Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Community of Resurrection: Easter 2013

A Special Easter Message from the 74126: A Community of Resurrection
By Rev. Ron Robinson

(Prayers for God's presence of love and healing for the families of those who were killed here a year ago, and for the lives of those who were injured  and for their families, and for our neighborhoods where the victims and the shooters lived for the neighbors were injured too; prayers of healing and unconditional love also for the two men arrested a year ago Easter morning, and for their family members, and for all those who may be harboring feelings of hurt and abandonment and rising violence within their minds and spirit and who struggle to grow in and with God. And prayers for those in the justice system. Prayers that we keep asking why this might have happened; not for excuses, not for simple explanations; but if we are serious about reducing the violence, we need to keep digging deeper into its many sources)

A year ago this weekend we gathered for the Easter sunrise service outside at our Welcome Table KitchenGardenPark, 6005 N. Johnstown Ave. We gathered in the wake of the Good Friday shootings in our area. As we held the sunrise service we heard about the arrests which brought a modicum of relief to our area, and many questions. But when we gathered outside at first the tension of the violence and its wake were still present. Echoes of violence and fear and segregation from the past, and not just the race massacre past of 1921, but the continuing fear and racist responses of white flight and redlining and neighborhood decline and abandonment and the summer a few years back when every night there was a shooting we could hear, or heard of.

 Just today, for example, we were inviting a person to come to the garden to plant a bed with us to help his hunger needs, and not just use our Cornerstore Pantry, and he, a white person, said he didn't want to because there were too many shooting there in the area where the garden is. We tried to convince him otherwise, but no use, and it probably wasn't the real reason anyway. We hear this all the time from people who say to us, or to others who are coming to work with us, that people have told them not to come because of how dangerous it is. Even though statistics and our own presence here belies this fact. Even though as white, and as American Indian, and as bi-racial families, living and working here in a majority African American service area in our two mile radius, we are still priveleged and are safer on average than many of our African American neighbors. Still the stereotypes and the fears persist.

 And there was heightened fear in our community a year ago; fear by the residents of color that if they went outside some "white guys in a pickup" might gun them down too. It was a reality based on what had just happened; and fear by "white" residents that there would be violence of retribution, as they were also ethnic minorities in the zipcode. We had already heard stories and rumors of white people being attacked in the area the day before, and black clergy colleagues were busy, they said, helping to prevent such things from a few they encountered. It all reminded me, when I thought of it later, about those days of the years of integration from my seventh grade to senior year at Monroe and McLain schools, when ever so often, more often than not, stories and rumors of racial fighting or plans to fight would ripple through the school corridors, dividing friends, based on some minor incident or just rumors spread to be violent in itself and to feed into the spirit of fear and scarcity and fear of diversity and unity that was wrecking the community outside the schools.

 On that Easter morning when news of the arrests occurred, and we began to find out who it was, and to find out the connections we all had, for some of us perhaps with both victims and the ones arrested, there was of course some relief, but not much, for our area itself seemed to have been violated, feeding into more of the stereotypes about our area held by others. And there was then the continuing attempt at explanations and rationalizations. The fact that the shooters had come from upbringings filled with violence is important to know, but it is often the case, and it should make us more committed to the environments we create for children regardless of their race; what I am saying is that so often my white neighbors would be quick to point out the sufferings of the "white" shooters (one with American Indian ethnicity too, but that is a part of the conversation to keep having) but they are often silent or uninformed about the sufferings and upbringings of those who are black and commit violent crimes; and yes, we had to keep pointing out, there are cases where blacks had attacked and killed white people in our area, and recently, but that the incidents were not the same; those had been acts with other motives like robbery; this had been one of projected revenge and race was an apparent prime motive. Deeper still were the echoes of violence and suicide and depression, and yet these are almost always present in all who commit such crimes regardless of race. It all should have made us more empathic; at times, even months later, it sometimes, from all, made us less empathic. Now we have issues that came up that involve the death penalty for the case still being prosecuted. I have long been against the death penalty for all, and especially because of the way it is carried out in greater percentages against people of poverty and color. I, like at least one of the surviving victims, don't think justice would be served by the death penalty in this case, or any case, but it is hard to speak about it since I am white and the shooters come from the same poor white culture I have; so, if anything, regardless of the outcome, it should make me re-double my own commitments to a broader understanding of justice and reparations especially for people of color in our society. Just as it should, again we say, make us re-double our care and concern for the gun culture that puts  such weapons in the easy reach of the impulsive and the addicted and the greatly mentally disturbed.

 These have been the continuing thoughts over a year when Good Friday has continued in our community; it didn't or doesn't just happen on one day when in the zip code with the lowest life expectancy, where businesses and so many agencies and any kind of investment has fled over the years; when (despite recent attention and good news on all the abandoned burned out structures here I have been promoting in this space) you can still drive down the major streets and into the subdivision culdesacs and see so much neglect and abuse, and know that it reflects the continuing struggle of the area (even though we have great homes and neighborhoods and families and lives and it is a blessing to live here). Overall we have kept silent and have been nursing wounds and fears. The crimes, for some, brought racism and all the other issues that have been raised connected to the shooters mentioned above back up to consciousness; for some they can't any longer deny the continuing race and ethnicity issues that they thought might have been gone once the majority of white flight was over. For some, I hope it also made our overall zipcodes here more visible, and that attention can not just end at the city limits line, but that the lives of people who live just over the line impact what happens on the city side the same as the county side, and vice versa. We need a plan and commitment that involves both city and county for the area that is increasingly becoming as one, demographically and with ties of where people shop, play, go to school, work, etc.

I write this all on Holy Saturday, Easter Eve, a time for a day of reflection itself, of prayer, of listening, of waiting, a day of transition between despair and renewed hope. The day for the traditional "harrowing of Hell" when it was emptied out. A good day for emptying out all that has been bottled up by shame and fear; Christ went to bring liberation and to end Hell, as the tradition puts it that I like, and so what better day to empty out the shame that comes, and to begin again the holy conversations needed for our times and place. We do not do Good Fridays well; we aren't expected to; we deal with shame on these topics and events; we do not have good guides through all the emotions, all the reactions; we make mistakes; I will make mistakes in just how I try to convey my thoughts here. Holy Saturday reminds us it is all right, if we come together and just reflect, and if we commit to keep walking together, together toward the tomb that we do not know yet is empty.

 What I know is that we can experience, because we do so in glimpses all the time, in the ways people help each other in our many undertakings and partnerships, we can experience a Community of Resurrection. Sometimes, when we come together like at the service of memory and healing today, or right after the event, we get glimpses of it. Other times it comes up from the hard work of planting seeds and combatting cynicism and skepticism in all the issues and activities you read about that we are involved in (continuing struggles and new plans at McLain, all the renewal efforts with the Health Dept, the ways we partner for basic needs for our residents, and even our times when we can come together in worship). I think, on these moments, that in the Resurrection stories in the gospels, that Jesus appears only briefly for the most part; short encounters, sometimes just rumors of the appearance after the crucifixion, and then he is gone; for most the faithfulness comes from seeing the changes that were effected in the lives of others. So it continues for us today.

 It has been ten years since the first Easter service in the church plant that is now known as The Welcome Table missional community. It is time for us to look again at what it means to be a community of resurrection. How best can we take our core value of the missional approach to church and reflect it in our worship? For the time being as we work on these questions, we will merge missional relationships and worship and create community by participating more often with the worship of others. Some at the local Methodist church partners here; some as we did at the wonderful contemplative Taize service downtown with Trinity Episcopal; some with our Unitarian Universalist partners, some that we lead here. We are also looking at ways to create more worship here throughout the week in all that we do, so that we don't take something as vital to community growing as worship and put it only on Sunday; creating an ongoing spiritual prayerful space here, at the center and at the park, and in other ways that will emerge. Our sense of community that is now forged in mission can itself be resurrected, as part of what our wider community needs, seeds of resurrection that stand alongside of, and stand against, the Good Fridays.

 I will close with Holy Week short reflections that go a little deeper into how each Day, from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, is like a Four-Act Play, each day with its own theme, its own lessons for our lives, together.

Today is Act One: the meal, the presence of abundance in the midst of fear and scarcity, the commandment to love one another as we have been loved, reminder that nothing to come, nothing done, can separate us from the love of God, the attention to the bodies around us, to the hurting feet; it is all about the anointing, sharing the belovedness. In the way of the Psalm, this is the day of lifting up the original blessedness, our orientation to the Divine intersecting, intertwining, with us.\

This is Good Friday, this is Act Two, the sudden dis-orientation, the disillusionment, the dashing of hopes, when the truth that another world is possible, and is emerging, is revealed to be a lie, the day of abandonment, forsakenness even, when injustice and oppression and the way things just are rule the day, the bottom drops out from under us and from all life and from creation, again, again, just when we thought maybe...there is nothing necessary about this Day, though perhaps inevitable, for what do we expect when we line up the roads with crosses, with a punishment culture, and there is nothing good in it, though good may come wringing its way in response to it, though we can't feel it or imagine it this day; this is the day, so often repeated in our history, when Incarnation, that glimpse of divinity and love, what we herald at births just so recently, culminates in violent death, mocking the very flesh of God in us and among us. This is the day when the House of Hope is barred by the threshold of despair, and we know where we must go to cross it, but we can't yet, and so we turn away, and even if we draw close and embrace it, embrace what is left of You, we can't hold the pain, it keeps slipping from our grasp, and even when we want to find meaning in how much pain we bear, we can't. We pray that Your presence might be with us even in Your Absence, but we can't even remember the words or what your presence felt like.

This is Holy Saturday, Easter Eve, this is Act Three, the deepening of the disorientation, the sitting with the loss, but also the tradition says the day of the Harrowing of Hell, when Christ descended to release all those who had died before his coming, to be with them even in that place, to be even with those, and I like to believe to close it on his way out. This is the day of pondering, questioning, and of emptying our minds as Christ empties Hell; a day when emptiness caused by what happened to us, from outside us, can prompt us to reclaim the emptiness within us and move us from a position of isolation and aloneness to one of purposeful solitude. This is the day when we live fully in the in-between, but can not see what is to come. This is the day that reminds us that the More that is to come after our times of loss may simply be the dawn and the noon and the dusk of the next day, but that even this is something; it shows us that there is a force beyond us holding us, moving us forward, that we can simply rest in the day, and wait for the next day. There is much going on that we, on the outside of the tomb, with our gaze turned inward on our own suffering, cannot see or know.
From out of nowhere, comes Easter. This is Act Four. This is the day not about the miracles of nature and the nature of things we can figure out and know; this is the day about the way nothing we prepare for prepares us for the reality of love that overcomes death, overcomes shame, overcomes all that seeks to deny its truth. This is the day when we are confirmed in the truth that another world is possible, not only is possible, but is happening, and our task is to go be where it is happening, receive its grace, and participate in the communities of resurrection. This is the day that reassures us that nothing we or anyone can do or think or imagine can separate us from the love of God. This is the day when we wake up to the rising of the soul, to the wonder that defines who we are. This is the day when we set aside our struggles to understand, and find ourselves by losing ourselves in the story that God in mystery will align what is broken and askew, will justify what injustice has created. This is the day when we remember, as colleague and mentor Carl Scovel wrote, God’s other name is Surprise! That on this day we get a glimpse that, as he also wrote, there is at the heart of Creation a Good Intent, and that we come from, live in, and will return to that Goodness. Aleluia Aleluia Aleluia is first sung by the Cosmos, is embodied in Christ, and breaks forth from our lips. This is the day of Re-Orientation, not only to our home we began with, but to our home of abundant everlasting Spirit. That Easter’s good news invariably and inevitably is cast aside, even on this day, as so much within us and around us can dampen even our most heart-felt alleluias, does not change its truth; it is still here, beckoning us toward its sun-split horizon.

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