Middler Anna Ernst is passionate about all things social justice and with this call to be the public church, read about an event hosted by Seminarians for Justice (formerly SURRJ)
“We got a responsibility to bring up our community to be vibrant.” – Ameena Matthews, Senior Violence Interrupter, from “The Interrupters”
My heart has been very full recently, in these first few weeks of what has struck me as an incredibly exciting school year here at LSTC. This past Thursday night, it was practically bursting as I stood in front of those who had gathered in LSTC’s Common Room to introduce “The Interrupters”, the movie we were about to watch together.
The Interrupters is a nationally and internationally-acclaimed documentary that came out in 2011, produced by Kartemquin Films with director Steve James and producer Alex Kotlowitz (who is known for his book, “There Are No Children Here”, and his work on the well-known This American Life podcast about Englewood’s Harper High School). The film follows a year in the work and lives of three violence “interrupters” (Ameena, Eddie, and Cobe) who conduct non-violent mediations in homes, schools, and on the streets in some of Chicago’s most economically vulnerable neighborhoods.
So. Why was my heart full?
I have been passionate about social justice since my first-year seminar in the fall of 2006 at Oberlin College – “Social Justice in the United States.” In that class, we read books that exposed the pretty ugly realities that exist in the United States as a result of systemic racism and discrimination. It was during this semester where I first remember becoming distinctly, sharply, and painfully aware that discrimination in housing and employment had led to a lack of economic, educational and social opportunity for some of God’s people.
A desire to pay attention to that reality led me to do independent research about the controversial history of African American/jazz music in Oberlin’s town and college/conservatory for my final project as a music history major…then to a year of service in Omaha, NE with Lutheran Volunteer Corps as a Community Outreach Associate for two small Lutheran congregations engaging ideas and realities about connecting to the diverse communities that surrounded them…then to after-school programming and case management work for residents of income-restricted apartments in Prince George’s County, MD…and then, to my first year of seminary last year at LSTC in Hyde Park, a unique Chicago neighborhood which feels isolated sometimes but is also truly immersed in and surrounded by the diversity of this major metropolitan area.
This past summer, I completed my CPE summer unit at Sinai Health Systems on Chicago’s West Side. As an on-call chaplain working overnights at Mount Sinai Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center, part of my work included providing pastoral presence and care in the emergency room and waiting areas for people of all ages who had been shot, stabbed, or beaten. I saw some of the effects of the disease of violence. Blood, swelling, pain, death. Fear, relief, shock, grief. One night I was present while at least fifteen doctors and nurses in one hospital room moved as quickly as they could to try to save the life of a young man who had been stabbed, who died later that evening, and in the same night was present while police officers guarded and questioned two teenagers involved in the fatal shooting of another teenager.
I share some of my story and these stories of the past summer with you as testimony that violence is real. Violence is real in that it is continually and systemically perpetuated because of the societal ingrained perceptions about the color of a person’s skin, which can and does result in lack of good quality housing, education, or opportunity for work. Violence is real in that it results in the pulling of a trigger, the drawing of a knife, or the raising of a heavy object or a fist and damage to body or loss of life. And the two are connected.
Violence is real, and it is real because God’s love is not shown by all or known by all. When I see God’s love shown by others, and when I experience it myself – when I know that I am loved – violence truly cannot destroy me anymore, and something else happens in my community. Transformation. Handshakes. High fives. Smiles. Peace.
As I stood before those who had taken the time to come and learn about areas of our city where sometimes it is very hard for me to see God’s love, nourishing themselves with yummy snacks (some of them deliciously home-made) and fellowship of friends and listening to me and my fellow colleagues lead discussion, my heart was full because I felt a sense of peace. I felt God’s love. “The Interrupters” is a 100% true story about horrible suffering, and violence is real, and it is here in this violence and suffering where I am called – where we are called – to learn how we can show God’s love. It is true that being present in the face of such suffering will challenge us, and sometimes lead us to our own suffering. God still calls us to this presence, where a witness to love is needed, and where we grow ourselves.
The screening was hosted by student group Seminarians for Justice. We are “a powerful coalition of seminarians whose mission is to enact God’s love by organizing for social justice in Chicago as part of SOUL/IIRON/NPA.” (Seminarians for Justice mission statement) Seminarians for Justice is a dues-paying member of SOUL (Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation), an “independent, grassroots, multi-issue power organization that addresses community issues on Chicago’s South Side and South Suburbs.” SOUL includes “religious congregations, affordable housing groups, block clubs, students, and neighborhood groups,” and is in turn affiliated with IIRON (the Indiana-Illinois Regional Organizing Network) and NPA (National People’s Action). (quotes from the SOUL Facebook page) Our first official meeting of the year will be announced shortly. We’re looking forward to welcoming new members, and you’ll be hearing more from us.
Thank you for taking the time today to read these words and for the ways that you show God’s love in your life, to your neighbors – whoever they may be – your families, your friends, yourself.