Only a homeless Jesus can change us

The Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue that was installed in front of his church, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidson, N.C.

By Alan Bean

Was Jesus homeless?  Yes, he was.  In Matthew 8 we read:  “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  

And then there is that startling passage in Matthew 25: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Jesus of Nazareth was an itinerant preacher, walking the dusty roads of Palestine with an odd assortment of men and women.  He never worried where his next meal was coming from, partly because his friends provided food and drink for the journey, and partly because he learned how to live with hunger.

So it is entirely appropriate that St. Alban’s Episcopal Church should depict Jesus as a homeless man wrapped in a blanket in a piece of public art.  And it is also appropriate that a woman driving by should pick up her cell phone and call the police.  Jesus didn’t go to the cross for identifying with the poor . . . but it was certainly part of the mix.  Had he identified with the wealthy, he would have avoided the cross and his message would have been the mirror image of what we read in the Gospels.

In his book, Doing Justice, Congregations and Community Organizing, Dennis Jacobsen talks about what happens when white and black professionals abandon inner city communities by incorporating separate municipalities.  When that happens, tax money flows to affluent neighborhoods (like the real estate surrounding St. Alban’s Episcopal Church) while inner city communities wither and die.  It doesn’t have to be that way, Jacobsen says:

David Rusk argues for a policy of regionalization of planning, taxing, and spending.  He points to Indianapolis as a positive example of regionalization.  when now Senator Richard Lugar was mayor of Indianapolis, he finessed a state legislative action that made the boundaries of Indianapolis and its surrounding county congruent, creating a ‘uni-government’.  The effects have been dramatic.

The Christian gospel doesn’t damn the wealthy (although it comes damn close); the gospel is a call to repentance and a call to take responsibility for the men and women who sleep on park benches and undergo similar forms of humiliation. Continue reading

The Man in Orange meets the Grey Lady

By Alan Bean

Forty days ago, I sat down in Kent McKeever’s office in Waco.  It was the first day of a Lenten fast in which the lawyer-pastor would give up free world respectability by wearing the orange jumpsuit of the incarcerated.  He never dreamed that his story would end up in the New York Times, but so it has.

Kent wanted to use his blog to draw attention to mass incarceration and what the experts call “felon disenfranchisement”.  The normal course would have been to rail against the powers and principalities of this evil age.  That would have garnered a few hundred hits, a few thousand at best, and most of the readers would be in full agreement with his perspective.

But following in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, Kent decided to dramatize his message, even if that cost him the anonymity and social comfort that comes with being a white male in a town owned and operated by white males.

In today’s blog post, Kent voices his amazement at the attention his symbolic gesture has received.  He shares three experiences from Good Friday including this:

My parents are in town for the weekend so we went to a local restaurant for some takeout.  As we waited for our food, a couple of the staff mentioned that they had been reading about me.  I gave them my usual smile and thanks, and kept sipping my water.  And then Juan came up to our table where we waited.  He said he heard what I was doing and wanted to shake my hand.  He knew what I was wearing.  He had been there.  He thanked me.  I asked how long he had been out.  Two years.  And he had been blessed with a job at this restaurant since he got out.  Things were going pretty well for him, praise God.  But I could still see a remnant of that shame that we unnecessarily and without mercy place on people like Juan.  We shook hands again, he thanked me, I told him it was a blessing for me, and he concluded, “We’re not all bad people.” 

Amen, Juan.  Amen.  And that’s 40 Days in Orange.

 

An Orange Jumpsuit for Lent

APRIL 18, 2014

Kent McKeever has been summoned for jury duty twice. The second time was on March 17, more than a week into Lent, so he had no choice but to wear his orange prison jumpsuit. As he entered the McLennan County courthouse in Waco, Tex., two sheriff’s officers stopped him.

“The first one just kind of looks at me. He asks, ‘Where’d you get that?’ ”

“I said, ‘At the jail supply company.’ ”

“ ‘They sold it to you?’ ”

“ ‘I told them it was for personal use.’ And he was, like, ‘Hmm.’ ”

Mr. McKeever, a lawyer and part-time youth minister at Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, had prepared for worse when he committed to wearing the jumpsuit for Lent. After years of providing both spiritual and legal assistance to the poor and formerly incarcerated, it was time to do something more visible to call attention to the nation’s prison crisis, and to the obstacles inmates face on returning to society. But 40 days is a long time to dress like a convict, especially in Texas.

Kent McKeever, a lawyer and part-time youth minister, is dressing like a convict for 40 days.CreditDylan Hollingsworth for The New York Times

Kent McKeever, a lawyer and part-time youth minister, is dressing like a convict for 40 days.CreditDylan Hollingsworth for The New York Times

“A couple different people said, ‘I hope you don’t get shot!’ ” Mr. McKeever recalled on Wednesday, Day 37, speaking by phone from his primary job, as the director at Mission Waco Legal Services, where he helps clients navigate the legal barriers they face at every turn. “I didn’t know what people’s reactions would be. But I knew that I personally needed to experience what it feels like to be rejected and have stigma attached to you. As a white professional male, I’ve never had that experience before.” Continue reading

Charles Kiker: Jew Killer?

By Charles Kiker

Tragic events unfolded in Overland Park, Kansas on Palm Sunday. A shooter took aim at innocent bystanders at two Jewish centers: a community center and an assisted living center. Three people were killed. A suspect has been arrested.

But there’s an ironic twist to what happened Palm Sunday. The shooter apparently had decided to vent his hatred against Jews. So he began his killing spree. One Jew down; two more Jews down.

But wait, it turns out he killed three Christians! A Roman Catholic and two Methodists.

Hate turned loose is hate turned loose, indiscriminate hatred. Jesus says when we hate someone in our hearts, our hearts have become murderous. Murderous hearts are indiscriminately destructive. Hatred unleashed recognizes no boundaries.

Daphne Holmes: Prison Reform holds Key to a More Peaceful Society

Guest Post by Daphne Holmes

While some believe inmates languish in luxurious settings, with too many creature comforts, prison reformers paint a much bleaker picture of the conditions plaguing inmates in federal and state corrections facilities. Penalties like solitary confinement, for example, are seen as inhumane and ill-suited for rehabilitating criminals.

Wherever you stand on prison reform, it is hard to deny a link between the way we function as a society on the outside, and the way we mete out punishment for those serving time on the inside.  Compassion and empathy are central to human interactions outside prison walls, so they should also play roles in the way inmates are rehabilitated. Until we establish effective programs to break the cycles of crime and recidivism, natural order will continue to be elusive on the streets.  Viewed in this light, prison reform holds real potential for supporting a more peaceful society.

Balance is Essential to effective Corrections Policy

Corrections systems are tasked with protecting law-abiding citizens from harm, by incarcerating offenders.  But the system is also responsible to maintain a balancing act between punishment and rehabilitation, which are not always administered equitably.  The best outcomes are seen when prisoners have opportunities to better themselves, so that positive contributions to society become distinct possibilities for those committed to legitimacy once they are released. Continue reading

It’s time to end homelessness

By Alan Bean

Nobody is a fan of homelessness, but we’ve learned to live with it.  We are most adept at living with it.

I will never forget my first encounter with homelessness.  I was visiting Washington DC with my wife and three children in the late 1980s.  We were walking through a park en route to the Mall and the kids were amusing themselves with a game of hide and seek.  As my daughter Lydia searched for her brother Adam, she happened upon a large square piece of opaque plastic lying on the grass.  Thinking her brother might hiding under there, she lifted up the plastic sheet and discovered an old man fast asleep.  He had obviously spent the night sleeping in the park.

I had spent most of the early 1980s in Canada or in isolated places like Glenrock, Wyoming, so I had no idea what was going on.  I rememb.ered speaking to a weeping nun in Louisville Kentucky when I worked as a social worker at a mental hospital.  She told me that federal funding for mental health services was being cut back and soon there would be nowhere for people to go but to the streets.  The woman was inconsolable with grief.  This was in 1980, before Ronald Reagan had worked his magic on the safety net.

As I looked down at the sleeping old man under the plastic in a Washington park, I realized what the sister was talking about.  Frankly, I was horrified.  I was also embarrassed to be living in a country that tolerated such horrors.

But I got used to it. Continue reading

The Beast and the Border

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The Beast

By Alan Bean

Mike Seifert works with poor immigrant families, documented and otherwise, in the Rio Grande Valley.  The story he tells below hasn’t received a lot of attention in the mainstream media, fact that is significant in itself.  A border patrol agent kidnapped, raped and attempted to kill three Honduran women who were attempting to surrender.  This happened in Seifert’s back yard.

No one is saying that the agent responsible for this outrage is typical of the men and women we employ to guard the border.  But when you hire vast numbers of people in a hurry you don’t get the brightest and the best.  When government officials keep telling you to hire 100 more agents, you do the best you can, but you can’t be choosy.  Hence, what happened to these Honduran women is a direct consequence of a failed immigration policy.

Please read Father Seifert’s entire post.

The Beast

By Mike Seifert

Several times a day, a train rumbles through our neighborhood. Johnny Cash may sing wistfully about the lonesome locomotive’s whistle, but there is nothing romantic about this train’s horn. The blasts come every few seconds as the long line of boxcars pass churches, parks and schools. The constant racket of the rails is a reminder of how much international commerce flows through Brownsville.

This is the same train that immigrants from Central America and southern Mexico take to get to the US border. The migrants call the train “La Bestia” (the Beast), no doubt for the horrific accidents and deaths that often happen to those who choose to ride the rails.  People fall from the train; people are thrown from the train. The amputations and the deaths are well-documented, and the rail line offers a daily chronicle of nightmares. A Beast indeed.

Once, years ago, while visiting Honduras, I rode The Beast myself. I had clambered up on the roof for the absolutely inexcusable reason of wanting to have the experience.  It was a terrifying few moments, as there was not much in the way of handholds. After a very short while, I crawled down the side of the car and back inside. I was shaking so badly that I couldn’t stand up. Continue reading

This brand of conservatism might win my vote

By Alan Bean

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Andrew Bacevich and blurry colleagues

Andrew Bacevich could easily be dismissed as a liberal.  He is a political scientist who teaches at Boston University, and  he has been a persistent and outspoken critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He thinks abortion and gay marriage are part of the American landscape and should be accepted as such.  He isn’t in favor of gutting the American welfare system.

But Bacevich is a conservative and a Republican, just not the kind whose star is currently in the ascendancy.  That is, he is a conservative and he is a Republican; but he’s not what is commonly understood as a conservative Republican.

Bacevich is a fiscal conservative.  He believes America needs to get its fiscal house in order–but he thinks the cuts should come from our bloated military and our alphabet soup of national security agencies, not from programs that help the poor.

Bacevich is also a social conservative.  A devout Roman Catholicm he believes the family is the primary building block of American society, and he thinks the family is in serious trouble.  In his view, the problem isn’t that gays are getting married; it’s that straights aren’t staying married.  But we won’t solve the problem by preaching personal responsibility; we’ve got to create jobs that pay a living wage.

Bacevich, in other words, wouldn’t feel comfortable among most Republicans I know or among most Democrats; he represents the kind of third-way thinking that I have long advocated. Continue reading

“We’re not about Hispanic history” . . . or maybe we are

By Alan Bean

Houston Independent School District just voted in favor of teaching Mexican-American Studies in district schools.  The vote was unanimous.  As the article below indicates, HISD intends to petition the Texas State Board of Education to make Mexican-American studies part of the statewide curriculum.

This suggestion will be strenuously opposed since it flies in the face of recent SBOE precedent.  Pat Hardy, a state board member representing parts of Tarrant and Parker Counties, summed up the prevailing attitude when she said,

“We’re not about Hispanic history; we’re about American history,” Hardy said. “We’re not about taking each little group out and saying, ‘You’re the majority, so we’re going to teach your history.’ We’re Americans, United States people.”

 

Hardy’s “We’re Americans” appeal may reflect the fact that she is facing a strong challenge from a Tea Party candidate, but this perspective has controlled the ideological playing field in the Lone Star State for decades.   Continue reading

Our silence is driving Millennials out of the Church

By Alan Bean

David Gushee, a theologian and ethicist who teaches at the McAfee School of Theology, struck a nerve when he suggested that moderate Baptists with roots in the Southern Baptist Convention could benefit from a statement of faith.

Bill Leonard, my esteemed church history professor, asks which of the many Baptist statements of faith we would use.

Others worry that creeds have traditionally been used to patrol the borders of acceptable belief, drawing a line between us and them.

Finally, with all the theological diversity evident within moderate (and immoderate) Baptist life, how could we agree on language that was acceptable to everybody.  What’s the old joke: when you have four Baptists you have five opinions. Continue reading