As I write this, I am grateful for the guilty verdict reached by the jury in Minneapolis after the trial of Derrick Chauvin. I hold in my heart both relief for the verdict and sorrow for George Floyd’s death, and the countless other lives lost to law enforcement, many of whom never got their day in court. As a country, we have so much more work to do on issues of white supremacy, racism, and racial justice. As a church, there is also much work we have to do. But today, I am grateful for this small step forward and look to the ways we can continue marching towards justice together in our own backyard.
The acronym NIMBY, or “Not in My Backyard” describes opposition to an undesirable neighborhood development. The cringeworthy implication is that the development is okay in other neighborhoods—just not ours.
I’ve been thinking recently about how to reclaim this acronym to talk about what we don’t want in any neighborhood. Not just physical constructs, but social constructs. I would proudly say “Not in my backyard” to racism, ableism, and homophobia any day. And yet, my Cleveland Park backyard looks out onto Melvin Hazen Trail, named for a known segregationist in Washington, DC. This gorgeous trail is also notably not accessible to people using wheelchairs or walkers.
Maybe a reclamation of NIMBY should ask not what we won’t welcome, but who we should welcome. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan said “Who is my neighbor? (…) Any man lying needy on one of the numerous Jericho roads of life.” In order to say no to bigotry, we must say yes to community.
No single Samaritan act will forgive us of our sins. Dismantling racism is really living into the Lord’s prayer. It is god’s will be done, in our own backyard, as it is in heaven. Upending white supremacy cannot be a Hail Mary read before bed, thrown down a field, or filibustered in the senate. It is embracing the teenage unwed mother, full of grace, in our midst. We must live into, lean into, and learn into this work not out of guilt, but for a glimpse of the kin-dom of heaven here on earth. To love another person, after all, is to see the face of god.
I believe our church is constantly learning and re-learning how to nurture love of god and love of neighbor in the world. As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, do better.”
On “knowing better”, I strongly encourage you to watch this presentation by the Washington Interfaith Network, called “Is Affordable Housing Possible In Northwest DC?” You can also join our Racial Justice group that meets to discuss how we, as a community of faith, must wrestle with our nation’s original sin.
As for “doing better”, our church’s Mission and Social Action Committee works in partnership with many neighboring organizations, including Friendship Place, which runs The Brooks, Ward 3’s short-term family housing facility. In the coming months, we will host several post-worship coffee hours with other local organizations such as Joseph’s House, Jubilee Housing, and Shaw Community Center. Look for more info to come. Within the UCC Central Atlantic Conference, there are also opportunities to get involved in the Justice + Witness Action Network.
As a congregation, we tithe (give 10%) of all church income to mission and social action. This includes income from our multi-year Capital Campaign, which will give a significant chunk of money to a project in line with our mission. (We don’t know quite what this will look like, but we have, yes, you guessed it, a committee working on that too.)
If you want to do something today, sign up to volunteer with Jubilee Jobs or donate to Casa Ruby, an LGBTQ organization facing eviction. And, as I mentioned in my last moderator’s memo, please don’t forget to eat something. We need you physically sated in order to be spiritually nourished. We need you full of bread and spirit to greet your neighbors warmly.
Questions to Ponder:
- What social constructs are not welcome in your backyard?
- How can you be a Good Samaritan, even in socially distanced times?
- When have you been the one in need? What help did you receive from neighbors, and what about their outreach was particularly meaningful to you?
In peace and community and backyard barbecues,