Thursday, May 29, 2008


An interesting article ran today in the Times about the complex issues one Portland neighborhood is dealing with as it faces racial gentrification.

A lot of yuppies find the uber-hipness of America's urban landscapes to be a real draw. They want affordable and walkable communities where they can know their neighbors. And they want those neighbors to be diverse.

And that's the irony, because the more highly coveted neighborhoods are, the more expensive they become. And, inevitably, the less diverse they become also.

That's what is happening in Portland.

And it's happening here in Winooski too. And the Old North End of Burlington also.

But that's not why I'm blogging about it. I'm blogging about it because of what the Times reported one of the white Portland residents recently asked in a citizens' forum. Joan Laufer, a new resident in the neighborhood, stood up and asked the black people in the meeting what they would like for her to call them - black or African-Americans?

"People," one black woman up front said. And then, from the back, an even more human word. A name. "Donna."

That's what it is going to take. We're going to have to go beyond knowing people as black or white or latino or whatever. We need to know them as Donna.

A few years back, when I was living in Durham, NC, a group of ladies from one of the white churches in town and a group of ladies from one of the black churches started getting together to pray and talk candidly about race and the "Broad Street Divide" that separated their communities. The churches sat only a few blocks apart from each other on either side of Broad Street, but sat were worlds apart in just about every other way. The women from those churches decided to bring the worlds together.

Six years later something profound has happened. The black church is no longer only a black church any more. It's a New Testament church now, as Sunday after Sunday its pews are filled with both black and white faces. And the white church has changed too. This past Lent, 26 members from their congregation journeyed on a "Lenten Pilgrimage Of Pain and Hope" into Durham's inner-city. Imagine that. Twenty-six people dared to cross divides of race, class, and comfort in the name of the Jesus who is destroying those divides.

And the name of one of the key women who six years ago was a part of that group of women from the two churche who decided to meet and pray?

That's right. Donna.

A Progressive Christian Conudrum

In the wake of the latest tragedies in China and Myanmar I've been thinking about the challenge an escalation in global disasters present to non-fundamentalist Christians.

For a long time now a lot of progressive Christians have been insisting that there has not been an increase in earthquakes, famines, floods, etc. The argument was that global disasters were always prevalent and so, the argument went, we shouldn't point to a spate of earthquakes, wars, famines, etc. as signs that the Apocalypse is imminent. The way I experienced the conversation, typically someone - usually the conservative in the room - would point to some natural or manmade disaster and say that the world was obviously getting worse. Then - usually by the progressive in the room - the rebuff would come. The progressive would make a statement about earthquakes and famines and other terrible things always having been occuring, but our awareness of them, through the advent of mass communication, being the thing that changed.

But now, it seems that a lot of environmental and humanitarian organizations are arguing that global climate change is increasing both the frequency and magnitude of global disasters. And a lot of progressive Christians are agreeing.

What's a progressive Christian to do?

I don't think any Christians should ever give up on the idea that Jesus is coming back imminently. I think progressive Christians did so as a knee-jerk, fear-induced reaction to a particularly virulent kind of Apocalypticism that thinks that Jesus is coming back soon so we shouldn't worry about global issues like climate change, or deforestation, or debt relief for developing countries. We should just get people saved.

No. We should get people saved AND we should worry about all these global issues because, you guessed it, JESUS IS COMIMG BACK.

And the arrival may be imminent.