Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rev. Wright, Malcom X, and my (non) experience with Lynching

The blogosphere and the TV and Radio are alive with comments about Rev J. Wright, Obama, race, religion and politics.  I have been reading and doing some commenting on other blogs about this but felt like the choice morsel to delve into here is one that relates to racial reconciliation.  

I have a passion to see the country led well, to see the black church better understood, and other topics related to this discussion, but the core of my personal calling is to see brothers and sister in Jesus Christ in relationship across racial (and economic) lines.  

To wit, let me comment briefly -- primarily thinking about my white brothers and sisters that are choking about Rev Wright and especially feel that (a) he should be summarily condemned and (b) that anyone, black or white, who defends him must have lost his mind or salvation. . . (I'm a calvinist so that was sort of a joke). 

Please consider this from my personal experience:  Rev Wright's comments -- especially the conspiratorial comments about the US govt -- come from a specific place.  When I started working with Sunshine in 1999 my boss at the time made the following statement:  "When my mother was growing up in the South it was legal for her to be lynched".  I almost spit up thinking to myself "there is no way that is true.  Murder has always been illegal in the US.  that simply can't be true".    Fortunately I kept my mouth shut because I knew Dana personally and admired him and figured I would straighten him out later.  

I happened at the time to be reading William Manchester's history of the US from 1932 to 1972.  As I am reading through the 1950's I get to the part where the State of Mississippi tries to pass a lynching ban -- and it fails.  repeatedly.  Most of my students still don't realize that it was NEVER passed at a national level and only in 2005 was a formal apology finally issued from the US senate for never having banned lynching in spite of its ongoing crime against humanity.

Not only did this experience with Dana, who I love and felt great admiration for, help me to see that our government has been supportive of incredible injustice and deservedly damnable offenses well beyond slavery . . . but it became personal.  That was my brother's mother.  In the body of Christ that means it is pretty much my mom.  It would have been my mom if I was black.  

Another step for me was realizing how valuable the autobiography of Malcolm X is to virtually every one of my Christian brothers who are black.  Yes, nation of Islam leading, Black radical Muslim Malcolm X.  Because I had heard from these brothers, because I love them, I read the book with a listening ear.  I was overwhelmed by what Malcolm did in the way of condemning white America (it is tough to hear) and in the way of affirming dignity of black Americans and people of African descent.  When you read it you realize that a non-Christian has much to say that we need to hear, that our government is allowed terrible things to happen (and in the case of Tuskegee syphilis experiments and other episodes, caused them).  

I share this with you to encourage you to (a) not jump to conclusions about Rev Wright and (b) much more importantly -- use this an an opportunity to hear from our black brothers and sisters.  As much as I need(ed) folks from across the racial divide to understand Malcolm, most of us need others (like Ed Gilbreath, Anthony Bradley, or Melissa Harris-Lacewell) to digest Rev Wrigth, Obama's response and the incessant commentary. 

We won't find a unified voice among the way African American's respond to Wright. . . but in general we will find insight and patience that only comes to us across the racial divide.  If we cannot tolerate this insight and patience than we have no business suggesting that we are interested in racial reconciliation conversation.    Let's not get fixated on Rev Wight but seek out a multi-racial or cross-racial Christen lens -- seeking wisdom from our brothers and sisters who have a different experience than we do.  

Emerson and Smith show in no-uncertain terms that those of us who are white that are isolated by race (the vast majority of us!) cannot see racism or prejudice.  We not only can't see the racism we think is "imagined" by people who we perceive as "playing the race card" but we can't see any.  No one interested in racial reconciliation can remain in this blind, isolated position.  

The single greatest factor for changing what we see is by being in relationship with blacks (or other minorities).  Take this whole Rev Wright flap as an opportunity to entering into relationship across racial lines.  Perhaps not with Rev Wright or Barack Obama -- but with African American brothers and sisters.  In person, through the blogs, in your community.  Someplace!  

Saturday, April 26, 2008

God's Glory through Heroes in the Hood.

City of Death. City of Rousing Apathy. City of Let's Get Together and Do Nothing.

That is how I almost titled this entry. We've had more than 40 shootings in the city during the past week. About half have been in our immediate area. I've also attended at least 3 community meetings in which nothing was done about it in any way. Lots of talk.

But does either the the violence or the lack of direct response define how we approach the day (or the blog entry)? If it does then I am lost.

So as I wrestle with what to do practically this summer in our neighborhood and struggle with too-much-talk-not-enough-action, let me highlight someone that hasn't given into the discouragement that Satan wants to shroud us with.

Mattie Butler. Mattie Butler is a small woman with a big voice and a massive weight. 28 years ago a building down the street from her burned down here in Woodlawn. Arsonists set fire to a building to get the insurance money and 13 children died. This horrific crime barely resonated in a city that responds very little to the deaths of African American youths. But for Mattie it started something that she felt God had for her -- a calling to be sure that decent affordable housing was present in the community.

Mattie long ago could have left and gone on to have a career in blues, singing with her brother Jerry "Ice Man" Butler. Instead she stayed, worked, sweated, stood up to the power brokers in the city and community and fought for the preservation and restoration of over 5000 units of affordable housing. I recently attended an award dinner for Mattie and after saying a few words of gratitude Mattie broke into a rendition of "My God is an Awesome God" that brought the house down! Mattie is a hero.

So on tough days and violent nights and through a thousand meetings that might go nowhere, I will remember Mattie and be encouraged.

Who do you know in your community that prevents the difficulty of the community from being all defining?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The hood gets personal. . .

I've been wrestling with whether or not to comment about some things we are facing as a family right now.  Much of what I write, think and teach about is in the 3rd person. Sometimes I venture into 2nd person and challenge others specifically, especially as I feel strongly about issues of racial reconciliation, the gospel, issues of injustice, etc...

Today I am working on a message called "The Drama of the Unfolding Kingdom".  I will be tracing the way in which God is bringing renewal, deliverance, salvation, peace, joy, righteousness-justice, healing alive in the world through us as His people.  

As I am working on this and consider the parable of the illegal alien  (the good samaritan slightly modernized!) I find myself in the story.  See the story captures this idea that the least expected people turn out to be agents of the kingdom.  I personally prefer to be the agent and dispense grace to others.  .  .  

In the past couple of years we've been blessed to be in the position to dispense the gifts.  Specifically we've helped several people get into housing, make homeownership affordable, avoid losing their home. . . etc..  

Yesterday when I was at a local neighborhood meeting (acting in my role of agent-dispenser)  working on technology empowerment projects for our community, a recent acquaintance -- a guy from the neighborhood -- came up to me and reminded me that he coordinates a local neighborhood housing assistance program (WECAN).  His boss is a hero of mine that I had recently hoped to invite to join our board of directors.  

He said he wanted to talk with me after the meeting (probably affirming my role in helping others I thought, or sharing a new way for us to work together).   He told me that he gets a report regularly called a pre-foreclosure report (or something similar).   "Hamernick is a pretty unusual name" he said.  "Yep", I responded, "so what?"  "Your name is on the report".  I was stunned.  

I can't really describe what we've put in this house to make a home in the community here.  A year's worth of renovation in which I learned electrical, plumbing, HVAC and other things to get the work done.  Time, blood, sweat and now tears.  The circumstances of increasing taxes, renters not paying, downturn in housing values and sales, increase in mortgage qualification requirements have put us on the brink.  Ok, Lord. you can have it all.  

Lest I leave the impression that I am not to fault in any of this. . . we bit off more than we can chew.  I have made significant errors in judgement during the past year. I  wish I could tell you I was wise and innocent in all things.  But it wouldn't be true. 

How can I help?  He asked.  I was speechless.  

I don't know. I replied.    (this is one of the many ironies here.  So often when I act as agent I have the answer but those with whom I interact don't know what to do. . . the tables are now fully turned.) 

I spoke with my Dad later that night.  Like several people he said "If I could take care of it I would. . . "  but he added, "we have to trust God and realize that you can't carry this or anything by yourself".   

All words of grace to me.

Who is the agent of the kingdom now?  

Monday, April 14, 2008

Jim Wallis has great big. . .

Ok, let's just say that Jim Wallis is very bold.  Last night a number of leaders of faith communities had the opportunity to ask questions of the democratic candidates during a forum held at Messiah College.  They called it the Compassion Forum.  

Normally when these types of things happen there is no drama.  You know what answer the questioner wants to get.  You know what answer the questioner is going to get.  It's so predictable (and often awkward) that its tough to sit through.  

Most of the questions were "softballs" lobbed out there for the candidates to swing at.  Usually there are a corresponding number of  "high and inside fast balls" designed to make the candidates look dumb. They must have controlled things pretty well because I didn't see too much of these.  

But then Jim Wallis said:

"The year that Dr. King was assassinated he was about to launch a poor peoples campaign. The reality is that since then the poverty rate in our country is virtually unchanged.  Something like 30 million Americans live below the poverty level in the richest country in the history of the world.  Would you be willing to make a commitment tonight, that if you are elected president, you will initiate programs and legislation to to reduce the poverty level in half, over the next 10 years?"  

(My paraphrase!!)

I was shocked.  Talk about putting the guy on the spot.  I was not only astonished by the question and its directness but by Obama's willingness to respond.    He said: "Yes, I will."  He then qualified it slightly by acknowledging the enormity of such a task and the fact that the economics of the country on the whole exacerbate the dilemma (e.g. the mortgage crisis is currently sending hundreds of thousands of Americans' back into poverty).    At any rate, as a guy who believes this is not only possible but must be part of the process of addressing systemic issues of injustice I (my independent, non-partisan self) cheered.  

Here is a caveat:  I am not a huge fan of Jim Wallis to be honest because too often his commitment to social justice is indistinguishable from being anti-republican party.  As with guys like Hannity or Moyers, I find it difficult to listen to them because they can never admit to any virtue across the aisle nor any vice on their side of the aisle.  Clearly there are some aspects to what Wallis has championed (like Campolo) that are centrally aligned with my ministry at Sunshine and our commitment to Mercy, Justice and Discipleship.  So all that to say I am proud of him for how he used that moment.  Let's hope it goes beyond being a moment.  

So what would it actually take?  Is it possible?  What role does the church play?   These are a few of the questions that ensue. 

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Opulence and Poverty.

I am in San Diego this week attending a conference, doing some reading and resting. I took these 2 photos near my hotel.  I am absolutely amazed at the wealth here (it's in Chicago too but I don't usually hang out in this kind of area there).  

I am also amazed by the homeless population.  Folks are everywhere!!  I am reading a book that is page for page the book that has taken me longer to read than anything in my life.  I have been carrying this thing around for at least 3 years and still not done.  Mainly this is due to the fact it is over my head and secondarily to the fact that I am a painfully slow reader.  (Just ask my wife!)  

Anyway the book is called "Until Justice and Peace Embrace".   Each chapter has brought serious challenge but the one I have read here is called "The Rich and Poor".   The author concludes that it isn't that we don't know what to do about poverty but that we (the Christian church) refuse to do what must be done.  

Walking around here I have to admit that from my perspective there is clearly enough money here to house, feed, clothe and care for the poor that are walking around here.  Perhaps that's not the American way.  But is it the way of Christ?  

What would it take to actually do something about it?  On the issue of "extreme world poverty" I highly recommend Jeffrey Sachs book "The End of Poverty".  On local poverty I would suggest John Perkin's 3 R's are a good place to start (Reconciliation, Relocation, Redistribution). On personal level how about just taking Christ at his word?

Luke 6:30:  Give to whoever begs from you. 
Luke 14:2-3: 12Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,