Across the Tracks: a look at gentrification in Avondale

Three of our Beloveds were recently featured in this short documentary by UAB Media Students focusing on gentrification in our Avondale community.

We hope you’ll watch and perhaps learn something new, or will have your own experiences to share. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

Across the Tracks by Rebecca Graber and Harsh Shah from UAB Documentary on Vimeo.

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Holy week reflection

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” -Philippians 4:12-13

The Covenant Prayer of John Wesley (1703-1791)

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

From Adam Hamilton, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), page 232. In his footnote to this prayer Hamilton directs readers to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), p. 607

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On shame

“If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger,
the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.” Isaiah 58:9-11

Every Sunday, I tell my flock at Beloved Community Church: “No matter where you have been, no matter what you have done, no matter what has been done to you, you are still precious in the eyes of God.”

I say this every week because I know that shame keeps so many people from walking into the wide-open arms of a loving God. So many of us have internalized a corrosive shame not only for mistakes we have made and wrong turns we have taken, but for who we are and even for what others have done to us.

People have pointed their fingers at us (ok, even the middle one), shamed us, to the point that we believe the lies they have told us about ourselves. Many of us have internalized a shame for who we are, or for who we are not. Our parents may have convinced us that we just were not enough – not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough, not giving enough; somehow we failed them when their lives didn’t measure up.

Some hear every day that there is something shameful about who they are as a people. For African-Americans, this dehumanizing public shaming has been codified, enshrined in custom and law, and justified by scripture. If you want to think that this no longer happens, look last week’s release of a federal Department of Education study documenting that Black children make up about 18 percent of children in preschool programs in schools, but almost half of those who are suspended more than once. Preschoolers are being shamed and internalizing that shame, and it is corrosive to the soul.

But it’s not just race ~ it’s also about gender. Girls start to see themselves as sex objects as young as 6 years old (LiveScience.com, July 2013). They are losing their sense of self-worth as children and it is corrosive to the soul.

Public shaming happens to anyone who loves someone who society or community says they should not love. Certainly same-sex lovers are shamed. So are interracial couples and those who fall in love outside their religion, or tribe, taken literally or metaphorically.

And then there is the victim’s shame — what someone did to you becomes your own shame. The shame of the victim of rape – think of the girls who were tormented (by other girls!) to the point of suicide after reporting gang-rape by popular football players. Think of the shame someone feels when his or her spouse has had an affair – even though s/he has done nothing wrong. Children often internalize shame about their parents’ divorce, unless parents are intentional about reassuring them that it is not their fault. Victims absorb the shame of their own wounds.

Jesus didn’t deal in shame.

When I read the story of “the woman caught in adultery,” as it is commonly called (she was caught practicing adultery all by herself, right?), I think about the pointing of fingers, the public shaming. She was dragged into the public square, surrounded by men ready to stone her to death for her sin. This was what the religious law allowed.

Instead of pointing his finger at this sinful woman or even at judgmental and hypocritical men, Jesus knelt down and used his finger to draw in the sand. Without looking anyone directly in the eye, he said, ‘you who is without sin throw the first stone.’ The men slowly walked away, some dignity and integrity intact.

Instead of pointing his finger at the woman, he stood up and met her eye to eye. He said to her, ‘Woman I do not condemn you. I will not shame you.’ He would not throw the first stone. He would not cast shame. He set her free, with the possibility of new life.

It’s tough to resist blame and shame, especially if you have been hurt or threatened. It’s tough to see the image of God in every person. Sometimes it feels a lot better to point that shaming finger than to do something else with it even if it means drawing in the sand, to keep from pointing it at someone else, causing them to feel shame or blame.

But what abundant life we are promised when we learn to cease the pointing of the finger, the casting of shame.

-Rev. Angie Wright

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Lenten reflection

Ernesto (student of Solentiname): “We pray to God for his name to be holy, and it’s up to us to make his name holy. We pray for his kingdom to come, and it up to us to build it. We pray that his will  be done on earth, and it’s up to us to do his will. We pray to him for bread, and it’s up to us to make it and share it. We pray to him for forgiveness, and it’s up to us to forgive. We pray not to fall into evil and it’s up to us to escape from it. That’s what’s interesting abut this prayer. I think that a lot of people don’t say the Lord’s Prayer, but in their hearts they are asking for all this.”

Solentiname

Art work and reflections by the children of Solentiname, Nicaragua.

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On sacrifice

At 10 years old, a boy named Eliseo Medina left Mexico to join his father who was an immigrant farm worker in the San Joaquin Valley in California. When he was 12, Eliseo dropped out of school to join his father picking grapes to support their family. When he was 19 he met Cesar Chavez and over time became one of the most skilled organizers in the United Farm Workers.

Medina leading picketers outside the Talisman sugarcane companyAbove: Medina leading picketers outside the Talisman Sugar Cane Co. in 1972, during his time with the United Farm Workers. Source: Huffington Post/AP

 

Eliseo Medina rose from a 12-year-old immigrant farmworker to the second-highest ranking officer in the SEIU, the fastest growing union in North America. He learned a lot about power along the way. How power is used, and abused, and corrupts. How hurting people can organize to gain power to make life better for their families and communities.

Last fall, leaving a meeting with President Obama about immigration reform, Eliseo Medina came face-to-face with a group of undocumented immigrants who had driven 42 hours from Arizona to urge Congress to pass immigration reform. They told him their stories – stories of people dying in the desert trying to get to a better life; children crying themselves to sleep because their parents had been deported; families living in constant fear.

This encounter took Eliseo back to his roots and caused him to reflect. He had spent his life organizing the powerless to gain power. He had become one of the most powerful men in the labor movement. He had brought his power to bear on the cause of immigration reform. But was he doing enough?

After some soul-searching, he decided that it was time to escalate.

 

It was time to claim real power.

It was time to fast.

It was time to join the Fast for Families – to fast for the 1,100 families being torn apart by deportations every day.

It was time to fast for those whose hearts are hardened, those whose eyes are closed, who refused to hear the cries of God’s people, who do not know that our children are their children, our sorrows their sorrows, our joys their joys.

Eliseo fasted for 22 days with other national leaders in a tent on the National Mall outside of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in an effort to bring about immigration reform.

 

I asked him, “Why a fast? What difference would that make?”

“I have organized strikes, boycotts, marches, rallies, union drives. I’ve been arrested for civil disobedience. All of these things are aggressive in nature, they are coercive, and they cause your opponents to withdraw, to become defensive. Even a hunger strike is coercive in nature; that is different than a fast.”

Obama-Medina

Above: During their 22-day fast on the National Mall, Medina and other fasters had audiences with numerous national leaders, including President Obama. Source: CNN/Getty Images

 

“A fast draws other people toward you. They want to know why you are willing to make such a sacrifice for a cause that they may not understand or agree with. The nature of a fast, especially a fast done in community, is that it creates a space for dialogue, for relationship, for community, for conversation, maybe even for conversion. A fast is a powerful thing.”

As the body grows weaker, the spirit grows stronger.

As the body grows weaker, the BODY – THE COMMUNITY – grows stronger.

When I heard Eliseo speak of his fast, I wanted nothing more than to be a part of it. I felt it would change me and free me and bring me the peace and radiance that I saw in the fasters. I too have spent my life marching, lobbying, petitioning, demonstrating and organizing for social change. I thought, maybe at this point, there is something more powerful we can do for families living in fear of separation – we can hold a community fast like the one held in Washington. This idea was confirmed for me when one of the immigrant community leaders also listening to Eliseo speak turned to me and said, “Angie, we spent 5 days in the desert with no water! I want us to do this fast!”

We began with a 24-hour fast when Eliseo and others who had fasted for up to 22 days* came through Birmingham working for immigration reform.

We are now fasting on Wednesdays, along with the growing Fast4Families movement around the country. I invite you to join with us, to experience this new kind of power.

I also invite you to join with us in prayerful consideration of a

Holy Week Fast for Immigrant Families.

What more humble way to walk the Way of the Cross carried by Jesus,

Whose own family suffered the plight of an immigrant family?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

2nd Corinthians 12:9

-Rev. Angie Wright

Note: There are many ways to fast. What is right for one person may not be right for another. Here are some resources to guide you:

http://houseofprayerexperience.com/2012/11/fasting-for-beginners/

http://www.cru.org/training-and-growth/devotional-life/personal-guide-to-fasting/

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/adding-fasting-to-your-prayer-life.html

http://www.compassion.com/get-involved/fasting-tips.htm

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Lenten reflection

“Spirituality without a prayer life is no spirituality at all, and it will not last beyond the first defeats. Prayer is an opening of the self so that the Word of God can break in and make us new. Prayer unmasks. Prayer converts. Prayer impels. Prayer sustains us on the way. Pray for the grace it will take to continue what you would rather not continue and to surrender what you would rather not surrender.”

-Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B.

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On joy

JOY

A tree crashed through the roof of my house and a tornado tore off the roof of the church I pastor on the same stormy night last month.

God did that, I’m told. Or Satan did. Depends on who you ask.

Some say God was punishing me, or at least warning me, to repent from my sinful ways.

They say that God is punishing me for speaking out loud in church (in other words, being a woman preacher), refusing to condemn all LGBTQ folk to everlasting torment, and supporting “those illegal aliens.” They broke the law! No grace for them.

Some say that God brought about these events not to punish me, but to test my faith, or even to strengthen it.

Others say Satan is responsible for the double disaster dealt to me and mine, to interfere with all the truly Godly work I do as a woman preacher serving the poor and oppressed, including, you guessed it, the LGBTQ community and undocumented immigrants.

Some believe that it was all God’s answer to our church ladies’ prayers for much-needed new carpet!

Interesting theologies, all.

I have to admit, the timing is curious, especially for someone who used to carry the title “Disaster Coordinator.” That title caused me some consternation. Wasn’t it supposed to be “Disaster Response Coordinator?” Were they trying to tell me something?

Anyway, everyday I walk into my crushed house, watching where I step. Shards of glass are everywhere, nails, splintered wood, soggy pink clods of fiberglass insulation, crumbled sheetrock. Oh yes, and trees, tree limbs are still scattered about the house. I make my way through these obstacles trying to find some absolutely necessity to take to rental house where we are staying. Sometimes I stand around in a daze. What’s that roof doing on my living room floor?

Until last Sunday, I must not have looked up. When I did, something I hadn’t seen before caught my eye – and my heart. I saw my Christmas stocking-holders, still standing (yes, they were still out at the end of February), spelling the word J-O-Y.

Find JOY, the Spirit whispered to me. Find JOY in the rubble. That’s the theology I want to embrace. Whatever the genesis of the storm, God always invites us to find some cause for joy. Some glimmer of hope. Some possibility of redemption. As Wendell Berry said, Practice Resurrection.

As I picked my way through the debris yesterday, I saw something else. My Christmas cactus is blooming again. Find JOY in the rubble.

Stepping carefully through the mess today, I noticed my Valentine’s roses over in a corner, darkened and dried. Thinking that the place needed a little sprucing up, I put the vase of last month’s flowers on top of the collapsed roof that covers whatever is left of my living room. It makes me smile to imagine what the workers will think when they find roses in the rubble!

-Rev. Angie

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29.11

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On grace

Lent is said to be a time for introspection and laying bare the warped ways of our wayward souls; a time for laying our cards on the table, admitting at least to ourselves that we have stacked the deck, cheated the Dealer and even tried to beat the House.

“For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”  (Psalm 51:3)

In the death throes of a failed marriage years ago many insults were hurled from both directions, I regret to say. In a heated argument my husband charged, “You’re just like your father!” He knew that would hurt because he knew my father had hurt me. My response was absolute denial. A sense of betrayal. Outrage. Defensiveness. Humiliation. Shame.

But after a while, in a rare moment of self-awareness, I was able to sit quietly with those words: “You are just like your father.”

And I decided that I was.

I was strong. I was determined to live. I had an adventurous soul and I didn’t really care what other people thought. I had no choice but to live life my way. My spirit would not wilt, I would not lose my voice, I would find my way. I was like my father.

I also admitted to myself that some of my worst qualities and most shameful behaviors were like my father’s.

And you know what?

I was relieved.

I was relieved of the burden of trying to measure up. I was relieved of the fear of being found out. It was all out in the open. At times I was an awful human being. I could let that truth come to light. I didn’t like it, but I could live with it.

Shame lost some of its power over me that day. I felt light. I felt free.

It’s true. I am like my father – his best and worst self. I am wheat and chaff. I am daylight and nightshade. I am hot and cold. I am sweet and sour. And on my good days, I am not ashamed.

Shame tried to burn me and bury me but I found life in something I later learned was called Grace.

Rev. Angie Wright

 

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Double Whammy: Storm knocks roof off pastor’s Avondale church – and off her house in Homewood

Angie Wright cropped.jpg
The Rev. Angie Wright, pastor of Beloved Community Church (File)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - The high winds that swept through Birmingham early Friday morning knocked the roof off the Beloved Community Church in Avondale, and also knocked a tree down on the pastor’s roof at her house in Homewood.

Beloved Community Church, which is at 131 41st Street South next to the Avondale Brewery, had roofing material knocked loose including bricks that fell into the street.

Pastor Angie Wright said winds basically swept the roof off the church, causing water damage. “We had some pretty significant damage to the roof,” Wright said. “It’s a flat roof. The wind lifted off the black tar roofing cover and rolled it up and laid it on the street. It looked liked rolled up carpet on Second Avenue, laying in the street. It tore off bricks and metal flashing. It’s caused some leaks on the inside. The carpet will have to be replaced. There were a lot of bricks in the street. It knocked the tree down behind the church and the brewery.”

Wright expects the Sunday services to be moved for at least a month. This Sunday at 6 p.m., the church will meet in Avondale United Methodist Church, a few blocks away.

“We’re going to be out of the building for awhile – I don’t know how long,” Wright said. Some pieces torn off the historic building that houses the church may be put to good use. “We’re saving the bricks for souvenirs,” Wright said.

The damage at her house in Homewood may be even severe. “My house is in pretty terrible condition,” she said. “We had an enormous tree crash through the roof.”

On the bright side, it could have been worse, Wright said. “Everybody’s fine,” she said. “Nobody got hurt.”

Beloved Community Church averages about 45 people in its Sunday night services and prides itself on a welcoming atmosphere and music with a jazz flair.

“It’s a diverse congregation,” Wright said. “We welcome all kinds of folks. We have dynamic music.”

Offers have poured in from other churches willing to host the congregation. Avondale United Methodist Church will be a nice temporary home for services, Wright said. “It’s a more traditional church,” she said.

See also: ‘It was quite the scene’ after strong winds in Avondale knocked tree into patio of Parkside Cafe

Click here for video of storm damage at the church from WVTM-TV, NBC 13.

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Sister City Connection to benefit Beloved Community Church

Sister City Connection

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