Today, the Detroit Peace Community walked the Stations of the Cross through the city as it does each year, led by the question: Where is Jesus being crucified in this time and place? Were a station written to represent each injustice that has Detroit in its grip at this moment, we would be walking for weeks rather than a mere three hours on Good Friday afternoon.
To hold onto the certainty of resurrection in the midst of water shutoffs, home foreclosures, the deliberate dismantlement of public education, and an economic development plan that reflects racism writ large requires a leap of faith reserved for the saints.
The walk is always a powerful and meditative way to deepen community. To “bring church out into the streets,” as this year’s prayer booklet announced, “naming and exposing the power of death at work around us . . . while holding onto the absurd belief that death will not have the final word.”
As we do each year, our large group gathers at noon in the parking lot of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and Manna Community Meal, a blessed site where hungry and holy folks and activists and addicts and musicians and mystics (often one and the same) are always welcome. Led by a large wooden cross pockmarked with nail holes from Good Friday’s past, we slowly wind through the streets of downtown, stopping at each station to chant and reflect on the reality of crucifixion in our midst.
Today, the walk had a decidedly different feel than in previous years. There was something ominous and strange in the air today. The realization that a new and dreaded epoch really has arrived. A line crossed, a corner turned that brings the reality and rapidity of gentrification smack into the middle of Good Friday with breathtaking ferocity.
The crucifixion of community.
In many ways, today’s walk had a sense of the unfamiliar to it as if this were not the same city through which we had walked only a year ago. It was as if all the warnings issued on Good Fridays past about privatization, education, structural adjustment plans, and emergency managers had crystallized into the “new” Detroit we encountered this afternoon.
You don’t need Moses on a mountaintop to know which way the wind blows.
The Campus Martius Fountain was selected as an appropriate site to lament the horror and magnitude of the ongoing shutoffs (as well as the loss of public space). As we stood between the splaying fountain and a Campus Martius eatery for our five-minute reflection, a young man affiliated with the restaurant as either a manager, worker, or customer, approached a member of our community and unleashed his fury over our being there.
We were not blocking the door, interfering with customers, distributing materials or raising a ruckus. We were holding a cross, singing a song, reciting a scripture, and reading a short reflection. This was explained to the angry, young man who said that he himself was a pastor. He then threatened to call the police.
By the time he got his cell phone out of his pocket, we were finished and processing onto the sixth station.
As I walked past him, I overheard him being interviewed by a videographer who was along for the walk. Apoplectic with rage, he sputtered, “It’s a sad day when people can’t get where they’re going. It’s a sad day when people have to deal with this.”
I pondered his words and concluded that, pastor or not, he was probably not going to join us for the remainder of the walk.
A few minutes later, I shared his words with a wise, Catholic sister who said, “It is a sad day! It’s Good Friday.”
On this Good Friday night, I pray that our young pastor friend looks to the One, hanging on a tree, who said, “I thirst.” Tonight, I pray that he takes to heart the One who said, “I was thirsty and you gave me something (or nothing) to drink.” Tonight, I pray that he will reflect deeply on the things that make for sadness in times such as these and maybe decide to join us next year.
Many have said that Detroit is now a tale of two cities. Today, those two tales collided near a downtown fountain.
Had the angry young man saddened by the inconvenience of a Good Friday prayer ears to listen, he would have heard the words of Lydia Wylie-Kellermann ringing out over Campus Martius. Words that reflect the suffering of an inconvenient God who weeps over cities and turns over tables. A God who troubles the water.
We still live in an age of miracles. On the off chance that the sad pastor stumbles upon this little reflection, perhaps he will still his temper, put away his cell phone, and listen deeply to a God who knows real suffering and sadness. A God who thirsts in neighborhoods far away from fountains and fancy restaurants:
When they turn off our water, prohibiting us from cleaning our clothes or our bodies, they strip us of our dignity.
When they turn off our water, leaving us unable to care for our medical needs and sewage backs up, they strip us of our health.
When they turn off our water, adding the bill to our property tax, they strip us of our homes.
When they turn off our water, leaving our homes unsafe and in jeopardy of a call from Child Protective Services, they strip us of our children.
When they turn off our water and lie about financial and bureaucratic support, they strip us of our power.
When they turn off our water, taking away clean drinking water, they strip us of our lives.
Today, 38, 000 households stand at the cross calling out for their dignity, their health, their homes, their children, their power, and their lives.
This is Good Friday 2015 in Detroit.