Last Sunday at the rollicking Fellowship Hall service, in which I so enjoyed watching all of us try to sing along with Keon as he led us in “Every Praise,” one comment in particular stuck with me and agitated me this week. It was the Rev. Tricia Dykers Koenig’s (our Parish Associate) comment: “We need to pray for Ferguson, Missouri and what we are going to do about it.”
The scenes from Ferguson were horrifying. Once again an unarmed African American young man was shot and killed. And as with Treyvon Martin and Eric Garner, so too with Michael Brown, the wound is open for the world to see, as police with military hardware faced off against citizens.
What are we going to do?
It is not just Ferguson, Mo. or New York City, or Sanford, Florida – it is really close to home.
I was appointed to the Facilities Advisory Committee of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school board. A bond issue was passed last year to renovate all the school in the district, starting with the High School. In the fall of 2015 Heights High will move to Wiley Middle School
. As you can imagine this move is a daunting task – one of the issues facing the board is what to do with the swimming pool? Where do the teams practice?
There is a community pool (Purvis Pool) in University Heights, right next to Wiley Middle School just off Cedar Road. It was suggested, and money was set aside, to cover the pool and make it a 12-month community asset. Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall – students and community share it. In two years when the students return to Heights High – the covered Purvis Pool would remain.
The city council of University Heights did not approve the idea. So student swimmers will be bussed to Warrensville Heights High School for all swimming programs.
But at the Facilities Advisory Committee two months ago I sat next to University Heights Councilwoman who shared with me that the real reason the pool proposal didn’t pass – was not money. Rather, too many letters, too many phone calls from residents who didn’t want “those Cleveland Heights kids” in University Heights longer than the school day.
My daughter Sarah is a Cleveland Heights kid – but we all know that she is not the “Cleveland Heights kid” who the citizens are talking about. The Councilwoman, whose pain was very obvious, shared with me that the letters were straight out of the 60’s.
At staff meeting the other week, Keon shared with us that he came to the church late one night because he had forgotten something in his office. He used his key fob to get into the building and for a moment he wasn’t sure he remembered his security code to turn off the alarm. In his wonderful way that made us all chuckle– but it isn’t funny at all – he said he worried about what the police would say when they showed up and saw a young African American standing in our hallway…. AND, Keon added – he was wearing a hoodie! Thankfully he remembered the code in time!
“Then the Lord said: I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry…indeed I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them….So I will send YOU to Pharaoh to bring my people…out of Egypt.” “But Moses said to God; ‘Who am I that I should go?” God said: “I will be with you; and this will be a sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
The Lord God who heard the cries of the Israelites in Egypt – hears the cries of America – both black and white (Latino and Asian, gay and straight… and every cry of every person) – who are caught in cycles of seemingly perpetual misery.
And yes, there are improvements; and yes, things get better; and yes, we elected a black President – all of that is true… and yet it seems as if we are stuck; all of us crying out for release – crying out for release for many generations.
And just as the Lord sent Moses, I believe that the Lord is sending us – you and me; Forest Hill Church – to witness to the beloved community of Jesus Christ, to speak out for the beloved community of Jesus Christ, to be the beloved community of Jesus Christ; to actually embody it. That is what we are to do!
So what exactly do we do? Yes, there may be legislation that we should support: voter access legislation, change in drug laws that fall harder on African American citizens, laws that keep military hardware out of the hands of police, support of public education, and Head Start. (Involvement with Greater Cleveland Congregation!) But even more we have to mix our social groups and our leadership and our dinner tables; the church as a place of commitment not just contentment!
We shouldn’t be naïve that all will be well in a week, or a year, or an election, or a generation. And we won’t really know success until we get there. But isn’t that an interesting phrasing in the scripture? God says to Moses “I will be with you; and this shall be a sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” (v.12) God is with us – but the sign will be in the process, the sign will be when we get to the other side.
The sign will be when we are worshipping God together!
So we will have to speak before Pharaohs and wander through the wilderness, and cross the desert and pass through seas that look like they are about to come crashing down. When we worship as a community in which young and old, black and white, conservative and liberal, gay and straight all feel at home – then we will know that God is present.
Thankfully, on this exodus – there are springs along the way, there is manna sent from heaven – miracles, signs of hope all around – do not despair. Two Saturdays ago we had almost 200 people in our courtyard for worship. One woman, looking over the diversity of the crowd, said to me as she left: “This is what the Kingdom of God looks like!”
As I take my morning prayer walk – people of different race, age and gender are in the park and we bless each other – really. “God bless you,” we say. “Have a blessed day,” we say.
Count your blessings if you live in Shaker Heights, or Cleveland Heights, of South Euclid, or even University Heights, or any community where there is diversity – even if we are still segregated by blocks and churches and clubs and barbers – at least we have the raw stuff to make up the beloved community salad!
We may not be a fully mixed yet – fully tossed – but at least in our communities there are tomatoes here and lettuce there, and onions over there and greens in that yard and peppers of every color beautifying the gardens we call home.
May the words of Paul in Romans guide us, “Let us have the mind to live like this:
- Let love be genuine,
- hate what is evil
- hold fast to what is good
- love one another with a mutual affection
- outdo one another in showing honor
- rejoice in hope
- be patient in suffering
- persevere in prayer
- extend hospitality to strangers
- rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep
- and live in harmony… if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
And then we’re told that the Lord God will come – leave room for the vengeance of God, the justice of God, the righteousness of God… because God must be fed up that her beloved children create such messes. But, of course the vengeance of the Lord, and the justice of our God looks something like Jesus hanging on a cross. Hopefully our rejoicing and patience and perseverance, hospitality and weeping – our holding ourselves accountable to being an example of the beloved community – will “heap burning coals on their heads.”
Because sometimes we must be shamed into the kingdom.
Sometimes we have to be embarrassed into good behavior.
So I don’t want to hear any more “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Let’s do more of: “Hands Up. Lets praise!” or “Hands Up and Hands Out!” So hand-in-hand as we walk towards freedom together, across this crazy wilderness together, into the promised land together – to praise God – living in the beloved community.