Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Today is Not Adequate: A Sermon by Dr. Dorsey Blake

Following is the text of the sermon presented by Dr. Dorsey Blake at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples on February 15. 2015. To hear audio of other, more recent Fellowship Church services, click here.
DSC02030Today is not adequate if we are to create a future.  Today with all of its affirmation of who we are, its stability and familiarity, its grounding, is not sufficient for what must become, the future that must be.  There must be in today a sense of beyondness, a sense of seeing beyond the present circumstances.  It is the impulse in the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements that moves beyond staying in today's outrage and thereby consuming the self to incorporating an element of hope that what ought to be can be (The definition of faith by Harry Emerson Fosdick).  Without this element we will not create and embrace the fortitude needed for a new heaven and new earth, to use the language of John exiled on the isle of Patmos.

Freedom always entails a sense of beyondness.  No, we have not overcome; but, we shall overcome someday.  It is this dimension of the soul that allows one to deal with the vicissitudes, the pain, the  problems, the heartbreaks, the violence, the shootings, the corruption with Dr. Thurman's understanding that the oppressions, the disappointments, the betrayals, the fear, hypocrisy, and hatred that enshroud one's life are neither final nor ultimate.  For example, we hear these words in Charles Tindley’s wonderful song:
Beams of heaven as I go,
through the wilderness below,
guide my feet in peaceful ways,
turn my midnights into days.
When in the darkness I would grope,
faith always sees a star of hope,
and soon from all life's grief and danger
I shall be free someday.
I do not know how long 'twill be,
nor what the future holds for me,
but this I know: if Jesus leads me,
I shall get home someday.
Listen to the words, I shall be free someday. I shall get home someday. Many people considered this and other songs like as other worldly.  And, felt that they guided people into accepting their struggles without struggling to overcome them.  But, when you realize that this was one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s favorite songs, you know that isn't true.  It was not otherworldly for him. There is a presence beyond the earthly, beyond today, that infuses the spirit with an unshakeable confidence in the sojourn ahead. It says that the empire's timetable is not God's timetable.  There is a dimension of human existence that is beyond the manipulations of those in power who seek to continue oppressing the people of God, all people.  It is this dimension that is embedded in the nonviolent struggle, that the victory may not come today, or even in one's lifetime, but it shall come, if the people of God trust God enough with their lives, their God-given talents to press on to a higher calling, to higher Ground.

Remember in Dr. King's last speech, he assured us that we would get to the Promised Land even though he may not get there with us.  And, he did not get there with us.  And we have not gotten there yet. For a nation threatened by his vision and commitment to the beloved community, to eradicating poverty, to studying war no more, understood his anti-imperialist incarnation and caused the blood to cease to run in his veins as it poured upon the concrete at the Lorraine Motel, April 4, 1968.  But, he will get there with us when we get to that Promised Land; for his blood will never lose its power to help us overcome our fear, and will gird our loins, minds, hearts, spirits as we continue the march up to freedom land.

He knew and embodied the understanding that as Audre Lourde said so beautifully that the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.

This past week many of the most progressive Black religious leaders in the nation gathered in Norfolk, VA, for the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.  Young people and older people, men and women addressed the conference addressing the theme:  Reclaiming Our Moral Authority:  Faith and Justice in the Age of Reinvented Empire.

That is not the master's tool, moral authority. False claims to moral authority yes, those are tools of the Empire, but not moral authority.  You may recall that I have shared from this pulpit that in my junior year of college, Dr. King, spoke in Sayles Hall at Brown University.  Afterword, he was asked in a press conference about the idea that was going around about his running as Vice-President on a Presidential ticket with Robert Kennedy.  He responded by saying that he would never do such because he saw himself not as a politician but as the moral voice of the nation.

Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor was a friend and mentor of Dr. King who wrote a book entitled:  My Moral Odyssey.  I was so pleased that the conference honoring his life honored the centrality of morality in its conference.  I'm not talking about the phony morality that some, including religious, leaders use to talk about private morality such as drinking, smoking, dancing, premarital sex.  No, the folks at the conference talked about our moral responsibility to address the empire on behalf of the discarded ones, dispossessed, the locked out members of our society.  It did say that we have to be careful that our lives reflect the kind of society we want to see. There is an extensive internal examination that we have to make sure that we are living up to the values, the morality, that we project upon society.

It reaffirmed nonviolence as the moral way to create a moral society.  Violence was the master's tool.   Nonviolence was a higher order.  It supports the idea that what is moral is that which elevates human personality and dignity.  And, what is immoral is that which degrades human personality and dignity. King stated that the ultimate goal of nonviolence was to understand that the destiny of all, white,  Black, whatever, is tied together, that is, to reclaim our walk together as one people.  He said that now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of what we called brotherhood.

The beyond dimension was there because it was clear that violence only perpetuated violence, creating an unending cycle of violence.  It, violence, could perhaps win some skirmishes but not win the heart of the people and the nation.  And winning the hearts, possessing the souls of people was absolutely necessary for the creation of that beloved community, the modern expression of the reign of Kingdom of God ideal.

One idea paramount at the conference was that we buy into the protocols and practices of the empire daily.  And, we need to examine ourselves and our duplicity and complicity with the empire and imperial practices if we are to be leaders of the people, leading them into this space of beyondness essential to the creation of the New Heaven and Earth.  which is our purpose for living. These are my words and concepts with which some at the conference may disagree. The empire understands violence. It will squash violence. But nonviolence is a new concept. They don’t know what’s going on. They cannot understand people going to jail. And that is what nonviolence does. It gives people time to do something before the empire catches on to what they are doing, allowing time for victories.

John exiled on the isle of Patmos envisions a way forward, a future beyond space, time, circumstance freed from present notions.  That is what beyond entails.  It is not a place but a consciousness, understanding, a vision that lifts us from our fallenness, not an original fallenness, but one in which we have been victimized by empire, victimized so thoroughly, so completely that we feel impotent to be the people we are called to be and create the future that needs to be.

"Behold, I saw a new heaven and a new earth" the writer of the Biblical book of Revelation wrote. And of John Dr.Thurman said: Very daring words they are and it is important for us to recognize that these words came out of a background of struggle and pain and tragedy and persecution.  They testify to the fact that there is something about the human spirit that is able to project itself out of any dilemma which may be facing it, and to act as if the dilemma has been resolved.

Let us remember the necessity of this beyond dimension as we move forward, asserting in no uncertain terms that Black lives do matter, that all lives do matter, that life itself matters.
When the writer of Revelation dreams, he says that he sees a new heaven and a new earth.  If heaven is where God dwells, and there is a new heaven, what does that mean?  Is the seer saying that God moves out more and more in creative exploration, that before there can be a new earth, a new Ferguson, a new New York, a new Santa Rosa, there must be a new heaven, a new way of thinking, of being, a new consciousness?

A new earth -- we talk about it! One world (United Nations) we talk about it! We try to get sufficient dynamic, sufficient conception, sufficient insight, from an old heaven, an old dogma, old theological discipline, to provide power, insight, guidance, strength, substance for a new world.  And, we can't do it.

Victor Hugo comments in Les Miserables “We often deny by our way of attaining the goal the meaning of the goal.  We strive for an ideal tomorrow by borrowing as the process of attaining it from the falsehood of yesterday.   We do not put our faith in the irresistible and incorruptible strength of our principles until after we have made ourselves secure on the world’s past falsehoods.”

But a new heaven! The dream of a new heaven, with all that that implies, works over the stubborn and often unyielding stuff of the old earth until at last out of the very heart throb of the new heaven is born the new earth.

There can be no greater hope, no greater stirring of the mind and the spirit, as we face going forth into the future with all of its withering disillusions and its grounded despair than that we are visited by the glory of a new heaven.

Wherever we are, however we are functioning, whatever responsibilities are ours -- if we capture the mood, the spirit, the intensity of a new heaven to steady us and to strengthen us, we shall walk though the "crud" of the earth in preparation for a new earth -- a new earth which will be the heritage of little babies and little puppies and little kittens yet to come.  What a wonderful thing to make that kind of demand upon today and tomorrow!

Behold there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, because the new heaven is already born in the heart and the spirit and the life of anyone anywhere who has made the great and central surrender to God, replacing "hands up I can't breathe"  with:
1.      Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.
2.      Breathe on me, Breath of God,  until my heart is pure, until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.
3.      Breathe on me, Breath of God,  till I am wholly thine, till all this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.
4.      Breathe on me, Breath of God, so shall I never die, but live with thee the perfect life of thine eternity.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cultivating My Home

Organizing the Western Park Residents’ Association has been rewarding and time-consuming. It’s interfered with writing, but since I expect to live here the rest of my life, I might as well make the best of it.

My 200 elderly neighbors are a rich and diverse collection of talented characters. Many are rather quirky, but never having been normal myself, I fit in.

Recently rehabilitated, our affordable housing complex is like new. With one 12-story tower and three multi-unit “cottages,” we have a small library, activities room, laundry room, roof-top garden, well-equipped exercise room, meeting room, computer room, and a large multi-purpose room with a ping-pong table, flat screen TV, and public address system.

From my one-bedroom apartment (see photos), my view stretches from Mt. Tam to Twin Peaks.

Situated on the edge of the historic Fillmore District, two blocks from Japantown, and six blocks from Robert Redford’s Kabuki Sundance Cinema (with reserved seating!), the location is convenient. The bus at the corner goes directly to BART, which travels to the East Bay.

I knew I wanted to live here when twenty years ago I visited a resident, Bob Forsberg, a fellow member of the Campaign to Abolish Poverty. As I approached sixty, I dropped by once a year to try to get on the waiting list, but it was always closed. Then one day the staff took my number and within a year, almost four years ago, I moved in.

Since the building is owned by a church-related non-profit, my partially subsidized rent is only $971 per month (which is low for San Francisco!). When I get to the top of the Section 8 waiting list in several years, my rent will be even less, one-third of my income.

At that point, I’ll probably stop driving taxi. Though I may then have to become even more frugal, it seems I’ll still be able to live comfortably and maybe even spend $2-3,000 a year to travel, including trips abroad. To have more time for my community work, until now I haven’t worked for money enough to save for my retirement. So I feel fortunate I will be able to sell my taxi medallion, have landed in a great home, and have a good retirement plan.

When I moved in, the Residents Council was small and relatively inactive. Then the Council became completely inactive. As the rehab was nearing completion, however, some residents called a meeting to kickstart the Council. About fifteen people, including me, participated.

When I proposed a deliberate, fully informed process for recruiting candidates and conducting an election of officers with a secret ballot, my proposal was accepted and I was recruited to serve as Chair of the Election Committee. Later, when no one else would agree to run as President, I told the committee I would be willing to do so. They responded with spontaneous applause.

Though old-timers predicted a small turnout for our first meeting, more than 40 residents came. Later, more than 60% of the residents voted for the slate of candidates. Those responses were encouraging. We were off and running.

But the owner was bringing on a new executive director, our building only had an interim manager, everyone was recovering from the year-long rehab ordeal, and the new Residents’ Council was finding its feet. These transitions led to ambiguity about how the Council and management would relate to each other. So the Council decided to hold off on meeting during the holidays.

The New Year brought a new, permanent manager with whom the Council has collaborated productively. She has engaged in dialog with residents at our monthly Council meetings and participated in a vibrant Saturday night potluck with 50 residents. We’re solidifying our committees, including a Conflict Resolution committee that will address resident complaints about other residents and management.

The Council recently circulated a 10-question survey to all residents. The 58 responses were interesting and informative. In response to “I would like to participate in a gathering at least once every two months to get to know people on my floor more fully,” the replies were 24 Yes, 12 No, and 22 Not sure. When asked which committee they would like to work with, five respondents said they were interested in the Floor Gatherings committee. (Five also expressed interest in the Welcoming committee).

As an experiment with enriched social interaction, I invited 10 residents (the four-person Executive Committee and seven other active Council members) to a Saturday morning brunch in my apartment. After eating, we went around the circle and everyone told their story, including their current interests, using a timer to limit the responses to five minutes. All of the participants seemed to really enjoy it.

Also interesting is that when asked if the Council may let other residents know “if and when I am hospitalized,” the responses were about equally divided between Yes, No, and Not Sure.

Where all this goes in the future remains to be seen. But the prospects are promising and I’m enjoying the challenge.