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Maundy Thursday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 18, 2019 at 8:20 AM

Luke 22:14-34, 39-46


When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.


The Dispute about Greatness

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.


Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’


Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]] When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’


Jesus and his disciples were celebrating the Passover like our Jewish brothers and sisters will do beginning on Friday night.  And Passover  is always a joyful feast. It’s a time to remember when God saved the Hebrew people. To remember how Moses told Pharaoh to “let my people go.”  and how God saved their first-born children from death and how God brought the Hebrew people through the Red Sea and into freedom. It was a joyous occasion.


And then, in the midst of this celebration, Jesus picks up the bread, blesses it and breaks it, saying that it is his body- given for the disciples. And then he picks up the cup, which he says is the new covenant, the new promise which his blood will bring. And that’s a sure way to kill a party! This is a feast about how God saved life and Jesus is talking about giving up his life.



He’s told these same disciples about his death 3 times before, but tonight he stops in the midst of the celebration to take the cup and tell them again that he would pour out his blood for them. He says that he will break himself open for their life, for there was nothing he will not do for the life of his people. He is trying to prepare the disciples for what is to come, to explain his life-giving love for them. But again he has exhausted words. So, tonight he lets the broken bread and cup of the wine speak for him, just as his bruised body will speak for him tomorrow.



Again, Jesus is trying to tell them, “I love you.” I love you so much that it breaks me apart. You may not be able to understand my words right now, but remember this bread and this wine. I have broken it for you, I have given it for you. Hold onto this bread and remember the desperate love I have for you. Remember me every time you share it with your sisters and brothers who gather around the table together as family. This is my love for you. This is love.  The bread and the wine. Our Lord being poured out in the cup. This is love.



Love. That is the kingdom that Jesus has been preaching. And love is the kingdom that Jesus is showing us today. And love is the reality that we live our lives within.  And love is the life that Jesus is calling us to live.


Share that love today- through a meal shared with someone who needs to know the lov of friendship or through serving someone who needs to know the goodness of kindness and love in their lives.  And share that love by praying for brothers and sisters who struggle, even if you do not know their names.  Jesus does, and that's enough. 



Spy Wednesday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 17, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Luke 22:1-6


Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.


Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.


The story of Jesus' last week make us confront the worst in human nature- cowardice, fear, anger, jealousy and violence.  They are things we know hide within humanity and they are on full display in the events of Holy Week.  But of all the horrible things that happen this week, the one that is most debated is Judas' betrayal of Jesus. Why would someone who had been one of Jesus' closest followers choose to betray him? 


Some say that he was frustrated with Jesus because he refused to be a political leader who fought against the Roman occupying force.  Some say he didn't like the unrest that Jesus caused while turning over the tables in the temple. Two of the gospel accounts (Luke and John) say that Satan had something to do with the betrayal- how else can you describe turning the Son of God over to be arrested?  And some applaud him as a martyr or a hero because he set in motion the events that would bring God's salvation to us. 


You can struggle with the story and decide for your own self.  But Judas' betrayal also makes us look at ourselves and see the moments when we have turned on those we once loved- sometimes because of how they hurt us or sometimes because we dislike something about ourselves that we see in them.  And Judas makes us look at the times we have run away from God- when we just couldn't trust that love was for us or that it meant all that much, anyway.


But we don't remember these painful moments to beat outselves up.  This week when we look at Judas, we also look at Jesus, whose cross shows us the length that forgiveness goes.  Forgiveness that extends to us, even when we don't think we deserve it at all.  Forgiveness that our loving God gives simply because we need it to be whole again.  We need it to love others again.  Today, do what you can to restore a relaitionship that needs mending.  And also stop and enjoy the life-giving forgiveness that comes despite our mistakes. 

Holy Tuesday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 16, 2019 at 7:35 AM

Luke 21:1-4


[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’


Jesus is in Jerusalem during the festival of the Passover.  Lots of pilgrims have come to the city, so it's crowded and great for people-watching.  And Jesus sits outside the temple's treasury (that same temple where he just turned over the tables in frustration!) and he notices who goes to give the work of God's people.  He sees the rich folk in fine robes doing their best to be noticed for how much they are giving.  And he also sees the one who put in what she had.  It wasn't enough to keep the temple going, it would have been overlooked by many.  But Jesus honors the heart that gives, not the size of the gift.  And he recognizes one who's heart looks like his own. 


But I've got to say, this passage makes me a little uncomforatble, too.  Does Jesus really expect those without much economic means to give "all they have to live on" to the temple or to the church?  Even though I'm sure this passage has been used by some to mean that, this isn't who Jesus has shown himself to be in the rest of his ministry. 


Here Jesus is turning his disciples away from the rich and powerful to see the dignity and faithfulness of one they might usually ignore.  He's reminding them that those who are great in God's kingdom are not the same as the ones the world calls great.  And he's reminding all of us of the cost of following- it's not giving when it's convenient.  It's giving what we have and who we are to God even when that calls us beyond comfort.  


It's not about giving money to the church- it's about giving ourselves to the work of God in the world.  Sharing food with the hungry, sharing time with the lonely, sharing love with the unwelcome, sharing hope with the despairing.  Even when we don't feel we always have enough of those things ourselves.  Because this is who we are as God's people.  Giving what we can and receiving from our neighbors when we are the ones in need. 


Today, share some of who you are or what you have with someone who needs it.  And if it's beyond your strength right now, then recieve the gift another gives you in love. 



Holy Monday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 16, 2019 at 12:15 AM

Luke 19: 45-48


Then [Jesus] entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written,

“My house shall be a house of prayer”;

but you have made it a den of robbers.’

Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.


After Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to crowds welcoming him as king, he goes into the temple courtyard and drives out those who are selling animals for sarificial worship.  They aren't necessarily doing anything wrong- they are just upholding the necessary religious duties. But Jesus turns over the tables because the whole system of sacrifices in the temple had become a distraction. People were so focused on what sacrifices to give that they were  missing what else God was doing in the world- meaning th presence of Jesus and his life-giving, welcoming, healing life among them!


Instead of a sacrificial system- where we need to make sure we’ve given the right sacrifices to please God- we have a God who shows us the lengths that God’s love will go to rescue us. We have Jesus who walks the way before us to be our guide in loving our enemies and serving our neighbors. We have a God in the flesh who shows us the overwhelming power of love to bring new life.

 

And this reality is so life-changing and powerful, that Jesus is willing to turn over the tables to make sure that people won't be distracted from it.  And he keeps doing that- in the world and in our lives.  He comes to mess up our lives to rescue us from ourselves and all the ways we har ourselves and let others harm us.  Jesus loves us enough not to settle for us being comfortable, but calls us again and again to live into God’s greatest dream for us- a dream he knows is possible with the power of God.   And Jesus opens us to the possibility that God can work through us to embody his desperate love for all people.But sometimes he needs to clean out a little of the stuff that gets in the way of us recognizing what God is doing in and through us. 


Today, clean off a small space on your desk or remove one distraction so that Jesus can get your attention this Holy Week, so he can show you again the life-giving love he brings to you and the world. 


Palm Sunday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 14, 2019 at 7:05 AM

Luke 19:29-40


[Jesus] went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

‘Blessed is the king

who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven,

and glory in the highest heaven!’

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’


Today marks the joyful parade that begins Holy Week. The crowds and the disciples are cheering Jesus on as he comes into Jerusalem.  He comes in humbly, on a donkey.  In the Jewish Scriptures, this was the way the true king comes.    So the people were overjoyed that this miracle worker was coming to them.  "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" they shout.  Because they trusted that this Jesus was going to change their lives.  They were oppressed by the Roman government and they hoped that Jesus would change all this, that he would start a revolution.  That he would come through with a mighty hand and clean everything up- everything that's going wrong and everything that hurts their people!  And who doesn't want someone like to that in their corner- a superhero to fight for you! 


But they can't yet understand that Jesus' way to save us won't be what how want.  Powerful force will not be Jesus' weapon to deal with all that's wrong in the world.   He won't be knocking out enemies right and left.  But for today, they have hope that everything will change.  That their world will look different.  That God is up to something in Jesus.  That their king is coming.  And the only way to greet a king is with joy and shouting and with expectation.


If Jesus was walking into our neighborhood right now, how would you welcome him?  And what would you hope for and expect him to clean up in your life or in our hurting world right now?




What we're bringing back from Spring Break to our own communities

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 25, 2019 at 10:15 AM

Here's a few reflections from our students about what they'll be talking about first with friends and and family after this Spring Break trip:

Just the state of Selma, how run-down it is, after something so important happened there. - Janae

The realities of mass incarceration and the way we got there.- Dazia

(The Legacy Museum detailed the path from slavery to incarceration and convict leasing after Reconstruction to Jim Crow laws and lynching to the War of Drugs- which had a distinct racial component, as is now admitted by policy advisors)-

That everyone needs to experience The Legacy Museum- Marian

Information about the criminal justice system and how the public defender said that poverty, more than race, determines how you're treated in the system.  - Unique

About how poor the education system is in Montgomery, Alabama.- Amanda

How so many women that we don't often hear about were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. - Sam

A reflection on our day in Selma

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 25, 2019 at 10:15 AM

A prayer written by Wes and Jude, intern and student from the University of Maryland, College Park.


God,

There has been much to be thankful for on this week-long pilgrimage.

Tonight, we give thanks for:

Messiah Lutheran Church and their well of hospitality

For the witness-bearing, legacy-carrying workers at the Lowndes Interpretative Center

For the new knowledge and rewritten narratives we were given there

For the space to be honest, vulnerable, and challenge our assumptions

And for those you put their lives on the line, gave their lives, and are still giving their lives to this cause, we give thanks

In giving thanks we also offer prayer and petitions for the people and stories we encountered:

For those whose lives were stolen too soon, especially Jimmie Lee Jackson, Rev. James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, and Jonathan Daniels. These saints and servants helped bring revolution and reconciliation to Alabama. May they rest easy and never be forgotten.

May we who march now never lose hope or let go of our righteous anger.

When a people shout “How ling must we suffer?” may you always answer, “Not long.”

May you guide our feet from the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the steps of the Brown Chapel AME Church straight to the halls of power.

May we hear the horrors of Bloody Sunday and the terrors of the tent city and vow to never let those things come to pass again.

We lift all these things to you, with humbled hearts and renewed dedication to your work

saying, Amen.


 

Day 6- Atlanta, public defenders, the justice system and the MLK historic site

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 25, 2019 at 10:00 AM

I was too tired at the end of the trip to write, so here’s the last installment of the blog.


Public defender and the criminal justice system

After a brief visit with Pastor Andrew Rickel, Lutheran-Episcopal campus pastor in Atlanta, who brought coffee and shared about his ministry, we got to hear from Willymena Joseph, a public defender in DeKalb County (part of Atlanta) who previously served in more rural areas of Georgia.

 

Public defenders defend about 85% of all cases brought to trial. As a public defender, there are 2 ways to handle cases given to you: you can follow the constitutional minimum of defense, which assumes that those unable to pay don’t deserve the same level of representation as those who can pay. These defenders often encourage their clients to take plea deals and don’t investigate their cases at all.

 

Then there’s a client-centered approach, where defenders establish a relationship with the client, talk to witnesses, tell their story at trials and give the client all the info they need to make their own decisions in the case. DeKalb County has invested state and county tax dollars in order to train public defenders and has mandated a client-centered approach in all trials. And the Public Defenders Council has pushed to pay public defenders on par with prosecutors to retain qualified persons in this work.


Ms. Joseph says that she sees a lot of cases brought in my over-policing, especially in urban areas with large percentages of African-American residents. But when it comes to prosecuting cases within the criminal justice system, she sees more injustice due to poverty than race. Some of this has to do with the bond system, with those unable to post bond for financial reasons waiting for trials sometimes up to a year, which means a year without the ability to work. She works to get people arrested on minor charges (primarily drug and theft charges) out on bond as quickly as possible as a way to get them back to work and calls family and church members to speak for them in bond hearings. For those not available for bond, she files speedy trial requests to speed up the process of waiting in jail.


Ms. Joseph told us that due to her faith (she was raised in the Pentecostal tradition and went to church every day growing up), she felt she couldn’t personally be a judge, because she couldn’t stand in judgment over another person. “Faith gives you compassion,” she told us and as a follower of Jesus, she can’t look at someone else and not see them as a brother or sister.


So what can we do if we’re not called to work directly in the criminal justice system? “Show up in court. Sit in a trial. Serve on a jury when you’re called up. Hold the powers that be accountable. And work with groups like Gideon’s Promise,” Ms. Joseph told us. https://www.gideonspromise.org/" target="_blank"> Gideon’s Promise trains and support public defenders to work for clients who can’t afford representation as powerfully as those who can.


Martin Luther King National Historic Site


As Pastor Flippin encouraged us, we looked more intently at MLK’s work in 1965-1968, work not talked about as often in our history books. This was when MLK turned from focusing primarily on civil rights to focusing on economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities and spoke against the dangers of militarism. And it was in 1967 that he began the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement resurrected in our time by The Rev. Dr. William Barber.


MLK’s quotes stand on their own and don’t really need any other words:

 

“Laws are passed in a crisis mood after a Birmingham or a Selma, but no substantial fervor survives the formal signing of legislation. The recording of the law in itself is treated as the reality of the reform.”


“A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.”



“The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap. . . There are no expenses, and no taxes are required, for Negroes to share lunch counters, libraries, parks, hotels and other facilities with whites…. The real cost lies ahead. The stiffening of white resistance is a recognition of that fact. . . Jobs are harder and costlier to create than voting rolls. The eradication, of slums housing millions is complex far beyond integrating buses and lunch counters.”

 

Then some of us sat in Martin Luther King’s boyhood church to him speak again about his call to this justice work, a call God gave him that ran counter to his ambition as an academic preacher. And we stood at his grave to see rushing waters that envisioned the time when the prophet Amos said that righteousness would run like an ever-flowing stream. And we read again his principles for non-violence, inspired by Jesus and guided in practical ways by Ghandi, which remind us that nonviolence is “aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.” The purpose of it is not winning against the other side, but the creation of the Beloved Community.

 

Closing Worship

Towson alum, Alicia, who lives in the Atlanta area, stopped by for dinner and shared some stories of our our first Spring Break trip together back in 2011. And she sayed for our closing worship, where we gave thanks for where we had been and for those who had gone before us. And we prayed for the work still to be done. And for our offering, we offered up those things from this trip that we will bring back to the communities we return to. We’ll include some of those thoughts in our final blog post.

 

And some of us ended with a light show at Centennial Park, and photos with the Olympic rings before the 12 hour trip home the next day.



Day 5- Atlanta, HIV and how we engage the power that be

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 21, 2019 at 9:05 AM

AID Atlanta

We left history behind this morning and stepped into the present, meeting with Nicole Roebuck, the Executive Director of AID Atlanta (and, we found out, a Lutheran!) They have been working for 37 years to support people living with HIV/AIDS, educate the community about prevention, and provide STI testing. While in the beginning their work was about helping people die with dignity, now, with medical advances, it is about getting medication and healthcare to help them live a healthy life with HIV/AIDS.


The Atlanta area ranks 5th in the nation in HIV/AIDS infections and therefore receives money from the federal government for prevention and to support folks living with the disease. AID Atlanta runs clinics in the city and in more rural areas since Georgia ranks first in the nation in HIV infection rate. While HIV rates are decreasing nationally, they are increasing in Georgia. And 70% of those living with HIV are African American.

 

High incidence in the area and especially in the African-American community is driven by poverty, racial disparities in healthcare and stigma (about sexual activity outside marriage and homosexuality) that is often both cultural and religious. Especially in rural areas, it’s hard to walk into an AID Atlanta clinic if your whole town will see you do it. Stigma and lack of access to healthcare also drives a higher rate of mother to child transmission, since pregnant women often won’t access pre-natal care due to stigma around pregnancy outside of marriage or thinking they can’t afford it. With medication, we can prevent mother-child transmission.


Georgia, largely driven by a conservative Christian culture, doesn’t have comprehensive sex education in schools, but follows an abstinence-only curriculum. AID Atlanta is only allowed to come and educate in individual classrooms at the request of a teacher and can’t present information to a wider audience in the schools, such as a school assembly.


And most churches (beyond the more progressive ones) are not eager to support their education efforts and to support people with HIV/AIDS. This lack of support is even more common among historically black churches, even though the rate of infection is much higher in the African American community.

 

But we don’t have to agree with the choices people make regarding sexual activity to advocate for them and support their health. We don’t have to agree with people’s actions to want life for them. And encouraging safer sex when people choose to engage in it doesn’t mean we support all sexual activity no matter what. These teachings can be supported alongside our own faith teaching about honoring God’s gift of sexuality. And caring for our brothers and sisters who are most vulnerable is a deep part of who we are always called to be as God’s people.


Merry Mac’s Tea Room


It’s been a long trip. So we switched up our plan for the afternoon and went out for some celebrated southern food at Merry Mac’s. (a treat afforded us by a generous gift from a supporter!!) And over that delicious cornbread and greens and chicken and dumplings and sweet potatoes and mac and cheese and. . . . we talked about how we each got our names and about the places we’re from and enjoyed how good it is to laugh and share as a family made by our week together.


Emmanuel Lutheran, Pastor William Flippin and Do the Right Thing

This afternoon and evening was spent at Emmanuel Lutheran in Southwestern Atlanta. Pastor William Flippin and some folks from Emmanuel hosted us (and treated us to pizza!) and tied in a few more details about the Civil Rights sites that we’d been to so far.

 

And then we switched things up and watched Do the Right Thing together, the 1989 Spike Lee film to talk about racial relations now and our role in that. We talked about representation of people that look like us in our communities, how we deal with power of other groups when we think that may threaten our own, and how our own prejudices, which we may carefully try to hide much of the time, may rise to the surface when we’re pushed.

 

Pastor Flippin and his office assistant Linda talked about Atlanta being described as the “city too busy to hate” but that doesn’t mean that prejudice and discrimination isn’t there, but it’s not as obvious as in rural counties. (And in the state it's obvious, since every single state office is held by a white man!) Linda went to school in a rural county and told us that when the schools were forces to integrate back in the 60s, some counties chose to have girls’ schools and boys’ schools, which seemed to play into their need to protect white women from African American men, which has been a continuing refrain throughout our walk through Civil Rights history.

 

And, driven by the movie, we talked about the tension between Malcolm X’s philosophy of violence when necessary and MLK’s philosophy of non-violence and making decisions about what way we will live and how we will support communities who are hurting and facing injustice. The answers aren’t always clear or easy.

 

Pastor Flippin encouraged us to think about evolution- how we evolve in our thinking about the ways we engage the powers that be. Especially as we head to the MLK historic site today and look at his tactics before 1965 (which we’ve been seeing this week) and his work from 1965 until his death, which focused on economic disparity and militarism.

 

We have a choice in how we are going to evolve. I pray that for people of faith, Jesus may be the one leading that change, rather than our often-warped culture and our own internal prejudices, so that we may evolve beyond our fear of the other and our need to protect our power at all costs. And I pray that, following Jesus, we will also learn to love our neighbors by fighting for their need for justice as seriously as we want to fight for our own.

 

And we ended our day with a free cone at Dairy Queen to celebrate this slightly chilly first day of spring in Atlanta.


Montgomery- Searching for Reconciliation

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 20, 2019 at 1:55 AM

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.- 2 Corinthians 5:18


Jeannie Graetz

We started the day with a visit from Jeannie Graetz, wife of Pastor Robert Graetz. Pastor Graetz was a white pastor in Montgomery during the time of the bus boycotts and relentlessly supported his parishoners. He is too ill to speak to groups anymore at age 90, but Jeannie (a young 89!) cares for him full-time and still speaks to groups quite often.


Pastor Graetz was a “rabble-rouser” in seminary, pushing others to talk about racial relations and when he got sent to Trinity Lutheran in Montgomery, he was told not to start trouble. But, as Jeannie says, “We didn’t start trouble, but we did join it.”


Their neighbor, Rosa Parks, who led an NAACP youth group in the basement of Trinity Lutheran, where Pastor Graetz served. And when she refused to move to the back of the bus, Pastor Graetz went to a mass meeting and became a part of the Montgomery Improvement Association that Dr. King led.


He was the only white leader in the movement and said he was freer to do that since he wasn’t dependent on whites for his salary, since his congregation was African-American. As the one-day planned boycott stretched to over a year, Pastor Graetz drove people and supported the movement. He knew it put him in danger, especially because he was white. And the Klan threatened their children and bombed their home 3 times and the only reason they survived is the last bomb didn’t ignite.

 

She shared about her continued fight for justice, especially for the LGBTQ Community. And her absolute anger at injustice anywhere. There is a joy about Mrs. Graetz that obviously comes from a life immersed in work that matters and a trust in God above all that she has gone through. She and her husband of 67 years have lived their lives working for reconciliation between peoples and communities every way they know how, following their Jesus who entrusted this ministry of reconciliation to us.

 

Freedom Rides Museum

After lunch, we were off to the Freedom Rides Museum to hear about college students and young adults who challenged interstate bus segregation. And we heard the story of Irene Morgan who refused to give up her seat on a Greyhound to a white passenger and won her court case against the bus company. And that, even after laws were passed outlawing segregation in transit, Alabama flat out refused to comply.


And we heard about the early Freedom Riders, young people who signed their last will and testaments before getting on those buses, knowing death was possible. After the first Freedom Rides failed to make it to their destination by bus Diane Nash, a Nashville college student, pushed for the rides to continue. (It was really great to hear about some more of the women involved the movement, who aren’t always lifted up as much!)


This ride included ministerial student Jim Zwerg, the only white participant on the second freedom rides. He knew that, because of his race, he would likely receive the worst beating. As he saw the mobs approach him, he said, “Forgive them for what they’re about to do” echoing the words of Jesus from the cross. And that’s what the words and ministry of Jesus are supposed to do. Not turn us into martyrs unless it is needed, but transform our vision enough that that we can walk into places where Jesus needs us with courage for the sake of our brothers and sisters!

 

It has been heartening to see the names of so many white ministers who have risked harm to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement. These are names to be celebrated and sung. Not at the expense of the African-American leaders, most certainly, but lifted up so that white Christians would learn again what it means to embody Jesus’ call for the sake of others. To remind the community I’m a part of that THIS can be our legacy some day, rather than the discrimination that is a much deeper part of our history as white Christians. Reconciliation of all that is broken in God’s kingdom can be our legacy of working with God to recreate what is.


After this, our students went in different directions to continue the learning in their own way:


State House

Some toured the Alabama State House and saw the statues and murals celebrated in that state. Including the statue (and a mural on the capitol dome) of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. And murals that exclusively celebrate the white part of Alabama culture- from depicting the conquering of Native Americans and seem to caricature African Americans following slavery were joyful to work at backbreaking labor. These murals were completed in 1930, which was a painful time for anyone not considered white in our country, but these murals are still enshrined in the seat of government without comment in their welcome brochure. What we enshrine we continue to normalize and even celebrate.


Southern Poverty Law Center

Some students headed to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial and were reminded of the continuing civil rights struggle- against continuing racial hatred throughout our world, religious discrimination, and anti-LGBTQ discrimination. And at the end we could add our names to the Wall of Tolerance and commit to being foot soldiers in the continuing march against injustice and hatred.


Bayard Rustin LGBTQ Community Center (and thrift store)

Some of our students needing a break from the heaviness of the trip took off to a thrift store and found themselves at an LGBTQ Community Center named after a Civil Rights leader who was asked to step down from public leadership because he was gay and they worried it would discredit the movement. And they met one of Jeanine Graetz’s daughters who was the director. And they learned about a program the center has to show up and be family to others in whatever situations they need when one’s family of origin doesn’t support you or you don’t have family at all. Being who the Church is called to be, but many times doesn’t live up to.


Fountain where slave auctions used to be held

Other students went to a beautiful fountain in the middle of downtown, which was also the former site of slave auctions. To stand in the place where ancestors were sold and to imagine the terror and disgrace they faced was overwhelming.  And to see it covered with a fountain was a strange experience, both making something beautiful on the site and perhaps trying to erase the pain experienced by our people in that place. 



So many opportunities to think about who we are and who we, as a united community, might become if we take seriously the ministry of reconciliation that is entrusted to us. 

Tonight we drove to Atlanta and a made a new church our home for a few days. And we’ll be ready for 2 more days of the trip!


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