Couldn’t join the #BlackLivesMatter protest? Support those who did!

Warning: shameless financial request ahead…

I’ve been so encouraged by the online support to my blog posts and social media updates about our church’s engagement with the justice issues raised by the recent non-indictments in Ferguson and New York. Of course there have been a handful of dissenters – “stick to talking about god instead of race relations” – but these have been a drop in the bucket compared with the positive and thoughtful comments. Thank you!

Pastor Michael Neal and his wife Dee of Glorious Light Church in Bronzeville. (Photo by Esther Kang.)

One thing I’ve picked up on from some comments is that many of you want to support things like Sunday’s #BlackLivesMatter protest but you don’t attend a church or live in a community where this is possible. Some of you may even feel a bit guilty because it doesn’t seem like there is more that you can do besides showing your support on social media. To those of you in that camp I have one suggestions and two requests.

First, though places like the south side of Chicago get much of the attention when it comes to issues of injustice it’s safe to assume that these same issues are at play wherever you live. They may not be as obvious or destructive, but there are undoubtedly ways in which injustice is at work in your zip code. And there are certainly people around you who care about these things. Find them and jump into whatever small efforts are already in place. Don’t become so distracted with what’s happening over there that you miss the opportunity right where you are.

Now to the requests. Pray for us. That’s the first thing.  It’s easy to think about justice issues through partisan lenses, but our church is very aware of the spiritual nature of this fight. We have to think theologically about the issues, Christologically about the solutions, and, in all things, act with courage and humility. See why we need your prayers?

Pastor Chris Harris of Bright Star Church in Bronzeville. (Photo by Esther Kang.)

Here’s the second request: Would you consider a financial gift to one of the churches in our Bronzeville community? One of the churches that has been involved in this work of justice faithfully? One the churches with the courage to protest on Sunday and the focus to continue once many others have moved on? Urban ministry is wonderful work and also very hard. Many of the financial resources that are available elsewhere are scarce in our neighborhoods, though we celebrate the many ways God provides for us.

There are many churches I could point you to who would benefit from your generosity; I’m choosing these three because they are located in Bronzeville. Pastor Chris Harris of Bright Star Church was the first pastor to welcome me to Bronzeville years ago. He has opened many doors of opportunity to our church as we seek to serve and love our neighbors. His church is often at the lead of community development and I’m honored to be a part of several initiatives that have been started by Pastor Harris. Pastor Michael Neal of Glorious Light Church has become a close friend. He opened his church’s space to us earlier this year for a justice conference we hosted. Our churches also worship together every six months. Pastor Neal has initiated a literacy program in the neighborhood among many other initiatives focused on education and health. Both of these pastors and their churches are faithfully proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel of Jesus in our little corner of Chicago. I’m very happy to urge your financial support of their ministries.

The third church? You can probably guess that our young congregation, New Community Covenant Church, would also welcome your generosity. We’re still at the early stages of this journey to justice, but in our less-than-five years we’ve taken some important steps, especially in the area of racial reconciliation. We will continue to give ourselves to loving our neighbors and building a diverse community that can only be understood through the lens of the gospel.

Would you consider a financial gift to one or more of these churches? Give to Bright Star Church here. Give to Glorious Light Church here. Give to New Community Covenant Church here. I’m spending today with representatives from these churches and other organizations as we continue our long-term work on trauma prevention and intervention in our neighborhood. Long after the media attention has moved on, we’ll continue to be praying and working for God’s kingdom to come in Bronzeville as it is in heaven.

Standing with Bronzeville clergy and leaders at the front of the protest on Sunday. (Photo by Esther Kang.)

Regardless of how you do it, please know how valuable your support and encouragement are to those of us in the thick of this work. Thank you!

The View From Here

Yesterday, after our worship service and monthly potluck lunch, our church joined a few other congregations in Bronzeville for a #BlackLivesMatter Protest in our neighborhood. The first photo shows the churches just as we began to march, we eventually filled in both lanes of the street. The second shows a line of clergy leading the march. I’m on the far left with two of my ministry colleagues, Michelle Dodson and Ramelia Williams.

Photo credit: @CWJ_Consultant
Photo credit: @CWJ_Consultant
BLMBronzeville 2
Photo credit: @skbaer

The march went very, very well even as we all acknowledged that it was simply a small step. You can read more in the Chicago Tribune.

The Ekklesia Project

Next week I’m attending The Ekklesia Project’s Gathering in Chicago where the topic is “Neighbors Near and Far.”

As descendants of a wandering Aramean, our lives are caught up with those of our neighbors who, in the marvelous, wondrous diversity that is God’s work of creation, come from across the street, across the border, and across the ocean. In his sending of the seventy and in the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus not only instructs us to love our neighbors, but he also redefines for us those relationships we name through such words as “alien,” “stranger,” “guest” and “host.” As those who have received the merciful hospitality of God, he sends us to learn what it means to welcome, and to be welcomed, by these neighbors.

This will be my first experience with Ekklesia and I’m looking forward to attending with a couple of church friends.  You can read more about the gathering on the registration page.  The registration fee is very reasonable and financial assistance is available.

Anyone planning to attend?

Commencement Speech

Not long ago I asked for your suggestions about what to say in my commencement speech to the eighth grade graduates at the school where our church meets.  You had some quite helpful ideas, many which made their way into the speech.  I’m happy to say that the address seemed to go well and I had the chance to talk with a number of the graduates and their families after the commencement.  It was a huge honor to be asked by the school to deliver these remarks to their students.

I’ve copied the whole of my twelve minute speech here for those of you who might be interested.

Good morning. Congratulations to the eighth grade graduates of Drake Elementary School. Congratulations also to all of the parents, grandparents, relatives and friends of these graduates. As a pastor and community member I also want to thank the teachers, staff, and administration of Drake. I continue to be so impressed by your dedication to your students. Our city needs more schools like Drake. It is an honor to be with you this morning. Continue reading “Commencement Speech”

What would you say at 8th grade commencement?

Once again, I solicit your help.  A couple of weeks ago I was asked to be the 8th grade commencement speaker at the elementary school where our church meets for worship on Sundays.

Drake Elementary, site of Monday's 8th grade commencement.

This invitation elicited two responses.  First, I was thrilled that the school administration trusts our church enough to ask me.  Second, I had no idea what would be helpful to say to a bunch of students who are about to enter high school.  It’s been twenty (!) years since I made the transition from middle school and it’s a stretch to remember the emotions and thoughts of my eighth grade self.

What would you say to these eight graders?  I have about twenty minutes to speak to the theme “Who I am.  Who I will be.”

Commencement is on Monday so I’ve already begun to work on my speech but there’s still plenty of room for your feedback.  Think back to your eighth grade year.  What were the hopes and fears on your mind?  Assuming you actually would have paid attention to the random commencement speaker, what would have been helpful to hear?