I did not know what to expect at the beginning of 2015. In my congregation we began the year by talking about a journey to wholeness. Somewhere in the middle of the year I began to realize that the pain of the world was so vast it would be complicated to talk about wholeness in the midst of such brokenness. I struggled even as I watched my sisters and brothers struggling around the country both black, brown, white, yellow and red. Our communities were being torn apart by racism and prejudice by xenophobia and by all manner of things that were just absolutely heartbreaking.
As we close out 2015 we are haunted by the decisions to not prosecute police in the case of Tamir Rice, disappointed in the actions of the court in Texas in the case of Sandra Bland, still waiting for justice for Mike Brown, still waiting for justice for Eric Garner, still waiting for justice for Freddie Gray, still waiting for justice for those killed at Mother Emmnauel AME in Charelston, SC, still waiting for justice for so many names that we don't even know and that will never see the light of day.
Yet despite all of this, I still have hope. At the root of my hope is my faith that says it is often darkest before the dawn. It is dark right now but the dawn will break and Joy will come in the morning light. So, I have hope that 2016 will be better than 2015 and that the losses that we took in 2015 for racial and economic justice will be turned into rallying cries that cause us to have great victories in 2016 and beyond.
I'm still fighting for $15 an hour in Pennsylvania and in Philadelphia.
I'm still fighting for full fair funding formula for every school district in the state of Pennsylvania.
I'm still fighting for undocumented immigrants, my siblings in Almighty God, to be welcomed in America.
I'm still fighting to end voter ID laws across this country that discriminate against people of color, young people, immigrants and homeless veterans.
I'm still fighting for racial justice to see that the police no longer have free opportunity to brutalize dark skinned bodies of men and women across this country.
I am still fighting for the end of mass incarceration and the profiteering off of black and brown bodies in privatized prisons.
I'm still fighting to make sure that the LGBTQ community still has every right to live as full citizens in this country and not be discriminated against.
I'm still fighting to make sure that this earth is not exploited to the point of our extinction.
Despite the rhetoric that we have heard from the political right over the last year I am still hopeful that 2016 will show us a country that has progressive ideas. That the voice of the everyday people are just as powerful as the oligarchs with conservative ideas that would drive us back into the Stone Age. I also have hope that the people of God would show up more powerfully so that this year we can do more to "Change the Damn World."
Some days I'm tired. Some days I might even look like I lose hope. As long as the light of God continues to shine within me even in those darkest moments I will continue to believe that our better days are yet in front of us and that the past days are just building blocks towards building the "Beloved Community." I invite you to join me in welcoming 2016 to be the most powerful year of our lives where we see real change, offer real hope, rebuild our communities and our country for the better.
Thank you for staying on the journey with me!
God Bless You All! Amen!
Bishop Royster address the General Synod of the United Church of Christ. Click here for a link to the article.
I am blessed to receive this year's Peace Award from the Shrine of St. Rita's of Cascia in South Philadelphia. St. Rita's is a POWER congregation with a long history of commitments to peace and reconciliation in the city. Join me to celebrate this Friday at Popi's Restaurant. I will be speaking about POWER's vision for a Philadelphia that works for all of us - one in which we care for the most vulnerable - and about what we're doing to create systemic change that will make it so. Funds raised at the event will go to the Cascia Center.
Click here for video.
Let us pray.
Eternal God, we ask your blessing on this session of City Council and for each of its members. As these City Council members gather today, they will make decisions that impact upon the lives of the 1.6 million citizens of Philadelphia.
These citizens of this city come from all walks of life, including different ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, various Generations, some from the North, some from the South, some the West and some from the Southwest, some from the Northwest and some from the Northeast. Each of these communities has an expectation that their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed.
This day, I pray that every vote cast is reflective of the question that the Prophet Micah posed, “What does the Lord require? That you do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God?” I pray that every vote cast is not made for the sake of political expediency but is measured with justice and mercy. For those issues that ignite great passion and debate, we pray that the words and actions of our leaders would be seasoned with grace and Your love.
O Divine One, that has the ability to heal that which has been divided, we would ask that Your presence would govern the work of this body today. Lead those who have been called in this season to legislate this City.
Help our City Council to remember the poor. Remember sub contracted airport workers like Onetha Mcknight, who has testified before this Council who helped create record profits for the big airlines but who get paid so little they must rely on food stamps and medicaid to survive who although working full time have no benefits and are paid less than minimum wage.
Remember the hungry who desire knowledge and thirst for education, like Simoneon and Skylar, but are unable to have a quality education because their schools have no nurse, no counselor and often no paper. Remember the marginalized who based on age, gender, race or physical capability have not been able to find justice. Remember those living in fear who are afraid that they or a family member could be deported at any time. Remember the sick who do not have paid sick days to take off from work and the afflicted like the many returning citizens who desire to work and find opportunity in this city.
We pray that the decisions of this City Council may bring peace, opportunity and prosperity to the various conditions of its most fragile citizens. We are reminded by Your Word, to whom much is given, much is required.
May these, Your daughters and sons, to have courage to fight for whose names will never be heard in these chambers, may this council be guided by You this day and forever. In your holy Name we pray, Amen.
It was the late seventies and I was a child of about 8 or 9 years old. I sat in the balcony of Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia with my grandmother.
The fiery orator, the Rev. Leon Sullivan, was getting up to preach. He was a big man— larger than life to me. They called him "The Lion of Zion.”
In the midst of his sermon about a Pauline text he began weaving in the story of young black men gone missing in Atlanta. Why did it take the police and authorities so long to respond to these missing boys, he asked? In total, 28 went missing. It was a tragedy of epic proportions. The preacher called on the congregation to pray and find ways to support the families in Atlanta, and condemned the system that had ignored them.
Reverend Sullivan’s sermon did not comfort as much as it confronted. Blackfolk needed to own their own futures and not be afraid to challenge authority and people. We have a right to be respected and treated with dignity. I remember walking out of the church different that day. It would take years for me to understand why.
Today, I am many things. I am a Dad, husband, son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and friend. I am a preacher, teacher, organizer, and social change agent. I am a man, an African American and a Native American. I am a Philadelphian, Pennsylvanian and an American. I am a citizen of this world. I am a Human Being. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. And I want to “Change the Damn World!”
Why? Because every day, I live in a city with nearly 30% poverty and 40% of children going to bed hungry. 36,500 people leave Philadelphia’s jails and prisons with no prospects for meaningful employment. Our schools are intentionally underfunded to break unions and destroy the great American institution of public education for privatization. Black boys and young men are the targets of gun owners. Trayvon Martin could have been them, or me. For folk like these and many more across the country living under all kinds of oppression, this world is damned.
I answered the call to ministry not because I wanted to have a nice church, car and house but because I wanted to call out the wrongs of this world to make them right. To me, Jesus is a radical revolutionary who used his faith to turn the world upside down. I want to do the same. The church must reclaim its prophetic roots, speak truth to power, call out unjust systems and demand that they be fixed for the good of all— not just a few.
I will spend my life trying to right these wrongs and many more. My faith demands it. My children need it.
The world needs it.
Join me in this journey to "Change the Damn World."
Bishop Royster is Senior Pastor/Founder Emeritus of Living Water United Church of Christ in Philadelphia. He is a pastor, preacher, change agent, father, husband, and agitator born and raised in Philadelphia. He is the Political Director of the PICO National Network. In addition, Bishop Royster is a former Councilman at Large for the Municipality of Norristown, PA. The views on this blog represent personal views, not those of the PICO National Network.