Monday, January 09, 2006

Poverty,Racism and Katrina-First Stop, Atlanta, Georgia

One day into the Poverty Initiative's trip to the Gulf Coast and it marks my first day of reporting. On balance it was a very good one. There is bound to be some good in everyday if God and me have anything to do with it. This experience will last seven (7) days and I plan to blog about those significant activities and events that ring through my mind as worthy of clicking into the old memory bin.

There was a little confusion getting started today. I had to make alternate transportation arrangements to reach the church. In fact,the van left and I had to take a taxi into Atlanta from Stone Mountain, Georgia. It was a bit unsettling at first,but I concentrated more on the purpose of the trip than the momentary inconveniences. Afterall, our group is gradually approaching an area where people have been tremendously traumatized and displaced by one of the worst disasters in U.S. history--Hurricane Katrina. Further, the delay did not interfere at all with my timeliness in arriving to hear the sermon. I got there in plenty time to hear that.

It was just so awesome to be in the sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church today, a church with so much history...home church of one of the greatest thinkers and civil rights leaders of our time, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr. His philosophy,teachings and beliefs so lovingly and valiantly shared during what amounted to a short lifespan, were among the major influences upon me for making this trip. I recall the "Poor People's March on Washington" in the early sixties when I was just a small child,being led by my father's hand to hear Dr. King speak at Cobo Hall in Detroit. I remember my father plowing his way through a massive crowd determined to hear Dr. King speak that day and to have his two small daughters, me and my older sister Sharon witness the same. Now some forty (40) years later, I am engaged with a group of Union Seminary colleagues and social workers from Columbia University on a journey to check up on the poor, who have been displaced and swept aside by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina and an apparently unjust economic system. Surely,this experience brings back fond memories of King. However, I would have hoped conditions for the poor in the U.S. would have improved greatly after so many years.

It was also good to visit Ebenezer because I am a Baptist minister, it is Sunday and a Union PH.D student currently serves as pastor.Yes, and can he preach! That is certainly icing on the cake.The scripture text came out of Exodus. Rev. Warnock gave a powerful sermon about a jealous God. It was not a fire and brimstone sermon. It was refreshingly entitled, "Remembering your First Love". I'm sure everyone can relate to that. I know that I did. I make an effort to reflect about my first love daily.

His engaging delivery of a very common saying "God is a jealous God", as a central theme during the sermon, enthusiastically captured the attention of both congregation and visitors.The day continued with a tour of the "Historic Ebenezer Baptist",the old church existing before the new building was constructed. Some of the group went to visit the The King Center. The other part of our group went on to have dinner with Pastor Warnock at Paschal's soul food restaurant, which he informed us was an Atlanta institution. I knew the food was good because I had an earlier sample of their "fixins" at the airport within minutes of landing in Atlanta. I enjoyed black-eyed peas and cornbread. At the restaurant location Pastor Warnock took us, we had a chance to meet the owner and hear a little more about the restaurant. While sitting down and experiencing our meal, we discussed his doctoral dissertation, appropriately entitled the "Mission of the Black Church". We also talked about Carl Barth, the teachings of Dr. James Cone, Systematic Theology Professor extraordinaire and a major influence on the theologies of seminarians. His teachings in "God of the Oppressed" are reasons why some of us have made this trip as well.

It was good also to stop by Radio Free Georgia on this trip. The station administrator was a gracious hostess and we learned a lot about the radio station's community oriented broadcast which helped many people to locate lost friends and relatives during Hurricane Katrina.I enjoyed the panel discussion and having a chance to dialogue with the radio host that interviewed me and others about why we were making this journey to fact find while also providing hands on relief to residents of the Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast. We also visited Project South and had dialogue with that organization. Radio Free Georgia and Project South was yesterday.More pictures,sounds and video footage is forthcoming. I just have to catch my breath in between events. We have a very grueling schedule. We're being hosted by an Episcopal Church in Stone Mountain pastored by Rev. Dr. Richard Elliott who hails from Australia. So much to yet say and do! To be continued....

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