Monday, August 27, 2012

Poverty and National Party Conventions

I brought the church van to her house in our neighborhood. She and her five children needed to get out of the house in the middle of the afternoon while her boyfriend was out looking for some drugs. The one hundred year-old wood frame house was falling apart. The front door was only partially on its hinges and most of the windows were either broken or missing. The house stank. While the electricity was on, neither a single fixture nor outlet was safe. About a year later, when another family was in the house, it burned to the ground.
On this particular summer afternoon we loaded the van with all the clothes worth saving, along with some personal items. I stored them in the basement of the church, away from the sight of church members, lest expose her to embarrassment. She found a shelter, and eventually got herself on her feet. Her children today, are at many different levels of health, mentally and physically. Thousands of Detroiters live this life every day. Millions are in similar situations all across urban and rural America. What is going to happen when these millions of Americans realize they are a growing minority, perhaps future majority, stop working just to survive, and revolt against a nation that does not have their interests in mind?
As the transfer of wealth from poor and middle class to rich increases in size and scope never seen before, our national leaders have grown incapable of speaking the word, “poverty.” If we hear it even once at either of the national party conventions this year it will be a shock. At the same time, right wing Christian leaders give these same national political leaders cover by keeping them focused on issues like opposition to gay marriage, abortion, wars against contraception, blaming women for rape, attacking Islam and making up fake causes like battles for religious freedom. (By the way, all of these causes raise both the politicians and the religious right huge sums of money.) Meanwhile, they use tiny portions of vast resources to start conscience soothing food pantries while ignoring the root causes of poverty and the growing power of the super rich.
The Christian right may be damning itself to hell, but the rest of the country does not need to go with it. Christian history and theology is founded on building power for those on the outside. Jesus, the embodiment of God on earth, went to the places of deepest division and not only brought healing, but gave power to those who never had it before. When the empire of Rome took everything away from them, Jesus gave it back.
Make no mistake about it; the number of outsiders is growing. While the major parties speak about the middle class, shrinking from sixty three to fifty-one percent of the population over the past two decades, they must also speak about the poor. As voter suppression through de facto poll taxes, the purging of voter records and unconstitutional targeting of communities of color grows, so will the anger.
            When the economic and political elites of Detroit got together to begin to address poverty and the disempowerment of its citizens, their most creative solution was the building of casinos. The casinos further drain our local wealth and add to the poverty in our neighborhood. The powers that be did not come to the citizens of our community offering expertise on Swiss bank accounts, advice on starting a superpac nor an outline to start a ponzi scheme. Most of us stopped believing in our economic and political leaders years ago.
Our nation’s history says we only prosper when we expand and not contract ourselves. Ironically, it is also the message of Jesus. We prosper when we expand the inner circle and the number of people connected to the resources of our economy, our political system and our educational institutions. It is happening outside of traditional structures. In Detroit and elsewhere we are building our own businesses, at the beginning edge of creating our own food supplies and at the very start of bringing together communal interests at a large scale. Those living with low incomes have always done this. People of color, women, the LGBT community, communities of the disabled and many more outsiders have always been the creative centers of survival and hope. However, as the numbers of outsiders grows, so does our willingness to work together and form new partnerships, perhaps more than we have seen before this generation. Micro-development, the building of local power and resources, will be the key to the next generation’s building of wealth in communities of low income.
            The poor, such as the woman who fled her own home that summer day, will have their power. It may take a generation or two, but as Dr. King reminded us, the arc of the moral universe bends, and it bends toward justice. Will justice come through the working together of community, the leaders and the people they serve, or will it come with non-violent or violent revolution? We have not hit rock bottom yet. As wealth continues to be distributed from the poor to the wealthy, people are beginning to wake up. It may take another generation or two, but if we continue on this trajectory, revolution will come and it will change America forever. The need for a President Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Lyndon Baines Johnson is necessary. Their commitment to addressing poverty and strengthening the power of those falling through the safety nets saved America in their respective generations. Anything less than such a commitment from the major parties and their candidates for any office will leave those on the outside wanting. So far, the party conventions appear to be a repetitive exercise of political masturbation, a lot of noise and excitement without touching a single person and producing no results. The future of America is held in tension, and if things keep heading in the direction they are, those of us preaching nonviolence and peace in communities of poverty will soon lose all authority, and maybe we should. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Christians, Heretics, and Fried Chicken

They are using our name again, calling themselves Christian. They stood in line for chicken to support the practice of “repairing” gays and marginalizing us to the point of destruction. They say they stood in line to defend the first amendment, the right to speak. However, I critique the leadership of Chick-fil-A because I embrace a faith that goes beyond the amendment of one nation’s constitution. Rather, I believe in a value system of love that is eternal and a corporate understanding of justice for all people.

Chick-Fil-A Controversy: Gay Activist Plan Fast Food Protests

Some customers stated that they were in line silently standing up for their faith. If part of my faith was to deny certain groups of people adequate housing, access to medical care, good jobs and then send that same group to “repairative camps,” you would rightfully call me a hate-monger. I will just call them heretics. Centuries ago the church would burn heretics at the stake. In my worst moments I just hope they go home with heartburn.

I am a Christian. Unfortunately most people believe the haters like Mike Huckabee are the Christians. Haters believe that following the beliefs and teachings of Jesus, arguably the most justice-orientated, inclusive and loving person in history, leads them to stand in line at Chick-fil-A to condemn the faggots, dykes and queers. Little do they know they are heaping hot barbeque sauce upon their own heads.

The lines around the building and blocks of Chick-fil-A were a reminder to those of us who are progressive Christians how far we have to go. The disheartening day of August first was depressing even by the standards of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement for liberation. Bigotry came out of the closet in force that day.

Be not dismayed, however. Yes, we have been beat up, stepped on, abused, bullied, murdered and marginalized for too long. For every two steps forward there is one step back. We are the ones who end up on the crosses of contemporary religious hatred. However, we know we are hated because we are making progress. We need to turn up the heat. Progressive Christians need to come out of the closet, and we need to do it in mainstream life every day, not only when a convenient culture clash hits social media.

Haters and heretics are mad because we have the media tools and compelling arguments to turn the tide from hatred into love. We no longer accept hatred and discrimination as Biblical law. We will not remain in “our place,” which really makes the haters and heretics hotter than the oil in a fryer. Yes, the real Christians are not hating, but loving. We are not seeking Biblical law to keep others out, but believe in justice that holds everyone in.

For those who just want to eat their sandwich in peace, I apologize for this interruption. You probably did not make it to the end of this posting anyway. The opportunities for cultural change are not always planned or convenient. Sometimes they do not even make any sense. Nevertheless, here we are, searching for something better, bigger, more loving and more hopeful than the narrow messages of television Christianity.

Unfortunately, many have been led astray, convinced that their prejudices are the Word of God. There is part of me that actually feels for the people outside all those Chick-fil-As.  All those people stood in line around corners and across parking lots, searching for righteousness and something to believe in.  In the end, however, all they got was a chicken sandwich.

The Christian faith is and has always been better than that, even if the church has not. Defined by love, upheld by hope and driven by a sense of justice, people of faith are standing up every day, even without headlines. It is with a sense of anticipation that I await the day when even the heretics are converted to believers.