After the hope is gone…

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode? – “Harlem” by Langston Hughes
In “Harlem,” Langston Hughes compares deferred dreams to dried-up raisins, festered sores, and rotten meat. Realizing a dream can liberate a dreamer, but a deferred dream is emotionally and materially exhausting. Investing in a dream is risky.
During his 2008 candidacy, then-Presidential Candidate Barack Obama convinced many to invest in social dreaming and social hope. Candidate Obama offered visions of change and persons throughout the nation affirmed with Candidate Obama, “Yes, we can!” In 2008, for many, hope for the U.S. American condition was, at best, in critical condition. Yet, Candidate Obama inspired, 
…what began as a whisper has now swelled to a chorus that cannot be ignored; that will not be deterred; that will ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, and make this time different than all the rest – Yes. We. Can.
Candidate Obama spoke healing for the nation and restoration for the world. Many heard and responded by voice and vote, “Yes, we can!”
Upon the election of President Obama, the victory chant for many was “Yes, we did,” suggesting that, for many of the chanters, the hope that the Obama campaign envisioned had been realized. But after the election and inauguration, many returned to jobless, homeless, and food-less conditions. For many, the hope that was realized was largely symbolic.
Nearly eight years have passed since President Barack Obama assumed office. The Obama administration has had significant material successes. U.S. America is far better off because of his presidency. Yet, despite President Obama’s brilliance and valiant efforts, many of the pre-inauguration conditions persist, or are even worse, for some African American communities. President Obama’s soon-expected departure suggests that some African American communities are now post-hope, or at least beyond the hope that was cast in the 2008 Obama campaign. If President Obama did not make America great for African American communities, who will? Will Secretary Clinton? Will Mr. Trump. What is left after hope?
…Hope. As we approach 2017, we may have to re-visit 2008 to re-situate social hope. Candidate Obama did not expect to change conditions or structures alone as he invoked June Jordan’s “Poem for South African Women.” Candidate Obama recited, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” As the Obama Presidency draws to a close, the “we” remains. Each hope-filled person has a personal responsibility towards social hope and social change. Can the president affect structural change alone? Can any one person? Not likely. Can we? Yes, we can. We must still hope and engage in the messy struggle towards social betterment. Still – Yes, we

Racial Reconciliation in the United Methodist Church

Why should White Christians want to reconcile with Black Christians?  Why should Black Christians want to reconcile with White Christians?  Comprehensive theological reflection related to church unity by using the Wesleyan quadrilateral of reason, experience, tradition, and Scripture reveals significant ambiguities.  Pragmatically, congregations segregated based on race is reasonable from a missiological perspective.  Persons connect with those with whom they have affinity.  Also, racially segregated congregations provide dwelling spaces that shelter and affirm African Americans in spite of the larger American white racial frame. 

The American experience and the Methodist experience in the U.S. contributed and continue to contribute to Black and White Methodists being untied from one another.  However, the more extended Christian experience is much more united than the Methodist experience in America.  Further, the United Methodist Church is a reasonable site from where racial social transformation can occur, given its mandate, Scriptural heritage, written tradition, social responsibility, spiritual capacity, and organizational structure.
[F. Douglas] Powe (2009) discerns, “Interestingly, some individuals (usually within the UMC) want to knock the fence down immediately without addressing the just-us issues [issues particular to race communities] between these communities” (p. xiv).  Doing either Black liberation and reconciliation theology or Wesleyan theology responsibly does not allow for that option.  Both theologies share a concern for social justice.  The general rules of Wesleyan theology demand a response to the dominant U.S. white racial frame, which threatens the agency, autonomy, and unrestrictive sanctuary that Black liberation and reconciliation theology demands for all who share hearts, hands, space, time, language, financial resources, personnel, stories, traditions, authority, interpretive frameworks, and experiences.  The repentance and forgiveness required by Black liberation and reconciliation theology can only be mediated by the grace of God that Wesleyan theology emphasizes.  The work of untying and uniting is more involved than just integrating or de-segregating space.  Instead of simplistic, superficial, one-dimensional solutions, Black liberation and reconciliation theology and Wesleyan theology call for engagement with critical consciousness and inviting others into meaningful and substantive dialogue.  Irreconciliation from an un-critical and non-conscious perspective is indeed insurmountable. 
However, if The United Methodist Church awakens and comprehensively addresses the contradictions that accompany
irreconciliation being a part of the Christian experience, The United Methodist Church has the mandate, the heritage, the precedence, and the spiritual capacity to intervene against social inertia and towards a more racially just United Methodist Church and society.




“Pass the Peace Feasts” Initiative…

Jesus declared that one of the greatest commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). A certain lawyer pushed Jesus to expound on the commandment, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). His question seems to ask: “Who do I have to love as myself?” and “Who is not my neighbor?” and “Who do I not have to love as myself?” In the response that follows, Jesus narrates that neighborliness is measured by those who pass by and show mercy, regardless of difference in hereditary, religious, geographical, or cultural background. Given the racial and police/citizenry tension in the U.S., we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

The social tension in the U.S. demands a response from the faith community. Soon after the report of the Alton Sterling incident, Rashonda Burkett, a young adult member of Saint Mark’s posted on our Facebook page, ” So my spirit is heavy and I believe that God is calling us to action in this time. So my question is what’s next? Seriously? A prayer vigil? A community meeting with our police? Something… Because I am in tears as I write this and I feel the spirit of God convicting me that I am part of the problem and So I am listening because I also want to help with solutions. Who’s in??”

We have prayed and marched. As we continue praying and marching, there are other substantive responses that the faith community could and should offer. No one congregation/ denomination can fix it all, but each can all contribute something.

One of the responses that the faith community can offer is to provide leadership and resources to increase positive community engagement and build community among youths/young adults, police, and differing ethnic groups within the faith community. Along with community forums and town hall meetings, we can provide opportunities for more dialogic and intimate conversations in smaller groups. Through the “Pass the Peace Feasts” movement, members of the faith community can come together to sponsor small group community meals and conversations to address racial and police/community tension directly and with compassion. The dominant ethos of the conversations is for each person to embrace about all others at the table that “YOU Matter To ME.”

Saint Mark’s UMC has begun work with Myer’s Park UMC and other civic representatives. We will begin the conversations in September and post progress as we pass peace to one another. I would love to provide you with more detailed descriptions of the process and progress, particularly if your response to Rashonda is “I’m in.” If you’re in, together let’s let our neighbors from differing race, ethnic, economic, professional, and other backgrounds know, “YOU matter to Me.”

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Otto D. Harris, Pastor