Is it possible to have anything like a blueprint for the next 20 years for L.A.’s spiritual and religious role in “race relations” or “social justice”?
Let me look backward briefly. In the summer of 1965 I found myself in Watts during the “riot.” Guardsmen stood with guns. Fires raged. My immediate job was to hand out bread and milk to people who were hungry. I did. And I listened to people talk.
A black teenager I will never forget. He still haunts me. “The police beat me on the head after they handcuffed my hands,” he said. “I know hate is not going to do any good. But I’m not going to love a white. Preachers don’t make sense. The Bible says ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ So?”
Years passed. Now it was 1992. Rodney King had been beaten by cops in uniform. None of us knew about it, yet someone had caught the whole thing on tape. There was an explosion of public rage-cum-awakening. The cops were acquitted. And a new era in the relation between police and public was thrust into being. Another riot staggered Los Angeles. With it came an awakening of new possibilities. This riot burned hard not far from my home in Silver Lake. Ashes fell from the sky. Rodney King’s poignant query about “can” or “can’t” we just get along resonated through our life and world. I suppose we’re still looking for all the complex answers to Rodney King’s question.
The other day the Rev. Anna Olson were having a long, good chat. About the past — and present — and future; the neighborhood in which her own church is located and the potential role of youth as healers. Her words and ideas and descriptions proved healing for me. And positive. And arresting. Here is what Anna said:
“I guess I’d have to start to answer any question about the future of the church in Los Angeles from my current position. I’m an English- and Spanish-speaking white woman priest serving an historic Japanese-American congregation in the heart of Koreatown. It is a neighborhood that is majority Latino, significantly Korean, increasingly South Asian, and somewhat Filipino. The almost ludicrous diversity — ethnic, cultural, linguistic, economic, generational, take your pick — of the communities we serve suggests to me that what we will need more than anything is a spirit of adventure, an ability to see beauty in the midst of chaos, and a lively faith in God’s ability to bring more than we can ask or imagine. Our best efforts of planning and strategizing and modeling are likely to fall so far short of emerging realities, that we should plan to spend a fair amount of time just shaking our heads in bemusement, followed by getting off our butts (and out of our offices) and getting back to work.
“I also suspect that the key to making sense of ministry in our diverse communities will be the younger generations. I know firsthand from my raising my own daughters in Koreatown that while the parents may barely communicate across all the many very real lines that divide us, the kids are sharing a reality that looks pretty different from that of any of their parents. That shared reality may end up being the common ground on which the church can grow, bridging older generations that would otherwise have no incentive or tools to create those bridges. A little child shall lead them….”
In a perplexing situation that is both awesome and sophisticated, I find Anna’s words marvelously fresh and positive and helpful. Thank you, Anna.