Posted by: Gordon on 6/18/2015

The massacre of nine individuals in an historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina was tragic beyond measure. For a place that has always been known as a sanctuary to turn into a target of domestic terrorism based on hatred and bigotry is sinfully despicable and an act of cowardice.

This country was founded with a racist ideology looming in the background, practiced through slavery in the foreground. Americans can no longer hide behind post-racial rhetoric and must realize that racism is in this country's DNA. Over the centuries it has undergone a series of mutations but has never been fully eradicated.

As a faith-based and faith-rooted organization we aim to take seriously this act and all others like it, as well as acts masquerading in civility but saturated in racial undertones. We commit to use every power we have to move the discourse from rhetoric to truth and from complacency to action as we work to dismantle structural racism.

Posted by: Gordon on 6/10/2015

A reflection from our Race and Power Summit Wednesday, June 10 by Pastor Norma Patterson, United Congregations of Metro East & pastor, Good Shepherd Of Faith UCC, East St. Louis

There is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him.

Mark 7: 15-16

The young black males in my community are in a crisis. Society has seemingly no healthy designated place for them. They gather in large groups on the playground because there are basketball goals for them to play basketball or "shoot some hoops."

As a pastor and leader in the community, my heart hurts for them; however, I have no long-term answers. Sometimes when my church gets a grant, we provide a two- or three-week program of tutoring and field trips. However, we recognize that those two or three weeks of interacting with these young black males is a temporary fix for a more serious problem.

American society does not include young black males in its futuristic positive goals. I recently read a book entitled, "Cut Dead But Still Alive" by Gregory C. Ellison II. Although the author describes the condition of young black males in America, he provides no solutions to the problems they face.

I quoted the Scripture from Mark 7th chapter because I cried out to God when I was faced with a challenge I was not equipped to handle.

The Jobs Task Force is comprised of all black men and women who are primarily construction contractors. They hire people from our “One Hundred Ready Workers” list, or they send them to other people or companies where they can get hired, with a recommendation. As a result, so I thought, these men would be perfect for mentoring the young guys from the basketball court this summer. I introduced the idea to them at our Tuesday night meeting.

At first they all thought, yes! As we began to develop a strategic plan, the men had one demand: none of the guys could participate in the summer program if his pants were sagging.

I thought if they came sagging, maybe by the end of the summer they would pull up their pants, or they would know when to sag and when not to sag. I argued that our goal was to try and teach them to read blueprints, put on a roof, repair a porch, caulk a window, or do some landscaping in the community. However, the discussion became so vehemently loud and intense I thought I stepped into a pit of rattlesnakes. I had to shut it down. I went home that night and wept. The Lord gave me Mark the 7th chapter. The religion and rules of the contractors were more important than the young black men on the basketball court who are in crisis.

I read the Old Testament enough to know God loves rules, regulations, and order. On the other hand, when I read the New Testament with the red writing, I see the love of Christ talking to people of faith in a new way. "If any man has ears, let him hear." Mark 7: 16. God's love is reflected in Christ in a different way.

Suggested Readings:

Cut Dead But Still Alive, Gregory C. Ellison II
Black Boy, Richard Wright
The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison,
The Open Bible, KJV
Ending Racism in the Church, Susan E. Davies, Sister Paul Teresa Hennessee

Posted by: Gordon on 6/10/2015

RAP Summit at UAW GM Center
Gamaliel leaders gathered in Detroit for the Race and Power Summit are laying plans for the organization's new, long-term agenda this week.

Detroit youth group Crossing Boundaries Building Bridges, part of affiliate MOSES, will provide entertainment and vision via  hiphop, a spoken-word performance and a skit Wednesday night. It's a culminating event of the Gamaliel Race and Power Summit that started Monday.

The performance will feature young people of color filled with dreams, then catch up with them to find how those dreams fared five years later. (Spoiler alert: there’s a happy ending, thanks to a few super-heroes like Investing in Education). It will be hosted by New Mt. Zion M.B. Church, 2201 Elmhurst St. in Detroit, Pastor Rev. Dr. Jimmy Wafer.

The piece was written by a local youth, DaJuan Bland, and features young people who have been gathering for more than a year as part of MOSES’ Poetry and Politics nights, which draw “middle-schoolers through elders” in the words of Poetry and Politics instructor Walter Lacy, a Detroit-based spoken word hiphop artist and youth worker.

For a relatively short performance (the skit will be preceded by poetry and song), the piece brings up important themes, Lacy says: “We’re still dealing with issues that stem from institutionalized racism that has tangible effects on people’s day-to-day lives--like access to education, jobs and transportation, issues dealing with debt for college students and grads and the cycles of violence and poverty that we face how those things are institutionally set up.MOSES CB3 flyer

These are the right issues and fit right in with the work Gamaliel is doing to address structural racism, faith leaders say.

“The church is not doing its part in today’s struggles for race equity,” says Rev. Stancy Adams, a board member of MOSES and Christian Education Minister at Russell Street M.B. Church. “Clergy is missing.”

The public action comes after three days of discussion, strategizing and reflection on continued racism in America -- especially in structures and systems.
Posted by: Gordon on 6/9/2015

A reflection from our Race and Power Summit Monday, June 8 by
Rev. Susan L. Engh - Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Sue Engh
Tonight we've been introduced to the concept of Pharaoh's Empire. Dave Mann said to us, as he introduced that concept, something like, we're all familiar with Pharaoh, right? Well for a few minutes now, I want to take us back to the particular era in biblical history from which we're drawing this concept. Recall that, after a period of peaceful co-existence of the people of Israel living in Egypt - a time characterized by the Israelite Joseph's privileged position in Pharaoh's government - things began to change for the worse for God's chosen people. Somewhere between the book of Genesis and the book of Exodus, things took a fateful turn.

So, in Exodus, Chapter 1, we learn that "...a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph." And over time, as the people of Israel multiplied in numbers, this king - this Pharaoh - grew ever more suspicious and afraid of them, until he ordered that they be forced into cruel slavery. Yet even though they were under harsh taskmasters, the king, along with the Egyptian people, continued to fear, and even came to loathe, the people of Israel.

So the king of Egypt hatched an evil plan. He appointed two Hebrew midwives - one named Shiphrah and the other Puah. He charged them to kill each male Israelite baby at the time of birth, presuming, I suppose, that it was the men - potential soldiers -who were the most to be feared. But we read that "the midwives feared God [and] they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them." When he summoned them to call them to account for their disobedience, Shiphrah and Puah said to Pharaoh, "Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them." Apparently believing them, the king spared the Hebrew midwives, and God blessed them greatly.

Here we have what may be the first account of civil disobedience in the biblical story, a bold and courageous act Shiphrah and Puah joined together to perform, out of loyalty to their values and faithfulness to God. Rather than operate according to the narrative of Pharaoh's Empire, these two women lived out an alternative narrative, one that was true to the Commonwealth of God.

I'm not a midwife by trade, so it doesn't do much good to argue that I would never kill a baby either. What I do have to wonder and wrestle with is this: what parts of my job or my role in society do I perform out of sheer acquiescence to the dominant narrative of my institution or my culture? I wonder, would I dare to question certain expectations laid upon me. Would  I risk joining, perhaps shrewdly, with others, who may just be waiting for a co-conspirator to share the dangerous act of obeying God rather than Empire? Ask yourself, would you?

Well, having had his first plot foiled by Shiphrah and Puah, the king resorted to an equally violent plan, ordering all of his Egyptian subjects to throw into the Nile "every boy born to the Hebrews." And, apparently, the people obeyed. For remember, the Egyptians shared Pharaoh's fear and loathing of the people of Israel.

While this monstrous decree was in practice, we learn that "a Levite woman, conceived and bore a son." And, like any mother would, "she saw that he was a fine baby. [So] she hid him [for] three months,... [until] she could hide him no longer. [Then] she put the child in [a papyrus basket] and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister [who I am going to assume was Miriam] stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him."

And who should come along but the daughter of Pharaoh, bathing at the river, with her attendants at hand? Seeing the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to bring it to her. Seeing the child in the basket, she realized at once that he must be a Hebrew child, and she took pity on him. Then Miriam rushed forward and immediately offered to bring a Hebrew wet nurse - the child's mother, of course - and the Pharaoh's daughter agreed. Moses' own mother raised him until he was weaned, at which point she "brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, [who] took him as her own son." And we can also note that the maid, who brought the child, chose not to report the matter to the authorities, nor did any of the other female attendants at the riverbank that day.

Several more women, including the mother and sister of Moses, along with the daughter of Pharaoh and her handmaid, took courageous action outside of the dominant narrative of Pharaoh's Empire, in order to follow their hearts and their values, thus saving the life of the future deliverer of Israel.

And in this last story, about Moses among the reeds, we see an unlikely alliance, between women who live under the oppression of Pharaoh's Empire and women who live as privileged elites, who, to some degree anyway, benefit from the ways of Empire. In this story, like the one about the midwives, there is a tacit agreement among the women to hide the truth. But more, in this story there is the seemingly unquestioned decision to align themselves across social, even racial boundaries, and against unjust decrees that put the most vulnerable at risk.

Now, since I'm not likely to find a baby floating among the reeds of the river out there, it doesn't do much good to suggest that I would have joined these women in the conspiracy to conceal Moses' identity. What I do have to wonder and wrestle with is this: whether I might have the wisdom, the humility or the courage to see my well-being tied up with those who seem too different from me to join in solidarity with for the sake of that God's Commonwealth. Will I - will you - learn from these women who surrounded baby Moses, to recognize allies when we see them, unlikely as they may seem; to risk joining together to make a better way forward?

There's a lot that we're up against, folks! That became imminently evident again here today. There are the powers and the principalities, the Pharaohs of our day with their Empire narratives. And there are our own tendencies to be naive, even complicit, in following those narratives ourselves. We will need to dig deep and we will need to sweep wide in order to deal with these realities. And we will have to do it together, growing the scope of what we mean by "we" more and more. Thankfully, we have a shrewd and powerful God who calls, leads and equips us to do all of those things.

Let us pray:

Gracious and loving God, we give you thanks this evening for the biblical witness of these women, named and un-named, but all known and cherished by you; for Shiphrah and Puah, for Moses' mother and his sister Miriam, for Pharaoh's daughter and her hand-maid and attendants. We praise you for the wonders you chose to perform through them, which laid the foundation for the deliverance of your people Israel. Fill us with the same spirit of courage, wisdom and power that drew them to take action together, despite  oppressive systems and across prevailing boundaries. Agitate us into action that changes for the better the realities that oppress your people today. We pray in your Holy Name. Amen.

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