Spiritual Sounding Board – This is our place to gather and share in an open format. Feel free to join in the discussion.
As many of you know, I’ve gone back to school and am currently taking classes over the summer. In my sociology class, we are reading Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Kozol. Mr. Kozol brings us right into the midst of the Bronx where we find prostitution, corrupt social services, poverty, AIDS, homelessness, people with drug addictions, rat-infested housing, etc. Just pick the most deplorable living conditions, and that is what this author describes.
For the past several years, my mind has been dissecting patterns and social systems as we explore abuse in church and church groups and I wanted to share this with you on Sunday – a day in which some of you (including me) might have some difficulty in going to traditional church. This is the day at SSB where we have open discussion: for encouragement, to ask for prayer, to share what’s on our hearts.
So, I thought I’d share a glimpse of this book which I have found to be meaningful. It comes from the third chapter in which the author, Mr. Kozol, is speaking with the pastor from Bright Temple AME, Reverend Gregory Groover. Reverend Groover lives in the heart of some of the most horrific living conditions in the United States and discusses his surroundings: prostitutes sometimes sleep in dumpsters to keep warm, a nearby hospital recently closed down leaving 10,000 people without even one private doctor, and he casually discusses a family in which the parents were murdered. He wonders out loud what message he can give to the three mourning children.
Groover also talks about how his church feeds the hungry three times every week, some 600 meals:
They do not stand on line. They sit down on our dining room. We serve them as our guests.
What a beautiful picture of respect and kindness. He and the church give the poor their dignity back by their unselfish deeds.
Kobol questions Reverend Groover, “I ask him how he understands his mission as a pastor in this neighborhood.”
We are not literal fundamentalists here at Bright Temple,” he replies. “We see God as a liberating force who calls us to deliver people from oppression. The apparent consensus of the powerful is that the ghetto is to be preserved as a perpetual catch-basin for the poor. It’s not about annihilating segregation or even about a transformation of the ghetto, but setting up ‘programs’ to teach people to ‘adjust’ to it, to show ‘functional’ adaptation to an evil institution. That is pretty much the good behavior that the segregator asks for in the segregated.
As a religious man, I see it as my obligation to speak out against this, not to bend the poor to be accommodated to injustice but to empower them to fight it and to try to tear it down. We are not about amelioration here. As a church, we speak prophetically. We speak not of ‘misfortune’ but ‘injustice.’ We also look at the unjust.
Later, Reverend Groover asks Kobol if he knows the hymn, Amazing Grace, and he responds that he does. Groover indicates that everyone, rich and poor, knows the first three verses of the song well, but about the fourth verse, he says: “This verse belongs to us:”
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
Photo credit: Hannah Smith