System Failure

I looked at some photos today of some school buildings in Detroit, broken toilet seats, missing and water stained ceiling tiles, bullet holes and broken windows. As I scrolled through them I imagined sending my kids to a school like that.

Our schools are older buildings (I’m sorry, in the grand scheme of the world a building built in the 1950’s does not qualify as old), Ave’s school has subway tile that I love, the way its green and curves around the corners. Kaia was sad when the senior photo of her dad with his graduating class one day disappeared in the midst of a renovation of her school, relegated to some basement where things like old trophies go, those things we can’t get rid of.

But their schools do not have the damage that the buildings in Detroit have. Their buildings are clean and reasonably warm, there are no bullet holes, and though the gym floor doubles as a cafeteria for now, the floor is clean and straight and shiny.

There are lots of photos of water on altars at churches in Flint, this liquid that has become so holy, so hotly debated.

I’d say that its a nice idea, the water and the blessing it and the giving of it. But this bandaids what is a larger problem, it bandaids the failure of our culture and our state and our people and me and you, all of us, participating in a system that leaves cities like Flint behind, with polluted rivers and emergency city managers, with muddy water and lead poisoned kids.

We are complicit.

We are complicit in allowing schools in Detroit to fall apart, complicit in the kids who drank that water. We allowed the world to move on to the next Black Friday sale, we allowed our minds to be overtaken with the next stupid thing Donald Trump would say, and we left people behind. Don’t we vote? Don’t we have a say? Who did we vote for? What ideas, what plans and bills and legislation is being passed that we said was ok?

We left them behind in a city that had its major employers leave, and the population of Detroit today is close to what it was in 1910. We left these people behind in a ghost town and often, a war zone.

We left the people in Flint too, with a disgusting and polluted river, our money made. While we made sure our pipes weren’t lead, while we spent money upgrading the shrubs on our parking islands and updating our 50 year old elementary schools their children drank lead.

I am so angry tonight.

I am angry because what happened in Flint didn’t happen last week, and only now does it make national news.

I am angry because so many of these kids have a very hard road in front of them, and we have been complicit in a system that makes it harder.

I am angry because we still think there is an US and a THEM, because we still think that some lives mean more, because we feel like some people don’t deserve to live like we do, or that they don’t work hard enough or want it enough.

The systems failed, the ones meant to keep water clean, the ones meant to stand as edifices to public education, the ones meant to keep all men, black and white and gay and straight and poor and rich, ALL of us, in a place where we all have a fair shot.

It’s not fair anymore, if it ever was.

Most children born into poverty will stay there, and the cycle will continue.

The buildings in Detroit will crumble to the ground, and the kids who drank lead quite possibly will have brain damage, because their lives were not hard enough.

It’s not ok with me that because people are poor and/or black what happens to them doesn’t matter to us unless a cop shot them and even then we are divided on who was right, on who should live.

It’s not ok with me that kids in the Detroit Public School system do not have a safe and clean place to learn, that their teachers had to stage a sick out because there were mushrooms growing in classrooms where our children would have a cozy reading nook, filled with books and soft light and clean rugs.

It’s not ok with me that women fleeing their homes, with children and babies, into the welcoming arms of a cold winter and death are still running, and we are still saying they can’t come in, they can’t come here.

We never seem to learn.

We become outraged over problems that aren’t new and only  when it is too late to fix the damage that’s been done.

The rope slaps the pavement and the sun is hot on our heads and we can’t even hear the words in the sing song chanting as we



I don’t know how to fix problems this big. I have lots of loud and socialist ideas that give me big and unwelcome opinions about that bigger house you think you need, or when you’ll take your next vacation. I have lots of opinions about how you wait to be served or ask me to do it for you.

I feel that I am, at times, being consumed with the idea that we are here to reconcile and not to enjoy ourselves every minute of the day. There is much to do, there is work for every hand…

And I used to think that old hymn was about knocking on doors in tiny towns I’d visit with my youthgroup, about cool drinks and fun songs and VBS, I used to think it was about winning souls and notching our belts with another baptism.

But it isn’t, its about being called to work in a world that is so full of pain and brokenness, it is about our willingness to first see that we are part of the problem. It is about our willingness to save the world by being part of it, bearing witness to it, and sometimes stepping into the gap between what could be and what we could prevent, if we stopped in our planning for the things that would make us happy all of time, and only looked outside and joined with the few who are marching for justice.

I know we are a small crowd, a ragamuffin band. I know you don’t agree with everything we say, but like Christmas carolers we are standing in the street, looking up into your lighted windows and singing you a song, bringing you a message of good news but also a call to arms.

The good news didn’t stop with a baby in a manger, it didn’t stop with a boy in a temple or a man who allowed a woman to wash his feet with her hair. It didn’t stop on the long road through town, with nails in hands and feet, with the air slowly being squeezed out of his chest. The good news didn’t even stop when hell was overturned.

It hasn’t stopped yet.

We are not done yet.

We can’t sit in our comfy houses, secure in own salvation, and wait for thunder and trumpets and squadrons of winged angels to pluck us up and away, that isn’t what this redemption is about, not what your apocalypse will be.

We can’t keep tugging at the sleeve of Christ, we have to BE. HIM.

Your apocalypse, your hope, and mine too, is a world that doesn’t give lead poisoned water to little children who are poor and black and therefore don’t matter. A world where women don’t flee terrorists groups only to find every door slammed in their faces. A world where our children, the black ones and the white ones, because it is MLK day after all, all join hands and sing as they skip rope on a playground and learn in a place that is safe and warm.

And the task is so big. And the idea so crazy. But it’s what we are called to do. I’m with you.

I am ready at the bidding, but you’re coming with me.

I can’t do it without you (and I’ll have cooled off by the time you get here).

I love you still, but I’m angry.

I’m sure Liesel Meminger was fast asleep when more than a thousand bomber planes flew toward a place known as Köln. For me, the result was five hundred people or thereabouts. Fifty thousand others ambled homelessly around the ghostly piles of rubble, trying to work out which way was which, and which slabs of broken home belonged to whom.

Five hundred souls.

I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases. Or I’d throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children I carried in my arms.






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