In Discovering Jesus in the Least, you’ll walk alongside veteran outreach worker, Chris Ramsey, as he uncovers the depths of God’s love not only for the “most overlooked and ignored” folks in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood . . . but also for himself.
Ramsey welcomes the reader into his world through a wide variety of short, poignant observations amassed over 25 years. What he discovers will undoubtedly challenge you to examine your own views regarding the poor and the homeless of our 21st century American society.
Chris Ramsey’s Blog
There’s an old metal sign that hangs on the outside of our Sylvia building. It’s placed about five feet above our entrance door and about two feet to the left. It’s only about a foot square, so it doesn’t catch your eye when you walk in.
Indeed, I’d bet a good number of our workers, clients, and visitors have never even noticed it. It’s rusted, but still legible. It reads, “Fallout Shelter-Capacity 593.”
Those of us who are older (baby-boomers and beyond!) will remember what these signs signified. They broadcast the fact that our building—a large five-story, fortress-type structure—would open its’ doors to the public should we come under a nuclear attack. It was a place that people could escape to in hopes of surviving a nuclear blast.
Fallout is defined as, “The descent through the atmosphere of particles, often radioactive, stirred up by, or resulting from, a nuclear explosion.” And the term shelter is defined as, “that which covers or defends, a place of protection; a refuge.”
Thankfully, our building did not have to be used for those purposes. But I’m sure it was somewhat comforting to know that there was a building one could escape to should the “unthinkable” occur.
So what does this have to do with our present-day work of sheltering the homeless? A few ironic observations come to mind.
This building was never intended to actually “shelter” people on a regular, year-round basis. It was intended to be a place of employment for lower class folks in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. The shelter aspect of the building was to be used only in the event of a nuclear emergency.
Now, in the 21st century, this building is being used to shelter people on a regular, year-round basis. But there is a difference. Our present-day capacity as set by the city of Chicago is 340.
So how did this building go from being a profitable place of employment to an old, run-down structure that offers temporary shelter for those who are not “making it” in our society?
The answer is simple, but not really simple. I presume that a once thriving industrial business (Mechanical Servants) ran into supply and demand issues, which in turn affected their bottom-line. They went out of business, but the building remained. And it remained essentially vacant for a number of years.
Fast forward to 2001. This huge vacant factory building just happened to be on the market. It also happened to be right across from our original Cornerstone shelter on Clifton Ave.
Chicago’s homeless situation dictated the need for more shelters. Chicago’s Department of Human Services, our primary financial supporter, agreed. And so, with their backing, we purchased this building, which became the Sylvia Center.
But why had this dramatic change occurred? It wasn’t because there was an imminent threat of war. It was because a different type of bomb had been detonated. This bomb could be labeled economic, and its fallout had led to so many commonplace men and women becoming homeless. What’s more, it seemed that nobody could place the blame on any one person or any one entity for allowing this “bomb” to go off.
I mean, a lot of folks saw it coming. And there were so many from all sectors of society who raised their voices—who pleaded for common sense answers to avoid the crisis at hand—but their desperate cries fell on deaf ears.
So that is the story of how our building came to fulfill a variety of purposes. It was a prime source of employment for a few decades. And it was a building that could be counted on to shelter a lot of folks, should a nuclear war occur.
But now it’s simply a shelter from all the “bombs” that society can’t seem to stop from exploding all across the neighborhoods of Chicago.
One thing’s for sure: if the bombs keep going off at the current rate, I think we’ll ALL have to start looking to purchase additional, old factory buildings to deal with the increasing homeless fallout.
Of course, they don’t have to be old “factory” buildings. They could even be no-frills SRO (single room only) dwellings (with supportive services included). But a solution such as this makes too much sense. And there doesn’t seem to be very much of that around these days.
I mean, a solution such as this might even largely eliminate the need for shelters, such as ours. But I just happen to know that we wouldn’t mind being forced to “close our doors” if folks really were moved into a simple room to call their own, with wrap-around services and caseworkers to assist them.
However, I’m not going to hold my breath, waiting for this type of solution to become the norm.
I mean, just because we as a society have the means and capabilities of employing solutions such as these doesn’t necessarily mean we will “do the right thing.”
A message that’s timely, relevant, and necessary.
On April 9 I was blessed to attend the “Beating Guns” Chicago event at the Pilgrim Lutheran church on the Northside. Shane Claiborne, a well-known Christian activist and writer, and his co-author, Michael Martin, a Mennonite pastor turned blacksmith, brought “the facts” about guns in our American society, as well as a “forge” (a workshop where wrought iron is produced or where iron is made malleable) to demonstrate how a gun can be turned into something a lot less “deadly” and even artistic.
The evening was filled with lament, facts, testimony, and hope. And it wasn’t the kind of rally that “demonized” anyone who does own guns. No, but it was a clarion call to action for “common sense” gun laws, and a much needed clearly, spelled-out and well-reasoned perspective on how we in America got to our present state in society.
Their newly released book, Beating Guns was also available. And just give you an idea of what Shane and Mike’s intentions and hopes are for the book, please read their opening “Note to the Reader:.”
If you own guns and want to see fewer people killed, this book is for you.
If you’ve never even touched a gun and want to see fewer people killed, this book is for you.
If you are a victim of violence or have lost a loved one to murder, this book is for you.
If you have hurt or killed someone, this book is for you.
Basically, this book is for everyone who is tired of violence.
This is a book for people who believe—or who want to believe—that things can be different than they are right now.
The following are a few snippets of “truth” that were shared:
*We have more guns in United States (over 300 million!) than people.”
*We make one gun every three seconds.
*There are nearly five times more licensed gun dealers in America than there are McDonald’s restaurants.
*We ought to be praying for a public lament and transformation for this country from a vision for life, not death.’
*We want to move from weariness to hope.
*Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides.
* Guns don’t discriminate.
*We’re better at protecting guns than people.
So what does all this violence, all this heartbreak, all these life-ending actions (gun deaths) do to us? To be sure, it makes us all (or should make) sad, mad, depressed, hopeless, angry, frustrated, and so many other emotions.
And I believe that so many folks have “almost” lost all faith in getting our politicians “on board” for common sense gun laws. Does it not seem like nothing ever gets done? Just talked about and debated about every time another tragedy occurs.
And so, Shane and Mike are making strides to call “the church,” and other faith-motivated, and even secular folks to join together in a grassroots movement to keep on bringing “these truths” before us all in the hopes that “real change” is possible.
But before this can movement can grow into a mandate we all have to admit (no matter which side you’re on!) that we really do have a problem…a gun problem.
And this is not to negate the fact that we have a heart problem as well.
We have both. For we all know that it is people who kill other people… but with so many guns so “available” and so “deadly” doesn’t it make sense to keep on fighting for a safer, much more life-affirming atmosphere that we are all inhabiting?
And one final observation and possible perspective: I’d venture to say that almost everyone (including atheists!) asks themselves the question “Where is the God (you say you believe in) in the midst of all this senseless violence?”
But what if this God (that many of us say we believe in) as portrayed in the Bible is asking us, “Where do you “stand,” and what are you doing about all the heartbreaking, senseless violence that we see on the news every night, and on our city streets?”
Thanks for stopping by. And check out Beating Guns.