I Wasn't Ready
We were leaving the Dusable Museum of African American History with our visiting group from Westmont College. I could visually see the students were bothered and I figured that the images and stories of the black struggle began to strangle their psyche. I was wrong. They had just been notified that their campus was closing because of the Coronavirus. They were told that they had to move their stuff, transition to online classes, and finding new jobs to replace their campus ones. I felt so bad for them. This is just one example of how the COVID-19 assaulted all our lives. My wife Jacqui and I began the new year riding a high. We had just bought our first home. I was nearing the end of my album and book projects. I began to hit my stride as Sunshine’s new BridgeBuilder Director and had the Spring and Summer season rounding out with great shows and speaking engagements. All my plans changed and zoom meeting became my go-to app.
I’m pretty sure most people who rolled into the new decade didn’t expect for it to be like this. 2020 was supposed to be an amazing year filled with growth and joy, but that’s not what happened.
We Have A Problem
I serve in a beautiful, broken, complex neighborhood- Woodlawn. There are 24,000 residents with 82% being African American. Our median household income is $24K, and according to the Community Dta Snap shot published in June 2019, only 16.4% of the homes were owned by our Woodlawn residents. 95% of the students in our programs qualify for free or reduced lunch, and we continue to see high levels of crime and violence. In March when the Coronavirus shut Chicago down, we knew our community would be disproportionately affected. As is common in American history, black communities feel the weight of national tensions in a more crippling way. Echoing the popular statement
“When America gets a cold, Black America gets the PNEUMONIA”.
Many of our neighbors are not given the option to work from home, so they go to work and get sick. Many are low income, so they crowd our local grocery stores at the first of the month when their financial assistance replenishes- only to get sick. There is distrust of the health care system due to a track record of discriminatory practices over the past century. Lastly, low food quality and a host of traumatic events have bred the underlying issues that make COVID nearly 3 times more fatal for African-Americans.
“When the foundation has cracks, the rain will pour and the house will leak.”
– Pastor Phil Jackson (Founder of The Fire House Arts Center)
What Does the Bible Say
When I began my studies and ministry work in Chicago I was shocked to see all the correlations to the gospel, black history, and social justice. As our executive director, Joel, began to talk through the details of biblical shalom (peace, flourishing, restoration), it was as if another dimension of my faith was unlocked. I knew God saved us from sin and was making us more like Him, but Joel explained to us that God is making all things new.
I had always thought we just needed to convert people before GOD came back and burnt everything up. I thought He was going to make a new Heaven and Earth from scratch and completely throw the old ones away. I always thought focusing on justice too much was getting away from what God called us to do: be holy. But Joel’s deeper, holistic look at Scripture provided me countless examples of God being a great steward who was making all things as they were intended to be.
He is making right the wrongs of people and the groaning creation. In other words, this world is not just a burning ship from which people need to escape. It is our home that needs to be redeemed. Internalizing this helped me to understand my purpose in this age as I anticipate the next one.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world [temporary age or time period], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. —Romans 12:2
The Public Lynching of George Floyd
Months into our lockdown we were hit with another blow, the public lynching of George Floyd. Protests began all over the country. Many were peaceful but following the protests were some riots and looting. Our suburban communities were not hit in ways that my Southside neighborhood was. Hair shops, clothing stores, and all our local grocery stores were destroyed, leaving our community in shambles. For the first time in my ten years as a Chicagoan the city lifted its draw bridges denying access from Southside communities into the downtown area.As I drove through downtown to a protest I was taken aback as I observed joggers and business folk enjoying life as if nothing happened. It was symbolic of the isolated devastation we continue to experience.
I take no pleasure in riots or looting. But I get it. There are many complicated reasons behind them and if you would like to hear my thoughts in depth you can check out my latest guest appearance on the “If I had an Opinion” podcast below.
What I’m Telling People
Jesus wept because it was the right human response to grief. It’s ok to grieve. Pray: Pray for your own heart and the world around us. Learn: This isn’t a quick fix. Internalize history as well as what the Bible says about justice/righteousness as we seek to be the change we want. – Jeremiah 29, Micah 6:8, Matthew 5:6-10 – We have began a great resource for these conversations BridgeBuilders Online – Read Black and Brown Authors and Theologians – Be a guest in spaces where you are the minority Stop Worshipping Politics: Think about the most vulnerable people of our society as you vote and petition change. I have developed a personal conviction that regardless of party we shouldn’t allow our choices to only be dictated by our own comforts and concerns. Invest In Change: Support black and brown owned businesses and community organizations in black and brown communities.