Goodness, gracious, what a week this has been! Generally speaking, clergy are sometimes asked to deliver a public prayer or something along that line. This week I had three different opportunities that came around serendipitously during the same week. Okay, part of it is that I’m the designated summer minister while the other three in our team are on vacation or study leave.
Cherry Steinwender, founding director of the Center for the Healing of Racism, asked me if our church would co-host a Community Dialogue on “The Legacy of Trayvon Martin: so that he may rest in peace.” That has been a plea by Trayvon’s parents, who have gone a long way toward advancing a national conversation about race in the United States. Their son was one more young person caught up in the fear and general unconsciousness about race. I feel sad about our vast separation along skin color lines, but grateful that we could encourage an honest conversation.
Participants packed the place. More and more chairs were brought in until there were anywhere from 75-90 people in close quarters. It was the most diverse group of people I have seen in one place with a common, interactive purpose.
We wanted to express feelings–confusion, anger, tears, and even some laughter. Ground rules were established from the start. I provided opening and closing words; others gave a short history of racism in the country and a little about what people were saying on opposite sides of Highway 288, one of Houston’s color lines. Cherry facilitated as individuals shared their feelings. We tried (not always successfully) to keep speakers to 2 minutes each.
The collective dialogue was honest, respectful, and heart-felt. I would say that every one of us heard something to make us uncomfortable, but we stayed with it for two hours. Afterward, people made personal connections and invited one another to coffee, to lunch, or to another event. Our next event at the church is a video and discussion about Michelle Alexander’s scholarly work on the New Jim Crow (the prison system as modern segregation).
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During the month of July, my sermon series has been on immigration, with the Big Idea = Welcome the Stranger. On the 21st I addressed the issue of minimum wage ($7.25 / hour OR the “tipped” wage of $2.13 / hour). The $2.13 hasn’t gone up for 22 years! The $7.25 was established 4 years ago. Anyway, I had read Saru Jayarama’s book Behind the Kitchen Door and decided it was sermon-worthy. Word got around to a former president of the church Board who has since moved to the west coast. Her daughter, who grew up in our church, is now an Ph.D. student and an intern with Restaurant Opportunities Center. ROC is establishing a presence in Houston and has joined with other organizations in campaigning to Raise the Wage.
So I met with ROC organizers and was invited to deliver the closing remarks at their March to Raise the Wage on Wednesday. We started at a downtown building where the cleaning staff gets low wages, marched past some of the others with our signs and chants and drums, and ended the rally with a few more testimonies from low wage workers and my remarks. (I’ll post them separately for anyone interested.)
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Today I delivered and invocation / grace before the Greater Heights Chamber of Commerce. Board members Jacob I was seated at a table for the Houston City Council, and met Council members Brown and Bradford, their Chiefs of Staff, a Constable, two photographers, and a few from the Power Women Group–they had 3 tables! There were women throughout the gathering of 200 folks, but the Power Women’s table sign caught my eye. My prayer was as inclusive as possible, knowing that it was a diverse group in attendance. I’ll post that later, too. Congressman Ted Poe was the keynote speaker.
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Now it’s back to sermonating / sermonizing / wrestling with words for Sunday. It’s the last in the immigration series this time around, with stories of people I know who have crossed international borders to make a new life. There are some truly remarkable stories. Natalie, Lin, Rob, Fibi, Maru, Farah, and so many more, I salute you!