Friday, November 2, 2012

Voting for Good News

    He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me
         to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
         to set the oppressed free,
         to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
    Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
-Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

A lot of long-time Chicagoans probably remember the name Dantrell Davis.
    It’s hard to believe that he’d be 27 years old today. If he had made it, that is, past 7.
    I had barely been in the city a year before Dantrell Davis died. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it only takes one idiot with a gun on a rooftop to kill one as he walks to school. That’s what happened to Dantrell on October 13th, 1992, one moment walking beside his mom on his way to school at Jenner Elementary, the next moment bleeding out on the sidewalk. He wasn’t the target, of course - kids that young rarely are in gang shootings. But bullets are stupid, and that day they went without objection where the shooter on the rooftop of one the buildings at the Cabrini-Green housing project sent them.
    Dantrell’s death made an impact, at least for a while, on the city of Chicago. For one thing, it brought the violence that had become part of life in the Cabrini-Green to the attention of Chicagoans whose kids didn’t have to walk between armed gangs to get to school. Someone finally decided that quarantining hundreds or thousands of people who had the same problems and struggles together into concrete towers served no purpose other than to make other folks feel better. Cabrini-Green, and the projects like them, were razed, replaced with mixed-income housing - though not as much as the city promised.
    Dantrell’s death even brought about a three-year truce between the gangs at Cabrini-Green. At the request of his mother.
    Today, most kids at Jenner don’t know the significance of the name on the honorary street sign outside their school. The school’s different now. Most of the teachers there weren’t there when Dantrell was killed. The neighborhood in which it’s located has gentrified in twenty years, and people with kids don’t send them to Jenner. Cabrini-Green is all but gone. Time marches on, and it has a way of erasing even the most painful memories. But it can also cause to forget the things we ought to remember.  
    In a few days, Americans get to exercise that unique privilege of democracy and choose those who will lead us for the next four years. Some pundits will tell us that this is the most important election in a generation, or even in history. Well, seems like they say that nearly every year. You’ll hear people say that the most important issues in this election are the economy, or national security, or foreign policy, or health care. Those are all important issues, of course, but they’re most important to those of us with the most to lose.
    Just because Cabrini-Green is gone, don’t imagine that there aren’t thousands of kids in Chicago who every day travel through gang-infested territory to learn. Don’t imagine that there aren’t schools in which the kids are just as familiar with what to do in the event of heavy gunfire as they are if a fire breaks out or a tornado is sighted. Don’t imagine that there aren’t families who house and educate their children in neighborhoods just like the one Dantrell Davis lived and died in twenty years ago. And don’t imagine they’re there because they want to be. They’re there because they go where the jobs are, and where they can afford a roof over their kids’ heads, and heat in the winter.
    I would argue that the upcoming election - all of them, really - are about those people. Because if “we, the people” fail folks like that, then I’m not sure we’re fit to govern ourselves.
    Jesus came into a world where poverty crushed human beings into the dirt and children died too young and faraway rulers did little to stop it. He came with the words of Isaiah on his lips - and the Spirit of God behind them - and announced good news. Good news to the poor. Freedom for the prisoners. Recovery of sight for the blind. Liberation for the oppressed. He came to announce that God had finally acted on his promises and had come to deliver his people from their poverty, bondage, blindness, and oppression. Isaiah intended those words as a glimpse of restoration in the promised land. Jesus appropriated them as a promise that God’s renewal and redemption of a broken creation had commenced in his coming.
    The fact that wealthy, comfortable Americans have sometimes appropriated Jesus’ promises to protect our own wealth and comfort - and legitimate our own self-interest - doesn’t change the fact that they’re promises especially for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. And we invite the Lord’s judgment when, through ignorance and selfishness, we align ourselves with those who perpetuate the status quo.  
    If you’re so inclined, vote on Tuesday. But vote like a citizen of the kingdom of God whose security is in Jesus and not in the things that politicians use to pander. Vote like someone who has no reason to be afraid of the horrors that politicians leverage to win votes. Vote like someone who follows the Lord in his desire to proclaim good news to neighborhoods - and cities - like the one that made Dantrell Davis’ death possible. But then don’t imagine that the proclamation of good news can be left to the politicians. As followers of Jesus, we still have to raise our voices. And we still have to act, and by our actions create a glimpse of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed among those most impoverished and imprisoned, blinded and oppressed, by the power brokers of our world.
    Maybe you’d rather not vote, rather not participate in a process so far removed from the kingdom Jesus proclaimed. That’s a valid choice too. But don’t imagine that the good news Jesus proclaimed is only about some heavenly place far away. He proclaimed it in the here and now, and his people are its incarnation.
    In a New York Times piece on Dantrell Davis’ death published the week he died, one of the kids at his school, 11-year-old Deon Crosby, eloquently summed up the issues that matter in this election. “I can't go to school without rolling under cars and dodging bullets,” he wrote in an essay. "I'm scared because it could be any of us.” And then he concluded, “I don't care about no Christmas presents. I thank God for waking up.”
     That’s a kid who needs good news. May we be equal to the task of sharing it.

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