Archives for category: Justice

This morning I am in Kansas, really not all that far from the state line with Missouri, my current home state.

Today and the next few days are ‘furlough’ which to a Salvation Army Officer means time to not-work.  I will do that for the most part.  Part of furlough in Elk County is a leisurely morning run down a dirt county road.  More than routine it is my ritual.

Yesterday morning eight whitetail crossed the road ahead as I ran north, turning with the road as it jogs right, and then left as it resumes its northerly course.  A rural water district water tower ahead beckoned me once more onward, upward the rising road.

Kansas Elk County Road 21 4 24 2018

the view midpoint in a 10k route return

Furlough days allow for these things typically put to the side.  Long runs, and reading this excerpt from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s new book Reconstructing The Gospel just out from Intervarsity Press.

Reconstructing.

Systems.

I paused in my reading.  I will get a copy of the book.

I paused at the word ‘reconstructing’.

Salvation Army work currently involves me in the roll out of a racial equity lens for our Army use throughout the St Louis region.

I live in St Louis, my office based here too.  Responsibilities frequently take me on the road throughout Missouri and southern Illinois.  Away from life which I enjoy in our Benton Park West neighborhood, a ten minute walk to Cherokee Street, the gritty diversity, the earnest and often clueless young white folks moving into BPW.  And the personal challenge to me, a professional minister with years of experience in urban inner cities now able to live in a place I understand.  Often.  There are times I am not so unlike those earnest ones.

Reconstructing the gospel is about reconstructing the systems that are in place which handle, shape and unavoidably misuse the euangelion.  A racial equity lens helps us to examine these systems.  Organizations and institutions are systems.   The Salvation Army is a movement.  As is the way of all things, it requires shape and form.  Organization.  Ways, traditions, culture.  Decision making patterns and instituted policies.  Thus, like all organizations, we need a lens in our 21st century American post-Michael Brown St Louis setting.  We needed it pre-Michael Brown.  But now we do have a way of examining our movement here in terms of racial equity.

On the road between Kansas City and this quiet Kansas county we listened to an interview with Rhiannon Giddens, recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant last fall.  She is now working on a “theatrical treatment” of the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898.  This musical work will help us see what American history calls Reconstruction, the decades following our Civil War.  Listen to the interview.  Giddens helps us realize it should not have been a surprise what the powers of white supremacy did to Reconstruction.

The Reconstruction of the late 19th century South in America is controversial.  Until lately it has been viewed through a set of white supremacist eyes.  As a schoolboy I remember reading it to be so in our history textbooks.  It is only later in life that I’m learning otherwise.  Giddens’ new work will be part of helping tell a full story.

Things not rightly put together do not work as meant to be.  Things rightly put together can go wrong.  The attention of God in our world is in the rightly putting together of things, and in the making right of things gone wrong.  Regeneration.  Reconciliation.  Redemption.

Running.  Reading.  Ruminating.  My morning run takes me past cattle chewing the cud.  They spot me, stand, stare.  One begins to run and then all.  Every morning, through the years.

We are beginning to notice.  Using our eyes in new ways.  This is our time to start moving, some would say running to make right the things wrong.  To make new things rightly.  Reconstructing.

As we reconstruct systems, help us, Lord, to be surprised.

TSARSTL Racial Equity Lens #4 png

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Gail and I have followed David Claerbaut for years.  First many years ago in his published writing on urban ministry, then several years ago a visit to his church around the corner from us in Chicago.  Now I keep up via his blog.

This is the week America remembers the killing 50 years ago of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Here’s what D.C. wrote on it.  I found it helpful:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered 50 years ago today.

I remember it well.  The announcement that interrupted normal television programming was chilling.  King had been in Memphis supporting a strike by sanitation workers, yet another of his many self-sacrificial efforts on behalf of the powerless. In a fleeting moment this larger than life public figure was gone.

It is hard to describe the impact of this 39-year-old martyr for the cause of the Second Great Commandment.  Upon news of his death, cities exploded in violence, people—black and white–were plunged into despair; the civil rights movement—of which King was all but the incarnation—appeared over.  Everyone was in shock.

His death did all but mark the end of the turn-the-other-cheek non-violent form of political resistance.  His official successor, Ralph David Abernathy, had none of King’s charisma, and the divisive Jesse Jackson, who all but hijacked King’s mantle, has always seemed more in a quest of the nearest camera and the attendant self-aggrandizement, than the cause of justice.

It has never been the same since King died.  He was a unifier, a man of the people, shunning celebrity and a life ease in favor of the less traveled path of genuine servanthood.  Though quoting from scripture and often in prayer, some evangelicals criticized him as a theological liberal for his emphasis on social rather than specifically spiritual causes.  Yet many of the very seminaries from which those critics graduated would not admit King, because there were on the wrong side of the Second Great Commandment—the one King was living out.

His work was rooted in faith and a call to God’s work.  “Before I was a civil rights leader,” said King, “I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”

The man who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” was a giant—clearly among the most important figures in the second half of the 20th Century.  Like Moses and David, Martin Luther King, Jr. had his imperfections, but I shudder to think of where our nation would be without his brief but shining presence. DC

You might also be interested to know that the killer of Dr. King escaped from a Missouri state prison for an armed robbery on the street I run along every morning.

texas-looking-east-on-pestalozzi

Every Monday a scripture portion arrives in my email.

Major Israel Velazquez sends it.  Major Israel is a retired Salvation Army Officer.  He  and his wife, Major Wilma, served many years in some of the Midwest’s largest cities.  Their ministry was Salvation Army programs for adults with substance abuse problems.

This morning this verse came and right away I knew what it was saying to me.

ACTS 26:16;18 (VOICE)

Get up now, and stand upright on your feet. I have appeared to you for a reason. I am appointing you to serve Me. You are to tell My story and how you have now seen Me, and you are to continue to tell the story in the future. It will be your mission to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. This is so that they may receive forgiveness of all their sins and have a place among those who are set apart for a holy purpose through having faith in Me.”

Earlier at breakfast Gail and I talked about what happened on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.  Witnesses strongly disagree on some points.

But on one point the most reliable witnesses agree that Michael Brown charged at Officer Darren Wilson.

What in the world was going on in Michael Brown’s head?

We will never really know.  But Gail and I feel we have a better than average guess what was going on.  Michael Brown had enough.

Sure, there is a supporting cast of contributing factors. Petty larceny.  Tensions in and unique to Ferguson.  Decades-long tensions in America between its powers-that-be and American people who have no part in the America of those powers.  I’m sure you can add to the list.

But he had enough.

There is no other explanation for why in the middle of a hot summer day a black man would run down the middle of the street directly at a white policeman holding a gun.

He’d had enough.

***

 

“open their eyes.”  It’s my responsibility to open their eyes.  Maybe your responsibility too.

There are many people in America who do not see.  They don’t understand the oppressive weight on those who do not have a place in America.  They do not see the overt and covert oppression visited on individuals, families, communities.  They don’t know, really know, people who live with this weight.  They don’t get it.

We have a responsibility.  We are to open their eyes.  That they might turn from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God.

In turning comes forgiveness of sin.  In turning they find a place.  Not in the systems and structures of this world’s powers.  They may already be in those places.

‘place’ in Jesus’ words, later recounted by the Apostle Paul when forced to stand as a prisoner before authorities, is a place where God’s people discover they are set apart for a holy purpose.  God’s purpose for his people.  To talk of.  To live for.  To bring full life to human beings.  “I have come that they may have life” (John 10:10).  God calls his people to join his mission.

We have a responsibility.

To people who have just gotten too tired of it all.  Had enough.

We have a responsibility for people who don’t get it.  Whose eyes need to be opened.

People on both sides of the road.

Gail calls this the fancy pants gate.

This entrance leads to a gated community within the Lafayette Park neighborhood here in St Louis.  This gate is located where else but on Park Avenue.

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about to cross the Mississippi into Illinois.  on our way to our Sunday-going-to-church with the East St Louis Corps.

With construction closures we had to take alternate routes this morning on our way to the not-so-fancy pants East St Louis IL Corps neighborhood.

Twice this past year a car has smashed through the gate and the fence to the East St Louis Salvation Army playground creating extra work for its Lieutenant AJ Zachery.  Smashed first as part of a police chase.  No one knows exactly what happened the second time.

I guess gates are subject to varying treatment depending on locale.

Some are fancy-pants.  Some aren’t.

Travis June 2016

Travis, reading scripture this morning for the East St Louis Corps.

privilege

I posted a couple weeks ago about Susan Herberg’s article in a recent St Louis American about her journey away from white privilege.

The next day Gail pointed out that the St Louis Business Journal’s recent issue featuring millennials also dealt with privilege.

The millennial generation is supposed to operate certain ways as far as work style preferences, values, lifestyles, etc.  And, of course, the business world is finding ways to work millennials into its business plans.

Gail sees one problem about all this interest.  There is one large population of young adults not so concerned about flexible hours, a dedicated mentor, work from home, etc.  They just want a job.

There are a lot of American young adults across St Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Midwestern small towns, immigrant neighborhoods who want a job but are not finding one.

Gym reimbursement?

One evening during all the media attention on the Greek financial crisis I listened to Kai Ryssdal on KWMU reporting for Marketplace from Athens.  People he interviewed?  not happy.  But one man seemed less concerned about being unhappy and more concerned about having a job.  The jobless rate of young adults in Greece is 53.2%.

We are happy in America that our jobless rate is not as bad.

But if you have been trying to, and yet can’t find a job, it’s bad.

Tonight I’m reading the summary placed online this week by the Equal Justice Initiative of its report Lynching in America:  Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.Lynching in America

It reports on the ongoing project of tallying up “terror lynchings” (nearing 4,000) which took place in the twelve most active lynching states in America (1877-1950) and the effects this social phenomenon has had on America’s way with African Americans.

What I think of is the specific effect it has had on how African Americans relate to those of us who are not African American.

Sometimes it is expressed by ‘yes, sir’.

In many places and certainly in younger generations it’s a fading practice, perhaps one that has been gone for a few decades.  But in some places and especially with those of a certain age with close roots in the South it has persisted.  It can make a person uneasy, feel uncomfortable.  It doesn’t feel right.  It seems to challenge the notion that all men are created equal.  And at times it has defined relationships in a way that runs contrary to what I believe, what I want them to be.

But the Equal Justice Initiative Lynching In America report makes clear why it is a social practice not so easily discarded.

In 1940, Jesse Thornton was lynched in Luverne, Alabama, for referring to a white police
officer by his name without the title of ‘mister’.

Socio-cultural memory persists in keeping ‘yes, sir’ as part of the African American way to relate to white Americans.  This kind of memory lasts for a long time.

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This memory with its many other nuances creates the backdrop for a saying Dr. William Bentley of the National Black Evangelical Association was fond of repeating.  I recall it going something like this –

If you’re white, you’re alright.  Yellow, you’re mellow.  Brown, stick around.

Black?  jump back!

Even when ‘yes, sir’ isn’t spoken, it isn’t necessarily absent.  There are silent ‘yes, sirs’ yet present in interactions, relationships.  Even friendships.

Care in navigating interracial relationships means being careful.  Ready to jump back.  Stay close to the door.  Mistrust, suspicion, guardedness, uncertainty often come with it.

This means that I have a responsibility, as a non-African American person. To acknowledge a long season of wrongs and power structures.  To memorialize it in ways such as Equal Justice Initiative plans to place markers where lynchings took place.  To disavow and disassemble the apparatus built on all of that.

Yes, sir.

A newspaper began appearing on my desk once a week soon after I arrived last summer in St Louis.

You do know that I am old school.  I do appreciate a real newspaper.  One that you can spread out on the table while munching Grape Nuts.  Coffee spills.  No problem.

The St Louis American.  “Missouri’s largest, most widely read weekly newspaper.”  Started in 1928.  The African-American community in St Louis is it’s target population.

I am liking James Ingram’s columns.  The most recent on our breakfast table titled Lynchville, Illinois in honor of this year’s 200th anniversary of a town just across the river from St Louis.Lynchville

If really in luxury mode I like to spread a print newspaper over my head as I grow drowsy and doze.  The microclimate around me is warm, soothing.  Dampening noise.  Dimming light.

Lynching is perhaps the ugliest thing about America.  It is product of a period in American history between slavery and the civil rights movement.  The nation shifting uneasily as it tried to wrap its centuries-of-slavery attitude around the new reality.   America, 1870s to 1960.  Almost a century long American tradition.

Lately I’ve driven some of the roads in Missouri.  People are pretty decent.  but then I’ll see the stars and bars.

The Cross and the Lynching TreeMuch smaller and useless in creating a warm soothing microclimate is my copy of James Cone’s The Cross and The Lynching Tree.  Instead of drowsiness, innervating.  I am awake.  I feel mournful, eloquent, hopeful.  As Good Friday approaches us, dark and silent, Lynching Tree accompanies.

How long and how much and how will justice get done?  

Yesterday afternoon the sunlight was gorgeous as I drove north on US 65 through Missouri.  A couple hundred miles and I would be at my destination.

US Hwy 65

Compared to a little over a week ago when I also was driving through the state, this was easy and the roads ice-free.  The sun behind, no glare.  It illuminated the land around me making its winter colors rich and full.

I glimpsed different colors to the west.  Two flags.

A short metal flagpole with a small American flag.  Above it, a small Confederate flag.

I began watching my speed.  I had already been thinking of my friend’s story of being pulled over one night a few years ago while driving this same section of US Highway 65.  It would be difficult to prove it but if you are a person of color you would suspect or be convinced that the lawman’s agenda acquired new tones when he discovered the driver was black.  I know that my friend was convinced of it.

What do you suppose one feels when one is in this situation?

What does a person do when they find themselves in an untolerable situation?

Each MLK Day I read a sermon of Martin Luther King Jr.  I am ahead of schedule.  This morning I again read Letter from Birmingham Jail.  It remains powerful and deeply moving.

On some journeys, some don’t make it.  But they help others arrive just fine.

Yesterday I arrived just fine.

odede

Kennedy Odede has made one of the most compelling statements I’ve heard in discussions on urban poverty, violence, hopelessness.

The urban poor are so close to the city’s opportunities — but they always remain out of reach.

I’ve tended to think in categories of developed and developing worlds.  North American and the now outdated term ‘third world’.  American and everywhere-else worlds.  Poverty is relative, dependent on these large geographic and socio-economic distinctions.  Sure, poverty exists in Chicago but compared with Kibura

But what if the categories today are urban and non-urban?

Odede points at poverty lived in places where a person can see how others live in contrast to their life.  So close yet so distant.  In our most densely populated places, our cities.

A 2011 study in the Journal of Peace Research found that the perpetuation of Islamist extremism was more significantly associated with urban poverty than with variables like religiosity, lack of education and income dissatisfaction.

During the late 20th century children grew up in public housing high-rises in Chicago within blocks, even within sight of life lived out by some of the most affluent Chicagoans.  Cabrini-Green and the Gold Coast.  Henry Horner Homes and streams of Blackhawks and Bulls fans on Madison Street.  It would have been cruel reminders if not for getting used to it.  But at times most became aware of the gulf between their trapped existence and one that they eventually came to accept was unattainable.

Gail and I saw boys and girls starting to realize this around age twelve.  I wonder, is there a correlation between this realization and that of the Santa exposé?

They still remained boys and girls.  But whenever this realization took place a somber quality entered their boyishness and girlishness.  They began a journey to a reality of inner city adulthood.

There is a story in the Gospel of Luke of a rich man and a poor man.  The poor man lay suffering at the gate of the rich man who feasted daily.  Watching and wishing for the food which dropped from the table.  The poor man dies, angels carry him to be with Abraham.  The rich man dies and tormented in Hades sees far away the poor man with Abraham.  Pleading, he receives no relief.  Why?  Justice. And an immutable condition:  between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.   There is no movement between Abraham and Hades (Luke 16:26).

Distance plays in this story.  The sumptuous table within sight of the hungry.   Comfort seen by the damned, yet far away.

Recently I posted the New York Times story of Dasani, a girl living with her family in one of New York’s homeless shelters.  Located in Brooklyn five blocks from a $1.63 million penthouse.  A neighborhood of $3 malt liquor in a deli across the street from $740 chardonnay at Gnarly Vines.

Poverty makes a second hit on those who do not have what they see others with.  Living in want comes with its own exhaustion and anxieties.  But a smoldering pain comes with seeing the sumptuous banquet from the gate.  Wealth made conspicuous on the street, the TV screen.  It also brings the danger of coveting which can lead to a host of rather unpleasant outcomes.

Coveting inoculation.  My mother enjoys recounting her young boy’s Sunday church recitation of the Bible verse be content with what you have (Hebrews 13:5).  Can it be done?  Somehow we must for the sake of our own soul.

But woe unto any who put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea  (Matthew 18:6).

It’s quite a contrast to make during these recent days of opinions on the 50th anniversary of America’s war on poverty.  Odede says that the best strategy in Kenya is to fight poverty.

Instead of investing billions of dollars on drones, let’s focus on augmenting economic opportunities and providing basic and essential services like health care and education.

And in America?  It may not be as in Kenya, terrorist groups recruiting young people from slums.  Other scenarios of hopelessness play out in our cities when there seems only one option.

Movement was needed, in the here and now, between the rich man and the poor man.  Movement here and now.  It’s not too late for either the poor or the rich.

“Average weekly earnings, exclusive of fringe benefits but adjusted for inflation, are 10 percent lower today than they were in 1966”

Laurence J. Kotlikoff, economist at Boston University, also makes a case to abolish the corporate income tax for the benefit of American workers.

tax

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