These predictions from AccuWeather about this coming winter will evoke different feelings depending on where you live and your disposition towards cold weather. Those of us in Chicago have this to look forward to:
Chicago, which endured a monster blizzard last winter, could be one of the hardest-hit cities in terms of both snow and cold in the winter ahead. AccuWeather.com Long-Range Meteorologist Josh Nagelberg even went so far as to say, “People in Chicago are going to want to move after this winter.”
On Sunday we began a new sermon series, one I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve called this collection of four sermons The Beloved Community, borrowing a phrase made popular by Dr. King. Beginning on Sunday our church started looking at the beauty of God-intentioned diversity and how quickly it turns towards disparity and division. In the coming weeks we’ll look at the spiritual realities behind prejudice and racism, the insidious nature of white privilege, and the many practical and seemingly inconsequential steps we can take towards the beloved community.
On Sunday I preached from Genesis and Revelation to show how humanity’s diversity is a reflection of God’s original intention and will remain within God’s restored creation. Yet we live in a city where it is hard to see beyond disparity and division; Chicago was recently named the third most segregated city in the country. Roots of racism run deep in this city, perhaps most strongly exemplified by the 1919 Chicago Race Riot which began less than a mile from where our church meets to worship.
The riots began in July after Eugene Williams, a young, African American man who was swimming near 29th Street Beach, was pelted with rocks by a white man and drowned. Two weeks later – after 53 deaths, hundreds of injuries, and many African Americans made homeless by arson – Chicago’s worst racial violence to date came to an end. In October Walter White, the assistant executive secretary for the NAACP, showed how the riots were a result of many factors, especially the circumstances under which many African Americans were forced to live in Chicago.
For a long period prior to the riots, organized gangs of white hoodlums had been perpetrating crimes against Negroes for which no arrests had been made. These gangs in many instances masqueraded under the name of “Athletic and Social Clubs” and later direct connection was shown between them and incendiary fires started during the riots. Colored men, women and children had been beaten in the parks, most of them in Jackson and Lincoln Parks. In one case a young colored girl was beaten and thrown into a lagoon. In other cases Negroes were beaten so severely that they had to be taken to hospitals. All of these cases had caused many colored people to wonder if they could expect any protection whatever from the authorities.
Being aware of these ugly sides of Chicago’s history is important for a multi-ethnic church like ours. First, we must be aware of how pervasive and insidious segregation and division has been within our city. Ongoing racial and class disparities are rooted in history and our mission and ministry as a church must take seriously the Chicago that was even as we pray and work for something different. Second, as we become more aware of the scope of injustice in our city we are compelled to turn from our own adrenaline and ideas to the God whose presence has sustained Chicago despite ourselves.
It can seem counter-intuitive, but acknowledging how the sins of history continue to affect us is often a first step towards a more hopeful and just future.
One of the things our new church- New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville– has said repeatedly is that we will exist for the good of our neighbors and neighborhoods. In other words, our times of gathering together for worship are meant to align our minds and heart towards God so that we may be sent to participate in God’s mission in our city.
So it was no small thing for us to spend last Saturday, less than two months since our weekly services began, picking up litter and planting flowers at Drake Elementary where we hold our Sunday services.
While we got a lot of flowers planted and litter picked up, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have a lot of fun as well. Because we’re a new church it’s helpful to have chances like this to spend time getting to know each other, even while we take very small step in mission together.