What tests my faith in Memphis? What gives me faith in Memphis?
I find that Memphis offers the most challenging tests of my faith in the ways people and institutions fail to offer hospitality to our poorest and most vulnerable members of our community. This failure is not simply a failure of charity, but also of justice. The God of Moses, of the prophets, and of Jesus, hears the cry of the poor, but too often Memphis is deaf to this cry. I have seen this in the destruction of low-income housing in this city, replaced by upscale housing. I have seen this in the racist attitudes and actions of people who assert that Shelby County is not part of Memphis, whether the issue at hand is schools or taxes or parks or transportation. I have seen this in the mean-spirited anti-panhandling ordinances passed while neither the city nor the county offers free shelter to homeless persons, and the services that are offered are woefully inadequate for empowering people to get off the streets. I have seen this in the hateful comments celebrating the death of a 15 year old shot in the back in Memphis apparently during a robbery. I have seen this in the ways in which we have not welcomed immigrants, especially from countries south of the U.S. border. My faith is challenged because instead of the recognition that we are all in this together, that we are all created in the image of God, that God desires and works toward an inclusive and diverse community, there is the enduring fear, hatred, and oppression of others based upon differences of race, class, sexual orientation, and religion.
What strengthens my faith is that I see God active in the many people and organizations that express the desire and work of God for hospitality and the just inclusion of people within a diverse community. I see God active in this way in the many people who get up each day and do their best at jobs that keep our community viable: sanitation workers, janitors, bus drivers, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, teachers, and many more. I see God active in the poorest members of our community who daily carry on with grace and dignity in the face of crushing hardships, who struggle without much or any help for job loss, mental illness, addiction, physical illness and injuries. I see God active in the multitude of compassionate actions and works of advocacy that build toward God’s Beloved Community. There are hundreds of organizations doing this and they continue without much funding or fanfare, organizations such as Workers Interfaith Network, Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Church Health Center, Streets Ministries, Door of Hope, Bridges, Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, Facing History and Ourselves, the Mid-South Food Bank, Memphis Center for Independent Living, (Yo! Memphis) not sure this is still operating, and Urban Farms Memphis.
These and so many others reflect a God’s desire for a community that is healthy, welcoming, inclusive of all. I deeply believe what Jesus taught, that God is present in the “least of these” and that the prophet Isaiah was right when he proclaimed, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness…Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” When I see people and organizations in Memphis working in ways that reflect that prophetic vision of God’s desire and work, my faith is strengthened.