|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 19, 2018 at 12:50 AM|
This morning, we were the grateful guests of the Detroit Cooperative Church, several Lutheran congregations who have joined together to be stronger in mission (which joyfully meets right upstairs from where we were staying!) The music was holy and life-giving and Pastor Anderson reminded us that Jesus calls us reject the life of the world and follow Jesus into God’s intention. How we are called to reject the systems of the world that value those with money more than those without and value those with white skin above those with darker skin. She also shared her commitment to be an active part of the Poor People’s Campaign every Monday by traveling to the state capital to amplify the needs of her community and of God’s people and call for justice.
While some folks took a rest before our next adventure, a few of us headed to downtown to visit Second Baptist Church, founded in 1836 by former slaves who were tired of being excluded from the full life of First Baptist Church. The gracious members of the church gave us a short tour, even though we hadn’t attended worship earlier, which is usually the only reason they do tours on Sundays. But they said, if you worshiped somewhere, it’s like worshipping here with us. Second Baptist has been a powerful force within the African American community for over 150 years and also hid slaves escaping to freedom in the Underground Railroad. And they have God's word posted on the wall as a reminder that their work of resistance to an unjust system was part of their story of following Jesus.
Our tour guide told us other stories of courage and resistance by the members of that church throughout the years, stories that are passed down throughout generations to remind members of who they are as followers of Jesus and as African Americans. It was a reminder of the power of stories to tell us who we are and to shape who we can become.
Then we took a ride on the People Mover to get a glimpse of Detroit (and Canada!) to see what downtown looked like before we headed back to the church to meet Lisa Jeffreys, from the Synod office, who gave us some perspective on Detroit’s history and the systemic issues imbedded in it.
When Henry Ford was building up the auto industry (and by extension, the city of Detroit), he put a call out more workers and paid them all the same, which was great. But he also determined which neighborhoods each ethnic group would live in as well as what materials would be available to construct houses with. Unsurprisingly, the African American workers were given the most substandard materials. Lisa also reminded us that the auto barons always held more important cards than the city government- since their leaving could cause the collapse of the metro area- and they are able to call the shots in so many things, including the lack of public transit (since they wanted people to need 2 cars in a family.)
We hopped in our van to drive downtown, purposely driving through Grosse Point, an annexed part of the city that has large homes by the water. The difference in the homes, the conditions of the roads and the services available to people was stark- making us wonder what it’s like to live with so much wealth while you are so close to those with little. That’s probably a question that can be asked of those of us who live in the city- as I do. And can be asked for many of us who live in the US as we see the lives of our brothers and sisters in other countries. What keeps us so separate? What makes it ok to live with more than enough when our brothers and sisters don’t have enough? Why do we allow this system to go on the way it does?
We made a quick visit to Belle Isle park and then headed downtown to see the a bustling downtown largely built by Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who bought and refurbished many downtown properties. The public art and the parks and vacant buildings being used once again and the life of the downtown was cause for celebration, there is always an equal danger to a powerful person or corporation having so much say in things, just like the auto industry. Some in the city argue that Mr. Gilbert has imposed his will, rather than listening to the needs of the residents.
And then, we spent the evening at Marge’s Bar where Rev. Katrina treated us to a night out (with lots of fries and Coney Dogs and a few too many cherry colas for some of us!) so that we could watch UMBC play a valiant game against Kansas State before our student Alex led us in reflection and prayer.
At the end of the day, Pastor Anderson’s words ring in my head- we are ones that cannot love this the ways and the systems of this world too much, even when (perhaps especially when) they benefit us directly. We have to reject them for the sake of Jesus’ way. Because that is life. It means recognizing and rejecting the powers that try to define us and the ways we should live. And refusing to believe that the way things are the way things must be, especially as Jesus folk who see life in even in hopeless places.
(Spirit of Detroit public art)