Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jeremiah Wright is Right…

Jeremiah Wright is right…on many things:

On the need for racial understanding and reconciliation:
"In the past, we were taught to see others who are different as being deficient. We establish arbitrary norm and then determine that anybody not like us was abnormal. But a change is coming because we no longer see others who are different as being deficient. We just see them as different."

About the insight that because different individuals and cultures may have differing perspectives based on their experience, it does not follow that one viewpoint is wrong or deficient in truth. “Different does not mean deficient!” --NAACP's Annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner in Detroit, April 27, 2008

On how he meant "God condemns America" in his sermon in which he said "God damn America":

"When you start confusing God and government, your allegiances to government, a particular government and not to God, that you're in serious trouble because governments fail people. And governments change. And governments lie. And those three points of the sermon. And that is the context in which I was illustrating how the governments biblically and the governments since biblical times, up to our time, changed, how they failed, and how they lie." --interview on PBS' "Bill Moyers' Journal, April 25, 2007

"God doesn't bless everything. God condemns some things. And dem, D-E-M, is where we get the word damn. God damns some practices and there's no excuse for the things that the government, not the American people, have done. That doesn't make me not like America or unpatriotic." --National Press Club in Washington, April 28, 2008

On how he softened and contextualized his previous suggestion that the U.S. government may have in invented the HIV virus:

"Based on this Tuskegee experiment [The U.S. government's unethical 40-year experiment on black men with syphilis which finally was admitted and apologized for by President Clinton] and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything." --National Press Club in Washington, April 28, 2008

see http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmtuskegee1.html

On Black Liberation Theology:

"I come from a religious tradition where we shout in the sanctuary and march on the picket line. I come from a religious tradition where we give god the glory and the devil the blues. The black religious tradition is different. We do it a different way."

Now, in the 1960s, the term "liberation theology" began to gain currency with the writings and the teachings of preachers, pastors, priests and professors from Latin America. Their theology was done from the underside. Their viewpoint was not from the top down or from a set of teachings which undergirded imperialism. Their viewpoints, rather, were from the bottom up, the thoughts and understandings of God, the faith, religion and the bible from those whose lives were ground under, mangled and destroyed by the ruling classes or the oppressors. Liberation theology started in and started from a different place. It started from the vantage point of the oppressed.

In the late 1960s, when Dr. James Cone's powerful books burst onto the scene, the term "black liberation theology" began to be used. I do not in any way disagree with Dr. Cone, nor do I in any way diminish the inimitable and incomparable contribution that he has made and that he continues to make to the field of theology… I call our faith tradition, however, "the prophetic tradition of the black church," because I take its origins back past Jim Cone, past the sermons and songs of Africans in bondage in the transatlantic slave trade.

The prophetic theology of the black church is a theology of liberation. It is a theology of transformation. And it is ultimately a theology of reconciliation. The Apostle Paul said, "Be ye reconciled one to another, even as God was in Christ reconciling the world to God's self."

God does not desire for us, as children of God, to be at war with each other, to see each other as superior or inferior, to hate each other, abuse each other, misuse each other, define each other or put each other down.

God wants us reconciled one to another, and that third principle in the prophetic theology of the black church is also and has always been at the heart of the black church experience in North America.

The black church's role in the fight for equality and justice from the 1700s up until 2008 has always had as its core the non- negotiable doctrine of reconciliation, children of God repenting for past sins against each other. Jim Wallis says America's racist – the sin of racism has never even been confessed, much less repented for. Repenting for past sins against each other and being reconciled to one another -- Jim Wallis is white, by the way -- (laughter) -- being reconciled to one another because of the love of God, who made all of us in God's image.

Reconciliation does not mean that blacks become whites or whites become blacks or Hispanics become Asian or that Asians become Europeans. Reconciliation means we embrace our individual rich histories, all of them. We retain who we are, as persons of different cultures, while acknowledging that those of other cultures are not superior or inferior to us; they are just different from us.

We root out any teaching of superiority, inferiority, hatred or prejudice. And we recognize for the first time in modern history, in the West, that the other who stands before us with a different color of skin, a different texture of hair, different music, different preaching styles and different dance moves; that other is one of God's children just as we are, no better, no worse, prone to error and in need of forgiveness just as we are.

Only then will liberation, transformation and reconciliation become realities and cease being ever elusive ideals
. --NAACP's Annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner in Detroit, April 27, 2008

Rev. Wright is not right on everything he says, of course, nor is the way he 'tells it like it is' always in the right spirit of peace and love...but, when I listen to the man, I am challenged and inspired by how a prophet speaks truth to power.

click on image

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dr. Jeremiah Wright III in church today

Dallas/Fort Worth:

I’m here for a week promoting Communities of Shalom at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. It's Sunday, and I wanted to attend the Potter’s House to hear Bishop Jakes preach, but heard that Dr. Jeremiah Wright III was in town to preach at Friendship-West Baptist Church, so my colleagues and I decided to attend the 8am service rather than the 11am which no doubt would be more crowed.

The occasion was the 25th Pastoral Anniversary Celebration for Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III, Senior Pastor. I guess the reason Wright agreed to preach at Friendship-West Baptist was because Haynes is one of his spiritual children. This was billed by the media as Wright’s first public service since his retreat from political scene after he made international news during Holy Week for his controversial remarks as Barak Obama’s pastor.

Wright preached this morning to over 6k on Jesus healing the "messed up man" at the pool of Bethesda (and how Jesus can heal and empower others who need to stand up). His exegesis was biblical, his hermeneutics superb, and his practical applications inspiring. I plan to buy the tape. The congregation was on their feet as he worked his homiletical magic in word, song and dance from the pulpit. The point of his message was for each one of us who remain by the pool of "woe is me, it’s someone else's fault" to get off their butts, stand up, claim Christ's healing, and be all we're meant to be. An Afro-centric empowerment message, to be sure, but I took as also applying to me. Wright was both personal and performance oriented, a mesmerizing biblical preacher in touch with the injustices in society. He reminds me a lot of Cecil Williams, pastor of Glide Church, but more Christo-centric than Cecil used to be in his most radical days. I must say that I really like Wright, and have been an Obama supporter since I first heard him 4 years ago at the Democratic Convention (and said to myself way back then, “I think I’ve just seen and heard the next President of the United States.” )

On a personal and humorous note: I was one of four identifiable white folks in the house this AM. I got busted and detained outside the door for trying to bring in my camera, so my two colleagues found seats in the packed house without me. After ditching the camera, I returned to the security usher who found me a reserved seat on the end of the third row on the left. In his opening remarks, Jeremiah addressed me directly from the pulpit, thinking that I was Rev. Mark Miller, a UCC bureaucrat and supporter of Wright; but when I did not stand up when asked, he quickly looked for where Mark might be sitting (he was way in the back. I guess all white people look alike from the pulpit).

The funniest moment in the service was when he chided the senior pastor, Dr. Frederick Haynes III, for being a member of Alpha... (first Black sorority) while he (Wright) was a member of Gama. They carried on society antics on the platform to the delight of those who understood the secret handshakes etc.

Most impressive moment: How skillfully a lay leader announced that today was the 25th anniversary of their pastor, and that a pastoral offering for Dr. Haynes would be collected. He suggested that each one present give $1/year for each year of pastoral service. I quickly did the math: If all 6K people each gave $25 in the anniversary offering, the pastor would receive a total of $150,000 pastoral offering. Maybe I should suggest such a gift idea in celebration of my 15th year at Drew University.

After the morning service, Wright headed to Detroit to address a NAACP crowd of 10,000, which has been replayed on Fox News and CNN all evening long. The question remains: Will Obama's association with Wright help him more than hurt him?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Shalom Speech at General Conference Reception

Ashton Depot, Forth Worth:

As the new National Director, I’m delighted to provide leadership to the Communities of Shalom initiative of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, now in its 15th year. I feel called and drawn to shalom ministry for at least three reasons:

1. I love the original idea of “shalom zones” emerging from the social unrest in LA in 1992. To identify just four square blocks, or one square mile, or one particular neighborhood…and work together toward shalom with all who live in the area, is a compelling vision. It’s about transforming the world one community at a time.

2. I’m challenged by the radical nature and prophetic spirit of shalom. Bishop Felton May’s shalom ministry in D.C., organizing tent revivals for social justice, and recovery from addiction through personal transformation and community development, is right on the mark. The Shalom movement is radical, edgy, prophetic and unavoidably political in how it goes about spiritual and social transformation.

3. I’m convinced that for communities of shalom to succeed, it has to engage in systemic and sustainable change. Shalom is holistic in its mission of community transformation. Shalom is not content with bandaids of relief, food for the hungry and a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. Shalom requires the slow, hard work of Systemic, sustainable change, Asset-based community development, focused on Health and wholeness, motivated by Love for God, self and neighbor, requiring broad-based community Organizing, and working together Multiculturally with every sector of the community for peace and renewal. And what’s that spell: SHALOM!

What to expect from shalom@drew.edu ?

• Greater emphasis on interfaith engagement in the work of shalom, salaam, pas, mir, and peace.

• Greater emphasis on the ecological implications of shalom, as suggested by Jeremiah’s instructions to not only “build houses” but “plant gardens” (Jeremiah 29:7)

• Curriculum revisions and development of the classic ShalomZone Training that already has gone through a number of revisions and adaptations since 1992.

• And relational development of new National Partners of Communities of Shalom beyond Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church in order to move shalom beyond Methodism while continuing to engage and power local UM churches as initiators and catalysts for shalom ministry.

Together, we want to fulfill the mission and vision of shalom: to seek the peace of the city where we have been sent, until all the world experiences shalom; transforming the world one community at a time.

In the words of community developer Bob Lupton:

“Can you imagine neighborhoods with secure streets, healthy relationships, effective and affirming schools, clean air, and a thriving local economy? Can you picture neighbors sharing meals together, children laughing and playing freely, and the elderly being valued, honored and cared for as the norm in our communities? Can you fathom vibrant churches in every neighborhood being beacons of light and hope because of their deep concern for the well being of all community residents, not just their members? Can you envision people being drawn to the love and power of God because of the clear witness of Christians fully committed to Jesus Christ?”

Communities of Shalom exist to co-create with God this kind of world. And to this end, we are bold to pray, as Jesus did: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” AMEN.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Fort Worth, Texas

I arrived here yesterday to attend the General Conference of the UMC.

Tonight, we held our Communities of Shalom reception at the Ashton Depot--the refurbished train station in downtown Fort Worth. Hosted by Dean Maxine Beach, over 130 guests attended the event and enjoyed the program that included social justice music by Mark Miller and the Drew Choir,and remarks by Bishop Felton May, Bishop John Schol, Sally Vonner and myself.

Here's the news item posted by United Methodist Communication (UMCOM)today:

Shalom initiative returns to General Conference--where it all began

By Barbara Wheeler*

FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS) — The United Methodist Communities of Shalom initiative returned to General Conference, where it was born in 1992 as a ministry of community reconciliation and development.

Shalom leaders came not asking for funds but to demonstrate the achievement of the community-development program that provides training in how congregations and communities can work together in seeking health, wholeness and well-being.

A celebration of the Shalom anniversary took place on the evening of April 25 at a hall near the Fort Worth Convention Center, where the General Conference was in session.

The initiative has a new organizational look. Shalom is now a partnership ministry between the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist-related Drew University Theological School, Madison, N.J.

Drew will house the Communities of Shalom Resource Center, providing the initiative and local communities with ongoing training, technical assistance and opportunities for networking.

“This is one of the most exciting partnerships in the church right now,” said Washington Area Bishop John R. Schol, chair of the National Shalom Committee and one of the first people to work with Communities of Shalom when it began.

Healing communities

Delegates to the 1992 General Conference gave birth to the Communities of Shalom against the backdrop of civil unrest in Los Angeles following the police beating of Rodney King.

Bishop Joseph Sprague was an Ohio pastor at the time. He asked the 1992 legislative assembly to act as a committee of the whole to address justice issues and the causes of violence. The importance of the biblical concept of “shalom” and critical community-development work led to the creation of Shalom Zones, designed to heal broken communities.

General Conference’s mandate said that “in solidarity and consultation with the indigenous persons and local churches in a selected neighborhood, The United Methodist Church commits itself to the creation in Los Angeles of a Shalom Zone with the hope that the Shalom Zone concept becomes a prototype for proactive ministry in other places.”

“Out of deep tragedy and deep pain, something very lasting began,” Schol said. “We are indebted and grateful to the people of Los Angeles because of what has happened.”

Schol said the goal of the initiative and the individual communities has always been to become self-sustaining. The partnership between Drew University and Communities of Shalom combines opportunities for research, training and fundraising and a fundamental commitment to community development, he said.

Maxine Clarke Beach, Drew University vice president and dean of the Theological School, said the school looks forward to the connections and learning opportunities the new partnership will create. Beach said the partnership with Communities of Shalom uses “the best of what we have and know at Drew. Knowing deep in our DNA that we want justice; knowing what we know and equipping our leaders to work in communities.”

‘More than on the loose’

Bishop Felton E. May, interim top executive of the Board of Global Ministries and the organizing bishop in the early 1990s, recalled the pioneers in Communities of Shalom at the Fort Worth observance.

The dream, May said, was that “peace, health and wholeness could be the foundation of every community across this nation.” He emphasized Shalom’s specific attention to organizing neighbors in a community and drawing on their strengths.

Schol said 5,000 people have been trained with the Communities of Shalom model in the United States and around the world. “Shalom happens because of people in the community. Shalom happens because of the trainers who work with community members. Shalom is more than on the loose. It’s something that lives deep within the bones of The United Methodist Church.”

Will Dent, a senior program associate on the National Shalom Team and one of the original trainers of the Communities of Shalom model for community development, will be training new sites in the church’s Western North Carolina Conference, specifically in High Point, Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

“I can see the impact the training is having in communities and people’s lives,” Dent said. “The Shalom model is one of the best because it is about the empowerment of people.”

Sally Vonner, North Texas Conference Shalom coordinator, came to the celebration with several representatives from Shalom sites in the conference. She talked about the passion she has for Communities of Shalom and recalled meeting Bishop Schol as the initiative and trainings began. Now there are eight active sites in her conference, many in small congregations that work with children and youth in the communities.

“The impact they have in their community is so powerful,” Vonner said. “They can bear witness to how God can take something little and make it very big. Indeed, Shalom is on the loose and will be on the loose.”

More information on Communities of Shalom (Advance Number 7425666) is available at www.communitiesofshalom.org or by writing to shalom@drew.edu.

*Wheeler is editor of Response magazine, the official magazine of United Methodist Women.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Two New Wells in Kamphenda

One year ago in March I met with 20 village chiefs in a remote catchment called Kamphenda. They represented 20 villages that did not have their own fresh water well and had come to a simple classroom in one of the villages to discuss their need. (see blog post on Samaritan Wells May 28, 2007)

One year later, the first two wells are now operational, installed in March by CitiHope International; and arrangements have been made for two more wells to be installed this month, thanks to generous sponsors in Chatham, New Jersey.

Here is Dennis' report on the first two wells in this region:


Date of Visit: APRIL 3, 2008
Report Compiled by: Dennis Singini, Operations Coordinator
Gabriel Msongole, Country Representative, CitiHope International


Sanitary, potable water has become a reality for the people of Kamphenda, Sinjiliheni and Chisungula Villages. Through CitiHope International funding and management, these villages now have their own deep well boreholes, centrally located within each village. Until now, there has been no safe water for years. Villagers used to fetch water in cisterns from the same places where domestic and wild animals would go to drink. Water-borne diseases like diarrhea & dysentery were very common and too many people have died from drinking unsafe water.

On April 3rd CitiHope Malawi staff, Gabriel Msongole and Dennis Singini, visited these villages where two bore holes have already been drilled with funding donated by generous Americans to CitiHope International through the efforts of Dr. Michael J. Christensen. The CHI Malawi team went there to interact with villagers and to monitor operations of the deep wells. In both villages, the people are full of happiness and gratitude to the donors.

When Gabriel and Dennis saw how happy and delighted the villagers were, they were reminded of what Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink…”

When Gabriel and Dennis arrived at Sinjiliheni where the first well was drilled, the villagers were so happy to see them and expressed great happiness for the well that has been provided. They had never even dreamt of having water at this particular time of the year.

Village Headman Mtakwa, at Sinjiliheni, witnessed the borehole working properly and expressed his gratitude and appreciation to CitiHope for drilling a well in their area. Villagers first began using the well on March 30, 2008. They explained that the well will provide clean water for 9 villages:

a. Village Headman Mtakwa
b. Village Headman Jumbu
c. Village Headman Chilevu
d. Village Headman Kayizwanga
e. Village Headman Kambatika
f. Village Headman Kasumbiskanga
g. Village Headman Madwaleni
h. Village Headman Msepweteka
i. Village Headman Mfumu-Yilinkhu.

The Village Headmen also explained that women had been walking long distances to fetch water. They would leave their homes around 1:00 a.m. and had to walk long distances of about 5 miles to get to the former, unsanitary water source.

The most difficult thing in the area has been that a seasonal stream provided water during the rainy season only. With the borehole in place, it is totally a different story; about 5,000 people will benefit from drinking safe water from this well all year long.


The people of the Kamphenda area are so grateful to all the CitiHope donors and partners who made it possible for them to have safe water within and surrounding the village. They thanked CHI for being their good stewardship, in integrity and compassion, in combating the water problem in their area.
A third bore hole will be drilled in just a few weeks. The driller was engaged with other contracts, so he could not finish drilling three wells. The contractor was paid half of the job and will finish the balance of the work when he is through drilling another borehole. As soon the well is completely drilled, CitiHope staff will visit the site and send another report immediately.

Photos and captions from Report: available upon request

Villagers happy with the borehole

Sinjiliheni Borehole:

A happy woman demonstrates use of the pump

In a group photo at Kamphenda Village, Sinjiliheni

CitiHope Country Representative, Gabriel Msongole,
in blue shirt, addresses villagers at Sinjiliheni

Nyangana, an old woman in the village, was very happy
when the well was drilled because now she can rest from fetching water at night

Chisungula Borehole:

Chusungula Borehole will serve 4 villages:

a. Village Head man Chofya
b. Village Head man Chidyokho
c. Village Head man Mtinkhwa
d. Village Head man Chisungula

A total number of 3,000 people are to drink from this well. It was sad to learn that some women when they had walked long distances fetching for water were being asked to pay for water which they could not afford and sometimes were asked to give a bucket full of corn so that in turn they can have the water.

Today it’s a different story everybody is free to drink water from this well freely with no charges along with. They started using this borehole on the 28th March 2008.

Women so grateful for the borehole in Chisungula Village

The young woman at right just got married and said it was hard for her to fetch water because she had to walk 5km to find water; now she is happy. Previously, while fetching water, she was once asked to pay the owners of the place for the water.