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Jonathan writes a monthly update called ‘Turning Again’ to friends and supporters of School for Conversion, a non-profit organization that works to promote community and reconciliation from the Walltown neighborhood of Durham to NC prisons to local churches and communities around the world.

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Sample Newsletter: Turning Again—July

I’ll admit to being a bit bleary eyed in church yesterday. Since Leah endured three days of labor last week, we’ve been enjoying the magical presence of a newborn baby (Nathan) in our lives. And we’ve been trying to catch up on lost sleep.

As anyone who’s experienced this knows, you wouldn’t trade it for the world. And it’s also something of an alternate reality.

Which is why I’m not entirely sure how our regular Sunday morning worship service took a turn about the time we usually have announcements and became a spontaneous prayer service. I heard Pastor ask us all to grab the hand of the person next to us, and, cradling Nathan in my right hand, I reached forward to grab the hand of Ms. Johnson on the pew in front of us. Folks were calling out their requests from the congregation—for a brother in the hospital, for a sister in chemotherapy, for peace in the neighborhood this summer.

Then Ms. Johnson waved her free hand. I wasn’t sure whether she was praising the Lord or trying to get Pastor’s attention, but when he called on her she kept her hand in the air and cried out directly to the Lord: “Jesus, I just want you to watch over the men in my family—teach em your way, Lord, and keep em from the way that leads to destruction.”

I thought about Ms. Johnson’s son—the one who used to sell drugs on the corner, just down the block. I thought about her nephew who’s been in and out of jail, and his daddy, who once told me how he was born in the house we used to live in and has been part of this neighborhood all his life. I thought about Ms. Johnson’s great nephew who’s over at our house almost every afternoon to play stickball in the yard with my oldest son.

Then I looked down at little Nathan and remembered the agony and the ecstacy of his coming into the world just a few short days ago. And suddenly I wondered, “What if you went through all of that knowing that your boys would end up in prison?” Of course, a godly woman like Ms. Johnson would do anything in her power to make sure that doesn’t happen. But it does.

When Ms. Johnson prays, she’s crying out against the injustice that her babies were born into.

But they have to take responsibility for their choices too, many say. Ms. Johnson’s baby chose to break his momma’s heart when he decided to sell crack. It is true, of course, that we all make choices. But what if he was trying to help momma pay the rent the only way anyone ever showed him how to make a dollar? What if there were far too few choices because, for generations, all this family was allowed to do was work all day to pay rent on someone else’s property?

With one hand holding Nathan and the other holding Ms. Johnson, it occurred to me that I was sitting in the middle of the tension we’re called to inhabit. Our world is divided by an injustice that we all inherit and in which we are each implicated, whatever our choices. While it may seem that some are “privileged” while others are victims, we are all diminished by our shared history of racial division and class inequality. We cry out to a God who sees—to a God who made us for something better than this. And our God hears. With us, God weeps. And with us, too, the Spirit groans for a new world that is already getting born.

This new world is here, even, in a church where I can pray with one hand on little Nathan and the other in Ms. Johnson’s. If watching labor has taught me anything, it’s this: no one knows just what’s going to happen next, but if we can hold one another and trust One greater than ourselves, new life will come.

Indeed, new life is already with us.
Peace and all good,
Jonathan

 

 

PS—As we continue to learn how the struggle for human freedom is part of all that we do here at SFC, I’m excited that Bob Zellner has joined us as SFC’s first Freedom Teacher. Bob is a 55 year veteran of the Southern Freedom Movement who has lots of wisdom to add to all of our programs. Learn more about Bob and how you can support his work here.