Pentecost Dinner & Service
Glaspar is a mailman in Vicksburg, Mississippi, site of one of the most fierce
and protracted battles of the Civil War. Under siege by Union Soldiers for over
a month, soldiers, north and south and civilians suffered severely, some dying
of starvation. Seventeen thousand mostly Union Soldiers are buried in a
cemetery in Vicksburg. Ceremonies on Memorial Day ended in the seventies, but
Willie organized a parade and cemetery gathering for prayer and song some few
years ago. It’s grown to about 40 people participating. “I’m a mailman, not a
veteran, but I played here as a boy and used to study these graves, I look at
the War from a freedom standpoint. One side won, the other lost, and we became
free as a result…Maybe that’s why the white folks don’t come.” (Confederates
in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, Tony Horwitz)
confederate room of the city’s museum there is a pair of rebel trousers with an
inscription that says they were sewn by a “plantation mammy” alongside a picture
of a Southern Matron “with her slaves who refused to accept freedom.” Jefferson
Davis delivered his first public speech in Vicksburg and a plaque commemorating
the occasion says, “There was a special relationship between Jefferson Davis and
his slaves. He was not only their master but also their friend.” With friends
exhibit of a Klu Klux Klan Hood with eye holes and a Red Tassel the inscription
reads, “The Klan’s purpose was to rid the South of carpetbag-scalawag-black
governments, which were often corrupt…Atrocities were sometimes attributed to
the Klan by unscrupulous individuals.” The Civil War isn’t over in some people
One of the
most revered soldiers in the battle of Vicksburg was a private named Albert D.
J. Cashire. A soldier in their company said of Albert, “In handling a musket in
battle he was the equal of any in the company.” Cashire fought in forty
skirmishes and battles and he participated in veterans’ affairs for decades
after the war. In 1911 working in Illinois, a car hit Cashire and in surgery
after the accident it was discovered that he was a she, Albert was an Irish
immigrant named Jennie Hodgers. She was eventually sent to a mental institution
and forced to wear women’s clothing. She died in the asylum in 1915. Over 400
women fought in the war disguised as men.
Vicksburg was one of only two towns in Mississippi to vote against secession
(the other was Natchez).
and Trenton are 10 miles apart. Graduation rates from the two high schools are
a thousand miles apart. Both are stately historic school structures but
Princeton is in top shape with amazing performance and sports facilities and
Trenton Central is an unholy mess. Now why is that?
We give tax
breaks to the wealthy. We reward companies for sending manufacturing overseas.
We bail out banks. We treat Wall Street as if it were a sacred workplace
needing insulation and protection from the regulation of evil and intrusive “big
government.” In truth it is more like a den of gamblers and speculators who
play with money, who package debt and sell it over and over again like the
unfortunate gift destined for eternal re-gifting. Wall Street is walled off
from the prying eyes of We the people, it is the princely province of
American royalty—oligarchs. Yes, a small group of people has control of our
government. That is why no comprehensive immigration bill, or a bill to raise
the minimum wage has even been introduced for a vote in the House of
deregulate commerce and trade, our laws privilege profit over people,
multinational monopolies over Main Street and neighborhood, village and town,
ghetto and group home. We re-segregate and redline. Our redrawn
congressional districts look like the scribblings of crack addicts. We build
walls to keep them out while exploiting their labor, deporting and
separating families—recalling the days of slavery.
our water and air; we rape the earth plundering its precious irreplaceable
resources and ignore the wind and the sun. We put a price tag on everything,
water, air…space, time, people, so everything is a commodity, a thing to be
sold. Pillows on airplanes, parking spaces, patient care. It’s cost a dime now
to bag your groceries if you don’t bring your store bought bag with you.
We make it
harder for them to vote: old folks, people of color, students. We sell
our democracy to corporations that are not people and give voice to money even
though it can’t really speak. When’s the last time a ten-dollar bill asked how
you were doing? Our elections aren’t the substance of real debate about values
and governance. They are dueling dollars, clever slogans that belie their
underlying aim: character assassinations on primetime television. Our
constitution has been prostituted by partisan manipulation in the highest court
in the land doing the bidding of extremists whose interests do not seem to
include millions of our people living under the most difficult circumstances.
with corporate bonuses, boss to worker ratios of 231 to one, CEO salaries in the
tens of millions, stock options, dividends, perks, golden parachutes and soft
landings after even mismanagement and outright failure. But outsourcing,
misclassification, a workforce of part-timers who can’t afford healthcare, don’t
get paid sick days or vacations, are forced to depend on government services and
castigated when they do—we seem to have no problem exploiting them.
you what I’d like to see when the spirit comes…
sitting in pews and on porches all across America who think it ordinary to speak
up, march up, stand up and with our sons daughters seniors strangers who serve
our burgers and wait our tables on poverty wages demanding they get fair and
just pay and benefits, not welfare. They do the work that makes McDonald’s,
Burger King, and Wal-Mart rich and ought to share in the abundance they create
as if they matter and are more than interchangeable part-time throwaways parts
in an economic scheme that isn’t the free market at its best but a financial
system rigged to make and keep people poor, to rob them of their dignity them
blame them for their sorry condition. People aren’t poor; they are made poor.
We’re not talking about poverty but about income inequality. It’s not just a
byproduct of our system, it is its centerpiece, it is it’s inevitable outcome,
it is the fulfillment of its design.
Pentecost, the day, the season,
can never become simply a birthday party for the church. We can’t let ourselves
think of it as an annual celebration and not much more—not in our world.
Pentecost is a reminder that we’re all prophets, that the Spirit is
democratic and biased. “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.” And it has
deep and compassionate roots in structured benevolence.
root of this season is a harvest festival and the requirement that not all of
the land be harvested. The edges were to be left un-harvested so that the poor
could have this food for themselves. Built right into the structure of the
festival that is the cause for the gathering that became the first Pentecost is
this movement from thanksgiving to justice. Joy at the harvest and care for the
have-nots. We can only be truly thankful when we remember our connection to
those who do not have what we have; those who suffer in the very midst of the
abundance we enjoy. The harvest is from God. It is not ours alone.
Spirit comes to New Jersey we’ll look like North Carolina. Are you paying
attention to what is happening in North Carolina—the Forward Together, Not One
Step Back, Moral Mondays movement? It is Pentecost every Monday down there.
Rev. Barber calls it “fusion politics.” It’s multi-race, multi-ethnic, and
multi-issue. It’s young and old, men and women, and LGBTQ. It’s people of
every faith and people of no professed faith. It large statewide organizations
and small local non-profits. It’s doctors and nurses and small business owners,
it’s progressives for choice and rednecks who want unemployment insurance
extended and new jobs.
in Madison County, that’s Klan country in NC have asked Rev. Barber if they
could start a chapter of the NAACP. It’s people from all over the state singing
and marching on the steps of the Capitol every Monday, growing numbers of them
willing to be arrested for what they believe. It’s about labor rights, voting
rights, women’s rights, comprehensive immigration better public schools,
international relief and development, health care, income inequality. It’s not
democrat or republican it’s for all, not left versus right—it’s about going
deeper, beyond the superficial to the place where the truth sets the table and
the whole of the people are fed and sustained and enjoy the fellowship of a
beloved community. They march so that the state is a banquet for the community
not a feeding trough for those already wealthy beyond measure.
came back after a season of Sabbath following the massive march on Raleigh
February 8th, (80 thousand people were there—it was remarkable, they
learned about the new rules imposed by a commission of the State Legislature
that hadn’t met for years: in NC it is no longer legal to sing, march, pray, or
gather more than 200 people on the steps of the Capitol. The governor and the
majority party in power think they can coral the spirit, silence the spirit of
God. Know what they did that first Monday back? They marched in silence their
mouths covered with tape.
ever truly get to we the people? Not us versus them, north vs south, red
state vs blue state, progressives liberals conservatives tea parties, haves and
have nots, right color wrong color, male over female—she gets $.76 on the dollar
and abused to boot? Will we ever break the grip of this science denying false
Christianity that is ascendant in our politics at the expense of the rich
religious traditions that inhabit our land? Jesus would have nothing to do with
this soulless political Christianity that would cut food stamps and early
childhood education and end unemployment insurance for 2 million people , the
number growing by the thousands every week. Boomers, the greatest generation,
millennial, x-gens, are these divisions real? In the beauty of the diversity
that is God given, not human made will we ever get to we the people?
spirit comes, when the spirit comes, when the spirit comes: there will be no
them. Despite our differences we are one. Our very differences,
languages, lands, cultures, religions are causes for wonder and awe. We are the
art of God—all of us, everywhere. When poverty is done, when clean water and
daily bread are facts of life for all, when beyond the jangling sounds of our
differing accents what we hear is “peace.” What a day, what a season of
celebration that will be! AMEN.