement of being a part of a movement that has enormous potential to make a difference for people from different faith backgrounds, and I’m so glad that UIndy is a part of this.

Yet, it was in the quiet conversations with my roommate that I discovered once again this important realization:  language matters.

My roommate, (a Muslim chaplain from a different university), and I had multiple opportunities in the Washington D.C. to talk and to share.  Our conversations covered a great deal of subjects –personal life, politics, theology, and popular culture.  We discussed our students, the realities of their lives and issues from our own standpoints, and our vocations as professionals walking alongside them as they strive to negotiate the meanings and values of their lives.  I will always cherish these good and honest talks.

Then, my consciousness was raised when I dropped a term that I only thought was descriptive, and not fraught with negative connotations, implications or baggage.  I talked about ‘moderate Muslims.’  My interlocutor, in his response to me, shared that that term was akin to the term ‘Uncle Tom n*****’ in its meanings and suggestiveness to him.  It was a linguistic arrow that pierced him, as it intoned a type of religiousness that compromises or even negates the complete submissiveness to Allah/God from which he found his life’s value and meaning.

Even now I am working through what this conversation means for me.  What I can say at this point is that I will continue to strive to use the words/terms I use with thoughtfulness and care.  What do I do to a person when I employ the terminology of ‘fundamentalist Christian’ or ‘progressive Christian?’ What is the baggage behind phrases such as ‘godless secularist’ or ‘humanistic agnostic?’ Is there more to the words ‘cultural Catholic’ or ‘secular Jew’ that ends up with harmful stereotyping rather than providing helpful description?

I may mean no harm in the use of such words, but words carry freight.  What I may construe as ‘value-neutral’ phraseology may have hidden implications that extend far beyond my attempts to be descriptive.

I still need to use language.  My efforts to describe positions and people who live from various positions are important.  But my attention to not letting my terms and phrases pigeonhole others or unintentionally impart bigotry or prejudice is heightened.

I invite you to help me in this journey of interpretation and responsible use of terms and phrases as we embark together into the interfaith dialogue that the Interfaith Youth Core and Interfaith Forum are developing.  As I mentioned above, I’ve yet to figure out all that this means, but I am grateful for the reminder:  Language matters.

Dr. Rev. Lang Brownlee

UIndy Chaplain- United Methodist

Not Alone in Making a Difference

Posted: November 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

I’m Saisha Rairdon. I’m a sophomore social work major at the University of Indianapolis. I want to pursue a career as a school counselor. I grew up in New Albany, which is in southern Indiana. I come from a large blended family and grew up in a United Methodist Church. My father is a pastor, but didn’t over influence me in a sense in which I could still determine and establish my own values and beliefs.  I was baptized as a baby, and am continually growing in my faith. I have always respected other’s values and beliefs and have had a strong passion for service towards others. I have come to realize that I can incorporate the two and be of a better value towards others.

And I’m Amanda Carter. I am also a sophomore at the University of Indianapolis majoring in Nursing.  Upon graduation, I want to obtain a career in pediatric oncology. I was born and raised on a small farm in east central Indiana. My parents chose to have me baptized and raised in a United Methodist Church. I went though confirmation as a teenager and I myself, choose to become a member. I am also continuing to grow in my faith each and every day.  I am an interfaith leader, for I know I will better appreciate and serve my patients by grasping an understanding of who they are and what their beliefs and values may entail. Doing this, I will be a more competent and well-rounded nurse.

You may be asking yourself, why are we writing this blog together? We have both been selected to serve as interfaith leaders though AmeriCorps.  What this means is we will try to initiate service by bringing together all those of faith and no faith on our campus and in our community.  Our overall goals are to bring awareness of the importance of interfaith collaboration, to establish a strong sustainable network, and to most importantly implement interfaith service.

On the weekend of October 22nd-24th we traveled to Washington DC for an Interfaith Youth Core conference. The weekend was packed full of workshops, networking, and learning about the interfaith movement. It was all about speaking out, mobilizing, and sustaining this movement which we are all a part of.  The conference also included reflections of different faiths and beliefs in order to grasp a greater understanding.

As we came back to campus we were able to bring insight of new experiences from what we learned with such a diverse group of individuals. We can now better appreciate our own beliefs as well as those of others. It influenced us in seeing how this initiative is so powerful that the White House is even behind us. It is astonishing to know how a few college students can make a world of difference for the future. When the two of us were just walking on our own campus, we felt all alone in this movement. However, this is not the case. There are hundreds of students all over the United States who want to make a difference as well. Seeing these students walk among us at the conference was very motivating and reassuring that we are not alone.

It is hard to say, as we sit here right now, what the future will bring. We do hope for a movement which is as influential as the civil rights movement. We hope for the eyes, minds, and hearts of all around us can be opened and all beliefs are accepted. However, there is one thing we can know for sure. We can teach our own children and all future generations to come about the importance of understanding, working, and serving with all people to make this world a better place.


(This is an op-ed piece that was published in the October 28 edition of the Southside Times.  There is also another version that was edited for length that will appear in the Indianapolis Star soon.  Please read on to hear about how I relate my childhood experience of seeing injustice towards interfaith endeavors today, especially in the “What IF?” Speak-In Event on November 16.)

I always used to wonder what the word “Gurdwara” meant when my family would travel to church on Sunday mornings.  The word was plastered on the front of a building that was continually in our path, and I would often see people walking around the complex with turbans adorning their head.  With my limited knowledge of different faiths at the age of nine, I never considered I might be viewing a Sikh community.  After the September 11, 2001 attacks that forever changed America’s perception of the world, my own perception of the “weird” people at the “Gurdwara” was forever changed.

Few know that 99% of Americans that wear turbans are Sikhs.  Sikhs even have a bracelet that is worn to differentiate themselves from Muslims because the two groups seem so similar in appearance.  After 9/11, the entire American Sikh community found themselves as the unwilling victims of misguided aggression meant for innocent Muslims.  The Sikh Satsang in Indianapolis could not escape this unfortunate onslaught.  Rocks were thrown into their building.  Graffiti defaced their beautiful complex.  I was confused because I could not understand why anyone would want to harm these innocent people.

My church saw what occurred at the complex down the street and decided to take action.  As we knew most of the problem was a result of an ignorance of Sikhism, my church enacted a worship service swap.  The Sikhs visited my church for a Sunday service, and we visited the Sikhs for a Sunday service.  I was invited to become part of the Sikh community for one day, and I wore my turban proudly as I dined on Indian food for lunch.  I still did not fully comprehend Sikhism, but I knew that these people did not have a harmful bone in their bodies.  After we swapped services, my church helped restore the Sikh temple to its original state, as Sikhs and Christians worked alongside each other to bring about a greater good.

As I look back on the persecution the Sikhs suffered, I realize that I still see a world around us that is fearful of the unknown.  With the backdrop of the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy and the threatened Quran burnings by Terry Jones, I see a fragmented America.  Even at the University of Indianapolis, my college campus, I see a separation between student groups.  I watch as Christians associate with Christians, Jews associate with Jews, Muslims associate with Muslims, etc.  There is another world that lies outside our grasp because we choose not to engage it.  There is no reason that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others cannot come together in harmony.  I saw Christians and Sikhs do it during a time of distress.  Why can we not do it in a time of peace?

While we let our faith identities conflict, we let the rest of the world decay.  Wars from Iraq to the Congo cause suffering for innocent bystanders.  Hunger and dirty water plague those in the developing world.  Homeless live on the street with no roof over their head.  Children are brought into prostitution every day.  Disease wreaks havoc on the health of multitudes.  There is so much pain that all faiths are called to heal.  Christians wish to show the compassion of Christ to others.  Jews wish to fulfill the Law that God has sent them to address the needs of others.  Buddhists wish to ease the suffering of those around them.  Imagine what we could do while united.  Imagine the ideas that could come from the discussion of multiple great thinkers from different backgrounds.  Imagine the change we could make in the world.  But change does not occur from ideas or imagination; it comes from action.

On Tuesday, November 16, the Indianapolis community will be invited to the University of Indianapolis to take the first step towards an interfaith reality at the “What IF?” Speak-In Event.  First, a service project that will make no-sew blankets for a homeless center run by the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) will start at 7:00 p.m.  Afterwards, a panel of speakers from the IHN will discuss their commitment towards serving the homeless and interfaith cooperation.  Lastly, there will be facilitated small group interfaith dialogues on the shared goal of social action.  The event will conclude around 9:00 p.m.

What if other faiths worked together instead of working separately?  What if the combined forces of social activists across faith lines worked on a social issue like homelessness?  What if we decided to act now?  Would we change the world?  On November 16, Indianapolis will soon discover that we are better together.

By Mark Wolfe

Allison Resnick

Posted: November 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

Listen as Allison Resnick, a sophomore and Jewish student talks about how she views interfaith endeavors.