Do you ever ask yourself why you are here? I don’t mean in some existential way; I mean how did you, as an individual, wind up in this country at this time with the privileges you have? More and more I find that I ask these questions. Every time there’s discussion of wars and the innocent victims of the fighting, every time there’s a mass shooting somewhere, every time there’s a natural disaster that doesn’t affect me personally, and every time I learn more about the plight of the impoverished I ask these questions. Why was I born here and now? Why was I born white to a middle class family in the richest nation in the world when others around the world and in our own communities are suffering? The only answer I can come up with is that there’s something I must do. I can’t sit comfortably with my experience and think “Well, aren’t I the lucky one.” I have responsibility for the privilege that I have.
I’m also troubled when I hear people asking that we pray for peace in the world. Sounds like a great prayer request, doesn’t it? But let’s think this through. I believe that our all-powerful and sovereign God could impose peace. I do. I just don’t think that God chooses to work this way. We’ve known oppression and suffering since the beginning of time. It seems to be part of the human condition. So, God certainly could have intervened but it appears that God hasn’t in the way we want when we pray for world peace. I think the solution is the same one as the answer to the first questions I raised. It’s up to us. Each of us. Why would we imagine that God would miraculously bring peace to our troubled world if we can’t get along with our neighbors? Why would God intervene to stop climate change and reinstate a healthy environment if we haven’t been good stewards of the planet we’ve been given? Why would God put an end to poverty and hunger when we can’t share the resources we have with others? I’m not going to pray for world peace anymore; I’m going to pray that God gives me a heart to create peace in my circle of acquaintances, in my community, in my sphere of influence. And I’ll pray that for you, too, because that’s where healing and restoration has to begin.
Last week at Ministry Fair I attended a workshop called The New Poor People’s Campaign: the Call to the Beloved Community presented by the Rev. Joe Summers and Christine Modey. Up until a few months ago I had never heard of the Poor People’s Campaign which began in 1968 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an effort to bring economic justice to the nation’s poor. Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) believed that every person should have what they need to live regardless of race or ethnicity. We know that, despite their best efforts, the poor are still with us in greater numbers than ever before.
This morning, (Saturday), as I drove to my EYSJ session, I listened to an eye-opening program on poverty from “On the Media,” an NPR program from WNYC. The episode, “This is America” is part of a larger series on poverty: “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” and “the Poverty Tour.” The host of the show, Brooke Gladstone, reminded me of one of Dr King’s quotes: “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Reminds me a little of these words from the letter of James: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (James 2:15, 16). If we have been attentive, we have to admit that too many people in power these days are trying to enforce the idea that “God helps those who help themselves.” We see this is the new Medicaid regulations requiring 29 hours of work a week for those not disabled or the caretakers of young children. We see this in all the legislation to drop any “entitlement” program. We should not sit idly by and allow our brothers and sisters – who are God’s beloved children, too – to face this discrimination and oppression…which leads me back to the New Poor People’s Campaign.
From the New Poor People’s Campaign website, we find their guiding principles:
We are rooted in a moral analysis based on our deepest religious and constitutional values that demand justice for all. Moral revival is necessary to save the heart and soul of our democracy.
We are committed to lifting up and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation and to building unity across lines of division.
We believe in the dismantling of unjust criminalization systems that exploit poor communities and communities of color and the transformation of the “War Economy” into a “Peace Economy” that values all humanity.
We believe that equal protection under the law is non-negotiable.
We believe that people should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion, and deep inequality.
We recognize the centrality of systemic racism in maintaining economic oppression must be named, detailed and exposed empirically, morally and spiritually. Poverty and economic inequality cannot be understood apart from a society built on white supremacy.
We aim to shift the distorted moral narrative often promoted by religious extremists in the nation from issues like prayer in school, abortion, and gun rights to one that is concerned with how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, LGBTQIA folks, workers, immigrants, the disabled and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations.
We will build up the power of people and state-based movements to serve as a vehicle for a powerful moral movement in the country and to transform the political, economic and moral structures of our society.
We recognize the need to organize at the state and local level—many of the most regressive policies are being passed at the state level, and these policies will have long and lasting effect, past even executive orders. The movement is not from above but below.
We will do our work in a non-partisan way—no elected officials or candidates get the stage or serve on the State Organizing Committee of the Campaign. This is not about left and right, Democrat or Republican but about right and wrong.
We uphold the need to do a season of sustained moral direct action as a way to break through the tweets and shift the moral narrative. We are demonstrating the power of people coming together across issues and geography and putting our bodies on the line to the issues that are affecting us all.
The Campaign and all its Participants and Endorsers embrace nonviolence. Violent tactics or actions will not be tolerated.
This is a call to action. Every Monday from May 14th to June 18th there will be opportunities to get give legs to our words with events in Lansing from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. The sessions will be held at Central United Methodist Church, 215 N. Capitol Ave. Each week has a different focus:
May 14th – Women / Youth / the Disabled / Children / Right to Education / LGBTQ
May 21st – Connecting Systemic Racism / Economic Justice with Voting Rights and Just Immigration / Criminal Justice Reform
May 28th – Veterans, War Economy, Militarism
June 4th – Right to Health – Ecology, Justice in Health, Water, Extreme Extraction (Fracking), Climate Change, Health Care
June 11th – “Everybody’s God a Right to Live” – Living Wages, Guaranteed Income, Housing, Social Service
June 18th – “New Unsettling Force” – Challenging Nature’s Moral Narrative – Fusion Movement Rising Up
Each Monday’s schedule will include:
10:00 am – Gathering and Registration
11:00 am to noon – Pre-action Training Session
Noon to 1:00 pm – Lunch and Relationship Building
1:00 to 2:00 pm – Preparations for Weekly Direct Action
2:00 to 3:00 pm – Rally
3:00 to 4:00 pm – Direct Action
All are invited to participate in the whole day; however, anyone planning to be involved in the Direct Action must attend the training session. This will give the participants an understanding of the potential personal consequences of civil disobedience prior to the action.
For those of us feeling plagued by questions of “what can I do to make a difference,” perhaps this is our chance. One thing to remember: this is a grass roots effort. Those of us who do not face the same challenges as the poor can be encouragers and play support roles. As my personal hero, Fr. Greg Boyle of Homeboys Industries has said: “Our job isn’t to fix, to rescue or to save. It’s to accompany, see people and listen to them.” We can come alongside as allies and friends.
For more information check out these websites:
Poor People’s Campaign Michigan (Facebook page)
The Poor People’s Campaign (Facebook page)
Let us pray…
Friends, let us bless:
This is a blessing for the ones
who stand up police lines and say:
you may invade our communities,
you may profile and surveil us
you may shoot at our black and brown bodies,
but you will never break us.
This is a blessing for the ones
who lose their homes to predators,
who lose their pensions and healthcare,
while the wealthy grow wealthier
but will never accept that this
is simply the way things must be.
This is a blessing for the ones
who live under the terror
of our drones and our bombs,
whose blood fills the coffers
of our war economy,
whose only consolation is the truth
that while empires may rise,
they are destined to fall.
This is a blessing for the ones
who stand on street corners,
who live in tent encampments
next to luxury condos that soar to the sky
yet refuse to surrender their humanity
to the gears of an inhumane system.
This is a blessing for an earth
that grows more inhabitable by the day
yet is still inhabited by those who struggle
for a planet that will provide a sustainable home
for their children’s children.
This is a blessing for the immigrants
who fear every knock on the door
every cop that pulls them over,
every job application they are handed
yet never give up on the dream
of a better future for themselves
and their families.
So let the justice
that trickles down shallow creeks
roar through the valley and saturate
the dry parched earth,
let it flow relentlessly throughout the land
where life once grew and will grow again.
Let those who cry out in pain
feel strength growing within their broken souls
like green stems shooting through
Let us live to see new life spreading
through abandoned streets and
neighborhoods and cities and nations and
let the promise of transformation beckon still
that we might finally take the first
tentative step into this new day, yes
let it be so.
(Delivered at the Poor People’s Campaign Rally for Action, Grace Lutheran Church, Evanston, March 22, 2018.)
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council