Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Homilies & Homrich

Love is holy because it is like grace--the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.
Marilynne Robinson

This week was busy! Besides the usual, Lindsay preached a sermon on the lectionary texts for the 4th week of Easter. She spent a lot of time preparing and snuck in a little Harry Potter reading to recover. She was poised in her delivery and well-received by the community. Tom helped host and set-up the first Free Store on Saturday, basically a one-day thrift store at St. Peter's: free food, free clothes, free smiles, free hugs.

We spent some time at the courthouse on Monday afternoon, supporting the Homrich 9 activists who got arrested last summer blocking trucks shutting off the water of low-income Detroit residents. They are arguing a necessity defense, a moral rationale that a technical breach of the law is more advantageous to society than the consequence of strict adherence to the law. This was only a pre-trial hearing, but extremely significant, as Judge Miller ended up ruling in the 9's favor, creating unprecedented case law in the state of Michigan by her ruling! It was a small, but savory victory for all who got to witness it.

An excerpt from Judge Miller's ruling (which felt more like a rousing speech on the legitimacy & necessity of civil disobedience… quite an inspiring experience to get to witness the law being used to bring about just a little more justice for oppressed people):
It just so happens we live in a country that was founded upon civil disobedience….citizens have the right to peacefully assemble because we live in America.

During the next two weeks, the city is posting water shut-off notices on 800 houses per day in Detroit. See below for the op-ed that Tom submitted to the Free Press this week in response to this article (they didn't publish it!). ;(

Since early October, we have been participating in a lectio divina group every Wednesday night. Lectio is an ancient monastic practice of listening to the Scripture in a more contemplative and personal way. It involves rhythm and repetition and is something we've been experimenting with for awhile now--this was also part of the weekly routine of The Manna & Mercy House.

When the sun comes out, communities gather spontaneously in the neighborhood!

We always get a warm greeting from Tina (her "street name," she tells us) when we come to work at St. Peter's. Here she is clutching her mini Bible and stuffed dinosaur. She gets a warm meal five mornings a week at the Manna Meal soup kitchen that gathers in the basement of the church.

We are grateful that The Detroit Free Press is covering city-imposed water shutoffs and devoted a considerable amount of space to this important issue on the front page of the Sunday edition. Based on our research and work on the ground with residents who have had their water shutoff by the city, we would like to confront and clarify four unfair claims made by the mayor and city officials.

First of all, the Free Press reported that city officials are seeking “to change the culture regarding responsibility to pay for service.” We ask that the victim-blaming stop. It has been our experience—through our door-to-door canvassing efforts, from calls to our water hotline and our emergency water deliveries—that the inability to pay water bills in the city of Detroit has very little to do with a lack of personal responsibility. More than 40% of Detroiters are resiliently surviving below the poverty level as water rates have skyrocketed to twice the national average. In addition, we are finding that many are victims of unfulfilled promises from landlords, water leakage, legitimate billing disputes and inadequate financial aid.

Second, the Free Press reported that Mayor Duggan, once again, is making reference to residents and activists demanding free water. In fact, we do not know anyone calling for free water for Detroiters. Along with many leaders in the community, we’ve always made our request very clear: every resident of this watershed deserves to have access to affordable water, based on federal EPA standards enacted by Detroit city council in 2006.

Third, we are pleased that the Free Press reported that the mayor has admitted that his payment-plan system is not working for thousands of Detroiters, mostly long-time residents of color who have stayed and paid and refused to walk away from the city. We are deeply disappointed, however, that the Mayor has ruled out the income-based affordability payment plan, claiming it is unfeasible because addresses are billed, not residents. Yet, the city already requires residents slated for water shut-off to show proof of annual income in order to apply for financial assistance and, as the Free Press reported, Philadelphia has achieved success with water payment plans that take into account a ratepayer’s disposable income.

Lastly, we are alarmed that the mayor makes claims about the availability of financial resources for those behind on their water bills. As the Free Press rightly noted, the funds coming from Wayne County Metro and the Detroit Water Fund are scarce. In addition, through our research and conversations with victims of water shut-off, we have learned that there are many requirements that hinder access to these funds. These are not being reported. Residents are blocked from receiving financial aid from these sources because their water has been shut off for either too long or not long enough, who owe either too much in back dues to DWSD or not enough! And if a resident is fortunate enough to receive any funds from these sources, it automatically disqualifies her from receiving funds in the future.

The story of the water struggle has been muddied by sound bites and insinuations of city officials. As we head into another round of dehumanizing water shut-offs, we want to set the record straight. When media accounts mirror reality, it cultivates the conditions, in the words of the prophet Amos, “to let justice roll like water.”

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