Friday, July 15, 2016

peace and justice

There are some times when it is okay to go over the allotted time for a program.  Not many, in my book, but every once in a while it’s okay to chuck convention out the window, realize that what is happening is more important than any watch or printed timetable can claim and... just let it go.

Last night I attended a meeting that, instead of running for its scheduled 2 hours, filled 4 hours of my time.

I was a guest at the Goodwin Memorial Baptist Church in the uptown section of Harrisburg, where Pastor James Jackson had invited me and 17 other civic and religious leaders to speak on the issues of racism and violence in out city and country.  I’m not great with numbers, but the church was packed;  there were probably close to 200 people in the pews gathered to listen, to pray and to offer their own ideas about how to preserve peace in our capitol city which has been described by some as a “powder keg.”

I hadn’t planned on speaking.  I had planned on going and sitting in the pews.  But The Rev. Jackson phoned and graciously offered to include me as one of the voices of leadership in our city.

The event was structured to have the people sitting on the dais to speak and pray first, and then to hear from those in the congregation.  The hope was that together we would raise solutions to the problems of racism and violence that plague our nation and our small slice of the country’s urban pie.

It was an evening based on listening, prayer, mutual respect and a desire to move forward, constructively.

We stayed so long because so many people had something to say.

When it was evident that those in the audience (congregation) were as eager to speak as those on the dais, some of the scheduled speakers gave up their spots to allow the people to be heard. 

My own words were few and heartfelt.  I asked that we pray for the world that God has promised us in Isaiah and in Revelation-  a world where the lion lies down with the lamb... and where weeping and crying and pain shall be no more.  I spoke about our baptismal covenant and how we Episcopalians promise to respect the dignity of every human being and to work for justice and peace,seeking and serving Christ in all persons...   My style, the Anglican style of prayer and presentation waned, I am afraid, in a room full of strong, big, powerful black preachers.  They brought their bibles and their prayer towels to mop their brows. I had my moleskine notebook.  The organist played underneath each of us as we prayed, the music swelling at precious points; the congregation , in their tradition, responded to the preachers in call and response, in the constant affirmative chatter that is the black preaching tradition.  I loved it. Even though it was clear that I was the one who did not fit.

I was heartened to see so many Episcopalians there.  Members of our city churches who live and work in the city and are passionate about issues of peace and justice.  Clergy and lay, they were there and I am grateful.

The mayor was there.  Representative Patty Kim was there.  An editor of the Patriot News was there. 

The former mayor was there. The police chief was there.  There were state police and members of the Mayor’s Interfaith Council though, sadly, the only voices that we heard from the dais were Christian. (the Baha’i representative yielded his space, graciously, to someone from the floor who wanted to speak).  I met a rabbi from the audience and there was one man who identified himself as Buddhist though he was there in the congregation wanting to speak on behalf of the ACLU.

Solutions?  Our host, the Rev. Jackson, counted more than 80 solutions offered up by those in the audience.  I took copious notes from the 20 different speakers on the floor.  Here is a sampling of their ideas:

Pick up a kid.  Mentor them.
Drop the Police Officers stationed in public schools.  This is a civil rights issue. More black kids are arrested for nuisance crimes and they are profiled by the police.
Teach our children to be critical thinkers.
Focus on the parents and educating them about how to care for their children.
Collect data on police stops and race issues.  Don’t make up the facts.
Gather as a integrated group when there is NOT a crisis.  Build relationships.
Listen to each other. Spend time together.
Work for sensible gun reform.
Grab someone in your neighborhood and bring them to church.
Train the police force not to pull the gun so fast.
Teach the black youth about their rights and educate them about their history
Involve millenials.
Take it to the streets.
Lift up and celebrate successful black professionals
Give police the emotional support that they need
Get retired and inactive police officers to serve as a bridge between active police and the people
Demand gun reform.
Teach our children about the privilege of voting
Get all  of the groups to come together. Combine efforts.

At 11:00 PM, Rev. Jackson’s son took the mic.  He is ... maybe... 10 or 11 years old?  He offered these words: “ Love one another.  Be more Kind and Loving.”

On that note, we joined in silent prayer, said a great Amen and went home.

We did something.
It was civil, respectful and with very good intentions.

Now what?

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