Nate Loucks

Blog

Nate Loucks is the pastor of State Street Community Church and the President of the Pax Center in downtown LaPorte, Indiana. These are thoughts on faith, social entrepreneurship, and the beauty of life.

Indiana, what do we value?

LaPorte, Indiana is not as rural as the towns featured in this VICE News segment, but we share some similarities with these communities. Recently, I heard a story about the differences that have happened in the last 10-15 years in the number of applicants for a gym teacher position. In the past, there might be 15-20 applicants. Now, they are lucky to get 4-6 candidates.

Last year, research published by Indiana State University suggested that of the 220 districts that responded to the survey, 91 percent reported experiencing a teacher shortage. What is causing the shortage? According to their data, a combination of factors including lack of pay and high turnover. To illustrate this sobering reality, the U.S. Department of Education said that in Indiana, inflation-adjusted teacher pay has fallen since the 1999-2000 school year to the point where teachers now earn almost 16 percent less than they did two decades ago.

All my life, my father has repeated this axiom, "If you want to know what someone values, take a look at their pocketbook." While that's not true in every circumstance, there is some truth to it. If we value the development of children and education in Indiana, we should be willing to compete with the states that are compensating their educators far more than the Hoosier state.

Over the last year, in helping a small team of teachers and staff at our local elementary school achieve certification and develop curriculum, I witnessed the incredible lengths that educators, staff, counselors, and administrators go to provide every student with a thorough and efficient education while also working to bolster a child's social-emotional well-being.

It's late nights and early mornings. It's pressure from administrators and parents to meet standards that are not always well-defined. It's processing stories of trauma and chaos with a child while trying to create environments of inclusion and embrace (but, don't forget about those education standards!) It's being scapegoated when something in a school doesn't work, but also being asked to do more with less each year. It's being told that "we need to stop teaching to the test!" while being handed new requirements for the next test. It's recognizing that they can make more money in another vocation, but holding strong to the unrequited joy and satisfaction when a child gets "it" for the first time.

We need more public school teachers. We need better-paid public school teachers. And, not for the sake of the educators; for the hope of a healthy and adjusted society. If you want to know what someone values, take a look at their pocketbook.

A Thanksgiving Prayer from Walter Brueggemann
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A Thanksgiving Prayer by Walter Brueggemann

At Thanks Giving
Amid football, family and too much food, 
we pause quickly and without inconvenience
to remember and to thank.

We remember ancient pilgrims
who followed dreams of alabaster cities and financial opportunity;
We remember hospitable first nation people
who welcomed them, and then lost their land;
We remember our family times
filled with joy and
filled with anxiety, and
old scars still powerful.

We thank for this U.S. venue of justice and freedom,
and are aware of its flawed reality;
We thank you for our wealth and our safety,
and are aware of how close to poverty we are
and how under threat we live.

We gather our impulse for gratitude today,
grateful to you and our ancestors,
grateful to you for our families, our health, our government,
our many possessions.

We gladly affirm that
"All good gifts are sent from heaven above,"
But we yield to none in a sense of self-sufficiency,
our weariness in needing to share,
our resentfulness of those who take and do not give.

Your generosity evokes our gratitude,
but your generosity overmatches our gratitude.

We are ready to thank, but not overly so;
We remember our achievements, our accomplishments,
our entitlements, and our responsibilities
that slice away our yielding of ourselves to you.

Move through our half measure of thanks
and let us be, all through this day,
more risky in acknowledging
that we have nothing except what you give.

You have given so much
not least your only Son.

Give us the gift of dazzlement and awe
that we may rejoice in our penultimate lives
and keep you ultimate all the day long,
relishing the wonder of your self-giving love.

- Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People

Self-Sufficiency in LaPorte County

From the foundation, State Street has been a community that has engaged poverty, hunger, and loneliness in the city of LaPorte. The Pax Center is an extension of our belief that Christians should be committed to the common good. Christianity is a neighborhood religion. What happens in the localized neighborhood should concern the citizens of a church. But, in order to be concerned, we must first be aware. What are the needs? What are the struggles? How can we best walk with those battling these profound poverties? 

Indiana Institute for Working Families released The Self-Sufficiently Standard for Indiana 2016 in January. It just recently crossed my desk. The self-sufficiency standard measures the basic costs needed for a family of a given composition to bet by where they live. Essentially, it tells you how much it truly costs to live in a community and be self-sufficient (i.e. not needing any governmental or nonprofit assistance.) The equation to determine the self-sufficiency standard includes costs associated with housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, taxes, and other miscellaneous burdens that people incur during the course of the month. As most people know, there’s always SOMETHING else that comes up, and those somethings can often be the determining factor between someone making it or not. 

The most important truth that came from this study is unsurprising to most — the current minimum wage will not support a single adult in any county in the state of Indiana. The minimum wage is not a minimum wage for self-sufficiency. You can get paid minimum wage and still need the support of governmental and nonprofit entities. Anecdotally, we have people that work that also visit the Pax Center. Many get a job paying minimum wage and believe they will finally be able to make it on their own. Disappointment sets in when they find out that they can, in fact, work 40 hours each week and still not be self-sufficient. The following is a chart that shows the highest self-sufficiency wages compared to some of the lowest in the state. 

One of the more interesting findings from this study: 

“The most common Indiana occupation is retail salespersons and accounts for 3% of all Indiana workers. With median hourly earnings of $9.47 per hour (median annual earnings of $19,709), the most common occupation in Indiana provides workers with earnings that are less than 50% of the Standard for this family in Marion County. IN fact, two adults working full time at this wage would still not be able to earn the minimum needed to support a preschooler and a school-age child in Marion County. Both adults would have to work an additional 16 hours for a total of 56 hours per week at a retail salesperson’s average wage just to meet their basic needs.” 

The study paid special attention to single parent incomes. They found that with a single parent, one preschooler, and one school-age child, at the minimum wage the parent would need to work 82 hours each week to meet the cost of their basic needs (and this includes the value of tax credits.) To meet the state standard for self-sufficiency, a single parent of two children would need to make $20 per hour. However, each county can differ on the precise costs and amounts needed to be self sufficient. Here’s the data for LaPorte County: 

Based on this data, for a single person to be self-sufficient in LaPorte County, they would need to make at least $8.90 per hour. For a single parent of two children in LaPorte County, they would need to make $21.45 per hour. 

It is quite a bit of data to digest. I’m not exactly sure how the data will impact what we do at the Pax Center. It will certainly inform our opinions and posture toward those struggling in economically depressed situations. It is hard to make it, especially without a supporting network and someone to give you a chance. It is not always as simple as "_______ needs to get a job!" You can have a job and still not be self-sufficient. We need better jobs. We need higher paying jobs. 

According to Indiana Institute for Working Families, the road to economic security is threefold: 

  1. Secure basic needs [make enough to be above the self-sufficiency standard]
  2. Create an emergency savings fund [have enough for job loss, emergencies, economic crises, etc.]
  3. Choose an economic security pathway [better postsecondary education, improved housing homeownership, and savings for retirement.]
Nate Loucks
A new chapter, a new look

At the beginning of 2016, I told our congregation that it feels as if we are turning the pages to a new chapter of our community. In the last 18 months, we’ve opened the Pax Center, finished a significant building addition, and added another full-time pastor. I half-jokingly refer to State Street as an experiment. The way we handle money, the path to staffing, and the questions we ask take us down a path of uncommon ground. To do what we do, we must do things in a different way. This new chapter will be an exciting challenge. The experiment continues. 

To go along with this next chapter theme, we decided to incorporate new branding. We have a new logo and website (designed by Apollos.) The logo is simple, yet tells a part of our story. It is not merely an image, it is an identifier and reminder. It says something about us. 

The logo that we went with leveraged two of our main priorities: Jesus and love/charity. In the scriptures, wheat is a sign of charity and love. We believe that the greatest gift the Church can demonstrate to the world is an unrequited and committed love. It is a love filled with mercy, not judgment. It is a love that embodies the common good for each neighborhood. At the heart of all of our ministries and projects is this objective: love God, love others, and love well. At the heart of our new logo is the cross surrounding by wheat grains. It serves as a reminder that Christ invites us to love people well, because we are people who are loved well. We believe that everything we do, including our branding, should tell that story. 

Along with this new logo, we have a new website. Check it out. 

State StreetNate Loucks
The Lion and the Lamb (and the Donkey and the Elephant)

“Vote your conscience.” With three words, Ted Cruz ignited the fuel of incensed GOPers at this year’s Republican convention. The auditorium filled with boos and disapproval. The next day the news stories were aflutter with Cruz' lack of support, and for some, lack of respect. Perhaps the time and place wasn’t right for Cruz, a former Presidential candidate himself embroiled in a longstanding feud with Donald Trump, to make that statement. Party conventions are the time and place for partisan politics and overly simplistic axioms about the rightness of each party. In a world of binary political distinctions and contentious political bickering that drowns out any nuanced civic discussion, voting ones conscience has seemingly become a secondary commitment. 

My grandfather was a passionate Democrat who believed in the rights of workers and the ability of politics to effect change for the common good. His son, my father, has voted for more Republicans than Democrats. He believes in a limited government that does not overtax its citizens and balances budgets. My grandfather was an active member of his church. He woke up each morning at 4am to spent an hour in prayer each day for his family, his church, and this world. My father is an active member of State Street. He volunteers dozens of hours each month to help further the mission and vision of our church community. He's been a great partner in ministry for me. One leaned Democrat, the other leans Republican. They both love(d) America, Jesus, and the church. Their faith informed their politics, even when they came to a differing opinion on what party to support. 

I have never joined a political party in America. Perhaps it's a symptom of a larger commitment problem (I've spent hours having an internal debate when a questionnaire asked about my favorite food.) I have voted for members of both parties. In some elections, the best choice I could decipher was total abstention (I believe that not voting is a legitimate option... but, that's for another blog.) Our multigenerational church community is filled with different people with diverse political commitments. As a pastor, I wouldn’t want it any other way. But, embracing diversity in anything comes at a cost. There is always the risk that people can love their political party or convictions more than their community. Too often in American, politics informs our theology. If our calling is to truly love our neighbor, that certainly should extend to those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. 

As we get closer to the election season hitting fever pitch, we thought it would be wise to center ourselves on some conversations that will likely impact each of us as we enter (or abstain from) the polls this year. We’re calling this series, “The Lion and the Lamb and the Donkey and the Elephant.” I hope you can join us. 

Week 1: A Call to Civility to Liberals and Conservatives (and every in between)
[Nate Loucks preaching]

Week 2: Justice: The Christian Way
[Becky Crain preaching]

Week 3: The World is Our Parish, Seeking the Common Good
[Nate Loucks preaching]

Week 4: Romans 13. WHAT!?
[Nate Loucks preaching]

I believe in a church that is quick to listen and slow to speak. That seeks to listen well to those we may disagree with on major issues. I believe in a church that cultivates a culture where each person is valued as uniquely created in the imago dei. I believe in a church that can disagree respectfully without false characterization of the other. Humility, meekness, and gentleness are virtues that Christ invites us to imitate. I believe in a church that is meek and humble and not proud and boastful. I believe in a church that can work for the betterment of the city and community it lives. I believe in a church that loves its enemies and prays for those who do us wrong. I believe in the church. Let’s talk about how we can better model the fruit of the spirit in this election cycle. Allow the church to be the entity that embraces the other in the midst of the chaos all around. I believe in a church that truly trusts that mercy triumphs over judgment. 

I hope you can join us this Sunday.