Yesterday (July 2) was the feast of Social Gospellers Walter Rauschenbusch, Washington Gladden, and Jacob Riis in the Episcopal Church’s most recent calendar of saints (Holy Women, Holy Men).
Gladden and Rauschenbusch were both pastors. The former supported labor rights and opposed racial segregation. The latter served a small Baptist congregation in the aptly named “Hell’s Kitchen” area of New York and was inspired to activism after officiating for so many funerals for babies. His care for these suffering families led him to ask why the infant mortality rate was so high to begin with.
According to Rauschenbusch, the goal of Christianity was to “substitute love for selfishness as the basis of human society”.
I had these words ringing in my ear yesterday as I attended a meeting at the Vine Neighborhood Association, where a group of us residents have been making dramatic improvements to our streets. A crack house down the block from me was finally torn down earlier this year. In its place, we have erected a community garden on the empty lot.
From crack house to community garden… sounds like the reign of heaven to me.
But now a local developer has hopped on board to buy the lot from the city and turn our garden into a parking lot.
From community garden to parking lot… sounds like a step in the opposite direction.
Having met with the neighborhood association and the city land bank, it seems that our options are limited and chances are slim that they will succeed. It is too late for the property to be taken off the auction block for communal use (something the land bank is loathe to do, because the land then produces no tax revenue). This developer is reportedly well-resourced, knows how to work the system, and has a reputation for being difficult to work with.
It appears that selfishness may reign over love, when it comes to salvaging this particular project.
Selfishness is what this is. Legal perhaps, but not morally right. The garden lot does not belong to this developer (yet). We the people of the Vine neighborhood have given our time and energy to each other and to this land for months, even before the abandoned crack house was taken down. Selfishness is blinding the developer to the truth that transcends legality and profiteering.
After I left that discouraging neighborhood meeting, I went to the midweek Eucharist at St. Luke’s Episcopal. There I was fed by the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation. I drew strength from the Source of Life that connects me:
- to the ground of my being,
- to everyone else in the room,
- to all saints of future, present, and past,
- to bakers of bread and makers of wine,
- to wheat and grape that grow from the earth.
I am connected. I am part of the whole. And once again, Christ substitutes love for selfishness in me.
After Communion, the congregation sang this hymn by Washington Gladden, one of the Social Gospel saints we remembered yesterday:
Teach me thy patience; still with thee,
in closer, dearer company
in work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
in trust that triumphs over wrong,
in hope that sends a shining ray
far down the future’s broadening way,
in peace that only thou canst give,
with thee, O Master, let me live.
No matter what happens next, may we not lose hope in the vision. May we keep faith with God and one another, even if friendships, rather than tomatoes, are the most lasting fruit this garden produces.