7 june 2018: abraham, martin and john

This week, I’m having my own personal harmonic convergence. 

This week, 50 years ago, Robert Kennedy was killed. I thought of that as I was stuck in traffic for two hours on Wednesday. In a 7-mile stretch of cars lined up behind two semis that collided and caught fire, I killed time reading news articles and googling YouTube videos of some of the songs I loved back then. Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel, Peter, Paul & Mary, John Denver and Cass Elliott. I was just a kid, but I remember. One particular song, Abraham, Martin and John, was the subject of a New York Times article (in part because Dion, the artist who recorded it, is now a giant Trump fan). 

Anybody here seen my old friend Abraham,
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lotta people, but it seems the good they die young

I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend John…

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin…

Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free, 
Someday soon it's gonna be. One day.

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby,
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John.

So, there was that. Then, two birthdays. My brother David, born this week in 1968, his birth the day before Bobby was shot, that birth and that death closely linked for me, not ideologically, but somehow cosmically. I rarely think of one without thinking of the other. 

The other birthday was Ben, the husband I’ve never met of my friend Mary, with whom I went to church camp in 1971, when we were 11. 

Mary lives in California and we haven’t seen each other since middle school. But I remembered that week at camp, the counselors who played guitars and sang for our evening devotions. One night one of the songs was “Abraham, Martin and John” recorded by Dion, written the day that Robert Kennedy was shot.  

I remembered our college-aged counselor, Janet, listening to the song and crying. 

On a whim, I called Mary this week, because of her husband’s birthday and camp memories, and because this song was on my mind. But before I could share my memory of camp, she said her one clear memory of that week was that song, during vespers by the lake, and how our counselor cried and told us what good men Martin, Bobby and John were, and the important things they worked for. 

That camp experience, it turns out, was important for us both. And that song was a key, in ways neither of us can completely understand. Except that someone showed us her heart and told us what is possible when good people act. 

This spring, we’ve been observing the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. King. And these past few weeks, we’ve been participating in a re-ignition of the Poor People’s Campaign, his movement to end poverty and become a better country. 

So I’ve been pondering what shapes a conscience, what shapes a consciousness. 

Last week, as I was training interns, one of them asked me how I came to care about social justice, about an end to poverty. 

I didn't have a really good short answer. And the reality is that my childhood was probably less "socially astute" and more "there's something happening here; what it is ain't exactly clear." 

But any long answer, a complete answer, surely would include reflection on 1968, the year of two assassinations, a never-ending war in Southeast Asia, plus Rowan & Martin’s oh-so-political Laugh-In, and an 8-year-old church kid with a budding awareness that she was called to ministry. 

And it would include that moment at camp in 1971, Janet’s tears and counselors’ guitars. Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?

These past couple of weeks, we’ve been inviting families and kids of Woodside to consider a week at camp. I hope they will. You never know what moments may last forever. 

With you on a complicated journey, 

-- pastor deb

29 march 2018: by public transit...

This week, I have found myself in multiple conversations about public transportation. 

First, on vacation last week, Hannah and I remarked how trains, trams and buses made tourism so much easier. We walked 30 miles, but we rode way more than that, and were able to see sites all over Amsterdam, and even an iconic windmill in Haarlem, 10 miles away. 

Second. You know that each year, I oversee a summer intern program for the Disciples of Christ, and each year it is tricky to match applicants with sites across the country -- each applicant, each site with its own gifts, needs and quirks. 

One site, located in a large southwestern city, does its Disciple outreach among an urban population with the unsurprising list of urban needs: food, shelter, health care, community. This week, the site director called to say that they were not able to accept the intern candidate we'd sent because the candidate has no car. To live and work in this major American city, you have to have private transportation, because public transportation is inadequate. 

Then, third. This week, Woodsider Judy Luke told me about her experience with public transportation right here in Flint. 

I was just going to a moving sale. No big deal. Maybe I find a couple things I need, maybe something with sentimental meaning. The church would get a little change, a couple things not headed to the dumpster or had to be moved to new place. End of story. Then, I try and get on the bus....

Among other things, I bought a garden shovel. When I went to get on the MTA bus to go home, I was told I couldn’t bring it on the bus as it could be used as a weapon. I am 69 years old. I asked the driver what would have happened if I had bought it at a mall, or the like. He said I would have to call someone to come and get me. Wonderful! First, I don’t have a phone. Second, who would I call? None of my friends have a car. I am on a limited budget so a taxi would not be feasible.

I ended up walking downtown carrying my shovel and pulling my shopping cart. In years past, I have made that walk in about 35 minutes. Friday, it took me about 1 hr. 20, as I kept having to stop and rest. I left my shovel at a downtown store, saying I would be back the next day, and took the bus the rest of the way home.

When I got home, I crawled in bed and turned on my electric blanket. I wanted to cry, but was too tired and too sore. As I lay there, I thought how ironic it is that anyone with a concealed weapon permit can ride the bus with ease, but I am too dangerous to be allowed to ride. I also thought about how MTA is limiting what I can own, as anything I buy must be able to be carried on the bus.

Among "banned" items, Judy learned from a driver, are tool belts. It's worth noting that I found nothing on the MTA website that banned any items, except food and drink. I did learn that "MTA is a great way to save money by commuting." Unless you work construction and have to carry a tool belt, apparently. Or landscaping and need shovels and whatnot.

Biggest problem I have, Judy wrote, is that the ones at the top making the decision don't comprehend what a rider goes thru getting around. (Like what happens with so many things affecting an average person.) I should be free to buy what I want, not what MTA says.

There are laws in place. First, there is a law of unintended consequences. And there is a zip code tax. Neither of these is an actual law, you understand. But they are always in play for folks of fewer resources. Maybe we don't intend to penalize people without cars; perhaps we don't mean to make people with less money pay more for daily basics. But here in Flint, more than 7500 households have no access to a car. And that only counts people who live in houses. How are we helping? How are we making it worse? 

Going on vacation is an adventure. Providing transportation for a summer  intern is a short-term challenge. But what about the people who live in that city? The ones who live in this city? The ones who work, or want to work, who need to take kids to doctors or go to parent-teacher conferences, who need groceries, want to attend church, go to school, have a life?

We at Woodside in our time of transition have been pondering basic questions: Where are we going? How will we get there? What do we need to take along? But even in our asking, we know the answers will come along, stuff will get done, and the need will soon go away. 

As we figure it out for ourselves in the moment, let's keep in mind the dire urgency of the questions for people all around us. It matters that cities have adequate public transportation. Changing things begins with understanding things. My thanks to Judy for keeping us mindful.  

Sunday, we're processing to our new place from our old place. If you're not inclined to walk, consider taking the bus. But be prepared: You have to have exact change; and we're not sure what carry-ons may get you removed. And don't expect to be on-time; the buses don't run that early on Sundays. 


8 march 2018: Flint Town (thoughts from a Woodsider)

Flint Town — a new miniseries. 

Flint Town is an 8-episode docudrama that hit Netflix last week. Created by the filmmakers who produced T-Rex, the award-winning documentary about Claressa Shields, Flint Town depicts the city through the eyes of law enforcement; it was shot in 2015-16, the height of the water crisis and the presidential election season. (Woodside footage is included, FYI.) 

There is no doubt that the attention Flint has gotten these past couple of years feels different depending on proximity. Those far away may see the city as a metaphor or cautionary tale; those closest to Flint may experience grief in the reality, frustration that any depiction is incomplete, or, as below, anger that the city is being exploited again for someone's profit. This series is certainly sparking conversation. 

Vogue calls Flint Town "a Mesmerizing and Troubling Portrait of Police and Race in Small-City America." 

Charlie LeDuff, a Detroit-based writer for The New Yorker, calls it and Flint "a story of the struggle to survive....How does law enforcement work in a place in constant crisis? The answer is that it doesn’t, not really."

The Detroit Free Press quotes one of the filmmakers: "We just saw firsthand the toll it takes on a person when living in a place like Flint, with poverty so high and crime just being a part of everyday life."

The Daily Nebraskan comments:"Everyone is stuck. Whether they are held here through a job promising a better future, or the fear of leaving what you have always known, each individual in this documentary is a prisoner of Flint."  

The Chattanooga (TN) Pulse calls it "a hard look at a failed city," but comments that "Flint Town is a series that looks unflinchingly at a serious problem and offers no solutions. Political leanings aside, we can all agree that Flint is our collective responsibility."

Perhaps that is the hopefulness we can find in the production — collective responsibility. (disclaimer: I've seen only one episode. -ed)

Woodsider Desiree Duell, brought her own proximity to a review of the series, and consented to having her thoughts published here. If you would like to offer your thoughts, we'd be happy to print them also. Please note: This is intended to represent Desiree's opinion only, and we make no representation to the accurate assessment of Netflix' or the producers' protocols. (Warning: Spoiler Alerts)  

Flint Town: Representation, Audience, and Aesthetics 

I was away on a graduate residency when the documentary series, Flint Town was released. As I am an artist who uses art as tool to disrupt dominant narratives about poverty, and seeks collective agency in the community, a friend wanted to know my opinion.

Flint Town is a classic example of 'poverty porn.' Poverty porn objectifies those living in poverty and their suffering for the media/arts/entertainment to elicit an emotional response and generate a profit. Poverty Porn helps no one except those making money off of it.

The series tells a very singular story about the Flint Police Department. Flint police and community officers do need funding to keep community-policing going, to keep out state police. The film failed to mention that state police patrols were increased in the City of Flint in summer of 2015. 

There are no trigger warnings indicating there are highly graphic images of violence in this series. I almost threw up watching the first episode. Trigger warnings should be at the beginning of every episode. 

The stereotypical poverty tropes of liquor stores, black on black violence, abandoned buildings, churches, and cops is neither complex nor interesting. Flint has rich culture that makes it distinct (and I'm not talking about downtown). Erasure of our culture is dehumanizing and this representation furthers shame and negative images of our city. 

One mother watched the series to unknowingly have to relive her son’s murder. I have spoken to others who lost loved ones, who were not notified about being represented in this film. Victims of violent crimes and family members should have been asked, and consent to have their images represented in the film. No mother should have her son's death memorialized for public entertainment. 

The over-representation of police shootings and very little representation of police brutality in the context of the national narrative only reinforces systematic racism. Due to Netflix’s national audience, this film is more than a representation of Flint. It will be read as a representation of all predominantly black urban areas.

Aesthetically, the over-stylized glossy images almost make the movie seem fictionalized; this is very dangerous as we as a culture love to consume violence. The mothers, children, youth, and adults that were victims of violence and those who committed violence are real people. The aerial shots of Flint made it seem like a large urban city; this is a town, a small town with big city problems. 

Our pain should NOT be for public consumption. Our pain should NOT be someone's Sunday Netflix binge. Our pain should NOT be for someone else's profit. All proceeds of this film should go back directly to the Flint community.