…Not Expecting Much

I went this year thinking it would be my last. I didn’t expect much from the weekend. I went to put closure on something into which for ten years I had invested myself. It had felt as though interest at University Church had waned; it was time for me to find something more local to invest myself; and it was also time for University Church to find a more “local” investment. I had organized enough adult classes, written enough bulletin announcements, and gotten up one-too-many times in Sunday services, explaining why we were once again going all the way to Georgia to the annual memorial service for those killed in Latin America by former students of the School of the Americas.

Wow…… my weekend was a surprise!

Through Pat Wilcoxen’s relationships at the Covenantal Community, members of that community, black and white, who knew the Vicente family, decided to go to Georgia. Like all who go, they went for a variety of reasons. Their common denominator was that they knew Virgilio Vicente, knew his story of familial loss, and wanted to honor him and his family members who had died in the Saq Ja massacre carried out by former students of the School of the Americas in Columbus, Ga.

One of these folks from the Covenantal Community, Bonnie Harrison, is faculty at Kennedy King College, where she is sponsor of the school’s Social Justice Committee. She invited members of that student group to travel with us. Several did. These young adults are the reason my trip did not go as expected.

The students who traveled with our group brought another part of Chicago’s South Side to Georgia — the police behavior — nothing new.  “We experience that in our neighborhoods.” The disregard of the local judge to who was innocent and who was not — “we expect that.”

The SOA Watch movement is made of mostly white folks. I expected the students of color traveling with us to “not connect” and to ask, “how is this related to my life in Woodlawn, or Englewood?” I didn’t expect much.

The opposite happened! They heard the stories of Latin America and saw themselves in them. They watched  “the movement” at work and seemed re-energized in their own work.

Returning to our motel from the jail house at 2 AM on the Monday of that November weekend, I came across a group of young adults who had traveled with our group, including the students from Kennedy King. They were hanging out, offered me a glass of wine, and I stayed to chat and ask my questions.

What would they be talking about at 2 AM? It was amazing: 1) how to bring home the energy they had just experienced to their campuses and communities,  2) how to use hip-hop to cross barriers and create movement for justice in Chicago, and  3) how to bring back to the SOA Watch a bigger group in November 2011!

I went not expecting much, one last go-around, but returned home re-awakened to the way in which this movement has evolved. It connects to the global with the local and vice versa. It helps me do, as Thich Nhat Hanh has suggested, “awaken from our illusions of separateness.”

Charlie Havens
Member of the Social Justice Committee

Lent 2011: Contemporary Stations of the Cross

Formalized in the 15th century as a Christian spiritual devotion or practice, the roots and antecedents of the “stations of the cross” go back to the earliest Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem in the 5th century. Each of the 14 stations focuses on an event — some biblically based and others more legendary — of Jesus’ final days: from false arrest to “trial” in a kangaroo kourt to “intense interrogation” to execution — Jesus’ “passion” or suffering. While almost all Catholic churches have some version of these 14 stations along the walls of the sanctuary, other denominations — such as the Episcopalians (Anglicans) and Lutherans — occasionally participate in this form of Christian spirituality, especially during Lent.

This Lenten season various ministries of University Church will make contemporary “stations of the cross,” current renderings of the via dolorosa or “sorrowful way” of not only Christ Jesus but also of the various peoples we continue to “crucify” in our world, if not directly then indirectly through our policies of action and inaction. Each Sunday of Lent new “stations of the cross” will appear in the chancel area. Some will be accompanied by that Sunday’s Affirmation of Faith; others will not. Please feel free and take prayerful time before and after worship service to go up to the chancel, be confronted by the contemporary “crucified,” and for six weeks to travel the “sorrowful way” and our congregation’s faithful responses to it.

Sackcloth & Ashes (description of Lenten banners)

Sackcloth & Ashes (description of Lenten banners)

Throughout the Bible — such as with Job who wonders why bad things happen to good people, and with Jonah who wonders why good things happen to bad people — the use of ashes and the donning of sackcloth is seen as signs of one’s repentance. The symbolic use of ashes in this sense continues today as many Christians, many of us, had ashes imposed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross during Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

As a Christian community we also put on our sackcloth in the form of the three Lenten banners that hang by the western windows. Each sackcloth banner announces a Lenten theme, moving us from “sin” through “reflection” to “repentance,” or as the theologians of the 1985 South Africa “Kairos Document” teaches us: see-judge-act.

Many of the words were painted on these banners by the youth and young adults in this congregation, but, like the empty niches above waiting for your saints, there is room left on these three banners for you to mentally inscribe your sins and the sins that confront you, how you reflect on them, and how you engage in acts of repentance for them.

In this way, through these three Lenten banners, we communally wear our sackcloth in line with our biblical ancestors before God.