Expressions of Grace
Advent 12, 13, 14
The empirical approach to anything means to collect data through observation. Empirical research is that research which has been obtained using empirical evidence. If it sounds like I am repeating myself, it is because I am. I want to make this way of defending and supporting a concept very clear. The empirical approach is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience and it can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively.
The concept of grace, our theme for this particular series, is not something one can definitively identify. Much like probability, the concept from which we have borrowed an approach to discuss grace, one’s perspective bears a great deal of weight in our discussions. Empiricism values research more than other methodologies. Empirical evidence, the record of one’s direct observations or experiences, has four basic goals: go beyond simply reporting observations; promote environment for improved understanding; combine extensive research with detailed case study; prove relevancy of theory by working in a real world environment.
In other words, we need to not just observe but really think about what we observe and provide a clear and objective perspective that includes some fact checking. Then we need to pay attention and try out our resulting conclusions in reality. So today’s post is a three-part series where we will do just that with three different real-life observations of grace. I hope you share your conclusions.
Case Study Number One – Advent 12
A Kansas City organization is raffling off a tiny house. In May a tiny house, a house typically under 800 square feet in size, was dedicated by the Veterans Community Project in Kansas City, Missouri. Heralded as the start of a planned tiny home community, the house will provide transitional housing for homeless veterans.
Lynn Horsley, writing for the Kansas City Star newspaper explained what the Veterans Community Project is. “Some military veterans who want to help struggling and homeless veterans have started a program to build tiny houses on a vacant piece of land in south Kansas City. The first tiny house will be dedicated Monday. “We identified too many veterans suffering from PTSD and addictions who were going untreated and not doing well in traditional shelters,” Chris Stout, president of Veterans Community Project, said in a news release. “We decided as vets that we had to do something to help.”
Stout, an Army veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, teamed with retired Marine Corps veteran Kevin Jamison, Navy reservist Mark Solomon and others to form their nonprofit organization. They are passionate about helping homeless veterans who don’t qualify for other veteran housing programs, and they pledge to connect residents with other services to aid their recovery.
A 240-sqaure-foot home is being raffled with the drawing scheduled for January 1, 2017. It is the product of a collaboration between Veterans Community Project and Zack Giffin (co-host of Tiny House Nation) and sponsored Honeywell. Labor was provided by local homeless Veterans, Zack Giffin, Veterans Community Project, many of Honeywell’s veteran-employees. Materials were provided by Home Depot and 2×4’s For Hope. Tools were provided by Milwaukee Tools. Additional labor was provided by the Carpenters Union, Teague Electric, United Heating and Cooling, and UAW Local 249.
Homelessness is a growing problem among the USA’s returning veterans. Some have difficulty finding employment while others bear the psychological scars of combat. Veterans Community Project is raffling this home to raise funds for Kansas City’s Veterans Village. All proceeds from the raffle directly contribute to the Veterans Community Project’s mission to end Veteran homelessness. Not only can we observe the grace of those involved in this organization but also the grace of those purchasing raffle tickets as well as the volunteers who built this and other such tiny homes.
Case Study Number Two – Advent 13
Benevolence is a buzz word this time of year. While the Scrooges among us may claim people participate for the advertising and spotlight such action affords, the empirical evidence of race should not be ignored. Nor is such isolated to just one area. In Concord, California an auto body shop used the holiday season to spread some good will and grace by giving away refurbished cars to the needy in 2011. Mike’s Auto Body is not just a mom and pop operation. They have fifteen locations in the San Francisco Bay area so you might think they could well afford to be gracious.
They have extended their giving program, however, and the customer helps decide who the recipient of such grace can be. The thinking behind the Mike’s Auto Body’s Community Give Back Program is that by giving back, it can open your eyes to what’s really important and perhaps inspire you to “share the wealth” with others while making your local community a better place for everyone to live. Mike Rose’s Auto Body this year will donate 3% of the parts and labor of auto body repairs to the local non-profit organization of the customer’s choice, whether it’s a school, charitable cause or other non-profit organization. The list of available recipients is diverse and includes all facets of the local communities in the area and charitable organizations. As their website states, this business wants to work with their customer base to give back to an organization or group “that’s close to your heart, because we want to help them and this is one way that we can do it together.”
What a great example of grace in action! To be eligible for Mike’s Auto Body’s Community Give Back Program, select one of the organizations from the participating organizations list or print a certificate for the local non-profit organization of the customer’s choice and then take it to Mike’s Auto Body when arriving for an estimate. When the repair is complete, Mike’s Auto Body will send 3% of the parts and labor directly to the non-profit organization that has been selected along with a check and a letter informing the organization that the gift is from the customer.
Case Study Number Three – Advent 14
Our last observation of grace for this the second week of Advent is from Athens, Georgia. The annual Holiday Benevolence Market, an alternative to traditional Christmas shopping that provides an opportunity to learn about and support local nonprofit organizations, was held on December 3rd in downtown Athens. At the Holiday Benevolence Market, shoppers can purchase items that the nonprofit agencies need, in the name of someone with whom they would ordinarily exchange presents, such as a friend, relative, teacher or coworker. The market has been part of the holiday season in Athens for more than 20 years, hosted by Athens-area faith organizations in support of an array of local nonprofit organizations.
Shoppers can select symbolic gifts ranging from $5 to $150 and make a single payment at checkout. The market has become a popular idea for teacher gifts, church staff appreciation gifts and stocking stuffers, and all donations are tax-deductible. Representatives from the agencies will be on hand to share information about their missions.
The empirical evidence of grace in this event is very clear. The Holiday Benevolence Market began in 1994 as a joint venture between First Presbyterian member Mary Burton and the First Presbyterian Outreach committee. In 2003, other Athens congregations joined. Patrons are given a “shopping list” that includes all of the agencies represented and items that can be “purchased.” The list includes a range of prices. For example, a shopper might buy a box of nails for $10 that will be used in building a Habitat for Humanity house. Or, for $100, a child can be sent to the Extra Special People summer camp for a week.
“We are very excited to continue the tradition of the Holiday Benevolence Market,” the Rev. Margaret Davis, co-chair of this year’s event, said in a news release. “Through the years the market has raised from $15,000-$20,000 in support of the missions of these local agencies, and we hope to reach that level again. We are grateful to First Presbyterian for hosting and to the 10 congregations which are participating in the market. The united effort of faith communities to support Athens nonprofits serving those most in need is a powerful testimony of faith to our city.”
Area congregations will entertain with live music. A light lunch will be served with proceeds to benefit refugees and disaster relief, and musical entertainment will be provided by participating congregations which include First Presbyterian, Congregation Children of Israel, Covenant Presbyterian Church, First Baptist Church, First Christian Church, Oconee Street United Methodist Church, Athens Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Our Hope Metropolitan Community Church, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens. The United Way of Northeast Georgia is also participating in the Holiday Benevolence Market, and more than two dozen nonprofit agencies will be on hand to share information about their respective missions.
The agencies scheduled to participate are Action Ministries, American Red Cross of Northeast Georgia, The Ark United Ministry Outreach Center, Athens Area Emergency Food Bank, Athens Area Habitat for Humanity, Athens Area Homeless Shelter, Athens Area Humane Society, Athens Canine Rescue, Athens-Clarke Literacy Council, Athens Community Council on Aging, Athens Land Trust, Athens Neighborhood Health Center, Athens Nurses Clinic, Athens Tutorial Program, Bethlehem Ministry, Books for Keeps, Casa de Amistad, Children First, Clarke County Mentor Program, Economic Justice Coalition, Extra Special People, Georgia Options, Interfaith Hospitality Network, Jubilee Partners, Mercy Health Center, Nancy Travis Childcare Project, Prevent Child Abuse Athens, Project Safe, Samaritan Center for Counseling and Wellness, and the United Way of Northeast Georgia’s Wee Read Program.
This event combines the diversity of mankind with the needs of the local community is living not only grace but also the joy, community, and hope of the season. Hopefully, grace is always present but at no other time is it more abundant. Grace is the giving back to others, often strangers, out of gratitude for what we ourselves have. Perhaps the greatest evidence of our own true worth is when we are able to help another while going through our own personal storms. Grace is not only for those times where we feel we have too much. Grace is for every day, an expression that gives our own life purpose and meaning.