But look beyond the humor, look beyond the “human, all too human” side of resolutions and you’ll see something that is precious and thick. We long for something transcendent. We hope for some final resolution of all of our worn-down hopes and teary-eyed dreams. That resolution to lose 15 pounds may be a longing for a new body, one that will never be corrupted or see decay. That resolution to read 12 books may be a longing for a renewed mind that is perceptive and wise. That resolution to treat people better (Lord, help us) may be a longing for people to live in peace with each other, for us to not learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).Read More
Here at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, our staff is in full swing of holiday cheer. From Christmas lights to sugar cookies to Secret Santa, this season is bringing us feelings of joy and hope. As if all that weren’t enough, one local law firm, Wagner Reese, has decided to match up to $10,000 in donations made by law firms, their staff members, and attorneys from now until Christmas! Thanks to Board member Jason Reese and his partner Stephen Wagner, every time a member of the legal community donates a dollar to the Clinic, Wagner Reese will also donate one dollar.
This isn’t the first time that Wagner Reese has helped the Clinic fulfill our mission—they have been generous supporters of the Clinic for the last three years. We can’t thank them enough for their support, which has taken the form of volunteer service, in-kind donations, and financial gifts. They have shown that they understand the importance of giving everyone, regardless of their income, access to justice. If you work at a law firm, you have seen the powerful difference justice can make in someone’s life.
Of course, helping people overcome legal problems doesn’t just give them access to justice—it gives them hope for the future. Clients who aren’t overwhelmed by the idea of navigating the legal system alone can begin to envision a future where they have less stress and are able to focus on providing for their families. What better thing to share with someone during the Christmas season?
Would you consider making a donation to the Clinic this year to give families hope? Remember, your donation can go twice as far this year thanks to the generosity of our friends at Wagner Reese! When you give, be sure to let us know that your gift qualifies for the match. You can include a short note with your check, designate your online gift “in honor of” Wagner Reese, or email Development Coordinator Maggie Johnson (email@example.com) to let us know!
Hope is humbling. Hope acknowledges that there is something that you need that you don’t currently have. It’s an acknowledgement of a lack. Paul says in Romans 8, “Who hopes for what he already has?” Answer: no one. If you already have it, it’s not hope. It’s called having it. Hope hurts. It’s hard to say that you desire something because intrinsically wrapped up in that desire is the possibility of that desire not being satisfied. And if it’s not, then what? You can’t help but imagine what will happen if your proposal is rejected or if your dream job never calls for an interview. And in the imagining, the hurt begins. This prospective pain makes hope a dicey proposition.Read More
Jesus taught this to his followers in fairly concrete terms. He said if you’re going to invite someone to your fancy soiree, invite the poor and those who can’t pay you back with a return invite (See Luke 14:7-14). And, in a very famous passage in Mark, he says that all “payments” made for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven will be repaid by God in the end—and then some (See Mark 10:17-31). In the reality of Christ’s kingdom, we are free to be generous and free to receive generosity because we all know where the gift comes from.Read More
At the Clinic, we deal with the legal complexities of suffering in many of its guises. Poverty. Abuse. Betrayal. Relational baggage. Debt. Mental anguish. Homelessness. Death. It’s all there: suffering persistently parading its wares in open mockery of the goodness of God’s creation. And yet, for James, suffering gets turned on its head. Indeed, for the beleaguered, for victims of injustice who cling to vibrant faith in a God who suffered deeply and traumatically, suffering gets transmuted into something beautiful. Suffering becomes redemptive. Death leads to resurrection.Read More
Last year was a big year at the Clinic. We celebrated our 20th anniversary, which gave us a chance to reflect. We remembered families reunited; homes saved from foreclosure; crippling debts forgiven; lives preserved through asylum, and more. We remembered the tens of thousands of clients we served with the help of countless volunteers, donors, and other supporters of the Clinic.Read More
There is rest to be had in ministering to others. As Tim Keller points out, there is a freedom to self-forgetfulness. Serving others, fulfilling others’ needs, actually fills you. But there is a rhythm that’s modeled for us in the Bible. After fashioning everything from nothing, God set aside one entire day for rest. God rested to show that he was God and that His creation was good. When we enter into that rest, we too are renewed by the understanding that God is God and that His creation is good. When I rest, I realize, shockingly, that the world doesn’t depend on my awesomeness in order to continue. It depends on God’s.Read More
And that is what forgiveness is. It is the “and yet” after the laundry list of horribles and rampant disregard of human dignity. Forgiveness is the “and yet” after the trauma of race, gender, or class-based violence is heard and seen for the monstrosity it is. Forgiveness is the cosmic “and yet” of a God shamelessly crucified by a world he came to redeem.Read More
And that’s the paradox of being human. We love freedom—but we use it to enslave. Today’s freedom fighter is tomorrow’s oppressive dictator. We are “bent,” as C.S. Lewis put it, towards destruction and we use our power to take it away from others. Not only do we enslave others, but also we allow ourselves to be enslaved by meager things. I rush around, looking for something else to occupy my time and entertain me and fulfill me and satisfy me. We enslave—we are enslaved.Read More
We all long for home. But, this side of paradise, we all are homeless, restless. St. Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Augustine hit on something profoundly human here. Whether we are homeless or have lived in the same house for forty-seven years, there is a restless striving that is baked into life.Read More
They are seeking the most expeditious and least costly way to put past mistakes behind them, not justify them. They want to pick up and move on for the sake of not only themselves, but for the sake of those who depend on them. In my experience at the Help Desk, those who need expungement are not all the same: men, women, young, old, rich, poor, white, black, Hispanic, educated, uneducated, people of faith, people without a faith connection. They are all different. But what they do have in common is a desire to build a future for themselves that is reflective of who they are today, rather than of their choices yesterday.Read More
Community is true when it is gritty and glorious; sacrificial and satisfying; when it is a fellowship of “differents” gathered around a shared vision of justice, a shared Savior. But we must come expecting to be poured out, to sacrifice. If I seek fulfillment in community, I will leave empty. If I seek to be emptied for the community, I will find fulfillment.Read More
God gave us emotions. Far too often, we either suppress them or glorify them. Jesus, however, chose a third way: he used them. Jesus sees the crowds, feels their pain in a genuine way, and tends to their needs. Thus, Christ demonstrates how emotions are tools we can use to showcase what the kingdom of God is like: plentiful, healing, restorative, and just.Read More
Abraham Lincoln once said something that holds true today: “A lawyer's time and advice are his stock-in-trade.” When it comes down to what attorneys like myself actually do for clients, we spend time listening and learning about them. We spend time offering legal advice about what has happened to them and what they could or should do next. What I love about this position is that it also affords me the chance to walk alongside someone who is going through a difficult time. As an attorney at Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, I have daily opportunities to be generous to those who need help. I currently have a client, Harold*, who needs to file a chapter 7 bankruptcy. His wages as a groundskeeper will never be enough to deal with the debt he has accumulated from a few seasons of under-employment and health issues. Moreover, a debt collector has obtained a wage garnishment and is taking 25% of his income, putting him further under the poverty line. This inhibits his ability to keep stable housing and to pay other bills. Harold is stressed and overwhelmed with all of this. Several times he has given me envelopes that he is afraid to open. Here, being generous means listening to Harold with an empathetic ear as we open these envelopes together. There have also been a few times when Harold and I were scheduled to meet, but he missed the appointment. In these instances, I do my best to reschedule the appointment for him—even if inconvenient.
When I fail to be generous, I start to believe that serving the client in front of me is not worth all the time I am putting into it. I start to think that my advice will never be properly understood—much less followed. But when my mind and heart turn toward God’s generous love, I am grateful that He does not see me or anyone else as a waste of time. Rather, God has always promised to be generous to us all. The only possible response to this is gratitude, which produces in me generosity.
There is a powerful promise in Romans 8:32 about God’s generosity: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” I have found, as this verse reminds, that the most sustaining motivation for being generous is the reality that God has so generously loved me—even when I was his enemy.
*Name has been changed
"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed." -- Proverbs 19:17Read More
This post will attempt to summarize sections of the Executive Action which may directly affect the Clinic’s clients and volunteers.Read More
This post is an excerpt of the full talk Brian gave last year at Taylor University for a chapel address, “Doing Biblical Justice as a Servant of Jesus”. To watch the chapel address click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IlRu1qquQgRead More
What image comes to mind when you think of a criminal? Is it a shady figure lurking in the shadows? Is it a white woman tatted up from head to toe? A black male in a hoodie? Truthfully, it may be all three, but it could also be a white male in a fine tailored suit or a bright public figure fixed in the limelight. Too many of us primarily think of the former image and label those individuals as deviant—which is why we must change the way we think about criminality. People commit crimes for a variety of reasons; however, I believe three main factors can be cited as underlying causes for the commission of most crimes: mental health issues and drug/alcohol addiction, interpersonal conflict, and lack of economic resources. Think about the last one for a second. What would you do to survive if you had a small family to care for, but have been locked out of every door that leads to economic success? What if you couldn’t secure public housing, food stamps, TANF? In that scenario, selling drugs might not seem so evil. Perhaps, it could be a way to pick that lock and provide for your family.
Now, it is not my point to justify drug dealing or to endorse the underground economy. Not at all. My goal is to get us to think deeper about the circumstances surrounding the individual who committed the crime. Why? Because if we understand their circumstances, we can understand the mindset, and if we understand the mindset we may empathize with the person, and if we empathize with the person we may no longer generally label the person deviant, but as a human being who made bad choices.
Working for the Clinic and interacting with Project GRACE Clients has helped change the way I think about criminality. Speaking with clients and listening to their stories about how they obtained a criminal record has fostered this change. Whether it was due to a particular rough patch in their lives, if they were caught up in “The Streets”, or just young and…well you know the rest, most clients have some compelling underlying circumstances that impacted the choices they made.
I am glad the Clinic had the vision to implement a plan of action to help ex-offenders, and that the Clinic has put me in a position to do something to improve our client’s life circumstances by sealing criminal records. Sealing criminal records helps strengthen economic opportunities, restore family connections, and remove the stigma of the “criminal” label. Ultimately, and most importantly, I am grateful for the opportunity to be an instrument which God has used to help spread awareness about these issues and to be a part of the process of restoring hope in our client’s lives. Now, tell me what image comes to mind when you think of a criminal?
Carlton Martin graduated from Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 2012, was barred in September 2013 and was hired as the Project GRACE staff attorney in August 2013. Project GRACE, Guided Re-entry and Community Education, is the Clinic's ex-offender re-entry program which began in 2010. For more information about our Project GRACE program and how to volunteer for Project GRACE please email Volunteer Coordinator Erin: firstname.lastname@example.org
After I graduated from college, I started working as an AmeriCorpsVISTA member at another nonprofit in Indianapolis. I loved what I did—writing grants and fundraising letters, researching best practices in donor management, and more. The longer I was there, though, the more I found myself thinking only about the details of my day-to-day work. How could I create the best grant budget? How could I write a fundraising letter that would really connect donors to our mission?
Thankfully, I had an excellent supervisor. She told me that sometimes when you have a deadline looming over you or when you’re worrying about a funder, it’s easy to forget why your work matters and what you’re really trying to do. She reminded me to take the time to periodically think about our clients.
Thankfully, when I came to the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, I realized that even though I still have a tendency to get caught up in minutia, I am surrounded by people who make it hard to forget why we do the work we do. Our staff members and volunteers care deeply about our clients and their wellbeing—they really want to see our clients thrive. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a group of empathetic people who are seeking to live out the instructions found in the Clinic’s vision statement, Psalm 82:3-4: “Defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
I am grateful for my coworkers and for all of the volunteers that I see who demonstrate patience and compassion as they work to make a difference for our most vulnerable neighbors.