Ministry at the Margins – A Day at Ames UMC

Ames Memorial United Methodist Church is located in the Sandtown section of Baltimore Maryland. It reminds me of the neighborhood I grew up in in North Philadelphia, the streets I walked in Gary Indiana, and the community I pastored in Clearwater Florida. At first glance the community around Ames UMC is painful and depressing. There are entire blocks where the abandoned homes outnumber the occupied ones. Drug and alcohol paraphernalia litters the streets. This is one of the neighborhoods featured in the TV series called, “The Wire”. On the day we visited, the bitter cold helped to make the community look particularly bleak and disserted. It brings to mind the words of Nathanael when he was told that Jesus was from Nazareth, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) at first glance many people would ask the same question of the community around Ames. “Can anything good come out of Sandtown?”

Despite the appearances however, there is powerful ministry going on in Sandtown! It is ministry based on relationships. In a sense it can be said that all ministry is based on relationship and this is true. What is especially important in the ministry of the community surrounding Ames Memorial UMC is the kind of relationship on which ministry is based.

In “Jesus and the Disinherited”, Howard Thurman points out that even in the Jim Crow South [and I might add the segregated North] there were many people who did good work. Whites in the South and the North performed wonderful acts of charity and magnanimity. What Thurman noted was that these acts were devoid of any sense of equality, or value for the worth of other human beings on the most basic of levels. He referred to it as “contact without fellowship”. Thurman understood that despite the outward acts of charity and mercy there was a fundamental failure to see the “other” as completely equal on the most basic level of common humanity. There was interaction and relationship but the relationship was not a relationship of fellows. One group operated from a position of power, and a false sense of superiority. The other from a position of relatively less power, and often an equally false sense of inferiority.

Unfortunately it is in the same relationship/power dynamic that much ministry goes on today. This is particularly true very often when ministry happens in places like Sandtown, in Baltimore; or North Nashville; or North Philadelphia, or Greenwood in Clearwater. Well-meaning Christians develop “programs” and “ministry” that essentially operate on a client provider relationship that establishes the very same power dynamics that Thurman wrote about over 50 years ago.

In the community that surrounds Ames UMC, there is a different relationship that pervades. In this community there is relationship that starts at the level of the common humanity of all persons and builds from there. Generally speaking the ministries are no different than ministries in other churches. Ministry with children, both in the church and in the community. Ministry with the homeless, the drug addicted, the hungry, and more. What is important, what brings hope is the spirit from which the ministries spring. It is a spirit that says these are not just “poor children”, they are “our children”. These are not just “the homeless”, they are “our neighbors”; Joe, and Sally, and Doris, and William. These are not just “crack heads”, they are our sisters, and brothers, our sons, and our daughters, our cousins, and our mothers, and our fathers. This ministry springs from the Spirit that honors that which is truly inalienable, the God-given humanity and full personality of every individual. The ministry of Ames UMC is grounded in the fundamental belief in the right to a full, abundant, rich life [not to be confused with a life of riches].

Ministry thus grounded is truly both salvific, and eschatological. It follows the pattern of Jesus’ coming out statement in Luke 4:18-19. Ministry thus grounded is salvific in that it does the work binding, or healing, that which is broken. Jesus did say, “The poor will always be with you”. Despite all of our efforts this does seem in fact to be the case. No matter how many soup kitchens, homeless shelters, financial assistance ministries we operate the brokenness of poverty never seems to be healed. The brokenness of the human spirit however, is healed by ministry that is grounded in this fundamental belief in the humanity of every person. It is eschatological, in that it demonstrates the time of God’s reign which is both present and future. The Apostle Paul is credited with saying, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1Co 13:1-4) This love that Paul speaks of is a key characteristic of the Reign of God. Dr. James Lawson, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. refer to this reign as the Beloved Community. This same love that Paul refers to is a core value of the Beloved Community. Ministry grounded in the core belief that every life has worth and value, and should be affirmed, supported, and unconditionally loved makes the “reign of God’, this “beloved community” not just some, as yet unrealized, hoped for future but a present reality; a demonstration of the reign of God.

What we do specifically in ministry is not as important as the Spirit from which we do it. If our ministries are rooted in the God-given humanity and full personality of every individual, people will respond, healing (salvation) will happen, and our prayers will be answered – “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth”.

 
 

MAKE A DIFFERENCE . . . . . . . . . . FOR LIFE ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

What Makes a Black Man Cry

Several years ago, in a class at American Baptist College we conducted a small research project in which we surveyed Black men. One of the questions we asked in the survey was, “What makes you cry?” It was interesting that the answer to that question in nearly every instance was related to the injustices that are borne by African Americans every day in this country. The breakup of a relationship, the death of a loved one, to be sure these are life events that can cause emotional, psychological, and even physical pain. Nevertheless, according to the Black men that I interviewed, by an overwhelming margin, the thing that brings tears to the eyes of Black men is to witness the injustices and inequities that people of color endure as a routine part of their existence here in the United States.

I was reminded of this recently at a gathering of people of faith here in Washington, D.C. on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. During our time together we screened the movie “Redemption of the Prosecutor”. The movie focuses on the life of Preston Shipp, a prosecutor for the State of Tennessee, and his transformation from an unattached appellate court prosecutor, to an advocate for change not only in our criminal “justice” system but in our attitudes toward the incarcerated. Mr. Shipp’s epiphany was ignited by the case of Cyntoia Brown, a sixteen year old girl who was tried as an adult for murder, and given a life sentence without even the possibility of parole until she is 67 years old. We did not get to see the entirety of Cyntoia’s story, but the small piece we did see was enough to make a Black man cry. And cry we did.

Cyntoia’s experience is not unique. Every year children who commit crimes are tried as adults and given adult sentences which virtually assure their inability to become productive members of society. In her book, “The New Jim Crow; Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, Michelle Alexander documents in heart wrenching detail the reality of a racially biased criminal justice system. To try a child as an adult, then sentence that child to spend all of their productive years in prison, with not possibility of parole until they have reached retirement age, is inhumane, hypocritical, unethical, and immoral. In a system in which the immorality is compounded by the racially biased prosecution and incarceration of people of color, it is Black and Brown children who are disproportionately subjected to this cruel and unusual punishment. The most recent statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics bear this out. In almost every category (including drug related offenses) Whites in general, and especially White youth are arrested in greater numbers than African Americans and Hispanic Americans. Nevertheless, according to the BJS, the number of young Black and Brown boys, under the age of 18 held in federal and state facilities as of the latest reporting (for 2011) is more than triple the number of young white boys of the same age. Thinking of the loss of these young lives, consigned to be perpetually locked out of the opportunities to live happy, productive lives as full American citizens, makes Black men cry.

As I sit here in Washington DC, one week removed from the observance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which was a march for jobs, and justice I am reminded of a verse from “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing“. The verse says, “We have come over a way that with tears has been watered” we are still on that muddy path, watered by the tears of people who hunger and thirst after righteousness. In spite of the words to the anthem we have not yet completely “come to the place for which our people sighed.” We have a way to go yet. I would be remiss if I did not say here that there is hope. Fifty years ago Howard Thurman, one of Dr. King’s mentors, noted that the problem of injustice and oppression characterized by the Jim Crow of his day was rooted in an attitude of the mind, and a mood of the human spirit. That until these where changed no genuine progress would be made. An unchanged mind, and unaffected spirit would only lead to at best an appearance of change. The attitude of mind, and mood of the human spirit that allows for a group of people to be viewed and treated as “less than” would only manifest itself in a more subtle and insidious way. Michelle Alexander once noted that “the core challenge to ending mass incarceration, is dispelling the myth that some of us are not worthy of genuine care, concern, and compassion.”

I am encouraged that there is growing recognition of the validity of that axiom. It is people of faith who are tasked with challenging the attitude of the mind and the mood of the human spirit. People of faith are responding! We are rising up to the challenge articulated so well by the Apostle Paul, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ”. Over a year ago the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference took up the challenge with its theme “Occupy the Heart”. The United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society is gathering and mobilizing Methodists across the country, as well as developing interfaith coalitions in collaboration with the Proctor Conference and others. There are others as well who are addressing this issue. There is a movement that is growing and it is important that is growing among people of faith and goodwill. We are the ones who have been touched and experienced the unconditional love of God. We who believe in true peace (the presence of justice for all, not merely the absence of violence) are committed to the work that we share with Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. James Lawson, John Lewis, C.T. Vivian and others whose names we do not even know. We cannot rest until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. We cannot rest until the life and worth of Black and Brown mothers’ children is as important as the life and worth of White mothers’ children. We who believe in righteousness cannot rest until the dawning of the great day when all of God’s children are treated as worthy of genuine care, concern, and compassion. Until then we must work while it is day and do all we can to . . . . . . . .

 

Make a Difference . . . . . . . . For Life ! ! ! ! ! ! !

God Has Spoken; Let the Church Say “Amen”

A Sermon by Rev. Yolande W. Ford, delivered Sunday July 14, 2013

Based on lsa.43:l-3a;Lkl2:48b-53;Heb.!2:l-4

God is raising up a host of prophets in this day and time to set His/Her people free. What is a prophet? One who speaks the truthful word of God at any time that God’s word needs to be said. Prophets are people like Elijah who defied a king and queen, like Jeremiah who shocked a nation with his boldness and like the rock and founder of our faith, Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet! He was and is the Son of God, the Son of man and our Saviour. But to quote Gordon Cosby in his book of sermons By grace Transformed. “Jesus ‘suffering fell upon him primarily because he was a prophet His enemies tried to entangle him in his prophetic talk. They brought him to trial because of his prophetic speech and action.” And they make him suffer for what he said and did. Jesus died on a cross for telling and acting on God’s unwelcome truth that permanent change from evil to good comes only at the cost of loving self-sacrifice and forgiveness. Eleven people in Jesus’ day truly believed him and followed him. But those eleven prophetic people changed the world. That’s the Christian gospel in nut shell.

The world depends upon God’s prophets to save it from destruction. It always has and it always will. Such prophets are indispensable catalysts for positive change. We live because they believed. But who are the prophets of today in 2013, who will save their parts of the world from evils like mass incarceration? Well, look around you friends, because we are they. We are the prophets whom God has called to help deliver this nation from the prison for profit system.

Most of us recoil at that thought. We say, “Who Us?” Yes us. We are called to be God’s prophets in 2013, some young, some not so young, some old in fact and arthritic, some jobless and some are stressed out at work, some homeless but hopeful, some just out of jail, and some on their way out their way out of this life—all together we are God’s prophets in 2013. We are the ones that ones that we have been waiting for to end the mass incarceration that now has imprisoned millions of people in the United States the vastly disproportionate majority of whom are African American and Hispanic.

We think that we here today only by our choice. But we are here actually at God’s invitation. Whether we are committed to its dissolution or simply curious about mass incarceration, we are here because, in one way or another, God has caused us to come. He brought us here. That’s how it is with prophets: God calls and we come. Moreover, there are no excuses for non-response that God accepts once His/Her call is heard. Ask Abraham who said, ‘I’m too old;” ask Jeremiah who said,” I’m too young;” ask Moses who complained “But I’m handicapped; “ask Mary who protested: “But I’m not even married.” No matter. To each of them God simply said, “You, beloved, are it.” And that’s what God has said to us who are here. Few, feeble and feckless, we are, “it.”

Now, the good news is that whomever God calls, She also equips for whatever is the task at hand. God does not send His servants out unprepared. The 70 disciples that Jesus sent out 2 by2 were heavily protected by his prayers. We too are similarly equipped to serve as Divinely dispatched deliverers from mass incarceration.

How so? First of all we are well equipped because we are leaning heavily on God’s biblical word. We are reading the Bible, trying truly hard to hear and believe Jesus when he says things like, “Fear not.” in the midst of fearsome events. Each of the synoptic gospels (the gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke) record Jesus as saying emphatically, “Fear Not:” Don’t be afraid.

In Matt 10:31ff he says, “Don’t be afraid of lacking for anything when you follow me. God feeds and clothes even the sparrows and lilies. He will surly take care of you: Fear not.” He tells a man, (in Lk.8:48-50) “Don’t be afraid because your child is sick unto death; just trust and believe in me. Believe in who I am and in what I can do. Fear Not.” In Lk.l2:32 Jesus tells his disciples, and us, “Don’t be afraid little flock for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom: Fear Not.”

We prophets will cling closely to these words as we follow our call to help God abolish the mass incarceration system. Neither those who profit from the system, nor all of those who are dedicated to dismantling it, will welcome the Gospel that national deliverance from mass incarceration and permanent recidivism will come ONLY through loving self-sacrifice and the forgiveness of those who hurt us.
Some will say that we want to endanger public safety by turning criminals loose on the streets. Others will say that we are coddling profiteers when we work with them to turn their systems around. Only one thing is certain: nobody on either side of the issue is likely pin any metals on us for refusing to revile and condemn instead of loving, forgiving and encouraging. But that is the way of the cross of Christ – the way that frees prisoners, corporate jailers and communities and leads them to wholeness and redemption. And that is the way of God’s prophets.

Will many people be eager to hear that? Not likely. Very few people were in Jesus’ day and not many will be in ours. But if we take seriously our call to be God’s instruments to free both the incarcerated and their profiteering jailers from exploitation by Satan, who is the real mass incarcerator, this is precisely the word that we will be speaking and acting on in non-violent ways, for that is what God’s prophets do.

“The word of God is penetrating and confronting,” says Gordon Cosby and each of us is to be a non-violent weapon, speaking and acting for God in exactly this, penetrating threatening, warning, and thus saving way.” This is radical talk because the Bible is a radical document and because Jesus Christ was and is a radical non-violent revolutionary. Hear him again (Lk.l2:49-53) saying,” Do you think I have come to give peace on earth on earth? No I tell you but rather division….”

The Lord was talking about the divisive fire of his prophetic word that he would soon act on in person for all to see through his suffering, crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus modeled the role of God’s prophet for us. The question is, who is called prophesy and act for God as he did today against the forces of mass incarceration? The answer is that we are. We are called to this because we are Christians. We are followers of Jesus Christ, God’s Ultimate Prophet, who said in no uncertain terms that, “Everyone to whom much is given of him/her much shall be required (Lk.l2:14b). We are called and fully equipped by his word, by his love, and by God’s abundant grace!!

There is a second way that we are equipped for this freedom mission to which we are called. We prophets are presently equipped by God with the gift of repentance, if we will accept and embrace it. It is not by accident that at this precise time of great need the Holy Spirit has led us in addition to the Bible to study Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. Through it and other materials God is showing us the face of our enemy, permanent recidivism, and how it operates through mass incarceration. We are learning, through the Spirits’ leading as well about the pillars of support that keep permanent recidivism in place. And just as important we are identifying our own complicity with the mass incarceration and recidivism system. The more we see how we unwittingly feed into it, the more we are compelled to fall on our knees and out, “God have mercy on us for we too are sinners! Forgive us and help us to change this thing!” Repentance is the valuable gift that God gives us to equip us against self-righteousness when we confront the supporters of mass incarceration.

Third, along with the word that is Jesus Christ and the gift of repentance God is equipping us with the gift of humility, if we are humbly willing to receive it. That is, through the Bible and The New Jim Crow, through prayer about the bully of mass incarceration and permanent recidivism, and by facing up to our needs for repentance and forgiveness, we are brought face to face with our own weakness. We know that there is no possible way that we can effectively engage, much less overcome an enemy like mass incarceration on our own no matter with whom we ally to fight it. But the Good News is that when we are finally convinced that we can’t do anything, God can do everything!!!! Whenever people are reduced to full awareness of their helpless impotence, God has room to step in and act in power! Well friends, we are at that point of awareness right now and that is where God wants us to be.

You see, the great Gospel irony is that when we are at our weakest, we Christians are strongest in the Lord. We may not be much but our very self – acknowledged weakness and utter dependence on God is all that God needs to use us as prophets in mighty ways! This means that, numerically weak, (After all, look around you), actually we are downright invincible!! Unworthy, yet forgiven and called to action, we are unstoppable because we are clothed with the mantles of all of Gods’ prophets who came before us. Humbled by our own complicity, rejoicing in our weakness, we are God’s called prophets in 2013!!

All that we have is our faith. But that is the fourth and most powerful, piece of equipment that we have from God. Jesus has promised that even mustard seed faith can open prison doors and set prisoners and jailers free. We believe him. We believe that God wants this mission to be accomplished. And we rejoice that God has called upon us to help Her/Him to accomplish it.!!

So—here we are. Surrounded and supported by a great cloud of God’s other prophetic witnesses, emboldened by the presence with us of the Lord Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are the prophets whom God has called and commissioned for service in this, our day! God has spoken. We have answered, “Send us.”- Let the church say, “Amen” and “AMEN!!”

Thank you Rev. Ford

Make A Difference . . . . . . . . . . . For Life!!!!!

Sawubona – Jesus, The Gerasene, and The War on Drugs – Luke 8:26-35

I greet you this afternoon with the traditional Zulu greeting Sawubona. Sawubona means more than just “hello” it means “I see you”. Sawubona “I see you”. Sawubona, “I see you.” Sawubona, “I see you.” I appreciate the richness of the word and the greeting. It is more than just a passing word between two people who are totally unconnected. Sawubona, “I see you” it is taking the time to acknowledge the presence and existence of another human being. It acknowledges the connectedness of our common humanity. Sawubona, I see you. It says that I recognize you as a fellow traveler along life’s way.

In our story today, from the gospel of Luke, Jesus exemplifies this greeting in his interaction with the man who comes to him from out of the tombs. Sawubona, I see you. Jesus’ response to the man is one of compassion that asks the question what has happened to you. This is what Jesus deals with in the story. While the authorities in the city where only concerned with what was wrong with him, Jesus took the time to heal what had happened to him. What had happened to him was that in his case demons had possessed him. Jesus deals with what happened to him. The authorities, only saw what was wrong with him. They saw that he did not succumb to their efforts to subdue and control him. They saw that he did not fear to challenge their attempts at control. Have you ever stopped to notice that there is no mention of any actual offense that this man committed? No reason, by our standards, that he should be shackled, and chained. Look at the text, nowhere does it say that this man harmed anyone except himself. Yet the synoptic gospels all agree that this man was regularly put in chains, and shackled. I imagine that they reacted out of fear. The text does paint a somewhat fearsome picture of the man it does not anywhere state that anyone, other than himself, was actually harmed by him.

This brings to my mind our current attitude and policy toward those in our midst who are struggling with the disease of addiction to drugs. Drug addiction is a disease. It is a medically documented mental illness. Even many addicts like myself who are in recovery will tell you that. Our current drug policy, however, doesn’t treat drugs like a disease. We treat it as a crime. Our current national and local policy works on the model of “what is wrong with you” not “what has happened to you.” This was the challenge given to us last week as group of religious leaders from around the country gathered to consider a more just and compassionate drug policy. Dr. Amos Brown, pastor of 3rd Baptist Church in San Francisco challenged us by saying that we have to attend both the prophetic and the priestly role in our congregations and in society, and in our priestly role we must ask not “what is wrong with you” but “what has happened to you.” Jesus said it this way, “Treat others the way you want them to treat you. This is what the law and the prophets are all about.” Understand that when Jesus referred to the law and the prophets that was his way of saying that’s what the Bible is all about. Treat others the same way you want to be treated. Sawubona, “I see you.”

Rather than treat people suffering from the disease of addiction the way anyone suffering with any disease would want to be treated; with care, concern and compassion, our drug policies treat sick people like criminals. Michelle Alexander, in a speech at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference in 2012 said, “The core challenge to ending mass incarceration is dispelling the myth that some of us are not worthy of genuine care, concern, and compassion.” “Drug offenses alone account for two-thirds of the rise in the federal inmate population and more than half of the rise in state prisoners between 1985 and 2000” and “by the end of 2007, more than 7 million Americans – or 1 in every 31 adults – were behind bars, on probation, or parole”. The overwhelming majority of these are for non-violent drug offenses. Again the words of Jesus, “I was sick and you comforted me” not I was sick and you put me in prison. We are challenged to make the church the space were that care, and compassion can begin. Dr. Yvonne Delk, poured out her heart with us to say that the church should be the place where this care and compassion begin. We must make space for everyone to be able to be completely themselves. Our churches should be welcoming places where people are affirmed and loved, and nurtured. Unfortunately, speaking at American Baptist College in Nashville Tennessee back in 2012, Michelle Alexander again points out. “I find that often people will tell me, who have been released from prison, the church is the last place they’d go. They say ‘I don’t feel welcome there. I don’t feel welcome.’ Many people released from prison say that’s the place where they feel most ashamed, most stigmatized.”

I remember being in a meeting of the ministerial fellowship of the town in which I pastored for some time down in Florida. I brought up the need to be intentional about reaching out to the drug users and even the drug dealers who, even in a relatively small town, nevertheless had a very clear, obvious presence. The response I received from one of the other pastors was, “You can’t just bring those people into the church. They’ve got to be kept separate until they are ready to come into the church.” Sawubona, “I see you.” Can you see him? The Gerasene man, tormented by his demons relegated to the tombs, isolated, marginalized, and stigmatized?

This is not an easy thing to stand in this place and suggest that there might be a better way of dealing with the problem of drug use in this country. No doubt some think this “social gospel” has no real place in the church. But I realize that we are all theologians and as theologians we can think theologically on the issues at hand. As I spent days, and nights in prayer, and reflection I struggled with what to say. I will confess that this stayed with me so much that I had a dream. Unfortunately it was not a dream, like Dr. King’s dream fifty years ago “deeply rooted in the American Dream.” No my dream was a dream deeply rooted in the nightmare that is the daily reality of communities of color right here in DC, and in cities across this nation. The reality of midnight and early morning raids; routine traffic stops; and stop and frisk policies all targeted at communities of color on a daily basis.

In my dream the police came into the church during service and everyone stood. The police began shackling and handcuffing people in the church and leading them out. And the church stood silent. And the church stood silent. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter From the Birmingham Jail that “We will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” I am reminded of the closing words of Judges chapter 19, referring to the injustice that was taking place in the nation of Israel, “Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.” (Judges 19:30)

I am grateful today for Jesus sawubona attitude. Because of Jesus’ “Sawubona” greeting we give the Zulu reply which is “Sikona“, which means “then I am here”. Because you see me then I am here. You acknowledge my presence, my worth, my value, and I am here. I am here to affirm you, I am here to help you I am here. I cannot exist without you. I need you and you need me. Luke paints this picture for us. Can’t you see the man once Jesus has dealt with what has happened to him, there he is sitting at the feet of Jesus saying, Sikona, “I am here.” I am here fully present complete and in my right mind. Sikona I am here. I alive, I am free, I am connected to you, and you are connected to me. Sawubona, I see you. Sikona then I am here.

It is in this space of seeing and being seen, this space of affirmation and encouragement, in this space genuine care, concern, and compassion that people of faith and goodwill operate. It is in this space and in this spirit that we offer alternatives to our current drug policy. We offer ourselves and our churches, our physical spaces as places of welcome and healing. Sawubona, I see you. Sikona, then I am here.

Now is the time for people of faith and goodwill to take heed, to consider it, take counsel, and speak out. Now is the time for a “sawubona” attitude in this city, and in this nation. Now is the time for people of faith and goodwill to say “We see you.” We’re not going to treat you like a criminal because we see you.
Sawubona we see you in your humanity, your pain, confusion, and suffering. We are going to respond to what happened to you. Not what is wrong with you. Sawubona we see you. We are all created by the same God who said it is good. Sawubona I see you, fearfully and wonderfully made just like us. Struggling yes, confused probably, but never the less I see you!

Now is the time for us to take counsel, consider it, and speak out against a Drug War that is a war on people. Now is the time for people of faith to call on our local elected officials to implement and practice policies that emphasize genuine care, concern, and compassion; that emphasize treatment over punishment; and people over profits.

Now is the time for our faith communities to be places of safety, and nurture where our greeting and our attitude is “sawubona” we see you. Because these are our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters. They are members of our communities. We want to see them, and we want them to say “sikona” then I am here. I am fully present, complete and in my right mind. I am fully participating in the life of my family and my community. I am here. Because you see me, then I am here.

Sawubona, – I see you. Sikona, Then I am here.

Amen and Ashe

Make A Difference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . For Life!!!!

It Doesn’t Make Us Better

The truth about kids in adult jails . . .

Just Kids Storybank Blog

When I was 16 years old I was charged as an adult and held for 8 months in the Baltimore County Detention Center.  It was my first time being locked up in an adult jail. I was scared and tried to stay out of people’s way, but in the Baltimore County jail there isn’t a wing just for juveniles. I was housed with adults and shared a cell with an adult man the entire time. The cell was a very small, a closed area with no privacy.  To move by each other we had to move one at a time, saying ‘excuse me.’  To use the toilet we had to cover ourselves with a curtain.  I spent 18 hours a day in my cell.  The only time I was let out was for recreation and work.  During my 8 months in jail, I was never given the option to go to school.

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Holy Week & SCOTUS

These are thoughts from my friend DJ. It is rare that I post Facebook statuses in this space, but two in one day?!?! Must be Holy Week!!

By Darria Janéy Hudson

All week, I’ve been wondering if I’m crazy for drawing parallels between Holy Week and all of the attention and excitement over Prop 8 & DOMA in the Supreme Court… But then I remembered that the Lenten season and Good Friday are my most anticipated times of the year for an important reason: They force me to consider who is on the cross in my world today, and who is baying for the blood of the innocent. Meditating on Christ and the crucifixion compel me to see my reality as the site of violent oppression, oppression often carried out in the name of the law, or in the name of God, an oppression that silences and kills. And both Lent and Good Friday force me to take time to mourn, to grieve, to repent for my own complicity and to wrestle with myself and with God in the darkness.

And I can value these painful reflections, because Holy Week is always a reminder of the strangest reality of our world; that there is no dark without light, no despair without hope, no silence without clamor. All things change that is the only truth of the world that can be counted on. And the hope for me, the hope that dries my tears at 3am, the hope that bolsters my weary spirit, the hope that brings me back to the struggle again and again and again no matter how many times it breaks my heart and my body– that hope lies in the knowing that despite what appears to be the end, in spite of the depth of the grave and the sting of death, all thing that live will die, and all things that die will live again.

Regardless of all the ugly evil that some have been fooled into believing is Christianity, there are deeper truth of love, of hope, and of struggle in the image of Christ. Banksy’s image is a much needed writing on the wall about our times, and one that on this Easter weekend, I’m immensely grateful for.

Thanks D.J.!!

Make A Difference . . . . . . . For Life! ! !

Jesus People and The New Jim Crow

In a post last year (The Seminary) I took a look at the case of a formerly incarcerated individual who was fired from his job at a seminary because of a prior conviction. Since that time I have been involved in work on the issue of restorative justice and particularly “Mass Incarceration” as it is defined in the book by Michelle Alexander, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In the age of Colorblindness”. What I realized after reading this book is that the case of that individual and the seminary was only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of thousands of men (and increasing numbers of women), primarily people of color, almost exclusively people on the lower wrung of the socio-economic ladder are being arrested, convicted, sentenced to prison, probation, or once in prison, eventually paroled and systematically denied the basic rights of citizenship in the United States.

Because many of these people do not have access to quality legal representation they often do not have the benefit of the right to a trial by a jury of their peers. “Tens of thousands of people go to jail every year without ever talking to a lawyer,” writes Ms. Alexander. Without legal representation these people are left to the aggressive tactics of federal, state, and local prosecutors many of whom are perusing their own personal political ambitions and agendas. Added to this is the proliferation of the private prison industry which literally trades in the caging of human beings. CCA, the largest of the private prison companies in the US recently made a bid to take over the prisons in 48 states in an offer to the governors of those states conditioned on a guarantee of 90% occupancy. The discomforting question in all of this is where is the church? Why is the church so seemingly quiet on the issue of mass incarceration in this country in particular?

Now this is not to say that people of faith are not involved in the work of dismantling the system of criminal injustice that exists in the US. This does say, however, that there should be a louder cry from the pulpits, and more action from the pews of our churches against the injustices of the system that we currently have in place. Ms. Alexander was correct when she stated that, “this is not a criminal justice issue it is a human rights issue.” Some fifty years ago or more Dr. Howard Thurman wrote of the system of Jim Crow was rooted in the mind and mood of the human spirit. That mood and mentality was and is no less prevalent in the segregated “north” than in the “Jim Crow south”. Thurman argued that if we did not get to that root then we would not truly defeat Jim Crow, rather something worse and more insidious would rise up in its place. Thurman’s words have proven true in the form of the system of mass incarceration.

Michelle Alexander voiced similar sentiment when she said at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference in Chicago, that the “core challenge to ending mass incarceration is dispelling the myth that some of us are not worthy of genuine care, concern, and compassion.” This is essentially, the heart of the issue; how we view and consequently how we treat people. Do we treat people as if they are trash to be thrown away? Do we feel that they are not worthy of our care and compassion.

Surely for Jesus people this cannot be the case. For Jesus people who pray for their enemies, give to those who cannot give back in return, turn the other cheek, heal the sick, bind up the wounded hearts, surely every life has worth and value. For Jesus people understand that the very foundation of our faith hangs on just two things, “Love God with all you’ve got, and love others as you love your own self.” Let’s ask ourselves Jesus people, to what extent does how we treat those who are, or have been, incarcerated demonstrate that we really believe what Jesus said? What does it say about Jesus people that we allow people to be used to work at jobs for essentially no pay while in prison, that they will not be hired for when they are released? What does our silence say about us when 90% of drug arrests come from 14% of the people who are involved in illegal drug activity? There is a time when we should not want the rocks to cry out for us!

The good news is that there are “other sheep” who may not be “of this fold” who are engaging these injustices. These other sheep do believe that every life has value and they are working, in that faith, to bring in the reign of God. That God’s will is “done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Jesus people these other sheep are all around you, in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, DC, Florida, all over. I have met them! Seek them, find them, join them! Be Jesus people, because every life does have value, all of us and each of us is worthy of genuine care, concern, and compassion.

Make a difference . . . . . . . . . For Life!!!!!!

Just thought this might be worth a re-posting . . .

make a difference . . . for life

A few weeks ago, I found myself standing on the steps of the Municipal Courthouse here in Nashville Tennessee. Inside the Nashville Davidson metro council meeting was about to begin. As it happened I was standing next to one of the council members, (who shall remain nameless) and he was approached by a gentleman who introduced himself as the pastor of a church belonging to a Christian denomination in Davidson County.

One of the issues on the agenda was a vote on a bill that would prevent the metro government from firing anyone based on their sexual orientation. First, let us be clear about the bill. The bill is a protection of the right to work for all, including those who are in same sex relationships or who prefer, for whatever reason, same sex relationships. The pastor wanted the council member to join in opposition to, and vote against passage…

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Where Are Your Wounds?

The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference held their annual meeting in Dallas Texas this year where we were hosted by the Friendship West Baptist Church and Pastor Frederick Douglas Haynes. The Proctor Conference, as it has come to be known, is the brain child of Dr. Haynes and Dr. Jeremiah Wright who was a student of Dr. Proctor at Virginia Union Theological Seminary. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the conference which is spearheaded by the General Secretary, Dr. Iva Carruthers.

“The mission of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference (SDPC) is to nurture, sustain, and mobilize the African American faith community in collaboration with civic, corporate, and philanthropic leaders to address critical needs of human and social justice within local, national, and global communities. SDPC seeks to strengthen the individual and collective capacity of thought leaders and activists in the church, academy, and community through education, advocacy, and activism.”

This year’s theme was “Living Waters: Unearthing Global Power for Justice”. The session was kicked off on Monday evening with a challenging sermon from Rev. Dr. Alan Boesak entitled, “Where Are Your Wounds?” Dr. Boesak is a veteran of the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa and challenged conference attendees to understand that the life in Christ is a life characterized by struggle. In that struggle there will be wounds. In fact the absence of wounds suggests that one did not find anything worth fighting for. Where are your wounds?

The question is a twofold question, not only “Where are you wounds?” but if you have no wounds then, “Was there nothing to fight for?” Dr. Boesak said this was the question that God is asking the Black Church today. I would suggest that this is the question for the whole church. Not only the church collectively but for each of us who profess to be followers of the Christ by who’s wounds we are healed!! This is the challenge to every one of us. Are we content to sit in relative ease and comfort while millions of men and women struggle to find the means to “get by” even from day to day. Where are your wounds? Is it enough to hand out sandwiches and blankets and not challenge the systems that create poverty and homelessness? Is there nothing to fight for?

Yes it is easier to blame the “other”, the drug addicted, the old, the poor. It is the popular thing to demonize those who are the most vulnerable in our society today. The challenge of the question is having the courage to speak truth to power. To say that there is something inherently wrong with making a health problem, like drug addiction, into a legal problem. The challenge is fighting a system of mass incarceration that denies the “inalienable rights” of citizenship and creates a social caste of second class citizens in a new system of Jim Crow. Where are your wounds? The challenge is speaking truth to a system of poverty governance that simply makes poverty less harsh while funneling people into low wage, dead end jobs. Is there nothing to fight for? The challenge is defending senior citizens, who have worked all their lives, from a government that wants to privatize their retirement while spending billions of dollars on military aide to foreign countries. “Where are your wounds? Was there nothing to fight for?”

This is the challenge to the church today, and the challenge of theological education, training faith leaders to know the right people, to ask the right questions, and to have the courage to do so!

Where are your wounds? There is much to fight for!

Make A Difference . . . . . . . For Life!

The Seminary

URGENT NOTICE Those were the words printed in bright red letters at the top of the sheet of paper that was slipped under my dormitory room door. In the paragraph that followed the words “registered sex offender“, printed in bold red letters, stuck out from the rest of the text. This was an attention grabber to be sure. The brief note that was distributed to every dorm room and every office was to inform us that one of our own (we’ll call him Andre) had been found to be a registered sex offender, and had summarily been fired from his position, escorted from campus, and instructed never to return. At first glance one might commend the school for taking swift action to ensure the welfare and security of the staff and students of the seminary. To be sure the school does bear some responsibility for the well-being for the staff, the students, and their families; some of whom are in residence here at the seminary as well. A more than cursory consideration of the situation however reveals some troubling concerns for the seminary, the students, and the example being set by those who are training up the church’s next generation of leaders.

Prompted by a conversation with another seminarian, and because I had personally had several conversations with Andre that involved more than just “hello” and “goodbye”; I decided to do just a little research. This is what I was able to uncover in about thirty minutes on the computer. Whenever a person is convicted of certain sexually based crimes they are automatically placed on a registry of known sex offenders. Depending on the severity and frequency of the act, the registration requirement can last for anywhere from ten years to a lifetime. In this case the offense occurred over ten years ago, Andre has complied with the registry requirements, there have been no other incidents, this is only a ten year registration requirement which began over nine years ago and should be over in just nine months. Additionally the Metropolitan Police Department Sex Offender Information Bulletin‘s entry for Andre states, in bold letters, “he is not wanted by the police at this time.” The ostensible purpose of the registry is to protect the public from sexual predators, particularly violent ones like the one who killed a friend of mine in Florida shortly after serving over twenty years in prison for a brutal attack on a young girl in California. That man (he was executed by the state of Florida) was indeed a sexual predator. Tracking his whereabouts unfortunately was not enough to save my friend’s life. What might have saved her life (and his life as well), is rehabilitation, and reconciliation. The same may have saved Andre his job.

This last thought is the unfortunate paradox of this incident. In the one place, and among the primary people among whom Andre should have been given the opportunity at a second chance to be a productive, respectable member of society he was instead judged, rejected, and stigmatized. If in no other place, the reign of God preached by Jesus should extend its healing, life affirming power on and over the campus of the seminary. This is the place and we are the people who claim to be different from the world. The seminary is the place where we learn to stand in faith and walk on the rough waters of forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the place where future leaders should learn to refute the fear that is so prevalent in this world and by which wars are declared, foreigners declared “illegal”, and prisoners are held in a state of perpetual social and economic captivity. This is the place where future leaders should learn to live lives that seek first the reign of God, and that are truly intentional in living the beloved community. It is unfortunate that in this case we were simply satisfied to conform to the standards of vindictive and unforgiving culture. Nevertheless, I still have hope. For even in this God is still, in all things, working for our good. Like Paul I am not ashamed of the gospel for it does have power to transform those of us who are willing to live by it.

The gospel that Jesus preached, of this blessed reign of God, this year of Jubilee, this “beloved community” has the power to transform us even in the face of this unfortunate event. The good news of the release of the captives can make this a “teachable moment” for those of us who want to let the light of justice, freedom, and righteousness shine brightly as high and lifted on the lamp stand of forgiveness and reconciliation. This can be an opportunity for us to examine how it is that we are truly different from the world. How do we keep ourselves “without spot from the world”? How do we show ourselves to be a people who forgive others even as we ourselves are forgiven? How do we recognize and heal the brokenness of our communities that perpetuates the downward spiraling cycle of violence? How, in this place and time, do we become an example of God’s wide love for all persons? How do we, in this place,

Make A Difference . . . For Life!