The Church and Gays

Let me first thank all of you who responded to last week’s post about my gay brother John–I heard from many family and friends who knew him. You helped me to recognize that I need to say a little more about John. I was so focused on my relationship with him that I failed to mention that he was quite successful; he traveled around the world in his early career and worked as a high level manager at AT&T towards the end of his career.  He was quite popular as an adult and had a multi-cultural group of friends.  He was smart and well loved by many.  His life was a blessing to many people, not just me.

I said last week that one of the things John’s life taught me is that he did not choose to be gay. This is important because many in the church have characterized a homosexual lifestyle as a sinful choice that can be reversed.  And while some church folks are changing their minds on this, many still use it as an excuse to discriminate against people in the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered community.

thI have seen African American religious leaders become furiously indignant at the mention of equating the gay community’s struggle for equal treatment with the black civil rights struggle. More moderate religious leaders may welcome gays into their churches– as long as the gays will recognize that homosexuality is a sin and repent, and that means to me that they will be expected to change. Others take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” position. Many do not want them to marry in the church.  All of these positions view the gay life as less than acceptable.

But John’s life proved to me that God made him just like God wanted him. God formed John in my mothers’ womb. His sexual orientation was as natural to him as my brown skin is to me. I don’t know about all people who are LGBT’s, but I do know about John. And if homosexuals (at least some of them) were made the way they are by God, how dare we judge them?

That’s the question my brother John’s life begs to be answered.  And for all of my friends who knew John and his friends from the time they were young boys, you know that they did not choose to be different.  And I suspect that all of you reading this can remember children who you knew were gay when they were young, before they became sexually aware. They didn’t choose to be gay–they just were, despite any efforts their parents’ may have made to make them “normal.”

Neil Swidey wrote an informative and detailed article for the Boston Globe in 2005 entitled “What Makes People Gay?”  He provides an in-depth review of several scientific studies of how human sexuality develops, highlighted by the story of a mother and her identical twin boys, one of whom exhibited female characteristics and claimed to be a girl when he was a small child. Here are some excerpts:

“Canadian researchers have consistently documented a “big-brother effect,” finding that the chances of a boy being gay increase with each additional older brother he has. (Birth order does not appear to play a role with lesbians.) So, a male with three older brothers is three times more likely to be gay than one with no older brothers, though there’s still a better than 90 percent chance he will be straight. They argue that this results from a complex interaction involving hormones, antigens, and the mother’s immune system.” (I didn’t know that!)

“Still, no matter how imperfect these studies are, when you put them all together and examine them closely, the message is clear: While post-birth development may well play a supporting role, the roots of homosexuality, at least in men, appear to be in place by the time a child is born. After spending years sifting through all the available data, British researchers Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman come to an even bolder conclusion in their forthcoming book Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation, in which they write: ‘Sexual orientation is something we are born with and not `acquired’ from our social environment.”

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Doesn’t it feel good when science catches up with our own experiences and proves to us what we already figured out?

I believe that God made my brother John to be just who he was, and there is scientific proof to back up my belief. And I see even better proof in my gay friends, some of whom are the nicest, smartest, most spiritual and dedicated Christians I know. How dare I judge any of them? God doesn’t make any junk! And God doesn’t make mistakes! A God who is love (see my post two weeks ago) would not make children only to reject them. God would simply love them with an unlimited, unconditional and permanent love.

th-2And I believe the church ought to accept what God has done and not discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation, which includes allowing them to marry in church. (This obviously does not imply my support for any behavior that violates, hurts or harms others, especially children– but that’s true for everyone, gay or straight, including clergy.)

 

I can hear some of you now– “But the Bible Says…..”

I love the Bible.  It is the most important, inspiring, life-changing book in my life. My own experience with the Bible has helped me to learn to explore it deeply. The deeper my understanding becomes, the more I love it. Biblical interpretation is my all-time number one favorite thing to talk about.  I’ll share my thoughts about the Bible on this issue with you next week.

If you’d like to comment to this post, you can click the little balloon at the top of the post for the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know and feel the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

 

Lessons I’m Still Learning From My Brother John, R.I.P.

I recently came across the obituary for my brother John, who died in 1991 at age 47.  I surely miss him. John was the 4th of my 5 older brothers, the middle of seven children.  He used to say “The middle child gets all the aches, the middle child gets all the breaks”–and I don’t think he meant the good kind of breaks!

brother johnJohn was my buddy. When sibling rivalries and competitions broke out, John was always on my side against my brothers Bill and Robert. (My two oldest brothers, Hosea, Jr., and Donald, were too old to be involved with our games, and the youngest, Rick, came along much later.)

John was a mentor for me my first year at Southern Illinois University– he was a senior when I was a freshman. When he got married, he and his wife became a part of the regular crew who used to party with us in Chicago during the 70‘s. I could count on him to help me out with the children after I divorced, before he moved to New Jersey.  After his two failed marriages, he was here in Washington DC with me, both of us divorced, helping each other out with the kids. His son stayed regularly at my house and vice versa. We played tennis together and sometimes he would even attend church with me.

I really enjoyed having John living near me–the rest of my brothers were in different cities across the country.  So I became angry when he told me he was leaving DC to move to San Francisco. But my anger was about more than him leaving.

You see, he told me that he was leaving not only to take on a new job, but also because he was coming out of the closet.

He probably knew it was hard for me to take because I didn’t talk to him about it. I was angry because I thought he valued his sexual orientation more than his son.  Hosea (named after my father) was a senior in high school, and didn’t want to go to San Francisco, so John asked if Hosea could live with me, which he did, even coming home to my house during his years in college.

But now I know that I was also angry because I didn’t want my brother John to leave me. I knew I was going to miss him.  And I still miss him.

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After he told me he was gay, I realized I should have known it. John was not like my other brothers, who were all into judo and karate and the like. John played tennis. When he was growing up, the other kids used to call him a sissy. He used to hang around several others in our community who were also called sissies. He got beat up at least once that I know of.

Looking back on my anger when he left for San Francisco, I realize now that I wasn’t thinking at all about his needs. He must have been wrestling for a long time with his sexuality at a time when it wasn’t acceptable for him to be who he was. For him to live out his life as a lie to all of us all of those years must have been terribly difficult. The job in San Francisco must have been like a dream come true. He could go to a place where he didn’t have to hide or to lie, where he could be who he was.

I wish I had gotten over my anger so that we could have been pals again, so I could have met his new friends. I don’t even know if he had a special partner or not. I didn’t get a chance to tell him how I felt, because he died of AIDS a few years after he left.  I suspect he knew that he had the AIDS virus when he left, but he didn’t discuss it with anyone in the family.

What I learned from his life is that being gay was not a choice for him.  He would not have  chosen that childhood. He would not have chosen to pretend at his marriages in order to fit in. He would not have chosen to suffer with AIDS without telling any of his family.

I’ve also learned that I didn’t have the right to judge him. I should have been more compassionate. I should have talked to him, listened to his needs and his desires. I should have been there for him the way he was for me when I needed him.

The reason I’m sharing this with you readers now, with tears in my eyes, is because my brother John’s life has helped me to understand some things about how the Church ought to approach homosexuality and LGBT issues.  I’ll share more of my views about that next week.

For now, I’m comforted by believing that John knows how I feel.  He knows that I finally get it. I love you, brother!

 

God’s Christmas Gift

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As prophesied by Isaiah and pronounced by John the Baptist, when Jesus came into the womb of the unwed teenager Mary, the valleys that separate time from eternity were ever so briefly filled in. The mountains that divide the all-powerful God from weak and lowly flesh were crushed down. The crooked paths that keep the unlimited presence of God apart from those who are limited by 3-dimensional space and time were straightened out.  The highways were opened up and smoothed out in order for God who knows all and sees all to become present and dwell in the world among those of us who can only see through a glass darkly.

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Love was born into the world on that first Christmas day, from a God who is love. Love came to walk with us and talk with us and to show us the way to truly love God and to truly love each other. Jesus is the Love of God whose life just shouts at us about how much God loves us. What a blessing God gave to the world! Jesus, the reason for the season, is Love himself, born into human form.

Love was born into the world to die for us. For God so loved the world. The truth about God’s love proven to us by Jesus is that love simply is. God is love. Jesus is love. There is no question about whether God loves or not.  God’s love is a permanent, fixed truth about who God is and there is no more or less about it. The truth about love is that if it was quantifiable, Jesus might not have stayed up on that cross.  He might have said, I love them a lot, but not that much.

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The truth about love that Jesus proved on the cross is that if you love, you simply love–there is no more or less about it. The way we increase love in this world is not by having more love, but by helping more people learn how to truly love.

Jesus proved to us up on that cross that God loves all us, including our enemies, unconditionally. It doesn’t matter how many tragedies happen in this world. It doesn’t matter how many bad experiences happen in our lives. God’s love can never be taken away from us. We don’t understand why bad things happen–we are not privileged to have that knowledge. But we must understand that God is love. That’s what Jesus came to show us.  God loves us with a love so true that He wouldn’t come down from that cross. That’s the truth about real love—it never fails.

The truth about love is that God is love. Jesus is love. The Holy Spirit is love.  Love is pouring out in unlimited abundance by all three persons of God, ours for the taking. Because Love was born into the world we are given hope even in the middle of chaos, peace that the world doesn’t understand even in the middle of fear and confusion, and such amazing joy that we have to sing, to shout, to jump about it, even though tragedies take place around us.

When we begin to understand the unlimited, unconditional permanence of God’s love for us, we’ll want to share it; we’ll want to go tell it on the mountain, that love has been born into the world. God’s love, when we open ourselves to share it, will overflow all across the world.

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May your Christmas celebrations be filled with the warm, comforting glow of love, awe and wonder that surrounded the birth of Christ–God’s gift to us–God’s amazing love for all of us, wrapped up in a little baby boy who was born in a manger.

Better than Black Friday Shopping

black-friday-crowd1No, I’m not out shopping ’til I drop today!  I did not rush out from the Thanksgiving table to battle crowds of people trying to save money by spending it.  Instead, I’m thinking about hope and feeling good about doing this rather than that.

I’m thinking about the the kind of hope that derives from success.  I wrote about City Gate last week.  One of the success stories of this non-profit can be seen at Savoy Elementary School on the Southeast side of Washington DC, where one of the 3rd grade classes is taught by Chris Bergfalk (Lynn Bergfalk’s son). Most of the children in Chris’ class were not reading up to grade level at the beginning of the school year–some were still reading at kindergarten level.

City Gate runs an after-school program at Savoy and provides support for a new in-class program that Chris initiated, which bodes well for replication. It’s called “blended learning”– a computer program that helps students improve in reading and math on their own.  This program provides easy and fun (cartoon-like) activities, measures performance, highlights difficulties and provides instructions on how to help when a student gets stuck.

Chris shared with us a chart showing his students’ performance using this system.  Barely 3 months into the school year the results show that most of the children’s reading levels improved impressively. A few who began near grade level are even reading above grade level. One thing that’s making it work is that the program provides the necessary steps for someone to help when a child gets stuck, so volunteers in the after school program can help them and the teacher doesn’t have to try do it all.

While we were visiting, City Gate’s Deputy Director and another staff member were there helping with some of the computers. City Gate provided recycled government computers, the technical support to get the computers up and running, and volunteers to help students in the after school program.  That’s what’s making it work for this class.

The problem in many city public schools is that there aren’t enough computers in the classrooms or sufficient help to provide the children the support they need.  One class out of the thousands around the city may not sound like much, but it’s a start.  And starting is what matters.

Why do people like Dr. Bergfalk and the others who work at City Gate work so hard to help these children?  Lynn said he was drawn to this type of mission work as a way to “practically live out the mandate that we are to love God and our neighbor in the broader community.”   To me that sounds like living love just as Jesus commanded.

Success stories like this help me to know that we have the ability to change things. We can help our children succeed.  With faith, we can defeat the monstrous for-profit prison system by standing in front of our children to keep them out of it.

Success stories like this make me believe that with enough faithful people working together on all necessary fronts our nation can even begin to eliminate poverty. You may remember in one of my earliest posts, “Is Poverty Inevitable?” I said that  “For us as a people to believe that we should try to eliminate poverty, we have to embrace the idea that all people are beautiful children of God, all worthy of our true love. We have to believe that every child born has a right to live safely, to adequate medical care, and to an education that will nurture their gifts.”

The work that Dr. Bergfalk has started gives me hope that one day we’ll get there. Sooooo much better than shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving!

 

Rebounding Hope

I was 17 years old.  We had just come out of gym class, and while heading for the cafeteria for lunch, I saw people crying.  In the cafeteria, many more were crying.  I had no clue what had happened because the announcement hadn’t reached the gym class. President Kennedy had been shot and killed.  I cried.

“If a free society cannot help the
 many who are poor, it cannot save
 the few who are rich.” 
John F. Kennedy inaugural address, 
January 20, 1961

My 17 year old heart felt that evil had triumphed, and that was hard to take.  We all loved the President and his beautiful family.  He had given us so much hope–I felt like he was so modern and cool and that he was really a good person and that things would get so much better for black people with him as President.  Who would do such a thing?  I don’t guess I’ll ever be convinced that such a perfect shot to a moving target from so far away was not the act of an expertly trained professional hired for political purposes, whether it was Lee Harvey Oswald or someone else.

Hope really felt dashed for me the day President Kennedy was killed.  And even more when Dr. King was killed less than 5 years later.  But one thing about hope is that something will always bring it back — and another thing is that you can find hope in lots of different places.  So I want to share with you a new hope that I’ve recently found.

City Gate is a non-profit charitable organization serving children and families in the Washington DC area. I was looking around to find out who’s working with children here, and City Gate grabbed my attention for two reasons–the broad reach of its programs and the steadfast faith of the founder and Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Lynn Bergfalk, Pastor of Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church in DC.

City Gate was formed in 2000 to extend and expand the kind of programs being run at Calvary Baptist Church, where Dr. Bergfalk was then pastor, into the larger community.  From 2003 – 2006 their central location was in the DC Baptist Convention Johenning Community Center in Southeast. When they had to move, what seemed to be a big defeat turned out to be a great blessing. City Gate found a new home in a local housing development, and through the success and the connections made there, City Gate expanded the after school programs to several housing developments and schools in Southeast and in other parts of the City and nearby Prince George’s County.  City Gate operates right where the people live, and the people have received them well.

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Last week Dr. Bergfalk was gracious enough to take me and a new volunteer to visit one of the school sites and some of the after school sites. The after school activities include homework time, STEM clubs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), recreational activities and also dinner for many of the children. Most important is the attention these children receive from caring professionals who help to provide life skills, a safe haven and long-term positive and caring relationships with children who need it. A major focus of the after school programming is to improve the children’s performance in school.

This is intended to directly address the fact that if children are not reading by the 3rd grade, the “accumulated baggage of low performance,” as Dr. Bergfalk calls it, builds up from year to year, and they are likely to end up failing, and also likely to end up in the prison system. See my earlier post for a more detailed discussion about this.

And City Gate is successful. I’ll have more to say about some of their success stories next week.  While this front line work is absolutely necessary in the war against imprisoning our children, help must come from other sources as well.  Non-profits like City Gate need sure sources of funding to keep operating. Schools in impoverished neighborhoods need more funding for computers, specialists, social workers, and others to deal with the “accumulated baggage” these kids carry. We need national, state and local policies that help and support our children, rather than punishing them for what is essentially not their fault.

And that’s why we need people who really care for victims of poverty in places of leadership.  When people like John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama reach the White House, hope for the poor rebounds.  And when politics and political maneuverings dash our hope, we must  be involved to keep hope alive. I still have hope that the Democrats in Congress can figure out how to provide the support that our President needs to move forward with programs that bring some sense of caring for the least in our country. And I’ll continue to urge people of faith to speak prophetically to power about caring for the poor, then to get involved and help those who are doing the caring.

The Cost of Global Warming

Typhoon Haiyan may be the largest and most devastating typhoon in recorded history.  Reports of the chaos that this epic storm has caused are heart-wrenching.

Keith Bradsher reported in the New York Times on Monday that  “Screaming people bobbed in the water — many grabbing for floating debris, but not all succeeding….. Some of them were able to hold on, some were lucky and lived, but most did not.” He also reported that  Richard Gordon, the chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, said that a Red Cross aid convoy to Tacloban had to turn back on Sunday after it stopped at a collapsed bridge and was nearly hijacked by a crowd of hungry people.

Nancy Snyderman, NBC News Correspondent, reported yesterday that in small city Tanauan,  a group of doctors called Mammoth Medical Missions, is running out of supplies after performing more than 100 surgeries in three days, and will have to turn patients away if supplies don’t arrive.  She reported “…throngs of the desperate waited outside to be seen amid the smell of rotting flesh and stagnant water. Inside, doctors cut one dressing into 24 pieces to stretch out the meager supplies. Desks served as examining tables….’It’s like war,’ one surgeon said. ‘I’ve never been in a war but this is what I imagine it’s like.”

NBC News Correspondents F. Brinley Bruton and Becky Bratu, reported today from Tacloban, the worst-hit city: “The mayor said the options are bleak in Tacloban: ‘The choice is to use the same truck either to distribute food or collect bodies.”

I applaud all those first responders who give their time and energy, their hearts and souls to helping in such desperate situations.  I also applaud all those who share their wealth and prayers in times like this.  I hope all who are able will find a way to help.  The New York Times provided today a good list of organizations that are on the ground and can use our donations and so does NBC World News. Samaritan’s Purse and CARE  are a couple of others that I didn’t see on either of those lists.

It’s important for us to help and to contribute when people suffer from such tragedies.  But there’s more we can do.  We need to open our awareness to what may be causing such devastating storms.  The fact that hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons are becoming more frequent, stronger and deadlier is no longer to be doubted.  The Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory has been tracking hurricanes since 1891. Information collected from them and others by Wikipedia shows on one chart that four out of five of the largest hurricanes (by gale diameter) ever observed in the Atlantic basin all occurred within the last 12 years. Another chart shows a clear increase in the number of named storms and hurricanes per year from 1851-2012.

Could it be possible that global warming is the cause of this dramatic  increase in weather-related devastation?  The answer is clearly YES! If you have any doubts, please read this report by Damian Carrington of the Guardian.

Tragedies like this typhoon ought to make all of us think more deeply about how our lifestyles may be contributing to global warming and how we can help to reverse it.  We’ve become so used to using oil-related products like gasoline and plastic that I can’t imagine what life would be like without them. But we have to ask whether the convenience of maintaining our lifestyles is so important that we won’t change even if it means saving people’s lives.  Can’t we bring our own cloth bags to the grocery store if it will mean saving people and their homes from being swept away by enormous floods? Shouldn’t we get off our comfortable couches and take on the big oil companies to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, demand that we stop fracking, and demand government to put more money into research for renewable energy resources if doing so will keep kids from drowning?

For those of us who are Christians, we need to think more carefully about what Jesus taught….he told us that there is no better proof of love than to be willing to give up your life for your friend.  He says we are his friends if we do what he asks us to do, and above all, he asks us to love others as he has loved us.  ( See John 15: 12-17) If Jesus was willing to give his life in order to save us, how much of our conveniences, our comfort, our time and our resources would he expect for us to give up in order to save the lives of others?

When we get this part right, then we can go out and share the good news.

 

 

 

 

The New Look of Faith

Okay.  I’m about to show my age again….I remember when I was a child, how the women
wore white gloves and hats to church.  And on Easter, oh my!  All the children got brand new clothes, even down to our socks.  We wore our Easter bonnets proudly.

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You remember the song “The Easter Parade?”  It really was like that.

Church was different in my parent’s time.  Now that I’m a grandparent, I know that the church I became comfortable in, with lots of gospel music and social activities, seems old to many of the Millennials and the Gen X’s.

One constant about Church is that it changes, which, I believe, reflects God’s movement through human generations.  These changes happen usually with a lot of kicking and screaming,  especially over the music, but churches will change.  Each generation has it’s own way of reflecting belief and faith in God.

Many of you know that more Americans claim to be unchurched now than at any time in our history, and this is especially true of the 20-30 year age range. From a 2010 study done by the Pew Foundation: “Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated [with a faith tradition] than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20% in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13% in the late 1970s).”

But that does not mean that they do not have some expectation of what it means to be Christian. Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Great Emergence:  How Christianity is Changing and Why, identifies some of the new ways these younger generations are reflecting faith:  “…the new faithful began to meet among themselves and hold worship services among and with those of like spirit.  The house church movement began and then quietly boomed, as did such outre things as pub theology and bowling alley masses.  In time, of course, some of these gatherings would grow into nondenominational churches.  …. Other gatherings of emergents have no site at all and roam from public park to football stadium to Seventh-day Adventist churches to high school gyms, as the case may be in any given week.  Some others, from time to time, fall heir, for a song, to old and abandoned church buildings which they occupy but feel only slight need to ‘fix up’ in the traditional sense.  All, however, share one shining characteristic: they are incarnational.  Not only is Jesus of Nazareth incarnate God, but Christian worship must be incarnate as well.  It must involve the body in all its senses and take place among people, all of whom are embraced equally and as children of God.”

This new Emergent Church is, according to Dr. Tickle, the next great movement in the church, equal to The Great Reformation (when the Protestant church broke from the Catholic Church) and the Great Schism (when the Eastern Orthodox Church broke from the Roman Catholic Church). The thing about these great changes is that they do not destroy the previous form of faith, but they do create a vibrant and new way of living out faith.

What does this new way of living out faith look like? According to Wikipedia: “Members of the [Emergence] movement often place a high value on good works or social activism, including missional living … [S]ome in the emerging church believe it is necessary to deconstruct modern Christian dogma. One way this happens is by engaging in dialogue, rather than proclaiming a predigested message, believing that this leads people to Jesus through the Holy Spirit on their own terms. Many in the movement embrace the missiology that drives the movement in an effort to be like Christ and make disciples by being a good example. The emerging church movement contains a great diversity in beliefs and practices, although some have adopted a preoccupation with sacred rituals, good works, and political and social activism.”

I had the privilege of meeting with a few folks last week to talk about some ways the young generation of African Americans are drawn to faith. Two young ministers gave us these insights about this generation: They do not want to be judged, but accepted and challenged.  They want to feel comfortable, to be able to come as they are (certainly not having to dress up to show up). They prefer the services to be less regimented, more casual, with opportunities to engage in dialogue.  They may be biblically illiterate, but are inclined to be involved in helping the poor and addressing social issues. Use of social media would be important to reach out to them.

The thing for me is that I like what they like–except the biblically illiterate part. So I guess I’m not that old after all! I have great faith in the movement from regimented and dogmatic religion to being involved in discussion and service for Christ.  I do believe this generation is leading all of us in a good direction.

They are our children, let’s help them lead the way.

 

 

Making Hope Happen

In a February post this year, Washington Post columnist Paula Dvorak wrote that there were some 600 kids living in homeless shelters in our nation’s Capitol.  The good news is that she received a plethora of responses from folks wanting to know how they could help. Here’s what she concluded in her follow up article:  “This is a complex crisis that will take a multifaceted approach to solve. It’s more than an increased budget, a cot or a single counseling program. But we can do it. We have to do it because at least 600 kids are counting on people who care. And from the response I got, there are many who do.”

She is convinced that we can do it because she was encouraged by the people’s heartfelt responses to such dreadful news.

She referred those who responded, as a place to start, to one of the many organizations that are working hard to help kids here in DC,  The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, which describes itself as a “nonprofit group that provides play space, toys, books, school uniforms and unconditional support and love. It does everything from teen tutoring to baby cuddle time.”

And there are other groups of good folk who are doing good work to help the neediest kids in DC.  I found these easily just searching the web:

Stand Up for Kids-DC:  “ensures that young people in this city have the basic human rights of shelter, food, and security. Our most powerful contributions are in forming supportive relationships with homeless youth who have no place to turn, preventing vulnerable youth from entering the cycle of homelessness, and gaining the assistance of the entire community to keep our youth safe, sheltered, and supported.”

Kids Konnection-DC:  “ministers to 1,500 children a week from DC public housing meeting a variety of the children’s needs.”  One of their programs is a Sidewalk Sunday School:  “Sharing GOD and HIS LOVE – teaching a moral value system – providing role models for the boys and girls – home visitations – one on one counseling – intervention in abuse or neglect situation – substance abuse prevention – sharing life skills: etiquette, banking, filing out job applications, and community service – helping youth make a transition from school to jobs or college – changing lives…”

Located in Southeast DC at Stanton Elementary , People, Animals, Love (PAL) is “helping ensure all children begin life with a solid academic foundation and meet or exceed national No Child Left Behind standards. The after school program and summer camp are offered in partnership with DC Public Schools Out-of-School Time Office, which provides space, security, janitorial services and coordination. PAL Club runs after school during the school year and PAL Camp is held for four weeks during the summer.”

There are plenty more, great opportunities for church groups to get involved and to help these at-risk children out as mentors, tutors or in whatever capacity they might be needed.

And help is sorely needed. In a recent article posted in Democracy Now!, a for-profit prison corporation called Youth Services International, which makes money putting children in prisons, is growing exponentially, even though they have faced multiple charges of child abuse. “More than 40,000 boys and girls in 16 states have gone through these facilities in the past two decades. This comes as nearly 40 percent of all detained juveniles are now committed to private facilities, and in Florida, it is 100 percent.”

Chris Kirkham of The Huffington Post also reported on this, citing some of the abuses found in the Florida youth prisons:  “One guard had fractured an inmate’s elbow after the boy refused instructions to throw away a cup, according to incident reports. Another guard had slammed a boy’s head into the floor after an argument. The prison was infested with ants and cockroaches, toilets were frequently clogged and children reported finding bugs in their meager portions of food.” Why does such a company keep getting government contracts?  Here’s how: “Slattery [the owner], his wife, Diane, and other executives have been prodigious political rainmakers in Florida, donating more than $400,000 to state candidates and committees over the last 15 years, according to HuffPost’s review. The recipient of the largest share of those dollars was the Florida Republican Party, which took in more than $276,000 in that time.”

You remember the scandal in Pennsylvania where a judge was found guilty of accepting bribes to send kids to detention for minimal offenses? These for-profit prisons are hungry for our children, and they are being well-fed. Homeless children are most at-risk of becoming fodder for them.  One ray of hope for us locally is that it doesn’t appear that the District of Columbia sends children to any of these privately-run facilities, although there are some in Maryland. If anyone knows more about this, please let us know.

While we have opportunities to help the children avoid juvenile detention by reaching out to them individually, the problem of saving our youth is more complex than any number of service organizations can solve without additional support from elected officials. It is a complex problem.  But, as Paula Dvorak surmised, we can do it.  The hope lies in people who really do care.  They will find ways to volunteer, to challenge our churches to volunteer, to challenge local leaders to provide necessary funding for children’s programs, to demand that low-cost housing become a priority in the City’s future plans, etc, etc.  All of the above are ways to put faith in action.  And that is what creates hope.

Do you know what hope looks like?  I’m sure it must look like a smile and sparkle in the eye of a homeless child who has just felt love from the personal involvement of someone who really does care.  And hope must look like that same smile and sparkle in the eye of that child’s parent who has found an affordable home because they live in a city that really does care.

We are the nation’s Capitol.  We ought to provide a stellar example  of what hope looks like for the rest of this wonderful country.

How Faith Speaks to Power

On Monday, I received an email invite from an organization that I follow online, Faithful America, that asked us to join Sister Simone Campbell who was going up to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to talk to and pray with members of Congress in support of ending the government shutdown.  The event was organized by an interfaith action group, Faith in Public Life.  Sister Simone Campbell is Executive Director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby. She lobbies on issues of peace-building, immigration reform, healthcare and economic justice. During the 2010 congressional debate about healthcare reform, she wrote the famous “nuns’ letter” supporting the reform bill and got 59 leaders of Catholic Sisters, including LCWR, to sign on. This action was cited by many as critically important in passing the Affordable Care Act.

How could I resist such an invitation?  I couldn’t, and neither could my husband Bill. We weren’t the only ones who could not resist attending. The gathering of about about 150 people included religious leaders from different faiths, people of faith and people who were suffering because of shutdown.  The group was impressive.

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We met Jewish priests, Unitarian Universalists, Catholics, representatives from the Salvation Army and United Methodists and others.  And there was at least one Baptist, that is one American Baptist, and that would be me.

We held hands as people of faith, sang a Jewish song “Of Love and Justice I will Sing” and then Sister Simone prayed for our country.  As we walked down the hall of the our nation’s capitol congressional office building singing “Amazing Grace,” my eyes welled…inspired by being among this wonderfully diverse group of religious leaders gathered with common purpose in God’s name. This is really faith in action. Here is a link to an article in the Nation ezine that has a video of us moving out to visit the Congresspersons.

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We stood in the hallways singing quietly while Sister Simone met with various members of Congress.  She was to meet with some who supported sending forward a clean continuing resolution (which would stop the shutdown) as well as with some members who opposed it (the ones keeping the government in shutdown mode).  Some of them were friendly enough, like Representative Frank Wolf  (northern Virginia), who came out to greet the religious leaders….he supports ending the shutdown.  Others met with her.  Still others, like Eric Cantor (also of Virginia) weren’t available.

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My favorite moment was when the Jewish Priests, who spent time talking to Eric Cantor’s receptionist, ended the discussion by blowing a Shofar, a traditional Jewish horn like the one that Joshua used in the battle of Jericho. That’s what I call making some noise! Another favorite moment was a conversation I had with one of the security guards, who had a time trying to get the group to keep a path down the hallway and not sing too loud.  He was walking beside me when he said he loved to sing in his church choir.  I told him he could sing along with us–he said he shouldn’t because his voice was so loud that they always put him in the back of the choir. Then, as we headed down the stairs, he broke out singing with us–and yes, he has a nice voice.

I applaud Faithful America and its low-profile Executive Director, Michael Sherrard (here is the only information about him that I could find online), Sister Campbell, and Faith in Public Life, because they are truly in the business of putting their faith into action…and that’s the kind of mustard seed faith that can move mountains. Matthew 17: 20-21.

When we returned home, I learned that just about the time we were there was when Congress again failed to reach an agreement, giving the responsibility of working out a plan back to the Senate.  And as you all know by now, the Senate completed the job, those causing the scandalous shutdown and possible default were defeated, and late last evening our President signed the bill into action. God works in wondrous ways.

Yet, it is not a time for celebration. According to Elizabeth Warren this outrageous act of a few bullies in Congress has cost the American people approximately $24 billion.  I really believe these bullies are not thinking of what’s best for America and that they must have a secret agenda.  Am I the only one who thinks they’re really foreign undercover operatives whose goal is to bring down this country?  I guess I’ve watched too many 007 movies.

I just hope and pray that God gives ‘ears to hear’ to these people who are hellbent on hurting America and who claim they are doing it because they don’t like the Affordable Care Act, which, contrary to what they repeatedly say, has been amply approved by the American people.

If you’d like to comment to this post, please click the little balloon at the top and you’ll see the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these weekly posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

Dinner and a Movie?

I made the mistake of saying to a group of younger folks that I could remember when it cost 25 cents to get in the movies.  It’s true.  When I was under 12, which was not much more than 50 years ago, I could get in the movies for 25 cents.  All of the kids would try to pass for under 12, because if you were 12 and over, you had to pay 75 cents. In those days, theaters were locally owned and operated, not like the mega corporations that run them now.  One of the 30-somethings who was in the group said something like “I remember $6.50.” Next time I’ll be more careful about who I share this bit of history with, so I won’t feel so ancient.

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The conversation took place when I was sharing how shocked I was when I took my grandchildren and their cousins to a movie here in the DC area, and we all got the “discount price” (they were all under 12 and I am a senior) of $9.50 each.  Dinner and a movie now is for many people a major celebration event.  For others, it doesn’t happen at all. Do you have any idea how much it costs to go bowling nowadays? 

Contrast the rise in costs for simple things like restaurants, movies and bowling with what’s happening with salaries and jobs.  Hundreds of people showed up at Wal-Mart’s employment office last week for jobs in the new stores that are being built here in DC–even though they were told that they had to apply online and were sent away. Wal-Mart had refused to open stores in the city if the City Council’s bill requiring a minimum salary of $12.50 an hour was not vetoed by the mayor.  The mayor vetoed, Wal-Mart will open those stores, and a lot of people who really need jobs will go to work there.  I don’t blame the mayor, though, because I’d rather see the people who need jobs get them.  I’m hoping they will unionize to get the wages they deserve.

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But they won’t make enough money with those jobs to live in this city, which is booming. Apartment buildings and condo’s and upscale businesses are going up all over the place.  There are four large new apartment buildings in my neighborhood.  The Safeway down the block was demolished and is being rebuilt with several stories of apartments on top of it. More and more often I’m hearing stories of people being shoved out of their affordable apartment buildings, which are being sold and renovated into luxury condominiums.  You can’t afford a two bedroom condominium in DC for your family of three on $10.00 an hour.

Nowhere is the income inequality pattern–rising costs and diminishing ability to buy– more obvious than in our nation’s capitol. A September 20, 2013 Huffington Post article by Jason LInkins says it all:  “Gilded American City Gets Much Richer And Much Poorer Simultaneously.”  Rising income inequality in our nation has prevented the middle class from growing, another way of saying that poverty is being kept in place by creating a class of working poor.

I recommend for your viewing a new documentary entitled “Inequality for All” by Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, who was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration.  To see the trailer of the documentary and a discussion about the film with Bill Moyers, click here.  It’s opening at theaters this weekend.  I hope you can afford to go see it.

The thing is this, though–all that really needs to happen to prevent the train wreck that income inequality is creating is for government to enact policies that will protect and grow the middle class. I shared earlier this week on Facebook a link to an article by Mat Bruening on the American Prospect Website  entitled “How much Money Would It Take to Eliminate Poverty in America?” which describes some of those policies.

It’s not good enough just to complain about rising costs and low wages.  We need to participate in government processes that will put and keep in place policies that work for the betterment of all.  Robert Reich’s documentary or either of the documents highlighted above are educational tools that can get conversations going in your church social action group about how to deal with the seemingly inevitable future of deepening income inequality.  You don’t have a church social action group?  Make one happen!

If you’d like to comment to this post, please click the little balloon at the top of the post and you will see the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these weekly posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.