“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

On October 10, about 150 people participated in a Town Hall meeting held in a church at 22nd and Center Streets. Many of them were residents in the area where a mob made up mostly of young teenagers recently beat a man to death. People at the gathering were addressing problems and possible solutions in their neighborhood. One told of speaking with a young man who was very angry, because he felt that people in the Baby Boomer generation had abandoned the young people in this country. Where are the great leaders, he asked. Where is the Martin Luther King, Jr., who can tell us what to do to identify and remedy the problems we face? Where are our leaders? Are they all serving as greedy CEO’s? Are they all busy making profits from war and suffering? Can no one make the tough choices that will lead us out of our problems? Because we do have problems. Early the next week, I received a letter from a 13-year-old girl, one of five children of a single mother struggling to find a better life. But the family is so plagued by the problems of poverty — a series of evictions from homes, lack of basic needs, lack of opportunities — that life seems to be made up of constant reactions to emergencies. How can this family concentrate on improving their lives? This child made it clear that she was not asking for help for herself, but for some kind of basic change of attitude and policy to make it possible to find a way out of poverty. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.” We are faced in this culture with a deep division between those who have privilege and those who do not. We are also taught that each of us needs to be a “rugged individual,” abandoning those who do not have privilege to their fate. There is a school of theological thought that teaches that a synonym for “sin” is “separation.” Separation from God, from others, from our own better inclinations. This school of thought also says that the path of grace lies in union. Union with the will of God, with the plight of others, with our own virtue. If I contemplate the issue of the recent beating in this light, I am the man who was beaten to death. I am the one who gathered the gang of kids, telling them what objects to pick up and use as weapons. I am the kid who came home with blood on his Nikes. These are the connections I must build, and contemplate, and not abandon. What does this line of thought teach me? It teaches me that I live and die by consequences. That I have the power to gather and direct anger, and that there are consequences for that anger. That I can be manipulated to do violence without thought, and there are consequences for that violence. I am one of the privileged ones. I have the privilege of the color of my skin, my upbringing and my education. I still long for what seems to be the easy path of separation and abandonment, of only looking out for myself. Sometimes I fall victim to that longing. Those are the times when I fail. And the consequences are real. Sometimes immediate, sometimes postponed, always negative. The most I can hope for is that I learn from those consequences, and search for alternatives. Because every time I succeed, and find the alternatives that bring me into union with God, with other people, with virtue, I bring others with me. Because as much as I am they, they are me. Every time we do not abandon, anger is defused. Sometimes we fail. Then let us pray for the grace of forgiveness. Other times we succeed. Let us pray for success. Let us pray that we can do this voluntarily. Because we will live and die by the consequences. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 10 – November 2002
by Jan Christensen