It is a rainy Monday morning and there is no better place to be than in Harrison Street coffee shop tucked away in the corner with a cup of earl grey tea. Well I think bed would be the best place but this is a close second. I’m not feeling my best- a mix of allergies, lack of sleep, and multiple shots from the doctor. Since I am here and I have internet though I feel that it is the perfect opportunity to catch up on blogging.
About two weeks ago now I went to a conference in Washington DC on poverty and the church’s responsibility for action. It was a great conference. It will be hard to sum it all up so I suppose I will stick to the basics of who, what, when, where; the highlights; and my response to all I learned. As I mentioned earlier my friend Misty Jo flew in to attend the conference as well, which was great. She came in Saturday night and we took a train up to DC the following morning. We stayed with Heather and Ryan a generous couple that gave us a home for free. My pastor knew Heather since she is a pastor at the church his son and daughter attend in DC and thankfully set up the visit for us. The conference pace was rather breakneck. We were up every morning by at least 6 and normally did not get home until between 11 and 12. In the midst of the exhaustion these were the highlights:
Highlight 1: The worship/church services. The conference began Sunday night with a church service at Shiloh Baptist in DC. The choir from Howard University sang for worship and it was incredible. I had not realized that people could make such beautiful music with just their voices. Among around 600 people, all from different Christian faith traditions, we worshipped God together. It was beautiful and gave me a better picture of what worship in heaven may look like. Every morning and evening we started off with worship and each night their was a church service. To hear so many pastors from diverse backgrounds preaching on God’s heart for justice was both challenging and encouraging. So often within the evangelical tradition poverty issues have been pushed aside as “leftist” or “liberal” when in fact they are one of the largest parts of our gospel. As one speaker pointed out, looking at Jesus’ life and teachings it is clear that any gospel preached that is not good news to the poor is in fact not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Highlight 2: New friends in Richmond. On Monday we separated by state and then by Congressional district to prepare for our lobbying day on Capital Hill. I ended up in a group of seven people from Richmond who I will always be thankful to have met. There were three pastors- two men, one woman. Another lady who works for a church and then Jeanine and Chris who head up the band Offering here in Richmond. Our group had dinner that night and then lunch the following day. Together we had some amazing conversations, prayer, and laughs. I just can’t say enough about how great these people were. Their hearts for the issues of poverty were diverse and deep. I have a lot to learn from them and I look forward to staying in touch with them.
Highlight 3: More than half of the attendees at the conference were over forty. It was humbling to see and meet people that have been living the call to do justice for longer than I have been alive. They both inspired me and gave me hope. Many of them have been around longer than Jerry Falwell and reminded me that the true gospel has always been around. I talked to one retired couple where this conference was their “vacation” for the year- awesome. It was the perfect merge of old and young. Wisdom and idealism. Dreams and testimony.
Highlight 4: Being surrounded by Christians living out and preaching Micah 6:8. Having the reminder that Christians were always called to live counter to the culture. That no matter how often I get labelled a “hippie” or “liberal” by people who do not fully understand me it is okay. Having the reminder that being a Christian who does not vote Republican or vote at all is more than okay. Everywhere I was there were people there who all had incredible testimonies of serving Jesus and the people he loves. It was great to get a larger picture of the kingdom of God at work.
Highlight 5: I attended a break out session on race and poverty. The session was so good and informative. A local seminary professor spoke, along with two women from the Children’s Defense Fund and World Vision’s domestic policy program. I definitely feel that God began to birth some new passions and dreams in my heart in that session. I have in recent years become passionate about issues of racism and reconciliation but God put more questions regarding the topic on my heart during this session…and while my question did not get answered by the panelists I found out the next day that my field placement would be working with the population I was wanting to know more about. God tends to blow my mind with stuff like that. The session also broke my heart though in how it revealed the many ways racism is still alive in our world and how it is destroying families and communities. We studied the cradle to prison pipeline, which is sum examines how African American boys born after 2001 have a one in three chance of going to prison in their lifetime. The chance is also high for Latino boys. Ohhh it both breaks my heart and pisses me off. The church has got to do something about this.
Highlight 6: I was able to share in the conference with three of my pastors. It always encourages me to see the hearts of my pastors for these issues. It was a blessing to have them there because I wanted so badly for others from my church to come and experience it as well so that all of us could bring the word of God back. Personally it was awesome for me because I got to talk and share with them about what I was learning and hear their feedback. I respect these guys and value their feedback and convictions on these issues. I believe that life and its lessons are best learned in community and I was so thankful to have that there.
So this has gotten a little long so I think I’ll write my responses later. They mostly center around lifestyle changes so perhaps I will share as Phil and I walk through these changes together.
I pray you have a blessed day. I hope that we can all stop and reflect on the fact that all the tools to defeat poverty are in our hands. We have the money…but do we have the will? Do we have enough of the Spirit in us to walk in obedience to the world God is calling us to proclaim the good news to? I pray we can find the will and be led by the Spirit together.