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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.


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." 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!

Day 3- Enslavement, lynching and Mass Incarceration

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 19, 2019 at 2:00 AM

The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration

The Equal Justice Initiative’s museum was overwhelming as it detailed the slave trade (by 1860,Montgomery was the capital of the domestic slave trade in Alabama) and how, after Emancipation, America continued to find new ways to oppress African-Americans.

After Reconstruction fell apart in 1877, Southern police often convicted African-Americans of small offenses (which usually only applied to non-white communities) and then leased them out to work in factories, mines and farms since 13th Amendment allowed for involuntary servitude for incarcerated persons. By 1898, 73% of Alabama state revenue was from convict leasing.

Although convict leasing was outlawed in 1928, African-Americans were still disproportionately imprisoned. And states added segregation laws, adding a whole extra set of reasons to lock up African-Americans, for offenses such as playing checkers with someone of another race. Then, with the War on Drugs, the numbers of those incarcerated increased dramatically. Very vivid accounts of prison life in the museum underscored the terror and hopelessness of being locked up and the dehumanizing treatment of our fellow citizens.


As we grieved over the reality of what was done to our African-American siblings, some of us also struggled with the words of those who shared our white skin. We heard white men who justified slavery as God’s intention. Pastors who quoted from our holy scriptures as a tool of oppression and violence.  And senators who defended segregation as a way to protect their "habits, traditions and way of life," as if their way of life was more important than the freedom of their brothers and sisters.   


As the museum detailed the reality of lynching as a public spectacle, they lifted up the reality that has shaken me especially this trip- that this system of dehumanization and oppression and violence has psychologically damaged the white persons who take part in it. It has taught us misplaced fear. It has enshrined a way of life created by oppressing others. It has made us think that our skin color, rather than our character and our treatment of others, is something that entitles us. And it has taught us that all of this is normal.  And we can't just shake it off since it's in the air we breathe.  

An African-American woman outside the museum asked one of our white participants, "Why does someone who looks like you come here?"  The answer for me is that this is my history.  This is what has formed me whether I wanted it or not.  And if we're going to begin to repair what is, to change how we live into the future- we first have to look square at our history and what was done in our name. 


After the pain of facing our shared past, there was a small room in the museum, bathed in light, with the faces of those who have defied the dominant story and worked to write a new one. It was solace and hope. It was the place where everyone could take a breath.  And it felt somehow safe (even thought life for any of those surrounding us never was).  Because in that place we were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and that the evil of the world that we had just witnessed was not all there is.


And after that respite, we walked through the last hallway, which asked us the hard questions of “what now?” What should we do as foot soldiers in the movement toward justice and reconciliation? As people who care about inhumane treatment in jails and death sentences for juveniles? What are we, as Christian people, called to do to repent of our churches’ participation in and encouragement of racial injustice? What can we do now to change what will be?


The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

There aren’t words to describe the walk through the hanging iron blocks symbolizing the vicious murder of African-Americans- the 4000 people lynched between 1880 and 1940. Brothers and sisters killed so that another person could somehow feel more superior or powerful. Or because those in power were trying to defend their way of life that was built on oppression. It was horrifying to see our national disgrace hanging in front of us. A disgrace that was as close as our backyard, as we read the names of those from Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland. 

And it was pwoerful to see the Ida Wells forest- a statue of trees cut down, never allowed to grow.  To know that this is part of the legacy of our American story.  

And it felt like holy ground to have our brothers and sisters named and remembered.  To have them receive the honor taken from them. 

Montgomery Education Foundation

As we were emotionally exhausted and wondering where we go from here, Ms. Ruva Chimedza, Community Programs Coordinator for the Montgomery Education Foundation joined us back at the church.  She helped us understand the public school system in Montgomery, which has the worst performing schools in a state ranked 47th in the nation for education and has recently come under state control in order to help keep their accreditation.   She helped us understand magnet schools, charter schools, and traditional public schools and the tiered system of educational outcomes from them. 

And then came the question, “How do we do better for ALL our children” rather than only looking out for our own? One option in Montgomery is a “conversion charter” where a group will take over a traditional school but allow all the same students to be there. It’s a way of radically reforming what is possible in one place without displacing students most in need of those interventions.

And she also told us about a hopeful program called “Network Nights” where anyone interested in public education- students, parents, community leaders- can come out, talk in small groups about whatever issues they feel need to be discussed. And each night ends with a “Match and Act” where people can bring up the needs they have and find someone else in the room who can meet that need. It doesn’t take much set up- just giving people a venue and a way to solve some of their own problems. And all it takes is people- students, parents and community members- who have hope that something can change and a desire to be an active part of that movement.

Pastor Tiffany Chaney from Gathered by Grace

Pastor Chaney, whose congregation works with Montgomery Education Foundation to support their efforts, is a mission developer (meaning a church planter) who developed Gathered by Grace especially for folks 18-40-ish who need a safe and welcome place to hear the powerful word of grace.  They are doing church a new way with on-ling Bible studies and conversations about real-life topis and what the gospel has to say about them.  It's doing what church has always done- speak grace and empower God's people to follow Jesus' way- in a way that makes sense to the community that gathers. 

And part of that means doing what they can in the communtiy.  Pastor Chaney said, “I believe that the kingdom of Jesus is real.”   That when God gets to working, mighty things like happened in the book of Acts (especially chapter 4) might start happening again- like people sharing their goods and transforming their lives.

Her congregation has a “Life Happens” fund to support others in need of a little help- giving food help to those in rural areas who can’t access food pantries or helping pay funeral expenses for a daughter. And even though they’re far from the largest congregation in Montgomery, they worked to get books into public schools and serve in a support role to the Montgomery Youth Forum. Because the health and well-being of all people matter. And because this is what the church does when it trusts that the kingdom of Jesus is real and breaking in.

This is a story worth defending and living out. The one about grace.  The one about sharing what we have so everyone has what they need.  The one where community members come together to solve problems together and support young people.  This is the gospel heritage to hold onto, the story we get to live into. 

Day 2- Birmingham and seeing how God brought us through

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 18, 2019 at 2:30 AM

What a joy to start the day in worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ at 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham!  This historic church was the site of mass meetings during the Civil Rights movement. It was the staging area and starting point for the Children’s Crusade which turned the tide of sentiment against Birmingham’s policies. And it was the site of a bombing during Sunday school in 1963 which claimed the lives of 4 girls.

But this morning we didn’t go there for the history. We went there to be God’s people today and hear a word from God for us.

The hospitality was warm and welcoming (a church member brought chips and brownies to our van after worship!) and the music was hopeful and powerful. And then Rev. Price gave a powerful sermon about the devil tempting Jesus to prove God’s power by jumping off the roof of the temple and making God catch him with a spectacular display.

Rev. Price said, “If you need proof of God’s presence with you, then all you need to do is press PAUSE and then rewind your life.” So that we can notice all that God has done for us. So that we can realize how God preserved us this far. So that we can see that God has been with us in the past and surely is with us now. And soon after he finished preaching, we all held hands to sing, “There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place. And I know it is the Spirit of the Lord.” Because God had brought us all through and to the place where we were standing. God’s presence had been with us all.


And that’s a little of what the afternoon for us was at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. A time to pause our regular lives and look back at those who walked the road before us and made a way for us.

Our students walked from rooms depicting the segregated south right through to the present day. And learned for the for the first time about the Children’s Crusade, where children were strategically used (something they were eager for!) to press for desegregation of public spaces and local businesses. UMBC’s President Hrabowski often talks about what it was like to ignore his parents and take part in the march for justice. To be a part of something larger than himself, something that mattered.


Evil caused police to use fire hoses- strong enough to pull bark off trees- against students in the Children’s Crusade. Evil got Birmingham nicknamed, “Bombingham” after the nearly 50 unsolved, racially motivated bombings in the 50s and 60s, including at 16th St. Baptist. Evil made the government threaten to cut off food assistance to those in Mississippi if protests didn’t stop- using every evil they had to wield to hold on to power.

But God brought our ancestors through by embarrassing the evil intentions of those in power. Photographers documented the violence at the Children’s Crusade and it caused outrage which forced Birmingham to integrate. When Alabama banned the NAACP in 1956, so within a week, Rev, Fred Shuttlesworth founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to engage in the same work.  College students encouraged boycots of segregated businesses which reduced sales by close to 15% at the busy Easter season and moved integration closer.  And those churches that were bombed repaired their walls and went right back to worshipping God and fighting for justice. God found a way to bring our ancestors through and God will keep doing it.

On a side note, after seeing so many hateful words in the Civil Rights museum written and spoken by people who share my skin color, I cringed when I saw a pamphlet from the “Concerned White Citizens of Alabama” that called people to “Stand up for Alabama.” But I got to rejoice when I saw that this was a group fighting AGAINST segregation and reminding their fellow white citizens that “Silence is no longer golden.”  It was a messge underscored by our breif visit to the Birmingham jail (just the outside!) where Dr. King penned his famous letter to white clergy who counseled him to wait for justice in the courts rather than demand it through direct action.  The letter where Dr. King reminded them that silence from the powerful is violence to the opressed.  "Silence is no longer golden."

Back to the church

We returned to Messiah Lutheran to the spectacular hospitality of the congregation who cooked dinner for us. And we had a chance to chat with Doris, a member of Messiah who lived in Selma in 1965 and went to the mass meetings and was there for one of the marches. She said that in those meetings there was a sense of hope, that things were finally going to change. Over 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was passed, its harder to feel that same hope that entrenched problems are going to get any better.

Tonight our students were feeling a mix of emotions- pained by all that has been and deeply grateful and humbled by the courage of those who defied unjust systems. And frustrated that it’s taken until now for them to learn their history, since these stories aren’t taught well in our schools. They felt they only got the cleaned- up versions.


Tomorrow we head to the new Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration to continue to hear the ugliness of our history so that we might learn to never go back.

Day 1- Selma and why doesn't justice look different?

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 17, 2019 at 1:20 AM

We are extremely grateful for the hospitality of St. Dominic Catholic Church in Kingsport, TN where we slept last night and for Aunt Ruth (aunt of Pastor Ray Ranker of the Lutheran ministry at the University of Maryland) who let us in at 12:30 at night!

After 14 hours of driving over 2 days we are so happy to finally be in Alabama! We began our Civil Rights trip in Selma today. What happened at Selma is actually at the end of the Civil Rights era, but we needed to fit things in as they were open. So we’ll be walking backwards in history this week.  

Lowndes County Interpretive Center (National Park Service)

Our first stop told the story of Lowndes County, which was a center point of the Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery. In 1965, it was the poorest county in the nation. 80% of the population was black but they only owned 10% of the land. Many were sharecroppers and scared of losing what little they had and weren’t ready to join the fight for voting rights.

But organizers recognized the need to use this area- notorious for voting rights abuses- to wage this battle. For many of our students, this was their first time learning about Bloody Sunday and how the peaceful marchers were stopped and beaten by police. This was the first time hearing our American stories of the evil done and the bravery of those who refused to let the way things are be the way things would be. 

Our students were shaken by seeing the police’s riot gear and the cattle prods used against human beings. They were haunted by hearing that the beating didn’t stop when they left the bridge, but the violent police officers followed them back to their homes and churches. The news coverage of this event spurred a nation to action- including the Ministers’ March 3 das later and the final march to Montgomery 2 weeks later. And the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed soon after.

But as one of our folks said, “feelings don’t go away because they pass a law. They just come out another way.” And this hatred and discrimination just needed to find another way to come out. So as residents of Lowndes County began to legally register to vote, they found themselves evicted from their homes (because if you didn’t have a home address, you couldn’t register.) And the original organizers raised money to buy land and build Tent Cities to shelter the brave folk who registered to vote, eventually building homes from them. I love it when life keeps fighting back like dandelions growing up in the sidewalk cracks!

Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Selma

Our next stop was to walk across that holy bridge. There’s something about being in the place where history happened that matters. To walk those same steps. But then you reach the town of Selma, where people are going about living their lives. And our students struggled as they passed building after building that was empty or boarded up. Streets were nearly deserted. And the hope that they felt after knowing what happened there turned to disillusionment and frustration for what is- a place without a lot of economic opportunity for the residents. It was like walking off a movie set and back into the real world where things are complicated and don’t work out how we think they should.   

Gaining some measure of justice doesn’t always mean that life is transformed. And the question becomes, “why?” And “how can it be different?” And “where do we go from here?”

Brown Chapel AME                

We kept walking through town to Brown Chapel (AME). At a time (1965) when Gov. Wallace made it illegal for African-Americans to hold mass meetings in churches, Brown Chapel risked ignoring that order and becoming a place to organize and the beginning point for the marches in Selma (all 3 of them, including the one that eventually made it to Montgomery.) Our students distinctly felt that we were standing on holy ground, ground that had been a safe space for so many who were a part of the fight for justice.

And there’s holy ground next to the church, too- George Washington Carver Homes, a public housing complex whose residents were crucial to the Civil Rights struggle. They housed and fed organizers and supporters and joined in the marches themselves. The monument next to the Homes celebrated the freedom fighters and included high schoolers, college students, hospital workers, and teachers. So many regular people who were called into a movement that was bigger than themselves. And who risked their safety for it.

Tonight we talked about how the Voting Rights Act was allowed to expire and the danger that still exists from disenfranchisement of voters, particularly voters of color and those living in poverty. And we- all us regular people- need to keep reminding our government of the necessity of making sure all our citizens can vote. There may be a moment- and it may be soon- where all us regular folks are called to be a part of that continuing movement toward justice so that the situations of our brothers and sisters will change. We’ll keep on walking and keeping our eyes and hearts open in the days ahead.

Now we’re settled into Messiah Lutheran in Montgomery and are grateful for the warm welcome, the fresh cookies and lemonade and the carpeted floors and padded pews, which make sleeping so much more easier! Off to Birmingham early tomorrow!