Third in series: Why this matters
Over the last couple weeks we have been in series of talks which we are calling: SLIDE Why this matters We have considered how, despite much of the behavior of many of Jesus’ followers throughout history, Jesus taught that pronouncing judgments of who is in and who is out is something humans should avoid — that that job is above our pay grade. At this church we take this teaching from Jesus very seriously — we just think it is energy poorly spent pronouncing people in or out here. But: if the focus of this church SLIDE isn’t“in vs. out”, SLIDE are the stakes pretty low here? Is everything just the same then? Like: It’s perfectly nice to want to follow Jesus, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t actually matter that much?
Actually, we don’t think so at all. Our experience following Jesus in this church is that setting aside the “in vs. out” question doesn’t make faith matter less… It makes faith matter so much more To us, pursuing faith and pursuing a faith community is very high stakes! Not because it’s driven by the anxiety around in and out. But, Because, to us, it’s been the difference between finding or not finding the kind of lives everyone seems to want -- lives that are deep and full and resilient.
We’re touching on a number of ways we find this to be true in this series Today, I want to look at the what, to me, feels like the epitome of high stakes in life... SLIDE Justice
I think we all long to be on the side of justice, to be on the side of peace and opportunity, and fighting against suffering and inequity.
But, frankly it can be hard to know what to do when it comes to issues of Justice.
Like where do we start, there are so many issues out there?
Like the largeness of the issues feels overwhelming.
So, although we might be for justice, it can feel hard to know where to start or what to do. And I think this has a funny thing in our current culture. It’s what I call the SLIDE “thoughts and prayers” trap
Which I think these highlight quite hilariously SLIDE
And although those are funny.
I don’t want to stay there, I think that leaves us in a place full of cynicism, which also doesn’t help anyone.
And I actually personally believe that prayers do make a difference in issues of Justice. Prayer has been at the heart of many social movements However, the way of Jesus was one that always called for action along with prayers Jesus did not just send our prayer to the sick. He went to where the sick were, and sat with them, feed them, included them in community, then laid hands on them. And there prayed for them. So, what can we do, today, that really makes a difference? This is where communities like ours come in Historically, this is the one of the positive inheritances of the church It was churches who organized Busses to Montgomery during the fight for the civil rights It was churches who secretly formed the underground railroad and while publicly fighting for the abolition of slavery. I has been churches that have historically been at the center at caring for those currently experiencing homelessness You see it’s communities like ours that can connects us to something larger than ourselves. It is not just us fighting for Justice on our own, we are joining into a larger work, with an impact that goes beyond ourselves. Communities like ours give us the on ramps we need to not fall into the trap of thoughts and prayers, but activate us into actually doing something. SLIDE So, when I think about this in terms of how BLV can help activate us.
I am drawn to Jesus and specifically to two things that stands out about how Jesus approaches issues of justice.
First, He pursues equity over equality Luke 14:12-14 (Jesus) said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, Luke 6:20 Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Matthew 25:40 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 11:4-6 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” We see clearly that Jesus was about caring for those with the most need, the poor, the sick, the marginalized. But, what do I mean when I say that Jesus is about equity not just equality?
Let me share a case study that I think might help… a Case study of my hometown of Evanston, IL which works I think also works as a microcosm of our country at large.
A city that fashions itself as diverse and progressive.
Great-grandmother's generation - the Late 1800s
Evanston started to boom as predominantly well off, white families who worked in the city or worked at the newly founded Northwestern University began to move in.
At this point an area on west side of town,
What you see there as the 5th ward, was created to house the predominantly black Domestic Servants. An area sectioned off by the river on one side and rail-road tracks on the other.
Then in my Grandparents generation the 1930s
There was an intentional of relocating of all black families into The 5th ward.
So any black family that had settled in anywhere else in evanston was moved through, literal bulldozing at times or by the refusal to offer or renew leases or deeds anywhere else in Evanston.
Then in my Parents generation the 1960-70s
Evanston, which always took pride in it’s progressive identity decided that it wanted to be one of the first places in the US to Integrate schools
At this point the 5th ward had an elementary school of entirely black students.
And the other neighborhoods surrounding it had schools of mostly wealthy white students
The district brought in a new Superintendent who got buy in from everybody White community & Black community to make this work
So, they started to Bus Black kids out
But, this is when things started to take a turn
They also started to bus white kids into formerly 5th ward school
A two way busing. White and black kids both ways. Makes sense to me
And then the wealthy white family started to make fus. The main complaint had to do with lunches. Because remember, Evanston is progressive, we would never say the issue was about race. The complaint was that because of the busing, kids could not walk home for lunch anymore, which was common at that time.
All of this was entirely too inconvenient for the white families
So, the predominately white school board fired the Superintendent and brought in someone who ended the two way busing and set up what is the case today.
The black school was closed, and they started one way busing, just the black kids out into the formerly white schools. I don’t have time to fully go over the impact of this, but just consider what it would be like to have the black students being bused out of their neighborhood, and into a school in the wealthy white neighborhood where all white kids can walk. Like so many places, Evanston was happy to be progressive as long as it doesn’t cost anything or make any one in positions of privilege uncomfortable So, this is where my story comes in. SLIDE I was not a great student. I had learning disabilities, I wasn’t motivated. I didn’t do homeworks, got in trouble a lot. However, I had people around me, teachers, family, adults who cared who poured belief in to me. When I failed a class, I had adults telling me “you’re still smart” And that continued well into my teen years, sustaining me long enough so that when I wanted to turn things around I had the self-belief I could However, this was not the story of many I grew up with. I grew up with the majority of my friends being black, and when we they, like I didn’t do the homework, they were not usually told, you are still smart. And when they, like I was sent to the principals for the 3rd time in a week, they were usually not told that they are still a good kid. They usually got called troublemakers. And now when I look back at the kids I grew up with, The kids I went to elementary school with. There is a clear difference between where my white friends have ended up, and where my black friends have ended up. Now this is not an absolute thing, I have black friends who have gone on to great things, and I have white friends who are in jail.
However, as a whole it is hard to look past the role that race seems to have played in the outcomes of students passing through the same system Which brings us to today - SLIDE Evanston still has huge gaps in outcomes of white students and Black and Latino students.
According to a study that was just done a couple months ago out of Stanford - In terms of life outcomes, future success. - the Evanston Educational system is the best education in the country... if you are white. If you are black or Latino, It is distinctively not. According to the district's most recent reports. From Grades 3-8, approximately 10 percent of Black students are on-track for college readiness in math and 20 percent are on-track for college readiness in reading Opposed to over 80% white students who are on-track for college readiness in both reading and math So, Is what we have here an achievement gap? As it is often called I have recently been really liking a new term to talk about this - popularized by Gloria Ladson-Billings SLIDE Educational debt, children have inherited a generational debt which we have not paid down. Hopefully, you have seen in the Evanston Case study, how this debt is incurred and handed down. In fact this is a term that I use a lot in my other Job that actually works in Evanston Schools called Books & Breakfast. Books & Breakfast recognizes that this gap in student outcomes as a result of generations of educational debt. And so, we offer a healthy breakfast, help with homework, and social emotional care to kids who need additional support. Particularly kids coming from this 5th ward neighborhood. We want to prepare kids for the school day physically, emotionally and academically. And so, when I show up at the school each morning, I think about equity. I think about it when one child walks in who has received these generations of educational debt. And another child walks in who is a child of a NW Professor and has the protective factors of being wealthy, of being white, of having parents who have free time and have successful educational experiences themselves Now when these two walk into the room, would justice be served by treating them the same, by giving them the equal amounts of support I don’t think so, I think justice is making sure that the child that walks in with generations of educational debt is given some additional support and attention. This is the difference between equity and equality Equality treats everyone like it is an equal playing field, that we start on level ground Equity, recognizes the reality that ground is anything but level, and equal opportunity is giving attention and support where it is most needed.
Which will almost always feel like a threat to those in position of privilege because it requires them to sacrifice something. Sacrifice an opportunity so someone else can have it.
Sacrifice comfort so that others can be included. Sacrifice, because if it stays as it is, the educational, the social debt will stay the same. It will never get paid down, only grow I think this is how Jesus operated.
When he says blessed are the poor, he is talking about equity. When he says, that which you do for the least of these, you do for me, he is talking about equity.
When spent the vast majority of his time giving attention to those without status, those without power, those without wealth, I think he was living out equity. When Jesus said that he is to be good news to the poor And blessed is the one who is not offended by him. I don’t he is talking about belief systems, or how the Gospel can offend.
I think he is addressing the reality that equity can feel offensive to those whom have privilege, those in power. And blessed is the one who is privileged and is not offended, but joins him in a fight for justice, for equity Jesus values all of us the same, he loves us the same, he sees each of us as worthy of living a life that is flourishing But, that is done through equity not equality.
To say blessed are the poor, is not saying that we shouldn’t care about rich. Or that he doesn’t love them. Or the parallel I can’t help but seeing here To say black lives matter, is not saying white lives don’t. It is saying that if we do nothing, if we keep things the way they are, the world is communicating that the poor don’t matter, our experience of reality will communicate black lives just matter less. Without action or change, reality time and time again will show that those with and power and privilege are more blessed and matter more. But, Jesus is about equity, so blessed are the poor and black lives matter!
Secondly, what I learn from how Jesus goes about tackling issues of Justice.
He raises the dignity of those he serves, he doesn’t take it away.
Jesus - On top of what he says about caring for those who have the most need, we see in his interactions that he leaves people with a greater sense of dignity and worth.
In Gospel of Luke alone, after people leave interactions with Jesus where they were healed or freed, it describes how people experienced him with phrases like
They went away proclaiming his name
They were amazed at his goodness
They went away rejoicing
Every time Jesus cares for someone in need they leave with a greater sense of self worth, of value, of dignity.
But sadly this is not the experience of many today.
From what I have seen the primary experience of people who have need that are helped by others. Particularly here in Chicago, but I’ve seen it Washington DC, in Kenya, Australia, Korea, Brazil, Mexico.
Time and time again, I have seen people who in their effort to help, or “serve” actual steal or demean the dignity of those they are helping This is a big deal in my work with Books & Breakfast. For most part, the kids who are coming into my morning program are multigenerational Evanstonians. Their parents, their aunties, their grandparents all grew up going to these same schools. Actually this one neighborhood I have been talking about is the least transient in Evanston. Meaning, in most other areas people move in and out, with no clue of the history, whereas, in this neighborhood, you have generations who have lived in the same house. And the unfortunate truth is that humans like to see themselves as the heroes, see themselves as the saviors. And over the years and generations, as mostly rich white people have tried to help. They have done so in a way that makes them the hero of the story, and leaves those who received help as feeling like lesser for it.
Like they had to give up some dignity to receive help. Just think about how that develops mistrust, how that gets in the way of school communities from working well together. And honestly, it’s bullshit Sorry, to swear, but if feels appropriate. What I have learned from doing Books & Breakfast is that I get way more out of my interactions with these kids than what they get from me. I am changed by them. I see the world in fuller way because of them. They help me see more joy and laughter, and beauty, and honesty in life. Everyday when we have adult volunteers come in to help the kids with homework, the kids appreciate it, they really do. But, it is the adults who walk away feeling a deeper and fuller experience of life. They are no hero, there is just as much for them on the table as there is for the kids. Maybe they don’t need help putting food on the table, or need help understanding math, but they need help in life.
PAUSE The life Jesus leads us into asks us to acknowledge that we have need, that we are flawed. And when we are familiar with our own brokeness, our own need, we simply can’t put ourself as the hero.
Take away - Do something (We a church are active in 3 main ways, with which we can connect you.) Equity in education Before school - B&B After School - Family Matters Refugees moving to a new country World Relief Neighbors currently experiencing homelessness Friday Warming center Neighboring sunday - Nov 5 So, on you connect card today. Help us help you get connected to something that is tackling issues of equity.
If you would stand with me. draw us to the individual-spiritual implications of what you're talking about -- this is about our spiritual health, our ability to feel connection with Jesus