Friday, July 15, 2016

State of the Streets

Thursday, July 14, we held an event in Westport, our second State of the Streets, where we invited members of our community to share their stories of struggle and hope. These were my opening remarks:

Welcome to State of the Streets!

So, why are we here? I’d say we are here for three reasons:

First, because we have been talking a lot about Jesus and the Jesus movement. We have been talking a lot of about how, two thousand years ago, Jesus began a movement among poor and homeless people. How he said he had come to bring liberation to the oppressed. How he gathered up the battered and burdened and he built a movement with them. How he told them they would save the world.

In the 21st century, we sometimes think of Jesus like the pictures we see of him on the internet. But the Jesus of the gospels was a man who grew up poor in Galilee, in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Who was friends with tax collectors and sex workers. Who was arrested himself, jailed, and eventually executed, giving his life, as he put it, “for his friends”. In other words, Jesus went through what many of us go through in poor communities.

Second, because movements begin with the telling of untold stories. Last time we held this event, people got up and told powerful stories. They talked about what it was like in this community to experience homelessness, to experience poverty, to struggle with the health care system, to be in jail, to be mistreated by police. Our stories are not usually heard. Too often, these stories are never told. It can be scary to speak up. But tonight, you are here to be heard.
All of you who are here to speak, all of you who have told your stories, all of you who struggle so hard to survive here in Grays Harbor, you are my heroes. I am honored to know you. We see your courage. We see your faith in the hard times. We see your longing for a better world. Thank you for telling your stories. Thank you for believing that another world is possible.

Third, because we want to talk from this place, at this time. We at Chaplains on the Harbor have been open here in Westport for a year and a half. We got permission to use this abandoned church building to open a community center and a worshiping center. In the last year and half, we have come together as a community. We have fed each other, and shared with each other, and learned to love each other. We haven’t done any of that perfectly. But we are learning. Here in Westport, we are taking a stand—in a little town in the middle of nowhere, we are trying to live the Jesus movement. 71% of our people are unemployed or out of the workforce—some of us retired, many of us just unable to find a job, many of us disabled. We are struggling to make ends meet, struggling to survive, and sometimes we are tired of it.

I want to say this and I want to say it loud and clear. What is happening in our communities is not ok. It is not ok for our disabled elders to sleep on the street. It is not ok that there are not enough jobs for our young people. It is not ok that people can barely survive and go hungry. It is not ok that there are immigration raids on our Latino brothers and sisters and families are split up. It is not ok that a young man I know was recently beat up by police and then, yesterday, when police came to arrest him, they threatened to sic dogs on him. This is not ok. It is not ok that we have the highest rate of juvenile detention for non-criminal offences in the country, here in GHC. It is not ok that we are living—in the richest country in the history of the world—we are living in dire poverty. This is a sin against God. It is not ok. 

And you—you who have come to speak, you who live with so much poverty and so much struggle—you can and you will save us. Your courage to tell your stories is a first step toward demanding real change. We really can dream of a better world. We really can come together—if we can find ways to come together as a community—to build a better Grays Harbor, a better nation, a better world. But we can only do it together. We can only do it if we listen to each other across all the lines that divide us—lines of race, lines of politics, lines of hatred, lines of language, lines of religion. Only if we learn to love each other—not in a sappy, emotional way, but in a way that protects each other and cares for each other.

I am so proud of all you. So proud to be your pastor. So proud to be part of this community. So proud to stand with you all today.

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