Sunday, February 27, 2011

Visiting Dr. Rich and Pro-Social Investment

On Friday a group of six us from Broadway visited Dr. John Rich in Philadelphia. My mind is overflowing after the discussion. It was wonderful -- from beginning to end. My attention had been drawn to Dr. Rich from some conversations with friends who have won the McArthur Genius Grant Awards. They thought it would be a good idea to talk with Dr. Rich. They described his work to me several years ago - as work that began when he was in Boston in Med School. This young doctor, who is African-American, found himself face to face with a lot of young African-American men coming through the emergency room at the hospital he was working at in Boston - stabbed, shot and in other ways damaged by violence. A very short version of this story is that he hired them. He hired them to be community health advocates for something he called "the health cru." I loved that. It seemed to blend well with our theology that saw the answers as residing in the very places that others saw only emptiness and pain. As a Christian I believe that emptiness and pain are not the last word. And Dr. Rich put flesh on those bones by his actions.

Last fall a few of us gathered around our telephone lines at Broadway to have a conference call with Dr. Rich. Near the end of that conversation he invited us to continue to the conversation in person. Chad, at Broadway, began to pull together a group of us to visit. That visit happened this past Friday, the 25th. I wanted to take a few friends and listen to what Dr. Rich was thinking - his innovative approach, his looking at the people who crossed his paths as brothers and sisters, his creativity, and insight - being around people like that is always inspiring to me and I hoped it would be to others. So De'Amon, Terri, Orlando, Chad, Tamara and I set off on Thursday to begin our trek.

What I had not expected was that the focus of the conversation with Dr. Rich would be on healing. I don't think I had ever had a conversation with a physician that focused on healing. It was beautiful! He talked about the ways in which, in listening to the young men who came before him, he began to notice some things - for example he began to notice that these young men had experienced constant trauma - many of them from quite young - and that they had a very good ability to describe the experience and the experiences they were having. As I listened to Dr. Rich I thought about how much this made them "healers" to others around - if we could find ways to build on on term that Dr. Tamara Leech - one of our companions on this trip - described as "pro-social investment." It was Dr. Leech's attempt to describe the positive aspects of life in communities that others often look down on. Our friend, Orlando, who is on this trip (and who I've written about in this blog before) - is constantly engaging in "pro-social investment" by engaging the young people in our community around the music that he loves to make - WITH the young people. They make music together - solve the world's problems - talk, tell stories, laugh and challenge one another. How does one multiply that? At least in part we multiply that, I believe - by celebrating it.

What would that look like? We have invited Orlando to share his story in the Lesson for the Contemporary Church during worship at Broadway - and he has done that. But this is a very, very, very small step. How do we make what he is doing more visible - than it is right now? How do we hold it up so that all around our neighborhood see it - and some inspired to do such a thing themselves - that they care about? How do we celebrate it in a way that draws the attention of others around the city? I've been thinking about that. I've got a potential opening to engage the editorial leadership of the newspaper to invite them to see things a little differently (not giving away their old perspective - but picking up the new). Maybe this would be a way that it would be known more widely. But I wonder if this isn't me looking for the "easy way" - by outsourcing the work to the newspaper. I wonder if I could engage United Methodists (and others) from around our city - in helping spread the word. I don't know.

Friday began with breakfast with an old seminary professor of mine - Harold Dean Trulear the III. I was most grateful to see him again after all these years. He had graduated with a PhD from Morehouse in his early 20's - and was only three years older than me when I started seminary as a twenty-three year old. Both he and Dr. Rich have grown up in the Church, Dean has started congregations and worked in congregations and both - painfully so, to both me and them, talked about how unhelpful the Church is to them and to the people they work with in the streets. I actually agreed, wincing, along the way, with their analysis (offered separately - as we did not see them together).

This leads me to my final little section of this blog entry. I am constantly frustrated by reading the blogs of people I know and respect within the Christian community and in particular, the United Methodist community. What frustrates me is that I love the writing styles and color with which they write...but it seems to me that they write of so little that is - I don't know - let's say "real" for lack of a better term.

What do I mean by that? I have done an unofficial count over the last two months of the 10 bloggers I read most often (who post fairly regularly) and I can tell you that the overwhelmingly the social issue that they write about - and that their readers most respond to - is sexuality. Now, I believe sexuality, is an important issue - but many, if not most, of these folks - are giving it time like the Bible talks about this issue more than any other. If you took out the references in the Bible to poverty - the Bible would look like swiss cheese. If you took out the references to sexuality - you would hardly notice and would cover large swaths of the Bible between references - in some cases 100's of pages. It would be hard to cover 10 pages of the Bible without reference to the poor. Now all the references to sexuality wouldn't distress me so much - but I just wonder - where in the hell do people find all that time to look into that and never write, or at least in any sort of close proportionate way, to the issues that are killing so many of our young people, to the ways in which so many of our sisters and brothers are living and dying - with people only seeing them as empty vessels who need to be fixed and not as beloved children of God with lots to offer.

How come there are so many more discussions about the every day life and death struggles of people in secular blogs - than there are in these United Methodist blogs? I can't figure it out. It makes me crazy. Because I know many of the people writing these blogs. They are wonderful folks. Wonderful. Thoughtful. But so much of their energy is taken up with the issues that the craziest people around us want us to take time with - I think this must feel the same in every age. But it makes me crazy nonetheless.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Church and the Bishop's Statement on Immigration

Our Bishop put out a statement this past week on legislation being considered by the Indiana legislature. Here is his statement in full.

Bishop's Statement Regarding Immigration Legislation

The legislature of the state of Indiana is considering the complicated issue of immigration. Certainly it is understandable that many citizens and many State Senators and Representatives are concerned about this important issue. However, our Christian faith brings a perspective to this issue which needs to be voiced, and our United Methodist Church has a particular stance on this issue which I share as the Bishop of the Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church.

Among the proposed bills before the Senate and House is one which seems to be gathering some support, namely Senate Bill No. 590. I have read through this proposed legislation, and while I am not an attorney and may not fully understand all of the legal implications of this bill, I do believe that it would be a mistake for the Senate and/or House to pass this Bill and for the Governor to sign it, for these reasons;

First, this bill begins to move the state of Indiana into areas which rightly belong to the federal government, namely the attempt to regulate immigration. Certainly there is frustration over the failure of our federal government to fulfill its duty in this area, but having each of our 50 states adopt their own immigration policies would be chaos and a violation of our U.S. Constitution.

Second, this bill would place our police officers and our business owners in an impossible situation of trying to determine when and if they should demand proof of citizenship or legal residency. It is clear from the experience in other states which have attempted similar provisions that the police are almost forced into racial profiling to meet the requirements of such a provision. Likewise business owners are faced with new liabilities and costs as they seek to monitor their customers according to the requirements of such legislation.

Third, this bill would only add to the climate of fear and suspicion which permeates too much of our culture already.

I believe that Senate Bill No. 590 is contrary to the Social Principles of our United Methodist Church, and therefore I urge all of our United Methodist people to express to their State Senators and Representatives their opposition to this bill. We must find a better way to enforce the laws which already exist against illegal immigration, and we must also find a better way to protect our legal citizens and residents from coming under undue suspicion and harassment.

Bishop Michael J. Coyner, Indiana Area
February 18, 2011

While I am in opposition to this bill myself, I must admit that this statement is troubling to me. My concern is that the Bishop makes only a political argument and not a Biblical/Theological argument. It would seem like we have a rich vein of tradition to fall back on here. Our theological heritage, our roots, certainly start with being immigrants/slaves in Egypt. Our roots have us setting out for freedom from an oppressive situation, looking for a land flowing with milk and honey. The history of the Hebrew scriptures is filled with stories of the people of God finding themselves as strangers in a strange land. And also we find many, many words and stories in the Hebrew scriptures of God's frustration (condemnation?) of the people of Israel for their lack of hospitality to the stranger (the immigrant). The Gospel story plays this story out again and again and again. Even Jesus' confrontation with the Canaanite woman reveals a lesson taught about how one treats the stranger. Paul is often challenging the people of the congregations to whom he writes about the way in which they welcome strangers. Surely, surely, surely, with so rich a vein from the book that we all hold as central to our traditions they are worth a mention (since even the Social Principles get some love in this statement).

I hope I'm not nit-picking here. I don't want to be. I also miss the challenge to our congregations for anything besides calling our elected officials. What about celebrating and challenging the ways in which we welcome the stranger?

I was contemplating reading the Bishop's statement to the congregation yesterday at worship. But I didn't. It just felt too paltry, too wouldn't have added to our worship of God. It made me sad.