Seeing ‘The Invisible’

Seeing ‘The Invisible’

If the poor will always be with us, as Jesus said, then why don’t we always see them? Learning from “the least of these” with author and urban ministry leader Arloa Sutter.

Two stories stand out in Arloa Sutter’s new book, The Invisible: What the Church Can Do to Find and Serve the Least of These. The first is about a man named Irving Wasserman, who was a recipient and giver of grace at Breakthrough Urban Ministries, the organization that Sutter founded to serve homeless men, women, and children in Chicago. Wasserman was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young man. He looked and acted like the kind of homeless person many of us would avoid: dirty, profane, volatile. But Sutter invited him into Breakthrough’s community center one day for a cup of coffee and gradually learned that he wasn’t homeless, just very much alone and extremely frugal.

Wasserman found a family at Breakthrough Urban Ministries. He also brought his laundry there once a year so he wouldn’t have to take it to a laundromat and stuffed his pockets with used paper towels so he wouldn’t have to buy toilet paper.

One day, after Sutter had casually told Wasserman about a grant proposal she was writing that would help homeless men and women find employment, he asked her to find a lawyer who would, at no cost, help him set up a revocable trust. Sutter writes, “By living frugally, Irving had saved seven hundred dollars per month from his disability checks and had purchased government bonds every quarter for fifty years. With his gift to Breakthrough of five hundred thousand dollars, this eccentric man, who had been forgotten by many, became our largest donor. His legacy has lived on through the changed lives of people who have been trained and employed because of his gift.”

The second striking story is from Sutter’s childhood on an Iowa farm. One night sometime after a buck had gotten out of its pen and impregnated the female sheep, Sutter stumbled over the body of a frozen lamb that had been abandoned by its mother. She had grown accustomed to collecting dead lambs that winter, but this one surprised her by being alive, if just barely. She nursed the feisty newborn back to health and made it her mission thereafter to see that the rest of the rejected lambs would live.

Many years later, when Sutter’s husband of nearly twenty years decided to leave her and their children just as Breakthrough was beginning to flourish, she leaned on this memory. She writes, “In my imagination, I knew I was that little lamb. I needed to be rescued. I could not pull myself out of my suffocating sack of depression and despair. I needed the Savior, the Shepherd with the nail scars in his hands, to bring me to a place of love and security, to hold me lovingly in his arms and restore me to life.”

The impact was immeasurable. “Without the loving support of people in my life, I too, could have been homeless. I learned to appreciate the family of God and their love for me, and would never again look at people in difficult circumstances from a condescending point of view. God allowed me to experience my own brokenness so I could experience God’s love more profoundly.”

The Invisible is chockfull of compelling stories like these that demonstrate the common humanity of those on the giving and the receiving end of ministry. Sutter culled from her twenty years of urban outreach experience and from her deep theological education (she holds a master’s and a Ph.D. in urban mission) to write a meaty treatise on the personal and communal breakthroughs that are necessary to live out Christian faith in an urban context.

Sutter explains, “While understanding and embracing the personal love of God for me and you is certainly important, my [Baby Boomer] generation, for the most part, emphasized our personal walk with God to the exclusion of any notion of social concern or responsibility. What mattered most was whether I was right with God, and my highest concern for you was whether you were right with God. We weren’t overly concerned with righteousness in our relationships with one another or whether we as a group of people might be unrighteous in the way our lives inadvertently oppressed other groups of people.”

UrbanFaith talked to Sutter about her first book and her journey from farm girl to single mother overseeing more than 50 staff members. She said, “From my background, if it makes sense and you see it in Scripture, of course you act on it, so what I was trying to communicate was that in my background we had a high value of Scripture, but we just didn’t really interpret it in ways that were applicable to an urban impoverished community.”

Although Sutter’s family of origin is proud of her now, she says they were frightened when she and her ex-husband moved to Chicago. Her mother even offered to raise their two daughters. Sutter says, “Any parent would want their children and their grandchildren to have a safe and happy childhood. …People on the farm will say, ‘It’s so dangerous, and it is. As I say in the book, a bullet went through my dining room window, but I don’t feel in danger at all. I think about on the farm a lot of farmers lost their limbs in the combines. It’s a different kind of danger.”

Yes, it is a different kind of danger. But what comes across most in The Invisible is how good that danger is for the spiritual lives of those who place themselves in the midst of it and are willing to be schooled by “the least of these, our brethren.”

A Tale of Two Jordans

ON THE AIR JORDAN: Actor Michael B. Jordan's television work can be seen on Friday Night Lights and Parenthood.

Actor Michael B. Jordan’s compelling roles on two underappreciated TV dramas illustrate the need for biblical manhood and fatherly guidance in our society.
As an avid Portland Trail Blazer fan, I never thought I would enjoy saying this again, but I’ve been having a great time watching Michael Jordan in his prime. I’ve seen some amazing, compelling performances from him. He’s all over my TV. The only weird thing is, his dominant sport is football, not basketball.

I’m speaking, of course, of Michael B. Jordan, rising star in Hollywood. Early fans knew him as Wallace on HBO’s The Wire. Since then, he’s been on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Burn Notice, and Lie to Me, to name a few.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching him most recently on two shows in particular. In the fifth-and-final season of Friday Night Lights (currently on DirecTV, later to air on NBC), Jordan plays quarterback Vince Howard, a troubled kid who gradually becomes a team leader under the tutelage of legendary coach Eric Taylor. Jordan also plays Alex, the unlikely love interest to teenager Haddie on NBC’s Parenthood.

The most striking thing about both of these nuanced, three-dimensional portrayals is that they seem to typify the need that young Black men have for older male role models. Every time I watch his self-assured, vulnerable humility on-screen, I think to myself, ‘that guy needs better men in his life.’

I realize the last thing we need is another piece on Why Our Young Black Men Need Fathers. It’s obvious. If you don’t already believe that, you have bigger problems than this article can address.

It’s also obvious that impartations of manhood are not limited to fathers, and that they’re most necessary in situations where fathers aren’t doing their jobs. For most of Jordan’s run on FNL, Vince’s dad was in jail. Meanwhile on Parenthood, Alex’s dad was an alcoholic.

What’s not always obvious is that this impartation happens in ways that defy our expectations and preconceptions of manhood is supposed to look like.

One man to another
But before we can explore this, we have to define our expectations. Manhood is imparted when one man calls it out in another; when he recognizes it, validates it, and supports it. That’s how it’s shown many times over in the Bible; that’s how it works. This is one of the lessons of To Own A Dragon by Donald Miller and his mentor John MacMurray. A great read, Dragon (which was recently revised and re-released under the title Father Fiction) is a window into the impact one man can have on another when he chooses to live as an open book. It’s a stunning portrait of discipleship, one interaction at a time.

It should go without saying that this impartation can only happen through men, because you can’t pass on to someone else something that you don’t have yourself. Unfortunately, this is no longer common knowledge. The Root recently featured an exploration of professional women considering single motherhood, which, considering the plight of today’s young Black male, is naïve at best and destructive at worst. Just because there have been many single Black women who have done a great job compensating for the lack of men in their sons’ lives, doesn’t mean that the need doesn’t exist.

FRIDAY NIGHT TRUTH: Michael B. Jordan portrays high school football player Vince Howard on NBC’s Friday Night Lights. He’s pictured here in a scene with his coach, Eric Taylor (played by Kyle Chandler).

The good news, though, is not just that you don’t need to be a father to impart manhood, but you don’t even have to be an official “father figure” … you don’t have to join a mentorship organization or program. You just have to keep your eyes open, and make a difference where you can.

You see this if you watch my man Mike B. in both of his recent roles. Men who were not his characters’ biological fathers were still able to make meaningful gestures to impart manhood. Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), Adam Braverman (Peter Krause), and Vernon Merriweather (Steve Harris) all made decisions and had conversations that served to affirm the character of Vince or Alex. None of them were particularly affectionate or emotional, yet all of their interactions were meaningful.

(I’d say more, but you know … spoilers.)

Great results, great expectations
In a recent interview, Michael B. Jordan admitted mild frustration at having such a famous namesake. On that level, I can sympathize. Yet, I believe it’s no coincidence that he’s turning out such impressive performances. With famous names come great expectations. And there’s something about high expectations that help young people respond well.

This is the main lesson we’ve learned from the Tiger Mother phenomenon, as documented by right here at Urban Faith by writer Kathy Khang. We do our young ones a disservice when we lower our expectations for fear of them crumbling under the pressure. As Cliff famously said to Theo, it’s the dumbest thing ever.

And yet, it’s not enough to have high expectations. We’ve got to be able to help our young men navigate the battery of hazards and pitfalls that accompany great talent and great expectations. My heart was heavy as I watched fictional quarterback Vince Howard’s father illegally negotiate with Division-I schools, knowing that real-life quarterback Cam Newton of the newly-crowned BCS champion Auburn Tigers, is still under investigation for the same thing. (And by the way… Newton’s father is a reverend. Lord, have mercy.)

Clearly, we need more men in our country who can and will continue to take the opportunities around them and make positive impacts in the lives of our youth.

Find a spot, and take it
That’s one thing I consistently saw from my own father, a reverend himself, growing up. If I had to pick only one positive attribute that I could take from him (trust me, there are dozens), that’s the one I would want to emulate. Even now that he’s retired, during outreach events, church services, or on afternoon bike rides, my father is always on the lookout for a young man who needs an impartation of hope and destiny. And when he sees an opportunity, he goes for it.

It’s for this reason that, as I’ve continued to grow as a musician, he implores me to continue doing hip-hop music that offers hope and models discipleship. And that’s why, if someone is feelin’ our material, they should just go ahead and take it.

Because whether it’s in the context of doing Christian hip-hop music, coaching football, leading a church ministry, or just talking straight with the young man who wants to date your daughter … every man has an opportunity to call out manhood in a young man who needs it.

And you don’t have to be Michael Jordan to make it happen.

The series finale of Friday Night Lights airs Wednesday, Feb. 9th, on DirecTV. NBC, which co-produces the series, will begin its broadcast of the final season on April 15th.

Holy Ghostz Boyz

Holy Ghostz Boyz

Twin brothers, Diapolis Banks (aka “Prophet”) and Deabloe Banks (aka “Logic”) have taken on the ministry of reaching today’s young people through rap music. They have a powerful, Word-based message that is bringing those who are lost and forgotten to a relationship with God and bringing encouragement to those who are saved.

Recently, Inteen had an opportunity to watch The Holy Ghostz Boyz minister and sat down to talk with them afterwards. Here is the video!


For more information about the Holy Ghostz Boyz check out their website!