Today is a historic day for Grace Church. As we break ground officially on our renovation project, it’s important to acknowledge all of the hard work and vision that have brought us to this moment. We’ve been working on this for three years. As I’ve said before, there have been countless meetings, hours and hours of conversation and debate. Almost everyone involved at Grace has participated in some way in the work as we’ve developed, revised, revised, and revised again the Master Plan, saw our Giving Light, Giving Hope capital campaign to its successful conclusion, and helped us prepare our facilities for construction and the move. Continue reading
Today is August 6. In the liturgical calendar, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, remembering when Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah (Mk. 9:2-8). Today is also the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima. It’s a horrific confluence of commemorations as the gospels’ description of the event: Jesus’ face transfigured, his clothes dazzling white, and at the end, a cloud descending upon them, eerily mirrored by the power and devastation of the atomic blast. Here’s a hymn for the day, from Aelred-Seton Shanley, posted at Company of Voices:
Church authorities confuse God’s mission in the world with a plan for their church designed to halt numerical decline. Or they feel that Christianity requires them to seek global solutions to intractable issues such as immigration or poverty. The Christian task is at once much simpler and more demanding: it is to show compassion to those who are cursed by political, social and religious systems. That’s harder than nurturing fantasies such problems can be solved – the whole of history shows they can’t – because it leads in one direction: to the cross.
Jamelle Bouie has a piece on Slate in which he reflects on the year since Michael Brown’s death and how it has changed America.
As I read it, I began thinking about how I had been changed by Ferguson. I think it was this photo (shot by Whitney Curtis of the New York Times) that did it:
That photo captures a key dynamic in contemporary America: a militarized police force that apparently regards African-Americans as the enemy to be subjugated by means of any force necessary. It’s a photo of White Supremacy and racism exposed for what it is. It’s a photo of our America, an image I can’t get out of my mind because it reveals all of our hypocrisy as well as the evil at the heart of American culture and history.
I went back through my blog to look at how I’ve addressed racism over the years. It’s quite telling. Before the release of the Race to Equity report that detailed the horrific racial disparities in Madison and Dane County, there’s a smattering of references to racism on my blog. Since Ferguson, it’s probably the dominant topic. I’ve preached about it, written about, participated in demonstrations. I’ve read more about racism in the last year than I had in the decades since taking a course on African-American history in college. Racism and America’s culture of violence will be a major focus of our programming at Grace in the coming year.
Boo goes through the litany of deaths and protests and at the end of his recitation, he points out how politicians, mainstream media, and corporations have been forced to address issues of racism. At the end of it all, he writes:
If Ferguson was an earthquake—a tectonic shift in our arguments over race and racism—then a year later, we’re not just feeling the aftershocks. We’re preparing for the next blow.
Bouie did not mention how Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter have changed American Christianity and I’m looking forward to reading similar retrospectives from theologians and religious commentators.
This past week, I had an interesting encounter with a young homeless man. He came to the reception desk at Grace and asked to speak to me. He said he needed assistance and counseling. I brought him up to my office and began asking him questions, trying to figure out what he was looking for, what he needed. Eventually, he told me that he needed money to go somewhere. The story he gave me was rather flimsy, so I ended up not providing financial assistance.
I remembered that he also had asked for some counseling, so I tried to engage him in conversation around his life, the struggles he was having. Whatever had led him to ask for counseling, by the time he got into my office, he was not about to share anything substantive about his life. So I led him out of the building and sent him on his way. But a few minutes later he was back. This time, he wondered whether we had a computer he might use. Of course, we don’t, but I pointed out to him that public computers are available in the Central Library, and that Bethel has a computer room as well.` Continue reading
An article by Pat Schneider provides some background on the potential move. It is an exciting prospect for the future of homeless services in Madison, and for Grace Church, too. If the shelter moves, we will engage the community and our congregation in a conversation about our future ministry and mission in a spot where we have been worshiping and serving God for over 150 years. At the same time, we will continue to advocate for “the least of these.”
It’s been a violent summer, a violent year, in the United States. On Friday, I read that so far there have been 204 mass shootings in the US in 2015; Friday was the 204th day of the year. It’s estimated, because for some reason no one keeps official records, 516 people have been killed by law enforcement officers in 2016. There was Charleston, the shootings in Tennessee and Lafayette, LA that occurred this past week. We had the spate of shooting incidents in Madison this spring, some of them hitting close to home to members of our congregation. Continue reading