Kennington Avenue

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Our children are in the line of fire

My wife and I live in Milwaukee. We raised our children here. All of whom are now adults and who are making their way in the world. Milwaukee is really a tale of two cities. Entertainment, jobs, a great lake, great restaurants, great summer festivals and generally a city that works well for a good number of people but if you are African-American and especially an African-American male it is not such a great place. Unemployment  in the African-American community is higher; for African-American males it is well over 50percent. The poverty rate in the city is one of the highest in the nation. The Black infant mortality rate in Milwaukee is one of the highest in the nation. And Milwaukee has garnered the reputation of being the most segregated city in the nation with all of the challenges that this reality bring with it. We have lived in the city for 27 years and over time factories have moved, good paying jobs have moved, Malls have closed and hospitals that serve a primarily poor and Black and Brown constituencies have closed their doors. These realities have caused a deeper pain and there is no doubt that this pain has contributed to the escalating violence that that has gripped so many communities all across urban America. There is a powerful book that I read some years ago and that I go back and re-read from time to time. It was written by Howard Thurman and entitled: JESUS and the Disinherited. The reality of poverty which really is oppression creates fear, despair and anger for people who live in this place of systematic violence but he says that we can never give in to these emotions. An easy thing to say but a far greater thing to do if it is left entirely to human will. I think what policy makers, sociologist and politicians don’t ever take into account is how much hopelessness and despair are a part of the equation as a result of years and years of living in a place of poverty. Hopelessness leads to violence and hopelessness is a spiritual issue. A piece of the solution in dealing with the horrendous acts of violence that we are seeing in larger and larger numbers must have a spiritual component in whatever way that needs to manifest itself but for me it means that faith communities that are located in these communities where the violence is happening cannot remain on the sidelines or remain only a one day a week church. The Gospels say that when Jesus saw the crowds hapless and helpless(dis-inherited) like sheep without a shepherd he was moved to compassion and his compassion led him to act on their behalf. He fed them but his feeding was not only a physical one there was more. He made people well and that wellness was about making people whole. Just as compassion brought him to where the broken-hearted and the disinherited lived. The church must be out in the street engaging them with a Gospel that is real and that speaks to real needs because that Gospel and that Jesus is still able to bind up wounds and set captives free. As I write today there is a cloud cover; the air is pregnant with moisture  it is symbolic I think given the tremendous pain that this community has suffered over these last couple of months. Little Sierra Guyton was buried a couple of days ago after two months of a long battle to recover from a gun shot to the head. She was 10 years of age. Last night gunfire rang out again and two children 10 and 11 years of age were wounded. The shooter fired his weapon in front of the seven children who were passengers in the car that he was driving. Rain will come at some point today after a long, hard and painful night of violence. God has been watching and God continues to watch. And He weeps and as the rain touches the earth and touches us we will rise refreshed with a renewed strength and will to get back in the trenches to bring healing and hope to those who are so desperate for both.

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About the author

Ken Wheeler is a retired pastor. He most recently served at Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee, where he is now the director of the Bread of Healing Empowerment Ministry. For 18 years he was as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.