Category Archives: City Scenes

Did This Guy Rip Me Off?

photography by Daniel Plasman

I crossed paths with this gentleman on a busy street corner.  He was taking a break from standing near the intersection.  I gave him five dollars and asked if I could take a few photos. He was more than happy to oblige.  His buddy, perhaps far more suspicious of my motives, stayed on the curb holding a cardboard sign of his own.

He said his name was Jim.  He was a Vietnam War vet.  During the war it was his job to burrow into the jungle tunnels where the Viet Cong hid.  It turned him into a crazy, homeless rat.  I don’t know how much of that’s true, but I do believe his name was Jim.

I didn’t ask where he and his buddy stayed the previous night, and he didn’t offer to tell me.  I wondered how much money the two of them made in a day holding up their signs, but thought it best not to pry.  He eyed my camera, “How much did that cost?” “Way too much,” I said, gripping the strap.

In a recent conversation with a group of church folks the discussion centered on how we practice hospitality to strangers.  What do we do when street people like Jim ask for money and hold up signs explaining their plight?  Some folks were sure it’s a scam, an easy way for the unmotivated to make a few bucks.  “I heard they can make $200 a day!”  Some think though the economy is improving for a few, many are left behind.

I was reminded that the money goes to buy more booze.  A woman in her sixties shared how she recently invited a “homeless” person to sleep in her basement for a night.  The room fell silent.  Others pointed out the many local agencies that are better equipped to meet the needs and to keep track of those who abuse the system.  One gentleman, listening quietly, finally spoke, “Some of those people on the street corner work harder than I do.  I give them what I can.”

Jesus told a story about a farmer who sowed seeds.  Some seeds fell on the harden path; birds quickly devoured them.  Other seeds fell among the rocks; they sprang up but soon withered for lack of moisture.  Some seeds landed on a patch of thorns; the weeds outmuscled the plants in no time.  Then there were the seeds that fell on good soil; they yielded crops as high as a hundred fold.

Stupid farmer!  Planting seeds where the odds are slim to none they will survive!  Failing 75% of the time!  Wasting so much!  Only a damn idiot, knowing the absurdity of it all, goes ahead and indiscriminately casts the seeds anyway.  Such is the God Jesus came to show us.

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The Jaipur Kid

 

 Jaipur, India

This is Naadir.  His name means “rare” or “dear.”  We met while standing along a chaotic and busy street in Jaipur, India.  Naadir was begging for money, money he needed to eat, money he needed to feed his family, money he needed to buy the uniform required for school.  He needed money to survive and that’s why he kept begging.  He begged because he knew I was an American.

When I tried to ignore him (like the guidebooks told me to) and turned my camera in the direction of an interesting blue rickshaw, Naadir followed me, stretched his neck and leaned his head into the frame of my next shot.  Naadir kept begging me for money.  Did I mention he kept asking for money?

Not all I’ve written to this point is true.  I did meet this boy on a recent trip to India.  We met in the middle of a street in Jaipur, about a 4-hour train ride from Delhi.  I don’t know his name.  He didn’t tell me, and I didn’t ask.  But Naadir does mean “rare” or “dear.”

I have no idea how many siblings he has or if he attends the local school.  He asked for money lots of times in our thirty-second encounter; that much is true.  He never told me what he needed it for.  I never asked.  I had no small change to give him.

Without knowing much about his situation, I knew that the money I had in my pocket could have changed his life.  Along with rupees, I was carrying more than $500.  That’s more than eight months of income for the family this kid probably belongs to.  My camera and lens were worth four years of wages to those, like many of the 1.2 billion in India, who live on less than $2 a day.

When the traffic light changed, I turned and crossed the street.  Desensitized is one word to describe it.  I’m not sure this is what Jesus meant when he said, “The poor you will always have with you.”

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Say It Ain’t So, Franklin!

Fresco at the ruins of Pompeii, Italy 

While researching one thing or another, I ended up at www.billygraham.org.  I’ve always admired Dr. Graham.  To my knowledge, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association over the years has never been dragged through the mud of sexual scandal, fiscal irresponsibility, or family feuds.  Not even the Crystal Cathedral can claim such a distinction.

I was caught off guard, however, when I read the following pre-election statement on the site’s home page:  VOTE BIBLICAL VALUES, TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6 . . . The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren, and this great nation is crucial.  As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last.  I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.  I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.  Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.

The reins have changed hands at the Association.  At 94, Billy Graham has next to nothing to do with the organization he founded in 1950.  Son Franklin is President and CEO.  Franklin, who spent much of 2009 explaining his $1.2 million salary package to nosy reporters, has quite a track record for expressing his biblical views and medieval social policies.  The younger Graham went on record lauding one-time presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich as Christians, but declined to say the same about Barack Obama; Graham suggested the President had Muslim leanings.  It was impetuous Franklin who after 9/11 reminded us that Islam is “an evil and wicked religion.”

It’s probably just a coincidence that on the website is a picture of the current presidential aspirant sitting next to father and son Graham.  A short time later, reference to Mormonism as a “cult” was officially scrubbed from the website.  See what good things can happen, Franklin, when you sit down and talk with folks!  The same could happen if you invited to your office some devout Muslims, a few LGBT folks, and two or three same-sex couples.

The next time you visit Israel to remind folks there of your unwavering support, after you’ve said a prayer at the Wailing Wall give some thought to visiting the Aida Refugee Camp just north of Bethlehem.  Have a heart-to-heart talk with some Palestinians about their experience in the occupied West Bank.  Better yet, just listen to them.  Who knows how you might see the situation differently!

One more thing, Franklin.  I took this photo at the ruins of Pompeii several years ago.  Some might see in it homo-erotic behavior.  Maybe so.  But I don’t believe Pompeii (or Sodom or Gomorrah) was destroyed because of homosexuals living there.  Sometimes it really is fatal, despite what a realtor might claim, to buy a house too close to an active volcano.  If you’d like a copy of the photo, I’d be happy to frame one and send it (no charge!) to your North Carolina office.  Though you once told a reporter you have lots of guns displayed on your office wall, I’m hoping you could find a suitable place to hang it.

Blessings in your ministry!

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STEWARDSHIP

Lafayette Cemetery, New Orleans, LA

There’s still some summer left in this season, but already I’m thinking about the Fall stewardship campaign.  Every church I’ve served and most churches of which I’m aware conduct a stewardship campaign in one form or another.  If the church budget runs on a calendar year, then most churches run their stewardship drives during October and November.  That’s why the stewardship team and I are thinking about stewardship in the middle of August.

The thickest file in my office is the one marked STEWARDSHIP.  It’s stuffed with articles and clippings and sermons I’ve preached.  Every time I give a message on stewardship, I remind people that Jesus talked more about material things and possessions and money than he did about anything else.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as a generous people.  When there’s a natural disaster somewhere in the world, often Americans are the first to respond with money and supplies.  But if you look at American foreign aid as a percentage of our total budget, we are far more miserly than other industrialized nations of the world.  According to the Center for Global Development (www.cgdev.org) U.S. foreign aid amounts to about 1.5% of our total budget.  Hardly worth a pat on the back.  Defense and war preparation gets 15%.

The picture is somewhat better in churches.  In most congregations people give about 2% of their income.  It’s probably accurate to say that people spend more on a two-week vacation than on what they give to charities.  It’s probably also true that households spend more on the cable TV/Internet industry than on religious and charitable causes.

I haven’t tithed for all my adult life, but since I started I’ve never looked back and wished I hadn’t.  As odd as it sounds, I could give more.  I found a definition from The Episcopal Network of Stewardship that says it all:  “Stewardship is not a program.  Stewardship is not about raising money.  Stewardship is not here today and gone tomorrow.  But . . . Stewardship is a journey.  Stewardship is about life.  Stewardship is a way of life.”

Hold things loosely.  Let them dangle if you must.  Give more.  Be free.

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Bronze & Silver

Two guys playing a friendly game of dominoes in the middle of a busy city street.  Pedestrians take this in stride because this is Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  I was in the city to work with Phoenix, a non-profit organization that repairs and rebuilds homes damaged by hurricane Katrina in 2005.

A visit to New Orleans is not complete without a stroll through the French Quarter and its main artery, Bourbon Street.  Lots of adjectives fit this place: colorful, decadent, indulgent, sleazy, festive, lurid, weird.  The Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed that Katrina slammed into the city because New Orleans was all of these.  Ole Jerry, so certain of many things!

Central St. Matthew United Church of Christ (www.centralstmatthewucc.com) is a recently merged congregation of less than a hundred members that houses volunteers who come for short-term work projects.  While there, I grabbed a welcome brochure.  Every church makes a pitch to visitors and guests.  Most attempts are pretty lame: ALL ARE WELCOMED. . . VISITORS EXPECTED. . .WE’RE A FRIENDLY CHURCH. . .YOU CAN’T SPELL CHURCH WITHOUT U.

I was especially impressed with the radical intentionality of Central St. Matthew.  Here’s what they want visitors to know.  Maybe you’re: divorced, single, single parent, LGBTQQIA, empty nester, married with kids, married without kids, not rich, not poor, Black, White, Asian, Latina/o, First Nation, biracial, multi-racial, mobility impaired, dealing with mental health issues, tattooed, have a funny haircut, a local, a transplant, raised in a different faith, questioning God, doubting your faith, perfect, angry, happy, sad, lonely, in recovery, an ex-con, broken, uncertain, skinny, overweight, a college student, a tourist, returning home – have we gotten to you yet?

There are many reasons why Jesus met an early death.  He claimed a relationship with God that was cozier than the religious establishment deemed appropriate.  He chose nonviolence over armed resistance.  He snubbed religious traditions when those traditions got in the way of  serving people.  Though he never raised a sword, he threatened the peace and the political powers could not risk that.

Then there was this criticism of Jesus: “He welcomes sinners and eats with them!”  That annoyed the religious folks to no end.  Maybe it was the last straw.  In the context of Bourbon Street, “Jesus welcomes the bronzed and silvered, sits on a bucket and plays dominoes with them.”

[If you like this photograph, or any others that appear in my previous blogs, I’ll mail to your home a 4″x6″ print in a white 8″x10″ mat, ready for you to frame.  $10.  Send me a message on my CONTACT page or email me at dplasman@aol.com]

 

 

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Bucket Drummers

 

You can’t plan moments like this.  But they seem to happen frequently in big cities on hot summer days.  These guys are doing their thing near the Michigan Avenue Bridge in Chicago.  If their upper bodies are any indication, they obviously spend a fair amount of time working out.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they work on their drumming the rest of the time.  These guys are beyond good.  Lightning fast, precise and, as you can see, perfectly in sync.  They’re not posing for a white guy with a camera either; they’re playing so fast I had to shoot at three frames per second. 

I’d love to think this foursome performs in churches every Sunday and attends Bible Study class on Wednesday nights and visits nursing homes, but that might be a stretch.  Yet, here’s the thing, I can’t get out of my head something Mahatma Gandhi said.  The quote as I remember is this:  “If you don’t find God in the next person you meet, it’s a waste of time looking for God anywhere else.”

Those words haunt me every time I write someone off, every time I refuse to look beyond the shadow side of another, every time my snap judgments close the door to seeing the God-ness in an individual.  I’ve got a lot of work to do!  This much I know for sure: I’ll never look at a five-gallon paint bucket the same way again.

[If you like this photograph, or any others that appear in my previous blogs, I’ll mail to your home a 4″x6″ print in a white 8″x10″ mat, ready for you to frame. $10. Send me a message on my CONTACT page or email me at dplasman@aol.com]

 

 

 

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Ceramic Arms

11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS — people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny afternoon.

I took this shot while looking through the window of a Christian gift shop.  Normally, I would delete an image like this because the reflection off the window is too distracting.  That’s one reason to carry a polorizer filter which would have eliminated the problem.

Actually, the glare gives this image a dreamy, silky, other-worldy feel, a lot like the ceramic statues of Joseph and the toddler Jesus.  Notice the lovely white skin.  Chestnut hair with highlights.  Straight, strong teeth.  Clothing fit for royalty.  Really?

I get that artists create what they imagine.  In a broader sense, we project ourselves on the objects of our devotion and adoration.  When the late Japanese artist Sadao Watanabe depicted Jesus, he created images with indigenous Asian features.  I’ve held in my hand African woodcuts of Jesus’ black head.  I’ve seen pictures of Jesus with the characteristics of an Alaskan Inuit created, of course, by an Alaskan Inuit.

Our perspective of God, of Jesus, and of other holy figures, is derived, in part, from the experiences and realities of our own cultural context.  That’s appropriate.

But other times, maybe not.  A few weeks ago, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich appeared before the National Rifle Association. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R07gcUhKKGc

He gave a five-minute speech that included this remark: “The right to bear arms comes from our creator, not from our government.  It is one of the inalienable rights alluded to in our Declaration of Independence . . . Far fewer women would be raped, far fewer children would be killed . . . and far fewer dictators would survive if people had the right to bear arms everywhere on the planet.”

I’m not out to abolish the NRA.  However, I am in favor of much tighter gun controls.   I am not anti-Newt.  I know he loves this country as I do.  I respect a politician who has pursued academic studies at a graduate level, as he did at Tulane University.

I’m not sure, however, what adjective best describes his statement.  I’ll settle on “absurd” for now.  I wonder why he didn’t give any examples of Jesus living out the right-to-bear-arms-mandate.  Certainly, Jesus, who was closer to the Creator than most of us and relentlessly hounded by a big, intrusive government, would have had something to say about armed resistance and the inalienable right to protect ourselves, our property, even our lives at all costs.  What is the answer to the pressing question: What Would Jesus Pack?

Enough.  We all project inappropriate and misplaced attributes on the Divine, the Ultimate, the Holy One, the Source.  That’s why we’re called human and not God.  Let’s just hope we learn to kill each other less often; eventually, not at all.

 

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Yellow-T Angel

11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS — people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny morning.

A few important matters to get out-of-the-way.  First, yes, that’s a Cooper in the background.  It’s shallow of me to admit that my world comes to a halt whenever I see one.  But not light blue, c’mon!  It’s got to be black or red.

Second, is this guy ripped or what?  His biceps are almost as big as my thighs.  Question: Where does this guy play his trumpet?  Answer: Anywhere he wants.  Gotta problem with that?

Third (you wouldn’t know this because I didn’t take a wide-angle shot), no one is listening to him.  It’s just him, his trumpet, his music stand, and me with my camera.  During the time I watched him, lots of people walked by but nobody stopped long enough to listen.

Fourth, he’s not playing jazz, the blues, or show tunes.  He’s playing church music, high church music: Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from Symphony #9, composed in 1824.  (Before you get too impressed with my vast knowledge of musicology, I need to come clean; though I immediately recognized the tune – the hymn is “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” — I got the rest of the info from Wikipedia).

I don’t know enough about angels to know if I believe in them; but if they exist, this trumpet player in a yellow T-shirt may have been one.  Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking writes: “as a rule people see only what they expect to see . . . Since we don’t expect to see [angels], we don’t.”

For about a minute, his trumpet solo caused me to stop and pay attention.  Heaven came closer to earth.  The eternal invaded the temporal.  I became aware of my breathing.  He put a smile on my face.  Heck, I didn’t notice the Cooper until I scrolled through the menu on my camera.

I wonder when you’ve last encountered an angel?

 

 

 

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God’s Intentions

11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS — people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny morning.

This colorful wall is part of a building that offers programs for at-risk children in an at-risk community.  The bright, cheerful tones and textures are hard to resist.  So are the seven words: RENEW, SHARE, HOPE, MENTOR, LOVE, EXPLORE, STRENGTH – ingredients in developing healthy children, vibrant neighborhoods, and peace-loving nations.

As I dwell on this image, something emerges that is more than the mere sum of its parts.  On this city wall I see a rendering of God’s best intentions for this world; I catch a glimpse of where the world is heading and what will make it better.

Many people, especially religious people, are interested in (obsessed with?) the topic of where the world is heading.  More specifically, they want to know how this world is going to end.

In the 1970’s, Hal Lindsey wrote The Late Great Planet Earth in which he detailed his interpretations of biblical predictions about how the world will end.  His book has sold more than 35 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 languages.  More recently, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins teamed up to write the hugely successful Left Behind series.  Sales are closing in on 100 million copies.  Like I said, a lot of people are interested in the topic.

Based on the authors’ literal reading of the Book of Revelation, here’s the bare-bones storyline.  Jesus will come back to earth.  Before he does, “true” Christians who are living will be “raptured” to heaven.  Great tribulations, wars, and horrific suffering will take place among the nominal Christians “left behind” and the evil forces who oppose God.  This warfare will culminate on a dirt patch in the Middle East in a final battle called Armageddon.  Jesus will physically return to sort out the mess in a final judgment where the repentant will be saved and the rest – the vast majority – will be sentenced to eternal damnation and torment.   Jesus and the saved will live forever in a heavenly home.

As I see it, here’s just one of a multitude of problems with this end-of-the-world scenario.  When one buys into it, there’s no longer any compelling reason to make this world a better place here and now.  Why be concerned when peoples’ rights are violated if the world is going to end anyway?  Why seek peaceful solutions among nations if such efforts are going to delay the Armageddon battle and Jesus’ return?  Why care about pollution, global warming, and the stockpiles of nuclear weapons if the planet has already been destined for destruction?  Why change the oil in my car if I’m convinced I’m going to be raptured out of the driver’s seat a week from next Tuesday?

Here’s an even more frightening reality.  There are elected members of the U.S. Congress, past presidents, and presidential aspirants, who are willing to forge a foreign policy based on this  end-times scenario.  I’m not making this up!

I come back to this mosaic wall and I find God’s best intentions, what God desires for us, for creation, for this world: RENEW, SHARE, HOPE, MENTOR, LOVE, EXPLORE, STRENGTH.  Granted, it doesn’t say everything that could be said, but at least it provides an alternative vision.   I imagine even the pigeon agrees!

 

 

 

Marilyn Lives!

11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS — people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny morning.

Last summer, the city of Chicago unveiled a new piece of public art: a statue of Marilyn Monroe created by the sculptor Seward Johnson.  Marilyn, who died in 1962 at the age of 36, stands twenty-six feet from toe to head; her aluminum and stainless steel body weighs in at seventeen tons.  This is one impressive woman!

Public sentiment, however, has been mixed.  Two months after Marilyn became larger than life, vandals tossed a bucket of red paint over her legs.  An online tourist site named the sculpture one of the ten worst displays of public art in the world, claiming that her only redeeming value is the cover she provides pedestrians in a rain storm.  I can personally report that she also provides adequate shelter from the noonday sun.

To the relief of some and to the disappointment of others, the statue is scheduled to be taken down this summer; Marilyn’s three-story, larger-than-life frame will move to another locale, or possible storage.

On Easter Sunday many of us sang songs and heard sermons proclaiming, “Jesus is risen!”  “He lives!”  The biblical storyline is this simple: on Friday Jesus was killed; on Sunday he came back from the dead, larger than life.

As with Marilyn’s rising, public sentiment about Jesus’ resurrection has been mixed.  Did it happen exactly like the gospel writers describe?  What about the details on which the gospel writers don’t agree?  Was the tomb really empty?  Did the disciples actually see and touch the flesh of a post-Easter Jesus?  Is a literal resurrection at the heart of Christian orthodoxy?

It’s my blog, so I get to answer as I want.  Here’s what I know for sure.  Years ago, in a hospital room, I sat with an aged man who was waiting for his wife to die.  He was a retired minister who had faithfully served congregations for over forty years.  In the preaching biz he was known as a “big gun.”  In his prime, and even beyond it, the guy was a powerhouse.  I don’t know for sure whether Jesus actually walked on water, but I’m pretty sure this guy did.  And now his wife was hours away from breathing her last.  His eyes were teary pools.

Easter Sunday was a few days away and he asked how my sermon was coming.  I don’t remember what I said, but I’ll never forget what he shared, “At my age, I’m not so sure any more that I believe the so-called facts of the resurrection story, but I believe more than ever in the truth of the story.  And the truth of the story is that the last word is always God’s, and God’s last word is always good.”

To me, that’s better than Marilyn Monroe at any height.

 

 

 

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Good Friday

11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS — people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny morning.

There are two signs in this photo.  The dominant one, at least visually, is the ever-present golden arches.  There are more than 33,000 McDonald’s worldwide, feeding 68 million people every day; that’s the combined populations of California, Texas, and Kentucky.  Let’s all take a moment to let that sink in . . .

OK, that’s enough.

It’s the other sign – CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS – that prompted me to take this photograph and, on this Good Friday, offer some reflections.  Like many of you, I grew up in the church.  Central to my church’s traditional understanding of Jesus was the belief that he was born for the single purpose of dying for our sins, of saving us from our sins, of paying the price for our sins, so that our broken relationship to God, caused by our sin, might be made right.

I’ve come to regard that understanding of who Jesus was and what Jesus came to do as narrow and limited.  Reducing Jesus’ life to “dying for our sins” is not unlike visiting Washington D.C. and claiming that our nation’s capital is all about the Potomac River; that’s not a false claim, just an insufficient one.

CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS doesn’t say enough.  It fails to point to the kind of life Christ lived, a life he invites us to live as well.  In his living, Christ carried the world’s brokenness . . . and hurt . . . and hatred . . . and violence; yes, its sin.  He took it, endured it, absorbed it, wept over it, challenged it, revealed an alternative way, and ultimately was killed because of it.

Christ was executed because he refused to use the world’s weapons.  He was killed because he chose nonviolent resistance, love instead of hate, selflessness instead of self-preservation, inclusion rather than exclusion.

He poked and prodded the religious and political powers to the point that the threat he posed had to be silenced.  No one challenges the status quo of society’s norms without paying the price.

If I were in charge of anchoring signs on church bell towers and roof tops, here are some five-word messages I’d choose to share with those who pass by:

CHRIST LOVED ALL HIS ENEMIES

CHRIST CARES ABOUT THE 99%

CHRIST LIVED BELOW HIS MEANS

CHRIST CHALLENGED THE DOMINANT POWERS

CHRIST NEVER TURNED ANYONE AWAY

CHRIST WALKED HIS SELFLESS TALK

CHRIST SHOWS US GOD’S HEART

What messages do you come up with?

 

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Mr. Blue Hat / Gray Beard

11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS — people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny morning.

Mr. Blue Hat/Gray Beard wouldn’t tell me his name, but he did nod, giving me permission to snap a few shots from the side.  I gave him a couple bucks and sat down next to him.  I’m not going to say anymore about him, other than this: If Jesus were to come back as someone few would recognize, I’m pretty sure he’d come back as Mr. Blue Hat/Gray Beard.  Probably just to annoy the majority of us.

I don’t think I’m a racist, though I am prone to make snap judgments about people, some of them brutal, based solely on externals.  For the sake of full disclosure, you should also know that my favorite actor is Denzel Washington.  I’ve seen all his movies twice; American Gangster, Training Day, and Crimson Tide three times.  I also have an 8-year crush on Halle Berry which I don’t imagine is going to end soon.

Ok, if I’m not a racist, what am I?  Among other things this: a recipient of white privilege.  Anyone who claims that the playing field in our country among whites and blacks is level is playing on a field that doesn’t exist.

I’m indebted to (or should I say, I blame) Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley College for her research on the topic of white (particularly white male) privilege.  Check out this link and read it for yourself: http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf

As identified by Professor McIntosh, here are some daily, unconscious white privileges I enjoy that Mr. Blue Hat/Gray Beard doesn’t.  I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.  When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.  I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.  Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.  I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the person-in-charge, I will be facing a person of my race.  I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race. McIntosh adds to the list another forty-two privileges.

I thanked Mr. Blue Hat/Gray Beard for letting me “use” him as a subject.  Then I stuffed my expensive camera in my backpack and returned to my privileged world.   

 

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Chains

11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS – people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny morning.

 

When I saw this sculpture (regretfully, I couldn’t locate the artist’s name, so I can’t give proper credit) I was reminded of a story of Jesus being greeted by a man, stark naked, who was infested with demons.  OK, you probably don’t believe in demons, most people don’t, but at least read on.  The demon-possessed man created such a stir that town officials bound him in chains.  He ended up breaking the chains, only to run around like a drunken fan in centerfield eluding security guards at Yankee Stadium.

The man tells Jesus that his name is Legion, not the name on his birth certificate, I’m sure.  A legion was a division of five to six thousand Roman soldiers.  This guy is a bee hive of swarming demons, an ant hill of inner infestation.

He’s a slave to five thousand impulses, none of which he can control.  He’s a prisoner to five thousand urges, none of which he can tame.  He’s beholden to five thousand masters, none of whom he can please.  He’s captive to five thousand expectations, none of which he can meet. He sleeps in five thousand different beds, none of which give him rest.  Though he breaks the visible chains, he’s no match for the legion of invisible chains — the demons that suck from him a little more life every day.

Maybe only primitive people and a few tele-evangelists believe in demons.  Yet, you have to admit our world’s got plenty of afflictions that are every bit as dehumanizing: shame-based despair, ruthless competition, a bottom line of profits over people, life-sapping poverty, an insatiable appetite for war, rules tilted in favor of the rich, racism in all its ugliness, an unwillingness to seek peaceful solutions, greed that convinces us that enough is never enough.  More 21st-century demons than you can shake a stick at.  A legion, really.

Jesus gives back to the demon-chained man his humanity and with it his dignity and value and worth.  Eventually, he’s restored to the community which is always the goal of Jesus’ healings.  Finally he’s at peace.  He belongs.  He’s whole.

Maybe you look at this chain-linked sculpture and have some of the same questions I do.  What demonic chains keep me from moving forward?  What unresolved issues am I dragging behind me?  In what ways am I a legion of oppression to others?  How do the material goods I enjoy, in an economic system that depends on cheap, foreign labor, diminish people I’ll never meet (in the words of that beloved hymn: “Blessed Assurance These Nikes Are Mine”).  A legion of questions get raised.

 

 

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Nothing is Permanent

11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS — people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny morning.

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There’s more than one reason why this hand-scrawled message gave me reason to stop.  First of all, I was darn impressed that whoever did the scribbling spelled “PERMANENT” correctly.  I spell-checked it on my phone just to make sure.  I can never remember if it’s “-NENT” or “-NANT.”  I won’t soon forget.

A second reason this graffiti caught my eye was the fact that I was walking through the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago.  Anybody who’s anybody or wants to be somebody, and can afford it, lives in Lincoln Park.  Notice the decorative wrought-iron; even the window guards look expensive.  Not something you’d pick up at your local Ace Hardware.

In this north side neighborhood, three out of four residents have a college degree.  The average household income is around $135,000.  A 2-bedroom condo will run close to $400,000; a 3-bedroom house, not far from a million; a 4-bedroom house, easily more than a million.  Property taxes?  Believe me, you don’t want to know!

So, who writes NOTHING IS PERMANENT on a limestone window sill in the middle of Lincoln Park?  An owner who’s “under water” on his mortgage, owing more than the place is worth?  A spouse who just got a divorce and wants to leave a mark?  A kid in the dark of night when no one’s looking?  A Chicago Cub fan?

NOTHING IS PERMANENT – if that message is descriptive of life, then there are at least two human responses that get played out in individuals and nations.  One is anxious living.  What I have, I have to keep and guard.  What’s mine is mine to protect, to hoard if necessary, to keep at all costs.  The side effects?  It makes me miserly, ungrateful, aggressive, embattled, suspicious of others’ motives, always looking over my shoulder to see who’s catching up with me.

NOTHING IS PERMANENT – if that message is descriptive of life, then the other human response is a liberating freedom.  I learn to hold the handles of life more loosely, to de-accumulate, to shed what is unnecessary.  Is consumerism really the highest expression of patriotism?  I learn to want what I have and to be content with what I don’t have.  The side effects?  The tension in my shoulders eases up.  I learn to tread lightly on this planet.  I become a friend of humor, more tolerant, and quicker to forgive.  I’m less prone to competitive sideward glances to see how others are doing compared to me.

NOTHING IS PERMANENT.  Every day, as soon as our feet hit the floor, we decide how to respond to that reality.

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All are One

11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS — people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny morning

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I love this mural.  A mixed-race Jesus!  Not entirely black, not entirely brown, and certainly not entirely white, a mosaic of colors, races, and ethnicities.  How far would you have to travel from your home to find a mixed-race Jesus?

And what a powerful verse from Galatians 3:28; the whole hodgepodge of humanity – one, and Christ shows us how.  No distinctions.  No separations.  The boundaries and barriers that once kept people apart are no longer.  The inhumane ways we oppress each other are broken.  This verse is literal dynamite.

I was so jazzed about the mural that I called the church responsible for painting it (this info was provided on another part of the wall).  I talked with the pastor, a really great guy.  I told him I was impressed with the church’s mural, and could I ask him a few questions.  He was happy to oblige.  Here’s a summary of our twenty-minute conversation.

Is your church welcoming of all people?  Absolutely. We’re a racially mixed and ethnically diverse congregation.

Great!  Is your church involved in the community?  Indeed, we’re known for our ministries that address the multiple needs of this neighborhood.

Fantastic!  Do you have a governing body?  Yes. We call it the Board of Elders.

How do members become Elders?  The congregation elects them.

Can anyone become an Elder?  Yes, as long as one is eligible.

Women, too?  No, they’re not eligible to serve.   

(Hmm . . . I hesitated but asked it anyway).  Are gays welcomed here?  Yes, everyone is welcomed here.

(Good again!) Can a gay man serve as an Elder?  No, that would not be possible.

Never?  Not unless he repents of being gay and changes his behavior?

You mean, a gay person must repent of being created gay but a straight person doesn’t have to repent of being created straight?  (a lengthy pause)  We didn’t write the Bible, we just obey it.

I was pretty sure the pastor was done answering my questions.  I thanked him for his time.  He thanked me for calling.  I still love the mural.  Maybe one day “All are One” will mean just that.

 

 

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Heaven on a Bun

11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS – people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny morning.

 

 

 

We’re bombarded with them constantly as we grow numb to their presence.  Advertisements are to commerce what water is to tree roots, an absolute necessity, especially in cities.

Just four words that caught my eye as people on a busy work day continued on their way to other destinations.  “Heaven on a Bun” — a burger chain’s enticement, perhaps in response to another competitor who offers “Happy Meals.”

As far as I know, no one has ever sued the Five Guys chain for making a claim it can’t back up.  “Your honor, I had one with the works, and I swear I ain’t stupid, but I didn’t see anything of heaven in that burger.”

Back to reality.  They’re just words, a promise, albeit an empty one, that nobody takes literally or seriously.  Clever ways to make a claim that a restaurant hopes will get our attention, get us inside, and get us to the counter.  Were it not for the fact that it was 9:10 a.m., I would have taken the bait . . . I mean, the beef.

Some promises were never meant to be a promise.  We told Native Americans: “Don’t think of this crap piece of land as a reservation; it’s heaven on a bun.”  Energy companies drilling for cheap natural gas deep in the rocks beneath our feet tell us: “Don’t think of ‘fracking’ as potentially harmful to a community’s water supply; it’s heaven on a bun.”  Cash-strapped cities desperate for new revenue make the pitch:  “Forget the inevitable downside of more casinos; it’s heaven on a bun.”  Remember the days, not all that long ago, of no-documentation mortgages when you didn’t have to prove your income?  Yep, heaven on a bun.  If only it was just about burgers.

 

 

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