Reaching Across the Divide

Image via urbanbuzz/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

I was raised in Atlanta during the heyday of the civil rights era. I went to high school with some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s children. And I didn’t know there was a racial problem in my city. Because for me and my people there wasn’t. It was somebody else’s problem. Across town. Somewhere else.

The black maids and gardeners rode a tidal wave into my white neighborhood each morning, tended babies, fried chicken, and manicured lawns. And then the tide washed them back out again. We didn’t often ask where they landed for the night and whether it was as sumptuous as our digs, or whether their neighborhoods were even safe. We just dropped our bath towels on the floor and figured that somebody would pick them up again in the morning. Life was good.

From the remove of 40 years and 600 miles, I see it differently. But it took more than time and distance to reckon with my own cluelessness about race. It took what it always takes for barriers to fall between “us” and “them” — getting to know some of “them.” I’ve gotten as far as being able to name that I am on one side of many different divides, including the dinner counter at the Mission, and I’m usually on the less-shitty side. And it’s through no merit of my own. In fact it’s where people like me, white and privileged, have long been and have little questioned.

What Can We Expect from Pope Francis' Address to Congress?

Pope Francis in October in St. Peter's Square. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.

Pope Francis in October in St. Peter's Square. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

The Francis Revolution is crossing the Atlantic and coming to the heart of the nation’s Capitol. News broke yesterday that Pope Francis has accepted Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a rare joint session of Congress during his upcoming trip to the United States on Sept. 24.

This is the first time that a pope has addressed Congress and provides a world-class opportunity for the Holy Father to lift up the Gospel’s social justice message to the most powerful legislative body in the world.

So what will the Jesuit from Argentina talk about? Studying his nearly two-year tenure as the Bishop of Rome suggests that Pope Francis will focus particularly on the scandal of inequality and exclusion.

Last April, Pope Francis tweeted that “inequality is the root of all social evil.” The seven-word tweet caused an uproar in American media, but the truth is that Francis had been saying the same thing for years. In his 2013 letter Joy of the Gospel, Francis wrote “just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

With reports last fall suggesting that economic inequality in the United States is at its highest levels since the Great Depression, Pope Francis will likely call on our elected leaders to transform our economy into one where no one is left behind.

A Homeless Man and A Candy Cane

Candy canes on a table. Image courtesy Wilson Araujo/shutterstock.com

Candy canes on a table. Image courtesy Wilson Araujo/shutterstock.com

James was playing cards with several other nursing home residents in a room that doubles as their dining area. The “stakes” for their game was a stash of candy from a Christmas party earlier in the day. He saw me and waved me over. James grabbed one of the candy canes in his pile and offered it with his right hand, the one that had L-O-V-E spelled out on the backs of his four fingers with a self-applied tattoo.

“Would you like some candy?” he said.

James was short, thin, in his 40s. His most distinctive features were those homemade tattoos on his fingers, hands and forearms. And the outline of a metal plate protruding from his lower right leg.

An auto accident left the leg mangled. He didn’t have medical insurance to cover the enormous hospital bills. He couldn’t stand on the leg as it healed, so he lost his job as a cook. And soon, his apartment. He was living on the streets, sharing needles and drugs to deaden the pain in his leg. He wound up sharing someone’s AIDS as well.

But that’s not why he was dying. He’d developed cancer. There was nothing they could do.

I got to know James as part of my work as a hospice volunteer. He only slowly warmed to me — all that time on the streets made him wary of people and their motives. He didn‘t trust very much. 

But now he was offering me a candy cane.

Turning Toward Home

WHEN SHE’S TRAVELING around her north-central Detroit neighborhood, Lucretia Gaulden likes to carry her digital camera with her.

The 39-year-old lifelong Detroiter trains her lens at scenes that represent health—such as an outgoing person she admires, for example—as well as images that represent sickness and danger, such as vacant buildings.

That’s the assignment she’s working on in her photography class at the Bell Building. Until Lucretia came to the Bell Building 17 months ago, she never had a chance to participate in a photography class. When she was homeless, attending a weekly class of any type, even owning a camera, might have been out of reach.

Orphaned at 13, pregnant at 16, she found herself in prison at 25 after being convicted of being an accomplice to a crime committed by an old boyfriend. When she got out, she bounced between halfway houses and friends’ couches.

But since she’s arrived at the Bell Building, she’s been able to focus on what’s more healthy for her. In compliance with her lease, Lucretia pays rent every month on her own furnished one-bedroom apartment. She serves as a floor captain, with responsibilities for maintaining order and community among her immediate neighbors. She’s also part of the building’s Tenants Advisory Council and is a member of the speakers bureau, a group of residents who do public presentations and speak with the press. Their work is meant to help put a human face on the issue of homelessness.

Homelessness is an enormous problem these days in Detroit. As many as 25,000 of the region’s residents are chronically homeless. But when someone like Lucretia arrives at the Bell Building, just like that, the ranks are reduced by one.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Weekly Wrap 7.4.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Five Takeaways From the Hobby Lobby Case
Five things to know about one of the biggest Supreme Court decisions of the year.

2. Who’s Afraid of Soccer in America?
The beautiful game captured the imagination of the United States as its national team advanced to the knockout rounds to fall valiantly at the hands — or feet, rather — of Belgium. And the numbers don't lie: soccer is taking off in America.

3. Tim Howard: 'Nuff Said
Speaking of the World Cup, goal keeper Tim Howard did the best he could to keep the U.S. in it. The shot-stopper has taken the Internet by storm, with #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave trending on Twitter, hilarious Tim Howard memes abounding, a petition to change the name of Washington National Airport (DCA) to "Tim Howard National Airport" going viral. The man even received a call from Obama himself.

4. Here's How Vancouver Responded to London's 'Anti-Homeless Spikes'
A Vancouver charity, RainCity Housing, is converting city benches into pop-up shelters for homeless people. And by giving homeless people in this rainy city some dry coverage and a place to rest, RainCity is putting London's anti-homeless spikes to shame. 

5. 10,000 Christians Have Fled Northern Iraq Since the ISIS Takeover
As many as 10,000 people have fled from predominantly Christian areas in northern Iraq, the U.N. warned late last week.

6. In open primary Southern states, black voters flex new muscle
An unexpected group of voters charged in to save veteran Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, a Republican, from losing a primary squeaker against a tea party challenger: African American Democrats.

7. Plastic garbage on ocean's surface is vanishing. Where is it going?
Large amounts of the plastic debris littering the ocean's surface seem to be disappearing. But scientists are at a loss to explain where it's going.

8. Bathrobes And Baby Carriers: The Stuff Of Manliness?
NPR's All Things Considered asks, "What Object Makes You Feel Manly?" One man gives an answer that steers away from masculine stereotypes.

9. 3 Lessons from Wild Goose: Holy Rest, Holy Mischief, and Holy Reconciliation
"This past week I was surrounded by an eclectic mix of barefoot wanderers, edgy thinkers, and hippie-hipsters at the Wild Goose festival. While none of these descriptors necessarily apply to me, I found myself quite at home at the Goose." 

10. Astronaut Reid Wiseman Has an Out of This World Twitter Feed
Reid Wiseman is up in space taking insane photos — definitely worth following on Twitter.


'Daddy, why are those people sleeping in the park?'

MY 5-YEAR-OLD daughter, Zoe, is in preschool. This means, as most parents of school-age children know, that there is a birthday party to attend approximately every other weekend of the year.

On the way to one of these myriad celebrations, we stopped by the church in downtown Portland, Ore., where my wife, Amy, is the senior pastor. She had a daylong meeting, and we needed to switch cars, as hers was the one with the gift in it.

As we came down the front steps of the church and onto the South Park Blocks, a local city park, we saw at least half a dozen emergency vehicles parked in a haphazard formation along the street and on the sidewalk in front of a small public restroom. Several officers were standing together, making calls on their radios and discussing the situation at hand. At their feet was what appeared to be a lifeless body, lying on the pavement underneath a blue tarp.

“Daddy,” Zoe said, “what are those police mans doing in the park?”

“I’m not sure, honey,” I said, “but it looks like somebody needed their help.”

“Is somebody in trouble?”

“Something like that,” I sighed. “Make sure you don’t drag that gift bag on the ground. We don’t want to mess up your friend’s present before we get to the party.”

My first thought was, God, please don’t let it be Michael. Michael is a man about my age who lives outside and wrestles daily with an addiction to alcohol, among several other things. We have helped him get sober, only to see him relapse. We helped him get into supportive housing, only to watch him get into a fight and get thrown back out onto the street.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Revealing an Often Unseen New York City

“She wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets.”

So begins the New York Times story following Dasani, an 11-year-old girl living homeless in New York. Dasani lives with her parents and seven siblings in a family residence shelter. From school to dance class to home, Dasani feels the weight of poverty and an unstable family.

According to the story, one in five children in America live in poverty, “giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.”

In this five-part multimedia story, life told through Dasani’s eyes offers an honest look at homelessness and the pursuit for a hopeful future.

Read the full story here.

'One Relationship Can Help Us See the Light'

Photo courtesy Convergent Books

Rutba House, the hospitality house in Durham, N.C. Photo courtesy Convergent Books

“Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them.”
- Dorothy Day

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Catholic Worker Movement — best known for its hospitality houses that dot the nation, bringing together communities of individuals in need and offering them housing and love.

It was in that vein that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife, Leah, began Rutba House in Durham, N.C., after experiencing what he calls the “Good Samaritan story:” While the couple were on a peacemaking trip in Rutba, Iraq in 2003, friends were injured in a car accident, and local physicians gracefully cared for them.

Jonathan and Leah returned to the states looking for a way to extend the same type of love and welcome they received in Iraq. Ten years later, Rutba House holds countless stories of transformation through community, which Jonathan recounts in his book Strangers at My Door: An Experiment in Radical Hospitality, out Nov. 5.

Upon first glance, the arc of the narrative does seem radical. The hospitality house welcomes strangers in to live as part of the community — even at midnight, even when they might not pass society’s presentability test, even when the host is tired, even when they come straight from prison.

“I think part of what I’ve learned over the past 10 years — what Jesus is revealing to us through this call to greet him in the stranger — is something basic about who we are and who we’re made to be,” Wilson-Hartgrove told Sojourners. “All of us are called to hospitality — not just as Christians, as human beings. Because humans can’t live alone.”

Criminalizing Christ: The Nationwide Targeting of Homeless

Homeless man, Kuzma / Shutterstock.com

Homeless man, Kuzma / Shutterstock.com

There is no longer a war on hunger in this country.

There is no longer a war on poverty.

There is a war on the hungry. 

There is a war on the poor.

It is being waged all over the country with the most recent — and visible — battle coming from Raleigh, N.C., and the now-viral incident with the Rev. Hugh Hollowell’s Love Wins ministries.

It’s ironic, really.

Conservatives love to tell folks that the best way to end poverty, homelessness, and need in our country is through the work and generosity of private individuals and private donations, not through government programs.

The answer, they say, is charity.

Yet in a stroke of cruel hypocrisy, when charities actually address these issues in real life, they aren’t commended for their work.

Rather, they are threatened with arrest. 

When Doing the 'Christian Thing' Isn’t the Right Thing

Pedestrians passing by homeless person, uros1210 / Shutterstock.com

Pedestrians passing by homeless person on the street, uros1210 / Shutterstock.com

I used to be a Bible study leader.

And per the undergraduate campus fellowship tradition, it kept me busy: Sunday brunch community building, Monday night small groups, Tuesday leadership meetings, and Wednesday training sessions. Discipleship, one-on-ones, social activities, all-campus worship, weekend retreats, week-long retreats, all-day retreats, evangelism workshops, work day, capture the flag, scavenger hunts, and prayer meetings.

But what I remember most vividly are Thursdays.

Every Thursday. The evening walk through campus, past bars and restaurants beginning to fill with my peers, through a door almost hidden to the unaware, flanked by a man sitting on the ground. The man is dirty and unkempt. Sometimes he’s panhandling. Sometimes he’s asleep. On one occasion, he eats, still alone, from a small bag of popcorn one of my fellow Bible study leaders had brought to him.

The man catches my attention, yet I don’t show it. I don’t ask his name, or where he goes when he doesn’t sit by the door, or how he manages to stay warm through Midwestern winters. Thursdays are obligatory for Bible study leaders, so maybe that’s why I try to ignore the man. Maybe that’s why I feel I can’t stop to ask him his name. Or maybe being a Bible study leader is just a convenient excuse to keep walking.

So every Thursday I climb the stairs behind that door, leaving the man below, allowing him to fade into the background until he is just another distant person, indistinguishable from those filling the pub across the street or sleeping on their textbooks in the library across the quad. Suddenly the band is on stage, the rhythm of worship distracts me, channeling an energy that gives way to reflection, to reverence, to calm. Every Thursday.

And then it’s over. And like all good Bible study leaders, I greet friends, practice fellowship, welcome newcomers. We leave in groups to study or socialize. I don’t notice if the man is still there when we leave.

This man has come to represent many things to me in my faith journey, and something I’ve encountered this week brings my thoughts back to him.