Our Children Need Heroes

…remarks from last Sunday as we concluded our Summer Enrichment Camp…

Today is bittersweet. We concluded our Summer enrichment camp today. And while it remains to be seen what harvest will appear, I am stubbornly hopeful that the All-wise, Eternal, Benevolent, and Merciful Creator will reward the faithfulness of those who lovingly served this Summer.

This is hard work, and you are heroes – champions for our children.

As the camp concludes, I’m more aware now than ever of the tremendous need for programs like the Springboard. The dearth of positive, safe, healthy, and affirming spaces for our beautiful brown babies, leaves me feeling how the Israelites must have felt when they were being harassed by the Philistines and their champion, Goliath.

Our children need heroes.

Our children need champions. Not the sort that run fast, or dunk basketballs – these are fine. But our children need some everyday heroes. Moms and Dads that look into their eyes and remind them that there is goodness and greatness in them – that they are beautiful, smart, and strong! Grandmothers and Grandfathers that will cradle their handsome faces and remind them of their royalty – remind them of where they come from and who they are. Teachers that recognize their potential even when is not yet refined.

Our children need heroes.

Our children need to hear words of chastening but even more than that – they need words that affirm, encourage, and inspire them – our children need the words that will make them fly – words that will make their spirits soar! Our children need an investment of our time, soul, and strength – not just our money! Our children need to be urged to crave knowledge and not just entertainment – to strive to be substantial and not just stylish. Our children need heroes. Our children need to be shown that love is not weak or lame but that it is strong and resilient. Our children need to be taught to love and value themselves so that they can love one another.

Our children need heroes.

Our children need to be taught the mantra of our Ancestors- I am because we are, and because we are, therefore, I am!

Our children need to be taught to cherish their brown bodies, the coils in their hair, the broadness of their noses, and the thickness of their lips! Our children need to be taught that their almond, chocolate, mocha, coffee, midnight, brown, beige, caramel, sun-kissed skins are a blessing and not a curse. The melange of hues, the mystery of our melanin is too a mirror of majesty – a reflection of divinity!

Our children need heroes!

And though it appears that we, like David, are overmatched, ill-equipped, and underprepared- we will persist. With only a sling and a few small stones, we confront the giants of racism and supremacy – and the poverty, violence, self-hatred, and hopelessness that ensues.  We confront the dark towers of misogyny, sexism, and xenophobia that casts shade on the souls for our little ones. We confess our fears, but we will not be paralyzed by them. Our size will not determine our significance. We admit our anxieties, but we will never abandon this great work. We may acknowledge the strength of the adversary, but we will always affirm the power of our Creator!

Our resources, sparse as the may be, are more than enough for the God who specializes in making something- that is all things- out of nothingness

Use Your Turn-Signal!

I’ve been in Alabama for twenty years now and perhaps one of the most annoying things I witness is people who refuse to use a turn-signal when they are driving.  I have spent hours in traffic wondering, racking my brain, trying to discern the aversion that so many of us have to using a turn-signal.  Are we saving those blinks for a rainy day?  Are we afraid it will impact our gas mileage?  Or, are we just rude and inconsiderate – careless and negligent?

I’ve been almost killed in a car accident cause by a careless and intoxicated driver.  Maybe that’s why it’s such a sore spot.  Or maybe I’m just perturbed at how thoughtless we can be.  Such a simple thing, huh?  I’m probably just blowing this all out of proportion, right?  Using your blinker when you’re turning, changing lanes, or attempting to merge – such a small thing – what’s the big deal, Mr. Molehill? It is such a small thing, isn’t it?  Reaching over with your left hand and flipping that lever – such a trivial thing, why even bother?  Those milliseconds are so much better spent drumming on my steering wheel, picking my nose, or fiddling with my smartphone!  Why waste the time?

We are not on the road by ourselves!  There are people all around us on this road!  There are old drivers and young ones, careful ones, and some distracted ones.  There are those in new cars with good brakes, and those in hoopties with breaks that require an extra few pumps.   That blinker gives them a heads up, lets others know what our intentions are, and gives them time to react!

I know we know how to use the blinker. We had to use it when we got our license, right?  Remember that driver’s education course?  I know we already know these things, so I’m sure this is just an annoying, smart-assed reminder, but I will say it again, “use your stinking blinker!”  For God sake, use that bulb before it burns out!  I promise it won’t drain your battery!

The consequences of carelessness and selfishness on the road can be fatal. You see we entered a contract when we received our licenses – this contract governs us every time we get behind the wheel of a care.  This contract is not only with the law, but extends to every other driver on the road. When we don’t uphold the stipulations of this contract, we place ourselves and everyone on the road around us in danger.  So, use your blinker, please!!

There are so many small things that we should do, that we often neglect because we are lazy and careless.  And yes, there are some things we do or neglect to do, just because are inconsiderate assholes.  I am hopeful so I will emphasize the lesser of these evils, as I assume that our issue is the former and not the latter.

So, in case you didn’t pick up on it, I am not just talking about driving.  We do not live on this planet alone.  We are inextricably bound to one another – our actions, good or bad, have an impact on everyone around us.  Our carelessness, our laziness, our inconsideration, our selfishness – all these come at cost.

But what if we could in a single stroke change all of this?  With the flip of the switch – what if we could make the world a better place?

I suggest that we can.

Next time you’re driving and you are anticipating a turn, merging, or changing lanes – reach down to your left and flip that lever.  Use your turn-signal, and make the world a better place!!

Who is My Neighbor?

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:29

When we think about naming and labeling, recall how God gave Adam the job of naming what He created. That naming was not just a vocabulary challenge but it was an exercise in dominion. In the same way whether we are talking about a doctor diagnosing an ailment or a chemist identifying the elements that make up some compound, that process of naming or classifying determines how a thing is treated or handled. It’s a very powerful exercise and subsequently very dangerous when we begin to direct it at people and people groups.

Who is my neighbor?

The religious man, desiring to justify himself asks, “Who is my neighbor?” That is, ‘Who am I to treat with the regard as I would a neighbor?’  That is, ‘Who is it that I am commanded to love as myself?’ (Lev. 19:18)

“Who is my neighbor?”

The religious man asks in attempt to justify himself. Though seemingly innocuous, this question is a dangerous question of classification that seeks to determine the categories to which we assign people, and subsequently the standards whereby we determine what treatment and behavior is appropriate for and of them. This dangerous question of classification – this labeling – the titles we render, if we are honest about, are not just titles but they are meant in some way or another to define value, honor, or dishonor someone or something.

“Who is my neighbor?”

The history of our nation is marred by the moral failures of both individuals and institutions (Church and State alike) that have not embodied the heart of what it means to neighborly. In much the same way as the lawyer in the text, we (that is the religious establishment) would much rather label people than love them. We would much rather engage in intellectual calisthenics that lead us toward rational disobedience, than to embody the simple message of Christ.

The church in America has largely failed to embrace this message of neighborliness. As a result the world now stumbles at our faulty witness.

Our identity (as Christians – as the Church) is bound to our relationship with God the Father through Christ’s, but it is also inextricably linked to our relationship with our neighbors.  Without dereliction or discrimination, our foremost and most consequential efforts must be in the expression of our love for God through our love for our neighbors.

The identity and witness of the church hinges on how we level and answer this important question “Who is my neighbor?”

Who is my neighbor?

We cannot profess any love for GOD while debasing, degrading, or disregarding the other. We cannot be good neighbors by being passive witnesses to terrible acts of violence (in words and deeds) against those created in His image and likeness.

We are immediately found to be liars and hypocrites who possess a form of godliness but deny its power.

We are as waterless clouds, threatening rain but never yielding a drop.

Our very confessions become curses to us – bearing witness against us before God and man.

Our assemblies, now raucous with shallow and shrill worship, send up sacrifices that are a stench in His nostrils and a sting to the Divine ear.

The fruit of Spirit has withered and died on a branch long pruned and purged from the True Vine while we quibble on…

Who is my neighbor?

Who is worthy of such love?

Who deserves it?

Jesus answers, in the parable… ‘Everyone who needs…’

Black Jesus – don’t trip, it’s a poem…

Black Jesus

Wasn’t nailed to a cross

But he we was hanged

By his neck

From a tree in

Mississippi

He died…

But he rose

In me…

 

He’s come back

Not as slave

But a soldier

Buffalo…

Wool Traded

For a mane…

No longer a lamb

But a Lion

Setting the stones

For a New Zion –

Where freedom

Is a reality

And Peace is

More than Martin’s Dream

Sagging and syrupy

Or Malcom’s passion

And militancy

Where  justice

Rolls down like

Waters…

 

Black Jesus

Was not nailed

To a cross

But he died

On the street

Shredded by the bullets

Of the police

He died

But He rose again

In me.

 

He’s come back

As a warrior

and He will

Die no more

reborn with

Kevlar on His chest

and a titanium core

A vigilant sage

Tempered by rage

Scribing pages

Apocalyptic im-ages

Slaying the pale-rider

The beast, and his wife

Whore, bug-eyed and

Gorged on pestilence and war…

 

Black Jesus

Wasn’t nailed to a cross

But he we was hanged

By his neck

From a tree in

Mississippi

He died…

didn’t He die?

But he rose

In me.

 

©A.Mixon

The Accidental Racist

travel guides

Years ago there was a pretty good movie that came out entitled “The Accidental Tourist.” The movie was about loss, disorientation, anxiety, and above all fear.  The main character, Macon, writes guides for business travelers who would rather not be traveling. The travel guides provide a metaphor as to how the main character attempts to live his life by avoiding risks and unpredictable circumstances. Ultimately, he fails, but the guides he writes serve to recreate ‘home’ and all the comforts and familiarity of ‘home’ for the one using them.

Hmm…

When we travel, it is reasonable that we take a guide with us.  For the less adventurous, a guide especially provides security, comfort and a sense of control in a strange new environment.   A travel guide is a boon for the ‘accidental tourist.’

We depend on our guide to fortify ourselves against the strange language, food, and customs that may upset us. Our itinerary is a masterful work in organization and insurance.  We travel a thousand miles in order that we may feel like we never left home. “Do you speak English?” An affirmative answer relieves us as we go, and now we may relax and enjoy the journey.

Hmm….

When we delve into conversations about race and ethnicity – for some of us it is a dangerous trek into a wild and foreign land.  It is that far country, far removed from the comforts of our insulated little worlds, routines, and experiences. Talking about race, for many, is disorienting.  It is foreign language, it is barbaric; it is unsettling, hostile, and threatening. The water makes our stomachs ache and the heat is unbearable. So our solution is to avoid the journey.  Or if the journey must be taken, than we must take a guide with us that allows us to recreate our ‘home’ – that is our safe places wherever we go.

“Let’s make this place like home for us. Let’s civilize and sanitize this place – so we can be comfortable in these spaces.  Let us go and tell our stories, promote our causes, and dispose our narratives – after all we have such good stories, no? Before you know it, this place will be just like home!”

I hope I didn’t lose you in my prattling on about the ‘accidental tourist. ’ But I do wonder, how many of us are accidentally racist?  How many of us are unsettled and disoriented by what we perceive to be strange and foreign? How many of us, in order to gain control and reorient ourselves, attempt to transform our ‘strange’ environments?  How many of us resist and even scoff at the ‘other” but then appropriate bits of culture for fashion’s sake? How many of us, lean on familiar biases and stereotypes in order to navigate these alien lands?

Colonialism and gentrification are two cousins that often possess a similar desire, with an outdated and destructive guide that is hundreds of years old.

When we lean into learning in different contexts and experiencing different cultures there is always the threat of the unpredictable.  Traveling, much like reading, fundamentally changes us, but only when we really give ourselves to the journey. By yielding ourselves to experience the journey, there is the uncomfortably rewarding  opportunity for growth and expansion in one’s perspective. For the humble and inquisitive, there is a sense of adventure and exhilaration that ensues. For the prideful and less curious, the journey can quickly degenerate into an anxious nightmare.

It’s funny that in our fair city, many good people feel more at ease traveling across the globe to Asia or Africa than they do traveling over the mountain or across the tracks. Sadly, we find common ground in Macy’s, but our sacred places are the most taboo, and most exotic, where boundaries still mustn’t be crossed. Crossing I-65 may as well be crossing the Indian Ocean! And when we do dare to cross the tracks, and venture over-the-mountain, we bear an outdated travel guide.  While it makes us feel safe as ‘accidental tourists,’ the travesty is that we are also accidentally racist.

Accidental racists are as dangerous if not more so than intentional racists.  Cultures are ruined, ecosystems destroyed, peoples are displaced, by well-intended, accidental racists.  More dangerous, I say,  because at least intentional racists are sure of their intentions and clear in their cause – they must at least acknowledge those whom they would denigrate.   Alas, but the accidental racist must never reckon with her conscience or wrestle with the consequence of their ignorance. After all it was just an accident – an unfortunate misstep – clumsy color-blindness- harmless misunderstanding – an mere (albeit dehumanizing) oversight, or just a bad joke.

Cut them some slack, huh? Everybody makes mistakes.  It was an accident.

The unfortunate problem is, however,  that the wounds remain the same.

If I get hit by a car, the damages – the long term effects – the consequences are the same whether it was intentional or accidental.

In a Beautiful Place

Over the last week, I’ve received a swift lesson in how things happen in this city. I wrote an open letter to our Mayor and to a prominent church leader in the community and even as I wait to hear.  I must admit that I’ve been up, down, and sideways as to how I feel about what’s happened over the last week.  I didn’t realize how much I appreciated my anonymity.  But I also did not anticipate how careless and thoughtless people become when you challenge the actions of those whom they admire.  There is a strong cult of personality in our city.  So to keep this brief – I’ve been dragged, ridiculed, insulted, berated, belittled, and dismissed by many.  I’ve had my words invoked even when my presence was not welcomed.  But at the same time I’ve been challenged, encouraged, and approached by many who have long wanted to articulate what I expressed this past week.

I’ve lived in Birmingham for twenty years.  I’ve been serving a local church here for 17 of those twenty years.  I admit that I wasn’t really fond of this place when I first got here – I’m from Ohio.  But with two of my three children being born here, and having established some deep roots here – we’ve grown to love this place.  History is literally beneath our feet everywhere we go in this city.  All the quirky little spots that you wouldn’t expect to find here, and the way most people will look you in the eye and speak –even when you don’t know them –  these are a few of the things that have kept us here in Birmingham.  These are the things that make this place beautiful.  These things inspire my love for this place but also incite me to speak the truth to her – I cannot separate the one from the other.

Birmingham is a beautiful place with an ugly problem. 

And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.[1]

But like the lame man, sitting at the Gate called Beautiful (Acts 3:2), Birmingham is a beautiful place with an ugly problem.  At the geographic center of the Southeast, with a beautiful landscape, and with all her beautiful citizens – Birmingham is a beautiful place with an ugly problem.  Birmingham is divided by major highways.  Our highways may as well be concrete walls.  The socio-economic and racial divides in this city have informed a pathology that insists on politeness and Southern genteelness, while nodding and winking at public policies rooted in a past stained by racist sentiments and policies.  White-flight, and the nastiness that fractured Birmingham into a bunch of municipalities that starve the city center and ruined a school district, uprooted churches, and left entire communities bereft of a viable tax-base – are Birmingham’s ugly problem.

We are in a beautiful place, with an ugly problem.  Crippled by a past we refuse to reckon with – sins that we refuse to confess, difficult conversations we refuse to have, in a beautiful place with an ugly problem.

Lame, we are, because we lynched our past (Jefferson County is one of the bloodiest counties in the state).  We buried convict-leased bodies in coal mines or burned them in Sloss Furnaces. This beautiful place has an ugly problem.

Birmingham, a post-civil war city, is a place where we debate about Confederate statues placed in our public parks by private citizens, while prominent local pastors asks blessings during Confederate Memorial Day celebrations.  A beautiful place.

Birmingham is where communities once abandoned because of white-flight, now grace the pages of Southern Living because of funky new gastro-pubs and micro-breweries that spring up from the fallow ground.  These ‘new’ businesses are flourishing on the forty dirt-cheap acres, left behind decades ago because we couldn’t stomach the idea of living together in the same community.  They are now prime real estate.  We are in a beautiful place with an ugly problem

Birmingham is the beautiful bride with bad breath – the broad-shouldered beau with a broken smile – the brilliant and shining city with a rusty backside.  Birmingham – the buckle of the Bible-belt – the land of big, beautiful churches, too often marred by a bland homogeneity that bans justice for all while beseeching civility.  Birmingham is a place that treats reconciliation as an indulgence that may be purchased with a few coins, Thanksgiving baskets, and Chick-fil-A sandwiches.

Birmingham is a beautiful place with an ugly problem. 

We are lame.  We are crippled. Incapable of elevating ourselves. We are in a beautiful place with an ugly problem.  Lest we hear the Gospel.  Lest we abandon our tendency to anesthetize (allowing ourselves to be bought off) by our terribly low expectations for a few alms (silver and gold, have I none.) –  we will remain in this beautiful place with an ugly problem.

The facile, conscience-soothing efforts we embrace in the name of change will fail unless we delve beyond the surface.  We must confront (look at us) and thus uncover the circumstances that conspired to cause our current condition.   Then we must speak boldly, prophetically, and compassionately to this brokenness, “Walk!”   And then, finally, we can hold hands – then we can help – and only then we may lift our city to a place of prominence that befits her.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 3:2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Pragmatism

prag·ma·tism

/ˈpraɡməˌtizəm/

noun

an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.

Anybody who knows me, know that I have great respect and admiration for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  His classic works, Life Together, and the Cost of Discipleship have been and continue to be a great part of my personal spiritual formation.  As with most things that I find inspiring or encouraging, I’ve given away several copies of each to friends and family members who I thought may find similar encouragement.  For several summers at the Zion Spring church, we’ve read Bonhoeffer together.  The outcome has been fruitful.  While difficult to access, initially, with time and discipline, our Wednesday nights were turned into feasts of reflection.  Who knew that Bonhoeffer could have such an impact on a small, black, Baptist church in the middle of the projects in Birmingham, Alabama?!

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer traveled to the United States one of his greatest critiques of American theology was that there was none.  Bonhoeffer suggested that the American church offered Protestantism without reform – a shallow theology more akin to pragmatism than to any real Christianity.  This was his disappointing assessment until he met a black man named Albert Franklin Fisher.  Albert (Frank) was the son of Charles Fisher, the Pastor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. While attending Union Theological Seminary in New York, Bonhoeffer often visited the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. There, he heard Rev. Dr. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. proclaim the Gospel alongside a poignant prophetic protest of the violence and wickedness bred of the racism that stained America’s national identity.

Bonhoeffer was deeply affected by the spirituality he encountered in the black Church.  Many believe that it was this experience that altered the course of Bonhoeffer’s life and informed much of his activities after he returned to Germany prior to and during the Third Reich.

So then, what’s the problem with pragmatism? It is, after all, an American way of life.

“Git’er done!”

“By any means necessary!”

And the quintessential –

“The ends justify the means.”

The problem is, each of these expressions represent the opposite of what our faith mandates!  While costly and likely unpopular to say so – what we do, why we do, and how we do, is just as important as what we accomplish, when we arrive, or whether or not we win!

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. [1]

In many ways, the shallowness that has come to define much of American Christianity is a direct result of her unquestioning embrace of pragmatism.  It worked.  It must be right, so let’s keep doing it!  It is this misguidedness that allowed (allows) the American church to be complicit to slavery, genocide, manifest destiny, segregation, imperialism, pre-emptive military strikes, naked aggression and violence!  An economy that demands poverty in the name of progress, a political system polluted by the filthy lucre of corporate interests, careless industry that destroys the environment for profit, a society that mortgages the futures of its children – leaving them to inherit a world that is worse – all these things are the outworking of good old-fashioned American pragmatism.  Baptized and sanctified in pulpits across the country, we declare sentimentally, nostalgically, patriotically – we are rapt by pragmatism!

America, America, God shed His grace on thee… And crown thy good?

Questioning our motives, examining our methods – these logical and decidedly Christian approaches – are jettisoned for an “all money is good money, so long as we get it done, something is better than nothing,” philosophy.  This obscenity is further perpetuated by its greatest proponents who dare invoke the sovereignty of God to justify their means.  That is to say, “God allowed it, so God must have wanted it this way – His will be done, let’s do it again!”

The great shame is that if Bonhoeffer were to visit America today, he would encounter even a greater dearth of spirituality and theology in the American church.

The sometimes slow walk towards freedom that once embodied the ideals of the black church have now become a short cut to prosperity and respectability!  Dignity and substance forsaken are for popularity and style. Significance is measured by size and sheen. Get ready, get ready, get ready!  The pressure of living in the margins that once produced a stalwart and redemptive hopefulness – this hopefulness has been auctioned for the promise of an American dream.  All for the low, low, low cost of our souls…

Friends, I submit to you that our ‘ends” is our ‘means’ – the wrongdoer will be paid back.  Our motives must be pure, our methods informed by the wisdom of God; every action must be filtered through the lens of our love for God and our love for those made in His image and likeness.  Our foundation must be sure, lest the entire house be ruined.

All money is not good money.

The end does not justify the means.

Not by any means necessary.

We live and die by our hows and our whys.  If not for love, then not at all.  Even our salvation, then, is not just a destination – it is a journey!

God have mercy on us for embracing this pragmatism and extolling American mythology – such idolatry.

Have mercy on us all.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 3:23–25). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society

An Open Letter to Mayor Randall Woodfin

To provide context – here’s is the link to article that precipitated my response:

http://m.wbrc.com/story/38079857/church-of-the-highlands-announces-new-campus-in-heart-of-crime-ridden-area-of-birmingham

Mayor Woodfin,

Many black churches have survived and served our communities despite the obstacles that have been hurled at us.  We continue to preach, teach, make disciples, and demonstrate God’s grace in practical ways.  We don’t have trumpets blaring.  We don’t do media blitzes.  We don’t often wear matching t-shirts.  We don’t have elaborate programs and huge budgets… but, what we do have is a history that teaches us that when we share our ‘little’, it can become ‘more than enough.’  We have subsisted on scraps that we turn artfully into soul-food.  We have endured under circumstances (evil economic policies, destructive legislation, racism and discrimination in all of its machinations, the unequal application of justice, etc.)  that were created to destroy us.  We are poor but indeed we are rich…

So then, it is with particular consternation that we receive your remarks and those of Chris Hodges of the Church of the Highlands.  The remarks made this week reflect what we perceive to be a lack of effort in attempting to really understanding the people and the places in the 99 neighborhoods that are Birmingham that you seek to transform.  Your remarks demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the black community and a mischaracterization of the black church that relied more on stereotypes than truth and experience with real people.  Your remarks also seem to reflect a gross miscalculation of resource.  It appears that your assessment of resources is defined by dollars and cents rather than people and their voices – the wisdom of their experiences.  The campaign promise of ‘people first’ seems to be ‘people with money first.’

While understanding the zeal of the new administration to appear strong against crime and violence in the most vulnerable communities that we serve, we would suggest that our Mayor realize that our communities did not get this way accidentally.  Economic segregation, over-criminalization of black people, white-flight, real-estate red-lining, failing schools – we could certainly go on – these are the methodologies employed whereby black communities and black families have been systematically crippled and destroyed.  The myth of black-on-black crime is a diversion.  The crime in our communities is not so much an indicator of the immorality of black people, inasmuch as it is a byproduct of poverty and proximity – a poverty rooted in an old system that specialized in the exploitation and commoditization of our bodies.  Violent crimes, and other self-destructive behaviors, are rooted in self-hatred and perpetuated by the gross miseducation of a people. The old ways are not gone.  They are subtler which makes them more dangerous.   This old system, disrobed of old robes and sheets, has the vestiges of his poisonous message still pervading the halls of our governments, our schools, and our sacred spaces!  Mr. Mayor, you are a problem solver.  Let’s deal with the source and not simple the symptom!

Mayor Woodfin (Pastor Hodges) – we suggest that you review our history. Your present mindset seems to overlook how white communities, and yes the white church, have been complicit in creating the circumstances that the black community and the black church have been forced to deal with. Again, whether through bad legislation and public policy, apathy, ignorance, or bad theology – the same folks so moved to “save and clean-up” our communities are culpable for these conditions!  The same folks so moved to ‘save and clean-up’ our communities are often found voting in ways that belie their good intentions.  The superficial charity applied to our communities, though well-intended, is a salve that anesthetizes but does nothing to dislodge and eradicate the cancerous root that will eventually destroy us all.  This poisonous charity does more to assuage the unnamed undefined guilt of the one who extends it, than it benefits its recipients.  It is the proverbial bandage over a gaping bullet wound!  Beyond this, the combined clumsiness and arrogance of these efforts make it even harder for the long established black churches in these areas to make progress.

We are laboring faithfully with limited resources – most of us do not have the money that these large white churches have.  We have the passion, the understanding, and the access – but we cannot compete with the shiny beads and free-stuff – the bribery that gives some access to our neighborhoods!    Consequentially, we are left having to defend ourselves against false accusations of ignorance, ineptitude, and insensitivity to the needs of those in our own communities!  We are assailed by insults rooted in stereotypes and false narratives coming from people who’ve never been to our churches and never put a dime in a collection plate.  “What are you doing; what have you done, what have you given away in the community?’

Mayor Woodfin (Pastor Hodges), these heavy-handed, misguided efforts along with your careless words have turned what should have been compliment into competition.  Please hear me, what is written here – is not divisive or negative.  We are simply compelled to tell the truth. We are hopeful as this is necessary step in any efforts toward real progress.

Mayor Woodfin (Pastor Hodges), I’m sure you already know this.  Before there can be unity, there must be a process of reconciliation.  Reconciliation is impossible without truth-telling. And this truth-telling must be fueled by a genuine love for the other.  So while you may perceive these words as harsh and overly critical, understand that they are spoken out of love.  The tension we are now encountering can, if managed properly, become the friction that enables motion.  This conflict is necessary and should be embraced as constructive.  We must not turn from it in embrace of some uneasy peace that is no peace at all.  This process, though slower and more deliberate than what you may have envisioned for your first one hundred days, will lead to lasting and meaningful change across our city!

Mayor Woodfin, listen to your electorate.  Listen to the activists and community leaders that campaigned hard and bet on your potential to be a transformational and progressive leader.  Revisit the promises you made during your campaign.  It is still early and it is entirely possible that you can have an amazing impact on this city. You may well live up to the lofty standards expressed in your campaign – and for the good of the city, we certainly hope you do!

So, with sincerity, I ask you again.  Mayor Woodfin, can we talk?

 

This letter is actually a continuation of a post that I made on social media (that text is below) at the beginning of this week.  Shared publicly, as that post made its rounds, it received tremendous feedback and was shared broadly.  In an attempt to elaborate on some of these thoughts and initiate some contact with the Mayor, I have tried to further distill my thoughts and encourage a constructive discourse… If it seems redundant – I apologize in advance.


Adam Mixon

May 1 at 9:39pm ·

Warning – long post – but please read!!

I’ve been pastoring in a poor community in Birmingham for 17 years… We are not ignorant… We DO the work of the ministry in North Avondale… We serve the children and families in Tom Brown Village… We survived when our sanctuary burned… It would’ve been easier to leave the community- but we chose to stay – we were compelled to be salt and light! We’ve ducked bullets and stretched our resources to the hilt… when we grow it strains us, because we serve people with real needs… we don’t have wealth to insulate us against human brokenness and pernicious suffering… I work every day so as not to tax the church… As long as I’ve been called – I’ve worked, served the church, and pursued religious training- largely at my own expense and that of my family! I’ve cobbled together resources depending on the grace of God and the generosity of other Christians in this city and across the country who possessed a genuine desire to walk with us… I haven’t purchased air time, blown trumpets, or hung billboards- but I am here, we are here, and we’ve been here, and we are not alone…

That is why the language used in the recent articles that flood my timeline is so hurtful… that is why it is even more painful when I hear my own folks berate our church and other churches in similar situations… to belittle our efforts… while withholding any personal investments of time, talent, or resources in our communities…

Do you know how difficult it is to get young black professionals to invest and attend the churches that big mama raised them and their parents in? Demanding so much, holding such high expectations, while offering so little… Makes sense why these other ‘High’ places are so attractive… I digress…

To all those who’ve passed judgment and leveled indictments, highlighted the failures of the ‘black’ church- take care as to how you use your broad brushes… take care… we are not ignorant and we are not a monolith…

To those who scoff at the drugs and violence that infest our communities- these are mere symptoms of a broader evil that has deep roots in far ‘nicer’ places than our run down communities… learn your history… while you rage against the symptom – you would do well to deal with the source…

I know I’m rambling now, but I beg your pardon… my cup runs over…

Assimilation is not integration… black businesses failed because of integration… our neighbors were robbed of an economy… drugs and guns filled the gap – crime is the construct of an absent economy…And now (and again) the black church is in the crosshairs of a host of well-meaning, paternalistic, Bible-quoting gentrifiers with dreams of taming the savages and healing our dark lands… oh wait, I’ve heard this story before… we know how this ends…

I’ve been watching this for years now and I guess it is come to a head – these folks know my name… we’ve chatted over sandwiches…

Mayor Woodfin – can we talk?

 

 

 

Welcome.

This is a space I created for distilling my thoughts as I discipline myself in my craft.  At heart – I am a writer… a poet…  Clarity finds me when I can put a pen to paper or rest my finger tips on a keyboard.  Sanity comes as the swirling thoughts in my overloaded mind make it the page… Most times it feels like I’m just rambling, but every now and then the end result is actually something intelligible….

You are welcome to join me on this journey.  Who knows?  We may actually learn something from one another.  Maybe you’ll inspire me or be inspired by me – I certainly hope so!  Maybe, I’ll piss you off – or maybe you’ll frustrate me – that may be even better.  You see, I have this strange theory that conflicts needn’t be avoided.  Conflicts need to be managed.  They are the friction that causes motion! I actually believe that we learn more from those with whom we disagree than from most any other source.  The discord is actually an opportunity for harmony.  Thesis… Antithesis… Synthesis… Growth.  We will all end up a bit wiser, broader in our experience and perspective, more tolerant, and more compassionate.  That is my hope, at least.  I guess we will have to wait and see what happens!

Peace