Hot town — summer in the inner city
"Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."
Those are the words of Jesus spoken to the disciples in anticipation of the day of Pentecost when the Spirit would be unleashed in full measure upon God's people. Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. A command really.
There is something about the city that is frightening for a lot of people and that makes many of us uncomfortable. Milwaukee has lost about 16 percent of its population in recent years. Corporations have left the cities and so have congregations.
The city holds immense possibilities. It is a place of promise but also a place where life has become a nightmare. And for some the nightmare has become the motivating factor to leave the city.
How will summer be in the city of Milwaukee? I suspect that the answer depends upon where you live.
As I write this I have a clear picture of a scene that began our summer. An African American mother in search of a better life for her children moved into a new neighborhood only to have her heart ripped from her within a short time of the move.
A neighbor, a 75-year-old white man thought that the 13-year-old son of this mother had broken into his house. The elderly man had contacted the police on numerous occasions but to no avail.
One hot day the neighbor confronted the teenager and shot him dead at point-blank range in front of his mother. It was an image that evoked memories of Trayvon Martin and so many young Black boys who lose their lives at the hands of those driven by fear. But in those days, there was no hope that a grieving mother or family would ever get justice. At this moment it looks like the young 13-year-old was innocent.
We live in a city that is racially polarized and has been for years. This latest incident does not help and in fact just pulls a scab off of a wound that is already ugly and deep.
Last week I stood on the hallowed soil of where young Darius played and brought laughter and joy to the people who knew him and who loved him. It was at All Peoples Lutheran Church where he was not merely a young Black male to be feared or to be suspicious of because of his color.
There the people of God knew his name.
There his dreams and his humanity were seen as gifts.
On the day that I stood in that space and called out his name we remembered his life cut short much too soon, and we were in touch with both our grief and our anger. We were all well aware that his death and the way he died could cause an eruption in this city that could be just as destructive and devastating as the wildfires that are raging out west.
But on that day as I stood outside I was joined by 60 young people who came for the first day of Freedom School, a program of enrichment.
They had come enmasse for a fourth year in a row because dreams had been aroused in them; they had been inspired to learn.
I sat in the sanctuary and listened to the powerful music. I was blown away by the promise that I saw in that room. Their voices raised in symphonic harmony singing, "There is something inside so strong."
Racism, unemployment and poverty are still very real here, but these 60 young people who were there at All Peoples give us hope that there are seeds that are growing into flowers. So we can never become discouraged because God lives in the midst of the dry places, and the death places.
Because God is in the city, we remain ever vigilant. We act in concert as people who know that God is more than an empty proposition but that he is real and that he has power to turn graveyards into resurrection places.
Monday, June 25 -- a cool, bright and sunny day -- was a day that began with 60 young voices raised in hope; mid-day I received word from an employer that four people that we had referred to their company had been hired, and the day ended at Cross with the start of Cross' vacation Bible school, 35 young people from the congregation and the neighborhood.
In the city, where we are blessed to serve and blessed to be a presence of God's light and love.
Ken Wheeler is pastor of Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee. He served 18 years as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.
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So why am I more afraid of my neighbor?
Bridging the gap between inner city and suburbs
Serving in the New City of God