Friday, August 17, 2012

in case you haven't heard, we're winning.

a sneak preview of the "ask the Rev" section in the upcoming Bridgeport International. i'm sure it will be nicely edited by then :)

Dear Rev. Okay, man, I get that you guys in the Bridgeport Alliance group thawed it was a good idea to shut dawn the coal plants near by here. And you got it done. Good job I guess. But now you are fighting to get a bus on 31st Street? Who cares about a bus? Aren't their bigger battles and more important issues to fight for like real injustices? Do you real think our politicians are really going to listen to you? Aren't you wasting your time? Thank you.

Dear Writer,

Jesus' message in the Gospels, from the beginning, was a message about what he called the Kingdom of God—a kingdom that, he prayed, would be established “on earth as it is in heaven” as many Christians today also pray when they recite the Lord's Prayer.

As he preached about the Kingdom of God, Jesus called his would-be followers to its values. It is a Kingdom where, he said, the last shall be first, the lowly will be lifted up, and where the poor, the hungry, the marginalized and the oppressed will no longer suffer from poverty and oppression, but rather will be blessed. Blessed because injustice will be gone. Not because suffering is good. It's not.

Jesus called the crowds in the meanwhile to repent. And despite what they taught you in CCD, repentance isn't mainly about guilt-ridden apologies for thinking lustful thoughts every now and again. Or even often. [Those happen. No biggy. Deal with them in a healthy way and we'll all be alright.]

Rather, the Greek word we often awkwardly translate from the Gospels as “repent,” metanoia, is better translated as “be radically re-centered,” “be transformed,” “be reformed.” This was a call to the crowds. The masses. The folks who, in Jesus' time, were the 90 per-cent of the population who owned about 10 per-cent of the land.

Things haven't changed all that much.

It would be easy for me, dear Writer, as a person with pretty strong convictions, to devolve into a street-preacher screaming at the shoppers on Michigan Avenue about the danger of their consumerism, or a hobby-activist, hopping to every demonstration I hear of so as to put my values on display. Or just to preach at a church and never leave the church property. But Jesus didn't call his followers to scream. Or to just preach. He called them to change—individually and collectively. And politically.

My church, First Trinity Lutheran in Bridgeport strives toward those values.

And we fail all the time.

But we do have a goal of being a sanctuary, a safe place for folks who are often not safe, and a home, a place of belonging in a world full of xenophobia and alienation. It is my belief that as we seek to create that sanctuary and home inside our church walls, that it is also the work of faithful folks to work to transform our neighborhoods and the greater world into a safer, more welcoming place. Otherwise we are not quite practicing what we preach.

I haven't seen neighborhoods or the world change simply by preaching about love. Or by screaming on street corners. Or by uncentered demonstrations. I wish it was that easy.

But one way to have a real, concrete, direct impact in our attempts to exalt the humbled and humble the exalted, is through community organizing. Community organizing works. I know. I've seen it do so.

Dear writer, as you said, our first campaign as Bridgeport Alliance was working with the Chicago Clean Power Coalition to stop the pollution that was oppressing our health. We won that one. And we are still benefiting from that victory.

Our current campaign is a push to get the 31st Street bus reinstated, from Little Village, all the way through to the lakefront.

While, as I assume you are not a CTA frequenter, and so a bus may not seem like a big deal, or a “real” justice issue, the reality is that the implementation of this line would have a positive and liberative impact not only on the lives of members of the Little Village, McKinley Park, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, and Chinatown communities, but it would also help schools, churches, community centers, VFW Posts, and countless other institutions along the full route, including about 300 licensed businesses, those wishing to access Mercy Hospital and the VA who currently can not, and seniors living in food deserts in need of getting to a good grocery store. My own church and its clothing pantry patrons would benefit from this route, and so would Benton House and their food pantry patrons (both here in Bridgeport). I'd invite you to a Bridgeport Alliance meeting if you'd like to meet a group of folks who could go on for hours about the benefits of this proposed route. As its effects would be liberative, this is most certainly a justice issue.

Not only is this route a good idea and a justice issue that would liberate the disabled, vets, and seniors (among others), dear Writer, it is also winnable. Already, through grassroots organizing, we have gotten written and verbal support from Our commissioner John Daley, Senator Tony Munoz, Senator Mattie Hunter, Alderman Pat Dowell, Alderman George Cardenas, Alderman Ricardo Munoz, State Rep Esther Golar and Senator Martin Sandoval. AND our own 11th Ward Alderman, James Balcer, showed up to the last CTA Board Meeting and testified with Bridgeport Alliance and about 100 other residents from the 31st Street communities, that we need the full 31st Street Bus Route.

The day after the meeting, the president of the CTA, Forrest Claypool, called us up and said he wanted to have a meeting with Bridgeport Alliance. It's this week. In Bridgeport. At First Trinity. We'll let you know how that meeting goes.

So to answer your questions: thousands of concerned citizens care about this bus. It is a real justice issue. There are always “bigger” battles, but we pick winnable battles not big ones (this way we stay alive). And, lastly, not only are our politicians listening to us, but they are responding and showing up to our meetings.

Sometimes skepticism is really veiled apathy. I'd encourage you to find some passion, dear Writer.

Our call in faith is to change ourselves and change the world.

And change doesn't just happen. It's organized.

Feel free to contact me if you'd like to join us.

God's Peace, Love and Liberation,

Rev. Tom Gaulke
Pastor, First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, Bridgeport
Chair, Bridgeport Alliance  

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