The dream is as it was.

I promised you last week that we would start looking at the core values of the Project. We’ll get to that after we have kicked off our fall programming, but this morning I need to do something else. 

As I do every year on this day, I listened to the entirety of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. You can find it on youtube here Take some time out of your day to listen to it. All of it. It’s been fifty years since these words were spoken. It was before my time, as people like to say, and yet what makes this speech so compelling is the timeless nature of Dr. King’s vision for the country. It is a vision, like ours, that is firmly rooted in the biblical prophetic tradition. It is future-oriented and hopeful, yet deeply concerned with the here and now and our ability to engage in actions today that will positively impact future generations. 
People are asking in the media, what is the state of Dr. King’s dream today. It’s a foolish and simplistic question. The dream is as it ever was. Future-oriented, hopeful, yet dependent on us to be conspirators with God to make it a reality. Dr. King was right that the bank of justice is not bankrupt, but just as we don’t receive cash without work, we will not see justice without struggle and toil. 
I hear King’s words as a challenge this morning, as a gauntlet being thrown down before me. “Will you do what justice requires?” is what the Spirit seems to be asking to me and I ask in return will we do for our students, families, homeowners, and community what justice requires? 

Some brief thoughts on The Butler

Many of you may know that my undergraduate degree is in film studies. I love movies and watch them with a fairly critical eye. Last night, I was invited by our friends at The Pittsburgh Promise to attend an advance screening of Lee Daniels’ The Butler. It’s a film with a sprawling cast featuring Forest Whitaker as a butler who serves in the White House under several administrations from Eisenhower to Reagan, witnessing many important civil rights milestones. One always has to take a film that is “based on a true story” with a grain of salt, still there is something quite compelling in thinking about one person having such a front row seat to important historical landmarks. 
A couple of things jumped out for me while watching the film. I’ve seen dozens and dozens of newsreels and documentaries about the civil rights era. I have seen very few dramatizations of that era. The way certain events are captured primarily through the main character’s oldest son Louis (i.e. lunch counter sit ins, freedom rider bus bombings, and the Selma march) was incredibly well done and capture the struggle of those who were in involved in the civil rights movement in ways that feel more visceral than documentary footage. At times it was hard to watch. 
Close to the end of the film, Cecil Gaines (Whitaker) says in narration that “America has always been afraid to look at the way it treats its own”. That is one thing that this film is not afraid to do and it is why I think it is important. We’ve never shied away from having conversations about race here at the Project. Those conversations have oftentimes been emotional, stress-filled, and at times hurtful. We get through them because we’re working toward a common goal, but we often are left wondering “why do we have to talk about this stuff yet again?” Well, we’re going to continue having these conversations, but here’s why: 
1. We have to continue to grapple with the historical contexts that have created the environments in which our students and homeowners live. For many of us, we have intimate knowledge of these contexts, for others of us there is some distance. Nevertheless, we have to be willing to step into fray with those we serve. 
2. Racial reconciliation is the goal, but it can’t be a cheap reconciliation. It can’t be Kum Ba Yah singing with a blind eye toward reality. Reconciliation can’t and won’t happen in the absence of honest strides toward justice. Justice is all about making right what once was wrong and so we have to know what’s wrong. 
3. Finally, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We have to know some history so that we can break cycles of injustice and oppression in our neighborhoods and city. 
These things are hard work. You all know that. Sometimes we need safe entryways into these troubling conversations and a film like this provides us with just that. Ultimately, we pray, as Christ taught us, for God’s kingdom to come and on that day we will all sit around the table of fellowship as sisters and brothers. Until that day, may we have the courage to take a hard look at how we have treated our own and how we treat our own now and may we love all of our neighbors as we love ourselves. 

Rest awhile

Mark 6:30-32

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.  He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

I am terrible at resting. This is something that I discovered over the years. I have had a long struggle with insomnia and even when I do sleep, I tend to “crash” more than rest. I’ve always assumed that normal people know how to rest, yet I find more and more that there are people like me for whom rest does not come easily. 
The passage above is jammed into between two very fruitful events in the lives of Jesus and the disciples. The disciples have returned from going out to villages of Galilee proclaiming God’s reign to all who will listen. They have just come back to report to Jesus what they have done. After this passage, Jesus feeds a crowd of 5000, an event in which the disciples’ role should not be ignored. These are good days. Busy days. Many are served. The love of God is felt. 
The summer season is wrapping up. This has been a busy, fruitful time for all of us. While I am just stepping into my role, I have been busy concluding my ministries in Ohio. Oh, and making periodic trips to Pittsburgh to introduce myself to some of our key stakeholders. I’ve been around enough to know what you all have been doing. Kids have been loved, homes have been fixed, songs have been sung, buildings have been maintained, bills have been paid (some of them!), decisions have been made, phones have been answered… and sometimes emails even got sent! 
The fall will be more of the same. We will do all of the above, plus we will reintroduce ourselves to some with whom we have lost contact and remind them of the great things that God has done in us and through us. And we’ll introduce ourselves to new friends who may want to walk alongside of us. This is going to be an exciting season! 
But you have to rest. In between fruitful seasons of ministry, we must rest. Take time away, reconnect with loved ones and the One who loves us most of all. To not rest is the ultimate sign of arrogance. A refusal to rest betrays the fact that we believe that we can do this all on our own energy and not that which God provides. Certainly we’re not that foolish, right? 
Friends, thank you for the work that you have done this summer! God has used you in ways that you may never fully understand. And there is more of that to come in the months ahead. So please… rest well. Find ways to become re-energized for the work to which God has called you.