Sunday, November 30, 2008

Solidarity Sunday in Newark--March for Peace






It was cold and wet today in Newark. Yet the Solidarity Sunday March for Hope and Peace went on as scheduled as people gathered under umbrellas at City Hall and walked in groups to Lincoln Park for the rally. Ministers, Street Warriors, representatives of community-based organizations and associations, and local political leaders had their turn to speak out about how best to end the violence in the city; and soloists and choirs sang in the rain. Before the event concluded, at least 500 people showed up from the city and the suburbs as an act of solidarity and the spirit of Hope and Peace.

What follows is Dave Kerr's report on the event:

One way to look at Solidarity is simple: what can do in love for others. There are problems but let's not spend a lot of time finding out who is at fault. First, let's help the one who is hurt and work together in solidarity to prevent the problem from happening again and hurting others. Let's work to heal rather than hurt. Let's start with the child who is hungry and feed him. Let's start with the family who's homeless and find them shelter. Let's start with the stranger and take her in. Let's come to those in prison and show them the way out.

In spite of constant rain, wind and cold weather, marchers walked down Broad St. from City Hall, led by the responsive chanting of Pastor Bernard Wilks. Pastors Darlene Reynolds, Reggie Osborne, Pam Jones, David Jefferson, Bill Howard and Jethro James showed their passion and leadership to the crowd about the need to come together as a people and bring hope and real help to the many in need in our City. Community advocates Donna Jackson, Earl Best (Street Doctor) and El-Amin delivered fiery talks about the need for all of us to get out of our comfort zones and work directly with people in 'the streets' who need our help.

Faith-based activists and community leaders joined Solidarity Sunday participants, some 500 in number, in singing 'Let There Be Peace On Earth and Let it Begin With Me.' World Famous Opera Singer Kevin Maynor led the singing with 'There is a Balm in Gilead.' Souls of Integrity Choir sang Sam Cook's 'A Change is Going to Come.'

Many of our political and government leaders were there, including Council President Mildred Crump, Deputy Mayor Deen Shareef, Senator Teresa Ruiz, Assemblywoman Grace Spencer and Assemblyman Al Coutinho. Many other faith-based leaders were there also including Robert Morris, Mark Beckwith, Deirdre Malloy, Tanya Bennett, and Michael Christensen--all from the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Hope. Mayor Cory Booker sent a note wishing us well and pledging his full support for Solidarity Sunday even though he could not attend.

Solidarity Sunday was just the beginning. There will be a follow up discussion of Solidarity at our next Bridge Breakfast on December 18th at the Robert Treat Center at 8am.

David H. Kerr
Founder and President
Integrity House
103 Lincoln Park
PO Box 510
Newark, NJ 07102

Friday, November 28, 2008

Peace March Objectives

Here's a note from Dave Kerr, one of the organizers of Sunday's March for Peace and Solidarity:

Again we encourage and give thanks for the support of suburban faith based groups. Our Newark brothers and sisters are battered by violence and addiction and homelessness needing your prayers and mentoring and support.

We hope that you will attend this grass roots Solidarity movement on the 30th. We will meet at Newark City Hall on the afternoon of November 30th at 1:30pm marching to Lincoln Park for the rally at 2pm, even and especially on Thanksgiving Sunday.

Pastoral Care Response – Parents, families, and the community are working to overcome their grief at the loss of a loved one. The faith community will work to share that burden each time loss of life occurs in the city. This effort will strengthen families and provide a visible response to those working through their loss. The clergy would also expect to be a leading presence as citizens, community leaders, government officials, service providers, and others look for ways to reconcile differences, as well as provide comfort and emotional support.

Mentoring: With 70,000 individuals coming out of state prisons over the next 5 years and with tens of thousands of addicts on parole and probation, a high priority to a reentry agenda is a must. Solidarity Sunday will be the beginning of bringing faith based and community leaders together on specific and well defined projects. For example, we will encourage participants to sign up as mentors to help those trying to change their life after incarceration or after drug treatment and throughout their years of recovery. Each one of theses people needs a mentor - one on one. Integrity House alone is looking for 100 mentors and this challenge will be facilitated through our efforts beginning on Solidarity Sunday, November 30th.

Draft of some of our Objectives:

1. To reach out to employers who will be part of our rally and who will promise jobs for qualified individuals who have a criminal record but who have completed rehabilitation. Each person referred (mentee) will have a mentor and other support people possibly including a parole or probation officer.

2. Mentors needed: To reach out to our agencies and service providers, and shelters to determine how many individuals or clients need a mentor and to determine the name and the phone number of the mentor coach for that agency. For example, the Essex County Youth House may have 12 youth per month released to our community. The Warden might be the contact person for any mentors who may want to help each released youth. There will be one mentor for each mentee and each mentor coach will organize and facilitate the appropriate training needed for his or her client. Another example might be Integrity's Outpatient Women's program where each one of these women needs a mentor to walk them through job search, transportation, legal issues, housing etc.

3. To organize a program to bring truant children and youth back to school, signing them up with a mentor, as well to lead them to the appropriate support services. Many gang leaders and members do not want violence and are willing to submit to urine testing and background checks in order to be part of "The Council" – gangs who use their influence to help others in peaceful ways.

4. To help the City's to bring our young men and women back into our community with all of the details of reintegration worked out for each parolee The support would start from the mentor picking up the former inmate upon release to job finding, mental health or substance abuse treatment needs, housing, family reintegration, legal issues etc.

5. To review our objectives from time to time and to adjust our implementation plan as needed as we learn more about the effectiveness of our efforts.

6. To organize a gun exchange program in line with what is already ongoing


See you on the 30th!!



Dave

--
David H. Kerr
Founder and President
Integrity House
103 Lincoln Park
PO Box 510
Newark, NJ 07102
973-623-0600

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Opportunity for Civic Engagement in Newark

Friends of Shalom:

Read the article below from Tuesday's Star Ledger on the Peace and Solidarity March in Newark this Sunday afternoon, November 30th, in the aftermath of a new wave of street violence in the city and about the need for hope and peace.

My family and others from Drew and the burbs will join our friends in Newark in an simple ministry of presence solidarity--to stand and march with those in the city that want to call attention to the need to engage gang culture more positively, help shape a more productive police response, and reduce youth violence, drugs and guns.

The march will begin after church at 1:30am at City Hall. We will walk down to Lincoln Park and attend a rally from 2pm till about 4pm. Attached is the flier circulated by Integrity House and the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace--of which Communities of Shalom is a part.

Hope to see you there!

Michael

The Star Ledger
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Newark activists sensing a moment
They plan a march to increase solidarity


BY JONATHAN SCHUPPE, Star-Ledger Staff

In Newark, community leaders often talk about "moments" -- points in time when certain events make the city ripe for activism. The event may be a violent crime, political upheaval or problem with the way the city operates.

All three have happened in recent weeks, they say. The violence was a string of shootings one afternoon last month that left four people wounded and two dead. The political upheaval was the election of Barack Obama. And the problem is a lack of coordination among the city's various social service agencies that aim to help the homeless, the jobless, the hungry and troubled children.

Community leaders are pouncing on this moment by planning a large march and rally that they hope will bring more than 1,000 people downtown Sunday. Organizers are calling it "Solidarity Sunday" with the goal to develop a common agenda for religious leaders, government officials and social service agencies.

"Now's a good time to stop sit ting in our living rooms or offices or churches ... and look at how we can bring unity to the community so no one person is left holding the bag," said the Rev. Darlene Reynolds, one of the event's organizers. "We have to find a way to make a commitment to working with each other."

Marchers will gather at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall, then walk down Broad Street to Lincoln Park for a rally from 2 to 4 p.m. Community leaders will give short speeches about what they think needs to be done.

"The main mission on the 30th is to bring people together with answers and solutions instead of complaints and 'what can someone else do,'" said Dave Kerr, president of the Newark drug-rehab clinic Integrity House. "This is a solidarity movement. We haven't really done anything like this before."

The idea grew from monthly breakfast meetings of religious leaders and social service agencies called "Bridge to Recovery," in which participants worked to come up with a seamless net of care for the needy residents, from hungry children to ex-convicts.

Then came the shootings of Oct. 24, which jarred the city and, despite a steep drop in gun violence this year, dredged up old images of Newark's Wild West disorder. When Obama was elected a few weeks later, many Newarkers, particularly black residents, said they felt more optimistic about the country's future.

Organizers of the march and rally are trying to marshal those feelings into something more permanent -- and tangible. Kerr said he'd like to start with a plan for improved "pastoral care response," mentoring programs and "re-entry" services for people returning home from prison.

The Rev. William Howard of Bethany Baptist Church said he's has noticed "a new spirit of civic engagement" since the presidential election, and he hopes the march and rally will keep that momentum going.

"Nov. 30 could be one of the many manifestations of people in our city showing a commitment to a spirit of unity, of purpose, of civic engagement, of forward movement, of healing," Howard said.

Jonathan Schuppe may be reached at jschuppe@starledger.com



Friday, November 07, 2008

March for Hope and Peace Rally Budding in Newark

An Invitation to March for Peace and Hope in Newark was issued this week by Dave Kerr, Founder of Integrity House, member of our Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace, and one of the organizers of this solidarity event with Newark residents who continue to experience waves of street violence in their city:

Michael and group,

Thanks to you and Deen Shareef for your able representation at our recent Bridge Breakfast. The following is information to discuss at or upcoming meeting on the 11th at 4:30pm. The Newark Interfaith Coalition needs to take a leadership role in this budding movement for peace, hope and realistic help to members of our community in need, many of them violent and involved in gangs. We would like to involve suburban churches in this march and rally and wondered if any of you have some ideas?

You might want to approach this in a different way but I have always felt that we need to "strike while the iron is hot." If we are going to pull off a march and rally in this short time frame we will need to identify our game plan quickly and then move. You can see by some of the thoughts and ideas below that if we want a rally that brings pledges by employers for jobs and mentors volunteering from churches and the return to school for chronic truants, we need to move rapidly. I believe it can be done and done well but maybe on a smaller scale at first. We can't be too ambitious but it will be a good start. Thanks for your comments.

Dave


Here's the email to our group that met after the breakfast meeting.

After our meeting today, I had a discussion with my staff and Rich Grossklaus will be following up on details related to planning a march and rally for unity on the afternoon of November 30, 2008 starting at the churches at 1pm and ending up in Lincoln Park, Newark at 2pm. We feel that the event should be held on Sunday since this is when most religious activities occur in Newark and it seems that our church people are a natural resource and talent.

We thought that Bethany Baptist, Metropolitan and St. James AME and the Bethel Outreach Ministries would be four good churches for focus and yet all would be invited. The march might start from each of these churches following down to Springfield Ave and then to Lincoln Park.

It might take as much as 45 to 60 minutes to get all of the people to Lincoln Park so the rally would run from 2pm to 4pm. We might also want to reach out to the suburban churches, Temples and Mosques, many of whom want to help as well. Our goal for the afternoon would be to mobilize 1,000 people.

Kevin Manor has agreed to sing and has a song with a music track prepared. Integrity's Choir could also sing and we might want to come up with one hymn that choir members from all churches could rehearse and sing together in the theme of unity.

The focus would be to encourage help for people who want to help themselves but need support and guidance and mentoring. It is risky to give jobs to addicts who are still getting high. Bad for our purpose and just plain stupid. Many street people are not even ready for treatment no less a job and we have to be realistic about this. Yet there are many who are ready and who will respond to our support and those not ready might be motivated by mentors.

Our recommendation would be to challenge the many employers in Newark and the County through the Chamber of Commerce to step up and pledge a job or 5 jobs for individuals who qualify in all other ways except for their past criminal history. One by one, they would step up to the mic in Lincoln Park and pledge their jobs. Likewise, we would identify mentoring needs of people leaving Integrity House, CURA the EC Youth House, Talbot Hall etc. Each institution or agency would have identified a mentoring coordinator would would meet with the church mentor volunteers for the purpose of training, guidance and support.

Another goal would be to identify programs that are actually working and helping people. Many of these programs are ongoing right now at the churches while others are happening in our neighborhoods. We know the programs that work but we also know some high profile programs that claim much and do little. (Some of these less efficient programs might need only a little help or technical support.)

Also there are entrepreneurial street efforts that are worth notice. Kenny Jones for example has begun mentoring work with groups of DYFS referred youth in Union County as well as Essex. He has generated dollars to support his work and is being tutored by Robert Parkinson, MBA from my staff developing a budget and a strategic management plan for his growing business. He could be a poster child for some of our street efforts and for people to generate new businesses. Bill, your suggestion about the Rutgers Entrepreneurial classes may be very timely since I know many 'street people' who are doing many creative things helping others but don't have traditional training or recognition or management skills.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

“The People have spoken”



My eyes welled up last night and this morning as the national milestone of putting an African American family in a White House built by slave labor. Anyone with a social justice bone in their body, whether they voted for Senator McCain or not, must be over-whelmed with a deeper joy today in seeing the flood of images of jubilation from around the world.

"The people have spoken!" said Senator John McCain. “All Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday.” said President George W. Bush. Now the real work begins of systemic change in “remaking the Nation, block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand, said President-elect Barak Obama. And I would add, “zone by zone of shalom.”



As the images of joy and celebration continue to stream in from around the world, and tears fall down our cheeks, let us also remember how fearful at least 25% of those who voted for McCain feel about an Obama presidency, according to the polls. Many are convinced that the country has taken an apocalyptic turn, that the America they know and love is gone. It is a time for understanding and commpassion, healing and reconciliation, re-building trust, taking the risk of collaboration, coming together in the spirit of hope , and finding common ground. Time to develop a global perspective as a citizen of the world. Time to trust the God of all the nations, while we seek the shalom of our country with liberty, justice and prosperity for all.

“Some trust in horses, some in chariots, but our hope is in the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:27

Sunday, November 02, 2008

“Spread the Wealth Around”

Stewardship Sermon: “Spread the Wealth Around” (Luke 16:1-13)
By Michael J. Christensen

If one were to cast a vote on Tuesday based on just one social issue, what would that issue be? The candidate's position on abortion rights? Homosexuality? War? Immigration, Economics?

Interestingly, for Christians, Jesus did not take a pro or con position on abortion, homosexuality, war or immigration. Never addressed these important issues. But he had plenty to say about taxes and riches and the right use of money. Economic justice looms large in the Gospels.

What is the second most frequent topic addressed in the entire Bible? No, not sexuality. Not killing. But Money! Second only to the topic of the Kingdom of God. Hundreds of scripture verses about money!

So if we want to major on the issues the Bible majors on, and on what Jesus cared most about, it's 1) the Kingdom of God and 2) Use of Money.

Our political candidates aren't talking too much about God's Kindgom of love, peace and justice for all, but they are talking a lot about money and wealth. So, let's talk about money and wealth, since we all tend to vote our pocket book.

There once was a rich man who worked very hard for his money. His wife wanted to spend or give away some of his wealth. As the rich man grew older, and made out a will, he told his wife that he wanted to take all his money with him to the grave; that his wealth was not to be shared with family or church or spread around to charities. “Please honor me with this final request.” And so he died.

The wife dutifully fulfilled her husband’s wish to be buried with his money, against the counsel of friends, family and even her minister. After the funeral, at the grave site, after the casket was lowered into the ground…there was a hushed silence. Finally, the minister asked the wife: “How could you bury him with all that money?”

“It was easy,” she said. “I wrote him a check.”

Behold the shrewdness of the wife. Let us learn from her wisdom how to spread the wealth around.

Jesus tells a similar story of shrewd stewardship in the Gospel of Luke—the Parable of the Rich Man and his Steward (Luke 16:1-13): http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=LUKE+16:1-13

A paraphrase of the parable goes like this: ‘There once was a rich man who had a bad steward who managed his business. When the rich man discovered that the steward had squandered his wealth, he confronts him and announces that he cannot keep his job. “What to do?” the manager thinks to himself. “I’m not strong enough to dig. I’m too proud to beg.”

“I know," he says to himself, “ I will make friends with those who owe my boss money by discounting their debt. Then they will be grateful, will think more highly of me, will owe me favors, and will welcome me into their homes in hospitality so I won’t starve.” So, he asked each one, how much do you owe, and one by one he discounts the debt (we don’t really know why the man with 100 jars of olive oil got a 50% discount and the man with 100 containers of wheat only got 20%, but there it is.) When the Master finds out about this shrewd provision, he was upset but impressed. He commended his steward for how he used Mammon to make friends.’ (Re-read the text in light of the gospel of free market capitalism).

A steward is a trustee and manager of another’s property and resources. Mammon, in the Bible, is the god of wealth who is still alive and well in the world today. Jesus often told parables based on simple stories from everyday life to make a shocking and surprising point. Let us pay attention here and learn a lesson from the shrewdness of a worldly steward. “For the children of this age (whose values are rooted in materialism) are shrewder in dealing with other people’s money than are the children of light (whose values are rooted in the spiritual age to come). “So, be wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves.” Though you cannot serve both God and Mammon, you can serve God and use Mammon (or dishonest wealth) for good and holy purposes.

Which of the four Gospels says the most about money? Correct. The Gospel of Luke has the most to say about economics. It is addressed to the Gentile outcasts and economically poor. Jesus tells many parables about Kingdom economics in the Gospel of Luke. We hear about the Rich Young Ruler, the Good Samaritan, the Widow’s Mite, the Lost Coin, the Farmer who built bigger barns to horde his wealth, the Banquet Feast for the poor, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Rich Man and Bad steward.

On the one hand, Jesus is radical and uncompromising in his teaching about money and wealth. One cannot serve two masters—God and Mammon. “Either you will love the one and hate the other, or be devoted to the one, and despise the other.” As Bob Dylan as a Christian sang: “You gotta serve somebody…It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”

On the other hand, Jesus is very practical, realistic, and even a bit accommodating about the economic realities of life in this present age, as his parable suggests. As Reinhold Niebuhr once said: “Jesus sometimes asks us to get our hands dirty in a sinful world.” Sometimes, using Mammon or ‘dishonest wealth,’ may be the lesser of two evils. Or as Billy Sunday reportedly said: “The Devil’s had the money long enough.” Time for it to be redeemed and put to good use. Those who insist on uncompromising economic purity in this world would have to live as St. Francis did, in utter simplicity and dependency on God alone for daily bread. For most of us, managing money will be a necessary distraction.

THREE BIBLICAL OPTIONS:

The author of Luke/Acts identifies and illustrates at least three different ways or models of how to serve God with your money: from radical discipleship to more conventional economics: 1) Give it all away, 2) Give half of it away, or 3) Manage it responsibly as a wise (and shrewd) steward of God’s resources.

1. Give it all away: “Come, leave all, and follow me,” Jesus asked his first disciples (Luke 5:11). “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (12:33).

To the Rich Young Ruler, who was careful to keep the whole law, Jesus said: “Sell all that you have…” (18:18). He asks the same of some Christians today. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” Sell your goods to feed the poor, take an oath of poverty, live simply and radically in anticipation of the coming Kingdom of God. St. Francis and the Little Brothers of Jesus, Brother Roger and the Taize Community in France, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta—each heard and obeyed this call.

Radical stewardship practiced today usually involves joining a religious community with a common purse or community of goods, with no private property held, as in monastic orders and small communities of faith. For example, Sojourners Community in Washington D.C. has been an example to many of how to live simply, joyfully and responsibly in the world below the national poverty line. The Simple Way in Philadelphia is a radical postmodern community of “urban monks” committed to simplicity of lifestyle and solidarity with the poor. (Visit them virtually at www.TheSimpleWay.org

2. Give half of it away: When Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, was confronted by Jesus, he responded in economical terms by ceasing to exploit others and promising to repay any that that he had overcharged--fourfold (with interest). From then on, he promised to give away half of his wealth to the poor (Luke 19:2-8).

The widening gap between rich and poor is a contradiction of kingdom values and an abomination to God. To reverse this natural process of the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, God delights in exalting the poor and humble and casting down the rich and proud. This is because God has a special interest n the economically poor and socially disinherited. God’s social system of economic justice constitutes what has been called an “upside-down kingdom” where the greatest are least, and the least of these are the greatest.

The Biblical mandate for equity is not to be understood as a demand that everyone have exactly the same amount of money, land, possessions, or resources. Rather, equitable distribution means that no one has abundance at the expense of those who have less than what they need. God desires equity, St Paul wrote, that the scripture might be fulfilled: “the one that gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little…” (II Cor. 8:15, quoting Exodus. 16:8).

There are many modern examples radical generosity: John Wesley’s motto was “earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can” and told his Methodist followers that he should be considered a hypocrite if he died with more than a once of gold and silver in his pockets. C.S. Lewis gave all his book royalties to charity and lived on his modest income as a University professor. Gandhi said, “There are enough resources in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” Mother Teresa said: “Give until it hurts…” Reverend E. V. Hill in Los Angeles boldly preached: “God gives it to ya to get it through ya; if God can’t get it through ya, He’ll stop giving it to ya!”

Mercy means giving alms. Tithing means bringing a tenth of your income into God’s storehouse. Giving generously means, to some degree, redistributing the wealth through equitable means, knowing that “the Lord loves a cheerful giver…” (II Cor. 9:7)

3. Manage wisely is the third economic option in Luke/Acts. Faithful and responsible, practical and effective, and yes, the creative and shrewd use of wealth and resources that belong ultimately to God is acceptable model of biblical stewardship. This model is what the parable of the Rich Man and Shrewd Steward is about. But there are other, more honorable, ways to be a good trustee of God’s resources.

A group of wealthy women who followed Jesus (including Mary Magdalene), managed their own money and supported Jesus and the disciples “out of their means” (Luke 8:1-3). This is an example wise and generous management. Paul taking a collection from all the Gentile churches for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem is another example (I Cor. 16).

Here are three principles of biblical stewardship?
• Divine ownership: “The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Ps 24:1) God is the giver of all that we call our own—all the cattle on a thousand hills, all the gold and silver, all the land, natural resources, personal gifts and talents. It all belongs to God. It can be freely shared.
• Human stewardship: knowing that God is the land owner and Master, and we are the stewards or managers of what has been entrusted to our care. Good stewardship requires spiritual detachment, contentment and generosity, as well as wisdom and skill to spread the wealth around.
• Divine/human partnership: the responsible use of God’s resources requires us to lean how to practice wise, shrewd and compassionate management for the good of all, in direct response to God’s will and activity in the world. There are proper limits and procedures to spreading God’s wealth around.

CHOOSE YOUR MODEL AND BE FAITHFUL

St. Paul admonishes Christians to choose how best to practice generosity and stewardship, whether we sell all, give half, or manage well what has been entrusted to our care: “ Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Cor. 9:7)

Common to all three models is the eschatological vision and values of the coming era--Kingdom of peace, righteousness and just economics.

Money is not evil, but the love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim 6:10). If money is the first priority on your life, its idolatry or the worship of Mammon. We are accountable for how we use God’s silver, gold, cattle, land, resources. Wealth is never neutral.

Models are available, not simply for our choosing but in response to what God is asking each one of us. No one size of stewardship fits all. What is God asking of you in this season of your life? What model do you want our leaders to follow? Which model will you follow?
• Dispossess yourself and follow Christ radically?
• Give generously while working for debt-reduction and redistribution of God’s wealth for the sake of global justice?
• Practice compassionate and creative stewardship? Learning lessons from bad stewards and well as form good and faithful managers. Remembering that God is the owner and we are not….

Biblical Stewardship may be your preferred model…given your present life circumstances, spiritual capacity and personal charism. But what is not an option is serving Mammon by
• neglecting the poor
• disregarding immigrants
• exploiting others
• conspicuous consumption of goods
• greed
• hoarding
• bribery
• theft
• corruption
and storing up treasures on earth

So, here is a simple test question to assess where your heart is: If a special election were held today, for whom would you vote? God or Mammon? We cannot vote for two masters. Will we vote our pocket book or vote our faith in the One who owns and loans it all?