Friday, July 24, 2015

Postcards from Detroit, Part Two: Racism – The Struggle is Real

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
#blacklivesmatter #racism #riseupelca
(Part One of "Postcards from Detroit: Let's Tell the Rest of the Story" can be found here: http://ecopreacher.blogspot.com/2015/07/postcards-from-detroit-part-one-lets.html )

Prior to my trip to Detroit for the ELCA Youth Gathering with the teens from the congregation I serve, United in Christ Lutheran in Lewisburg, PA, we completed a preparatory session on racism.  We learned about the levels of individual, interpersonal, institutional and structural racism that we encounter in our relationships and in society.  We discussed the term “white privilege” and the stereotypes we have about certain races.  As a seminary student, I had gone through anti-racism training, and as a pastor of Spirit and Truth Worship Center in Yeadon, PA, I had the honor of serving an African American/African native congregation who taught me a great deal about the challenges of racism.  But I encountered something in Detroit that showed me just how embedded my stereotypes are about non-white people.
 
On our walk through center city Detroit one day, my youth and I came upon an open-air plaza where tall tables and chairs were lined up and eleven young black boys and girls sat across from each other playing chess – competitive speed chess, complete with timers.  


These girls and boys were upper elementary and middle school-aged, and they had an adult male mentor with them.  We watched, mouths gaping, as they made their moves, slapped the timers, joked and laughed, and whizzed through their games.  One boy, seeing his opponent make a good move against him, shouted out, “The struggle is real!” And we all laughed together. (For more info on the Detroit City Chess Club:  http://www.detroitcitychessclub.com/chessphotos.html)


As I was taking pictures of their group, one little boy called out to me, “You want to play?”  While I knew how to play chess, we were on our way to the next event for the Gathering, so I had to politely decline.  “It’s okay, I can teach you!” he offered.  It was an “Aww,” moment – but I felt convicted in my soul.

Why is it that we were so shocked to see young black boys and girls engaging in a game that requires incredible mental skills of logic, strategy, pattern-recognition, and intellectual speed?  Did we not think their brains capable of such feats of intelligence?  Did we succumb to the stereotype that black children are only troublemakers and ne’er-do-wells, training for gang life and criminal activity, and incapable of higher thinking skills?  Were we so caught up in the assumptions that black males are lazy, violent and only interested in sports, and girls only destined to pre-teen unwed motherhood, that seeing them peacefully and joyfully engaging in chess just blew our minds?  And did we think them an exception to the unspoken rule that black people simply don’t have the capacity or interest to engage in demanding brain-training activities?

One of the speakers at the Gathering, Marian Wright Edelman, was a Civil Rights activist and is a lawyer who founded the Children’s Defense Fund.  As she spoke, I pictured those young black girls and boys at their chess boards.  And I began thinking about the millions of minds we wasted in this country by relegating them to slavery, then segregation, then the new Jim Crowe, and the ongoing instances of discrimination in education, housing, jobs, ecological racism, and economic access.  Not to mention the growing instances of violence by police and citizens against unarmed blacks in this country. She has fiercely advocated for policies that enhance the lives and educations of America’s poorest children, noting that the economic and racial inequalities in this country actually hinder all of us – not just the ones denied access.  (The video of her full speech can be found here:  https://youtu.be/xVg62VaQL50?t=8115.) 

Yes, chess-playing child, you have taught me.  We all need to be reminded that the minds of black boys and girls are as smart as those of whites.  That they are just as capable of learning and cognitive development as their white counterparts.  And that when we deny them access to education through the myriad of social problems such as inadequate housing, healthcare, nutrition, and the mass incarceration of their parents, we are actually hurting ourselves.  How many potential inventors, scientists, writers, surgeons and artists have we denied ourselves as a nation over the past 400 hundred years by enslaving and shutting out those minds?  Who are the potential engineers, college professors, doctors and well-educated parents and voters we are shutting down right at this very moment? 

In central PA where I live, there is a heated battle over whether or not to allow a low-income housing site to be located in the wealthy, white, privileged, “safe” Lewisburg school district.  Citizens at the meetings blatantly voice their racial stereotypes:  we don’t want “those people” lowering our property values, bringing crime and drugs to our town, and bringing down the test scores of our schools. (See: http://www.dailyitem.com/news/housing-foe-says-penn-commons-may-become-a-crime-riddled/article_62979064-30c7-11e5-bc2c-9f98ab3f786a.html . Also see https://www.facebook.com/ccalewisburg.)

Those people are the chess-playing girls and boys.  By refusing to welcome them and educate them, we are sending away the future of America.  Shame on us.  The struggle is real.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Postcards from Detroit, Part One – Let’s Tell the Rest of the Story

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
#riseupelca #detroit

During the week of July 14 – 20, I accompanied a group of youth from the church I serve, United in Christ Lutheran in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, along with youth and advisers from four other Lutheran churches in our conference, to Detroit, Michigan, for the triennial ELCA Youth Gathering.  We joined 30,000 other Lutheran youth for five days of learning, service, worship, fellowship and fun.  What we saw in Detroit is a very different place than the one consistently portrayed in the media.  Coming from small town, rural central Pennsylvania, our youth felt some trepidation going to a city that has a reputation for violence, poverty, drugs, gangs and general depravity.  However, after walking the streets of downtown Detroit and serving in a HOPE Village community clean-up project in the northwest part of the city, we met the residents, learned about the complexities of this city, and have come back to tell a different story. 
We came . . .


 Yes, the negative things heard about Detroit are true.  
We saw . . .




But what is rarely, if ever reported is that the people of Detroit are welcoming, friendly, warm, appreciative, and joyful – even in the midst of their struggles.  When word got out about these busloads of youth being deployed throughout the city in their orange shirts to clean out abandoned lots, paint park benches, read to children, pack food boxes, and countless other projects, the residents made it a point to come up to us and thank us for the work we were doing.  
We cleaned . . .

Weeded . . .


Clipped . . .





One resident I talked to, upon seeing his neighborhood transformed from trash-filled to clean before his very eyes, said, “This gives me hope.”  
Before . . .
After.


Coming back from Ford Field each night after the spirit-filled concerts and inspirational speakers, we saw local children greeting the parade of singing teens in the streets,


parking attendants dancing for us, 
video


and residents in high-rises waving and smiling.  What I heard repeatedly from residents who we talked to was this plea:  Please tell the rest of the story about Detroit when you get home. 


The challenges of structural racism, patterns of poverty, educational inequality, and economic misfortunes in Detroit are real, deeply embedded and complex.  But every city, every town faces these kinds of challenges.  The youth in my church reminded me repeatedly that drugs are a problem in their schools, racism is thinly veiled in our community, poverty is a constant for many, and their own neighbors and family members make poor choices when it comes to important life decisions.  They now realize that their circle of “family” has been extended to Detroit.  And Detroiters came to learn that they have more allies in their corner than they ever imagined. 

Most importantly, our youth realized that God is already at work in these supposedly God-forsaken places.  The theme of the Gathering was “Rise Up.”  We saw this resurrectional rising in Detroit and are inspired to continue to do God’s work with our hands here in our own community as well.  




Friday, July 10, 2015

Student Haiku Reflections on The Holy Spirit: Creator of Life

video
Haiku poetry by the confirmation class
United in Christ Lutheran church, Lewisburg, pa
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, pastor

July 2015

The Confirmation students completed their final unit on the Apostle’s Creed with a session on the Holy Spirit.  After reading Bible passages, discussing the Apostle’s Creed, and meditating on the Spirit, we went to the Island at Milton State Park where the students spent time writing haiku poetry about the Holy Spirit. 

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that consists of three lines, the first with five syllables, the second with seven, and the third with five.  

Spirit: Fire and Dove
Creator of Life and Church
Upholder of Truth.
-        Amy Danowsky


Fire, Wind and the Dove.
Creating the Life within
And the endless Love.
-        Marianne Murray


Creator of Life
Spiritus creates the Church
Wind, Dove, Breath of God
-        Dalton Shearer


Spirit in the Fire
Three-in-One, the Trinity
Holy bond of Life.
-        Dustin Kemper

Sustainer of Life
Forgiveness and Communion
The Resurrector
-        Amy Danowsky

Children will learn to protect what they love.  Connect youth to the Creation of God and cultivate their appreciation for the power of the Holy Spirit to create new life in them and all around them.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Sermon: Finding Jesus in Our Weakness

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
July 5, 2015
Text:  2 Corinthians 12:2-10

(Children’s sermon: Children are given thin sticks and asked if they can break them.  We can break the stick when it’s by itself.  But when we bundle it with a bunch of other sticks – we can’t break them.  Bound together in God's love, we experience power - even in our weakness and brokenness.)

We are at the end of our sermon series “Finding Jesus Finding Us,” and today we’re focusing on finding Jesus in the midst of our weakness.  As St. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians:  “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

What an odd statement:  power is made perfect in weakness.  It seems like a contradiction.  We would think that the phrase should be:  power is made perfect in strength.  But that’s not what Paul said.  He’s talking about the thorn in his flesh (that’s where we get the phrase – a thorn in my side, by the way).  We don’t know what he’s referring to – some kind of physical ailment or injury?  Some ugly growth on this skin?  Or perhaps it’s a weakness for something – some temptation that causes him to give in.  We don’t know.  All we know is that he prayed for the thorn to be removed.  And God’s response is:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
This week on Facebook, I posed the question:  What is your weakness?  And how have you experienced God’s power in that weakness?  One Facebook responder gave a list of different ways we experience weakness, including:  depression, lack of clarity, financial fear, stress from parenting, and broken relationships.  She said that experiencing weakness feels like “God is closing a door and not opening a window fast enough.”

You’ll see at either end of your pew that there are slips of paper.  I want you to think about what your weakness is and write it on that slip of paper.  Don’t put your name – just write down what your weakness is.  Whether it’s your pride, or a health issue, or your stubbornness, or your addiction.  Just write it down and fold it up tight. 

As you’re doing that, I’m going to ask Mike Mertz to come up and share with you his testimony about where he has experienced God’s power within his own weakness.  Mike is one of the biggest, strongest guys I know. I remember the first time I met him here at church when I came here four years ago – I thought the church had hired a bouncer!  Mike is a trainer and specialist in sports medicine.  The more I've gotten to know Mike over these years, I learned that he has a very deep faith – faith that has been tested by times of weakness.  And he has learned a thing or two about what it means to experience God’s grace and power made perfect in weakness.

[Mike’s testimony: see video for full story. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJbWLwwxqN4&sns=fb  Mike's portion starts at 6:19.  Summary - Mike was a golfer who was prepared to turn professional, but two weeks before he was to start, he broke a bone in his hand, which ended his career before it started.  He was devastated at the time, but eventually followed the path of sports medicine and give thanks to God that he has been able to help so many adults and kids.]

Here’s the thing:  Mike literally experienced a pain in his wrist that was like a thorn in the flesh.  It was a career-ending injury.  He would no longer be able to pursue his dream of becoming a professional golfer.  But through this weakness, God’s power was made perfect in Mike.  He has touched the lives of probably a thousand adults and young people as a sports trainer, and has helped them either avoid injury, or recover from injury.  Mike understands sports medicine on a very personal level, knows the importance of keep one’s body in good shape and playing sports the right way in order to minimize injuries.  God’s power of healing has been made perfect in Mike’s weakness. 

Remember – I’m not saying that God caused Mike’s injury so that he would follow the path of sports medicine.  That’s not how God works.  God is not like a master game player up in the sky, deciding to afflict some people just to achieve a certain outcome, no matter how positive.  If that was the case, it would mean God is arbitrary and manipulative and cruel.  No – God is not up in the sky making things happen.  God is here below, among us, accompanying us no matter what we face, no matter what circumstances arise, and creating something new out of our brokenness. 

When I was a hospital chaplain I had the occasion to visiting a young woman in the oncology wing who was facing a recurrence of cancer. She was very frustrated – just like Paul.  This person had prayed fervently that the cancer would resolve itself.  Lots of people were praying for her, all over the world.  So she had strong confidence that God would keep the cancer away.  So when the test came back positive, and it turned out that the cancer was back, this person was understandably shaken.  She was doubting the power of prayer, her own faith, and doubting God. As I sat with her, I remembered this verse from 2 Corinthians and read it to her – “My grace is sufficient for you.  Power is made perfect in weakness.”  I asked her to imagine a way that God’s power might be made perfect even in her illness.

She thought for a while, then answered:  “Maybe if - no when - I come through this surgery, I can help other cancer patients who are facing the same thing as I am.  I know there is a cancer support group here at the hospital.  Maybe I can volunteer with them, maybe become something like a cancer coach, helping people go through what I’ve experienced.  No one understands cancer better than one who has been through it.”

I thought this was a very wise and faith-filled response.  I don’t know what happened to the woman, because after she left the hospital, my chaplaincy ended.  But I felt certain that God would find a way for that divine power to be made perfect through her weakness. 

That’s what Mike has learned over the course of his life.  Power is made perfect in weakness.  Notice – God did not magically make everything the way Mike wanted it to be after his injury.  But when we walk with each other, help others by sharing what we’ve been through, it’s like bundling these sticks together – there is incredible strength.  Every fault, every sin, every failure, every affliction can eventually be an opportunity to walk alongside someone on the same path, embodying Christ’s presence, compassion and grace.

Here’s what I invite you to do.  As we sing the hymn, I invite you to come forward and make an “offering of weakness.” Put your folded up piece of paper here in this basket – remember, no names.  At the end of the hymn, I will say a prayer over the offering of weaknesses.  We will pray together that God’s grace will be sufficient for you and for our congregation. And that we might, together – like sticks banded together, weak by themselves, but united in strength – that we might experience God’s power through our weakness.

As the Facebook responder wrote:  “When I am weak, He is strong! I lean harder on Him! I wait patiently (okay, maybe not so patiently) but I remind myself of God’s love for me. I remind myself that God is bigger than my problems! That He is Jehovah Jireh, Lord Provider; Jehovah Shalom, Lord of Peace; Jehovah Sabbaoth, Lord of Deliverance! And I have learned when the storm clouds roll, I send my praises up and they break apart those clouds and the blessings come down! Praise is the weapon and I have never seen it fail!"

May God's power be made known to you through your weakness today.  And may we, as a bundle of brokenness and weakness, be a witness to God's power through Jesus Christ.  Amen.