Beth Newberry, a former Sojourners intern, is co-publisher of The HillVille (thehillville.com), a website that explores the urban-Appalachian connection.
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THE LOUISVILLE LOAN Club, which will open early this year at a storefront in a poor residential neighborhood in southwest Louisville, Ky., is a new economic justice ministry blessed and supported by Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty. The brainchild of members Susan Taylor and Andy Loving, it's a company that will make small loans designed to counter predatory payday lenders. Typical payday lenders offer short-term, unsecured loans at interest rates of up to 400 percent or more per year. Average loans are $250 to $500, but many borrowers are not able to pay back the principal and interest at the end of the first loan; instead, they become trapped in a cycle of loans and fees, eventually paying thousands of dollars.
The Louisville Loan Club will offer loans at an annual percentage rate of 18 percent—and offer a path to breaking the cycle. "Any of us can need a small loan at some point," says Taylor, who will oversee the day-to-day operations of the club. "Surely we can do better for each other than to throw someone in need of a small loan into the proverbial shark pool."
Loving and Taylor are modeling their enterprise in many ways on the Pittsburgh-based Grace Period, a church-started alternative check cashing and cash advance service with a five-year track record, Taylor says, of "offering small loans and helping people learn to save their own emergency funds. They built a model of compassion."
WANT TO PUT money to work for the common good? Your congregation—large or small—has more to invest than you might expect. Here are three questions to get you started.
1. Where does our church bank? "Many churches choose a bank based on proximity to the church or the church treasurer's home," Andy Loving says, but it doesn't have to end there. Approach the finance committee and say, "We want to put our money somewhere that has implications for what we value as a church," suggests Loving. Find a bank that empowers economically depressed areas through brick-and-mortar locations and socially responsible loan practices.
2. Does the bank we're considering provide options for the poor? Where are the branches located? Does it loan to people or businesses who typically don't get approved by mainstream lenders? One institution Loving recommends is Self-Help Credit Union in Durham, N.C., which has locations throughout the state—and also a web-based interface convenient for members outside the area. Another place to hunt for justice-oriented banking is the National Community Investment Fund website, www.ncif.org, which allows you to search by location and banking practices.
"WE DON'T WORK toward justice; we bring about justice through systemic change," says Rev. Cindy Weber, with a fierce and loving smile, when asked how her congregation, Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty, seeks justice through reaching out to the community. There is no pride or bravado in her statement, but a firmness that comes from more than 20 years of pastoring a small, community church that actively helps bring about God's peace on earth.
Jeff Street, located in Louisville, Ky., has an active membership of approximately 100 people—a David-sized congregation compared to many mainline or mega-churches. However, the creativity, dedication, and passion of the church's members, manifested in hospitality programs for and with the homeless, have made a giant-sized impact on local economic justice issues. And the congregation didn't stop there; as part of a coalition of area churches, Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together (CLOUT), the church has made an impression with policy work and community organizing on the state level as well. Jeff Street's commitment to empower poor people has even reached internationally: Members have invested in Oikocredit micro-lending programs to the tune of $180,000.
"We are a church that knows the difference between justice and charity, and also between charity and hospitality," says Weber.
Jeff Street, as members call it, started as the Jefferson Street Baptist Chapel, a worship community that had been meeting for decades at Louisville's Jefferson Street Baptist Center, an outreach to homeless people that is a mission of the Southern Baptist-affiliated Long Run Baptist Association. But when the congregation's head pastor left in 1987 and it promoted Rev. Weber from associate to interim pastor, the move touched off a four-year struggle with the Center's parent organization. The Long Run Baptist Association refused to recognize Weber's leadership because she is a woman—even though, at the time, she was also serving as director of the center. In 1991, the year the congregation installed Weber as permanent pastor, it was told to leave the center. The church kept the name "Jeff Street"—the shortened moniker by which Jefferson Street Baptist Center was known in the nearby Clarksdale housing project and environs—and moved a couple blocks south, into a rehabbed former machine shop on Liberty Street.
From the Hollers to City Streets
THE VIDEO for the title track of 2/3 Goat’s EP Stream of Conscience features members of the New York City-based band standing knee-deep in a stream in the mountains of Central Appalachia. Lead singer and mandolin player Annalyse McCoy belts: “Stream of conscience hear my cry / I don’t want my hills to die.” The video intermixes a fictional family’s daily life in the coalfields with harrowing footage of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, which has destroyed more than 300 mountains in the region. In later scenes, the band walks down a country road with coal-dust covered miners, young people, and families in a rambling, spontaneous protest march. It truly is a visual evocation of Appalachia Rising—a tagline of the region’s anti-MTR movement.
The other core members are guitarist, song writer, and vocalist Ryan Dunn and fiddler Ryan Guerra. 2/3 Goat is a self-proclaimed metrobilly band, a portmanteau referring to the music’s urban audience and its roots in country and mountain music. Its acoustic-driven, bluegrass- and old-time-music-inspired sound has engaging harmonies and a sweetness and honesty to it. The other tracks on this five-song release are strong, both in musical composition and storytelling. “Lay It on the Line” is a playful duet between McCoy and Dunn with upbeat fiddle, guitar, and mandolin accompaniment that will make you want to flat foot (if you have enough mountain swagger to pull it off) to this almost-love song. “Band of Gold” highlights McCoy’s textured alto voice and ability to wail when the lyrics call for it. The tone is emotionally heavy, but the fiddle accompaniment and the shift in tempo at the end of the song save it from needing a side of whiskey to wash it down.
Lifeline, by Ben Harper
Ben Harper is known for songs that are either personal or political, and in Lifeline, his latest release with the Innocent Criminals, the songs embody both.
With fierce faith, Julia Bonds works to save the land and people of West Virginia.
Theater of the Soul
In the spring of 2000, a sold-out crowd of volunteers and union organizers, parents and students, hourly wage earners and salaried policy wonks, mohawks and buzz cuts, Latino and black...
Death Rattle & Roll
Washington, D.C. activist, punk rocker, and subversive knitter Jenny Toomey croons Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" on The Executioner's Last Songs, a new collection of eerie, gruesome songs from Bloodshot Records. In Toomey's rendition, it's easy to imagine yourself as Miss Otis's forgotten lunch date: Waiting at a table for two, you've already ordered tea, straightened your linen napkin, and read every line of the menu. "Where is she?" you wonder.
It's as if Toomey has entered the restaurant to tell you the news herself: "Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today, madam/ She's sorry to be delayed." Hers is a prim voice for delivering such chilling news in a tearoom: "Last evening down on lover's lane she strayed/ When she woke up and found that her dream of love was gone/ She ran to the man that had led her astray/And from under her velvet gown/ She drew a gun and shot her lover down." It's a sparse, matter-of-fact revelation of lust, lost honor, fury, murder, and vigilante restitution, delivered in a quiet, deadly voice.
Like "Miss Otis Regrets," the tunes on The Executioner's Last Songs—a benefit album for the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project—subtly disturb lunch dates and complacent music listening. They also undermine America's cultural acceptance of capital punishment as a civilized and appropriate form of justice. The 18 "death" songs—written by the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Bill Monroe—are sung by Steve Earle, the Waco Brothers, Rosie Flores, and Neko Case, among others.
The members of her New Orleans church call her "Sister Shocked." She's the Ms. Shocked who sued the Mercury record label under the 13th amendment—that's the anti-slavery amendment...