Friday, December 20, 2013

POSADA 2013: Is there room at the inn at the CHA’s Lathrop Homes?


What: POSADA in support of Public and Affordable Housing at Lathrop Homes
Where: Cotter Boy's and Girl's Club 2915 N Leavitt, Chicago
When: Saturday, Dec 21 2013 2:00 p.m.
VISUAL: Couple dressed as Mary and Joseph lead procession around perimeter of Lathrop Homes, re-enacting story of seeking shelter at the first Christmas

Contact: John McDermott - - 773-617-3949 (English and Spanish)

Is there room at the inn at the CHA’s Lathrop Homes?
Logan Square churches challenge policy 
that shuts out housing seekers

On the heels of a Dec 10 community meeting that brought over 400 people out to demand an immediate opening of unused units to people in need of housing, on Saturday a coalition of churches, community organizations, and residents associations will hold a holiday Posada -- a Latin American traditional re-enactment of the search by the parents of Jesus for hospitality -- that does double-duty dramatizing the plight of people left in the cold by Chicago housing policies.

Original poster: Andrew Willis
"For years hundreds of units at Lathrop have been left vacant instead of being made available to families in our community that need them," said Lissette Castañeda, co-chair of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) Housing Committee. "There's a new plan for Lathrop, but it would make things even worse."

The president of the Lathrop Homes Local Advisory Council, Mildred Pagan, added, "They're trying to sell us on how the new plan will make everything so 'nice.' What would be really 'nice' would be to rehab all our buildings now to provide housing for families that need a decent place to live."

"When people from the neighborhood gather at the church for our weekly Wednesday Community Dinner, many are talking about the lack of affordable housing, and of places that people of limited means can go to escape the cold," said Rev. Erik Christensen, pastor at St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square. "At this time of year, in particular, we are spurred to action on behalf of those with an urgent need for one of those 750 empty units."

Community members affiliated with LSNA, the residents' committee, and the Logan Square Ecumenical Allicance (which includes St. Luke's) will gather at 2 p.m. at Cotter Boy's and Girl's Club.The Posada will walk the perimeter of the Lathrop Homes, stopping on 3-4 occasions to seek shelter, led by a Mary and a Joseph in costume. At each pre-arranged stop, we will sing the Posada song, and we will be turned away. One of the stops will be an empty CHA unit to symbolize CHA’s act of turning away thousands of families city-wide in their Plan For Transformation and Plan Forward.


LSNA: The Campaign to Preserve the Lathrop Homes

Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance (LSEA) Member congregations:
First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Logan Square
Kimball Avenue Church
Humboldt Park United Methodist Church
St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square

Logan Square Neighborhood Association
ALSO (Alliance of Local Service Organizations)

We are grateful to Thrivent Financial for Lutherans for its generous support of this and other events of the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance.


(Also see the full photo gallery on Flickr!)

"Mary" and "Joseph" seeking room at the inn.
Posada procession
Pastors Erik and Luis lead the Posada song
"Please - is there shelter here?"
Inside at last! Cotter Boys and Girls Club
Closing prayer: Pastor Ramon and other Ecumenical Alliance pastors.
THANK YOU! to everyone who participated!
Photos courtesy FJJ.

THE POSADA SONG (from Wikipedia)

Afuera (Outside)

En nombre del cielo
Os pido posada
Pues no puede andar
Mi esposa amada

(In the name of heaven)
(I request you grant us shelter)
(Given that she cannot walk)
(She my beloved wife)

Adentro (Inside)

Aquí no es mesón
Sigan adelante
Yo no puedo abrir
No sea algún tunante

(This is not an Inn)
(Please continue ahead)
(I can not open)
(You may be a robber)

Afuera (Outside)

No seas inhumano
Tennos caridad
Que el Rey de los cielos
Te lo premiará

(Do not be inhumane)
(grant us charity)
(Since the King of heavens)
(Will prize you for that)

Adentro (Inside)

Ya se pueden ir
Y no molestar
porque si me enfado
Os voy a apalear

(You can already go away)
(and do not bother)
(because if I get upset)
(I will beat you up)

Afuera (Outside)

Venimos rendidos
Desde Nazaret
Yo soy carpintero
De nombre José

(We come exhausted)
(From Nazareth)
(I am a carpenter)
(Named Joseph)

Adentro (Inside)

No me importa el nombre
Déjenme dormir
Porque ya les digo
Que no hemos de abrir

(I don't care about your name)
(Let me go to sleep)
(Because, as I said)
(We shall not open)

Afuera (Outside)

Posada te pide
Amado casero
Por sólo una noche
La reina del cielo

(She asks you shelter)
(Dear innkeeper)
(for just one night)
(She, the queen of heaven)

Adentro (Inside)

Pues si es una reina
Quien lo solicita
¿Cómo es que de noche
Anda tan solita?

(So, if it's a queen)
(who's asking for it,)
(how is it that at night)
(she travels so alone?)

Afuera (Outside)

Mi esposa es María
Es reina del cielo
Y madre va a ser
Del divino verbo

(My wife is Mary)
(She's the Heavenly Queen)
(And she'll be mother)
(Of the divine word)

Adentro (Inside)

¿Eres tú José?
¿Tu esposa es María?
Entren peregrinos
No los conocía

(Are you Joseph?)
(Is your wife Mary?)
(Come in, pilgrims)
(I did not know you)

Afuera (Outside)

Dios pague, señores
Vuestra caridad
Y que os colme el cielo
De felicidad

(May God pay, sirs)
(your charity)
(And may heaven swamp you)
(With happiness)

Adentro (Inside)

Dichosa la casa
Que alberga este día
A la virgen pura
La hermosa María

(Joyful be the house)
(That this day hosts)
(The pure virgin)
(The beautiful Mary)


¡Entren santos peregrinos!
¡Reciban éste rincón!
Que aunque es pobre la morada
¡Se las doy de corazón!

¡Cantemos con alegría!
¡Todos al considerar!
¡Que Jesús, José y María
nos vinieron hoy a honrar!

(Come in, holy pilgrims!)
(Receive this corner!)
(Because, even though the place is poor)
(I offer it to you from my heart!)

(Lets sing with joy!)
(Everyone at the thought!)
(That Jesus, Joseph and Mary)
(Came today to honour us!)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Logan Square Laments With Syria

Members of Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance (LSEA) gathered at the eagle monument in Logan Square on the evening of September 11, 2013, for a prayer vigil for peace in Syria.

The candlight service was led by Rev. Erik Christensen (St. Luke's Logan Square) and Rev. Bruce Ray (Kimball Avenue Church), using a liturgy from Holden Village. Sound was provided by the team from ALSO/New Level Sound.

Members of LSEA congregations participated, together with friends and members of the general public. Numerous people stood to share thoughts and concerns about the situation in Syria.

In addition to brief scripture passages, prayers, and songs, we read excerpts of poetry by the Syrian poet "Adonis" (Ali Ahmad Said Esber), considered by many to be the greatest living poet of the Arab world. Below is a longer excerpt of an essay, "Candlelight," by Adonis.


Through the years of the civil war, especially during the siege, I learned to create an intimate relationship with darkness, and I began to live in another light that does not come from electricity, or butane, or kerosene.

I despise these last two lamps,
they spew a foul odor that kills the sense of smell and poisons the childhood of the air and the air of childhood. They repel the eyes with a beam that pierces vision like a needle.

Moreover they bring petroleum to mind and how it has transformed Arab life into a dark state of confusion and loss.

The other light I love is the light of a candle.

*    *   *

I chose candlelight as my companion . . .

*    *   *

But have we truly left the world’s darkness? I wondered as I watched the shadow the candle spread on the ground or on the wall, and the shadow my own head made. And I began to realize to my own dismay that this shadow we call delusion is not less real than myself or the candle. And I said, as I witnessed death snatch many around me with the speed of a wink, that we still stand with our backs to the sun. . . .

*    *   *

I was recalling [our] mythological history as I sat in candlelight and compared it with the living history we were experiencing then minute by minute, written with iron and fire, rockets and bombs, and with human limbs, by our cousins, ancestors of Moses and Solomon who are among our own prophets. Solomon, tradition says, had a way of speaking with inanimate objects and living things. And Moses was the first human to whom God had spoken, a singular honor indeed.

I was comparing this mythological, pagan history and this real Godcentric history that we live today, and so I wish to register my surprise.

There was man who never spoke to God or never even knew of him, and who had no light except candlelight. He nonetheless was able to create a history that lifts mankind and the whole world and that opened before them horizons where they could proceed endlessly.

And here was man to whom God had spoken and whom he preferred over the whole of creation, granting him electricity as if it were a dromedary crouching at his feet, and he creates his history beginning with murder then descending endlessly into an abyss of severed limbs and blood.

As I was thinking and deducing, I embraced the slim shadow of the candle and began to whisper some of my secrets to it. Then I turned toward the Mediterranean and listened to its groaning not far from our bodies, half frozen from confusion and terror, or from death that could strike us at any moment. I turned toward the sea, who invented the light of the world, and began to share in his rocky moaning rising from the ocean’s dark.

It’s the siege: A flood, but where is the ship, and where shall we go? Nothing awaits us except that mechanical specter, the F-16, that plans to turn us into a golden ash from which a murderous lot among our cousins, the offspring of Moses and Solomon, intends to use for their new crowns and thrones.

*    *   *

Each time the darkness pushed us into it, the candlelight held us, and returned us to its shade and to the real living moment. This is how we rose back to ourselves and their besieged light.

*    *   *

The faces of the people who lived in our building would throng and gather around the light of a candle, creating a panorama of wrinkles, features, countenances, blank gazes and quizzical looks:
a face of a still lake without the flutter of a single sail
a face in the shade like that of a sheep led to the slaughterhouse
a face drowned in its sorrows like a hole in the darkness
a face, a white page open to the silence
a face, a sieve through which words drop and spread in all directions
a face, a book in which you can only read forgetfulness, or more correctly, the desire to forget
a face of a woman who is a man
a face of a man who is a woman

*    *   *

Taking advantage of the situation he found us in, someone in our group would begin to speak of the virtues that fueled this internal light. He said these saints were inextinguishable, that they were a light that illuminated light as they have dedicated themselves to the shattering of darkness. Our companion compared this light with the loose light spewed by rockets and bombs, affirming that those who spread such a powerful light, though they speak of nothing except freedom and progress, are disseminating nothing but another name for darkness that has no place in nature, a darkness-light intended to put out all light, whatever it may be, and wherever it is found.

(Retrieved at

(Thanks to Robert Castillo for vigil images.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It Takes a Community! (The Boulevard 2013)

St. Luke's Logan Square and ALSO collaborated on the phenomenally successful Logan Square street festival -- The Boulevard -- over the weekend of August 23-25, 2013.

St. Luke's and ALSO worked together to provide water to the thirsty festival-goers, and a team from ALSO's New Level Sound project assisted with the sound crew managing the two music stages.

In addition, the crowds were treated to performances by ALSO friends SevenSevenThree and Las BomPleneras.

We're looking forward to additional community collaborations!

ALSO executive director Lori Crowder addresses the crowd
at The Boulevard. St. Luke's pastor Erik Christensen is
visible behind here, and she is flanked by ALSO youth and
members of St. Luke's.
View the entire Facebook photo album from The Boulevard.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fear Not: Small Steps Add Up to a Community-Wide Effort to End Violence, Restore Justice

by Joe Scarry
Member, St. Luke's Logan Square

We are entering the last days of summer, and it has not been a summer without violence in Chicago. But people have been working on many fronts. Our work is not done; our work continues.

Here are some snaphots.

The movement against mass incarceration

Several weeks ago, members of St. Luke's Logan Square and Kimball Avenue church worked together with representatives of local advocacy organizations to do a screening and discussion for the community on the subject of mass incarceration.

About 20 people gathered in the fellowship hall at St. Luke's to watch The House I Live In and participate in a panel discussion with representatives of:
(See more thoughts at When is Christianity Going Back to Being the Religion of "UN-entombment"? .)

Ending violence -- locally and globally

Last week I was in Madison, WI, for a conference. I participated in a session in which nationally-syndicated columnist Bob Koehler, who is based in Chicago, talked about his experience with the restorative justice program at Chicago's Fenger High School. (See An Incubator for Peace.) Bob talked about how vital he thinks work of this type is to ending violence in our communities.

In the same panel, writer and activist David Swanson talked about his vision for an abolition of war.

It was striking to me to see the determination of activists in the Chicago community being lifted up side-by-side with those of activists working on the global stage to try to stop large scale violence.

Lutherans speaking out on issues of criminal justice reform nationally

One of the first things I was involved with when I came to St. Luke's was a study of the ELCA draft social statement on criminal justice.

This week Pastor Erik is in Pittsburgh at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, where the social statement will be debated and voted upon. This past Sunday he reviewed the high points with us:
  • The ELCA is prompted to speak and to act because so many cries of suffering and despair emerge from the criminal justice system — from victims, the incarcerated, their families, communities, those wrongly convicted, those who work in the system — and have not been heard.
  • Drawing from Holy Scripture, this church holds up a vision of God’s justice that is wondrously richer and deeper than human imitations and yet is a mirror in which justice in this world, God’s world, must always be assessed.
  • A fundamental transformation of mindset about criminal justice is required that challenges the logic of equating more punitive measures with more just ones. Individuals must be held accountable, but every person in the criminal justice system deserves to be seen and treated as a member of human communities, created in the image of God and worthy of appropriate and compassionate response.
  • Because mass incarceration causes significant harms, both personal and social, the ELCA strongly urges those who make and administer correctional policies to take all appropriate measures to limit the use of incarceration as a sanction for criminal offenses. Toward that end, this statement identifies three specific paths: pursue alternatives to incarceration, reform sentencing laws and policies, and closely scrutinize national drug policy.
  • Four other imperatives also require vigorous action from policy makers: the criminal justice system must acknowledge the disparities, and address the implicit and explicit racism that persists within; it must recognize the special needs of juvenile offenders; it must also stop the privatization of prison facilities; and finally, it must foster the full reintegration of ex-offenders into community.
(More at Sermon: Sunday, August 11, 2013: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost.)

Stopping profiling in New York City and Chicago

Today's New York Times announces: Judge Rejects New York's Stop-and-Frisk Policy. 'Nuff said.

On August 28, many of us will participate in a march and rally in Chicago to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. The event is part of a campaign by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression to protest profiling and violence against communities of color by police.

Youth engagement in Logan Square

In two weeks, we'll host the "Boulevard Bash" in Logan Square. We'll be lifting up work we're doing on issues of social justice and community health that are important to us, including our work with ALSO (Alliance of Local Service Organizations) and Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA).

*    *     *

In Madison, I sat next to an acquaintance before one of the conference sessions. I asked her about the pendant she wore - the outline of a fish within a circle. "It's a symbol of early Christianity," she told me. And then she added, "You know, for me, of all the things Jesus said, the most important is this: 'Fear not.' He says it in about 20 different situations." (See, for instance, Luke 12:32)

"Fear not." A message we are taking to heart in Chicago.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

An Introduction to Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow"

by Matthew T. Avery
Member, Kimball Avenue Church

[Note: This introduction to The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness was prepared By Matthew T. Avery for a discussion by Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance member congregations.]

The title, The New Jim Crow, is provocative. How can there be a new Jim Crow after the victories of the Civil Rights Movement and with policies like Affirmative Action in place? The central argument is this: the War on Drugs and mass incarceration has replaced Jim Crow as a system of legalized discrimination and racial control. Dr. Alexander lays out a very nuanced and convincing case in support of this claim.

Here is an excerpt from the book that well illustrates the thesis (The New Jim Crow, p. 1):
Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises—the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life. Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.

Cotton’s story illustrates, in many respects, the old adage “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
And if the reader is tempted to see the term “mass incarceration?” as more hyperbole Dr. Alexander describes the shocking degree to which our prison population has exploded (p. 7):
In less than thirty years, the U.S. penal population exploded from around 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country, even surpassing those in highly repressive regimes….
This is a quintupling of the prison population in less than thirty years. And this increase in incarceration has not risen along with crime rates (p. 7):
Today, due to recent declines, U.S. crime rates have dipped below the international norm. Nevertheless, the United States how boasts an incarceration rate that is six to ten times greater than that of other industrialized nations.
And yet more hard facts (pp. 6, 7):
No other country in the world imprisons so many of it racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.

And in major US cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80 percent of young African American men now have criminal records are are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.
Studies have consistently shown that across ethnicities, drug use and selling happens at very close rates. And yet, in some states 80 to 90 percent of those sent to prison under drug laws are African American. What Dr. Alexander calls the “wave of punitiveness” that has swept our nation has hit poor and minority communities, not college campuses, or middle-class white neighborhoods, where rates of drug use and selling are just as high.

Here is an example of what can happen once branded a felon, innocence notwithstanding (p. 97):
Imagine you are Emma Faye Stewart, a thirty-year-old, single African American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas. All but one of the people arrested were African American. You are innocent. After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to get home. Your court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse, steadfastly proclaiming your innocence. Finally, after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children. Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sentenced to ten years probation and ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, as well as court and probation costs. You are also now branded a drug felon. You are no longer eligible for food stamps; you may be discriminated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless, your children will be taken from you and put in foster care.

A judge eventually dismisses all cases against the defendants who did not plead guilty. At trial, the judge finds that the entire seep was based on the testimony of a single informant who lied to the prosecution. You, however, are still a drug felon, homeless, and desperate to regain custody of your children.
Once ensnared in the system of mass incarceration it is almost impossible to escape it. There is little, if any, forgiveness. Once you’ve “done your time” and “paid your debt to society” you might actually continue to pay the rest of your life.

This book is full of bad news. While reading I was anxious to learn what Dr. Alexander might offer in the way of a solution. She contends that a patchwork of legal reforms will not suffice and that nothing less than a massive broad-based movement for human rights, and for an end to mass incarceration, will effectively counter this gross injustice currently taking place in our society. Now is the time to end the War on Drugs and mass incarceration.

[To learn more about this book, see A Painful, Unnecessary, Inhuman Practice: Caging America’s Young Adults by Leslie Willis]

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Call for Chicago Area Lutheran Churches to Work Against Violence

The following resolution was passed at the 2013 Assembly of the Metro Chicago Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of which First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Logan Square and St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square are members.


WHEREAS, according to published crime data from the uniform crime reports in seven categories collected by the FBI and from local law enforcement agencies, Chicago has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of all sizes and,

WHEREAS, there has continued to be an increase in violent crime (forcible rape, murder, non-negligent manslaughter, armed robbery, aggravated assault, and assault with a deadly weapon), and

WHEREAS, there is good evidence to suggest that non-police resources can play an important role in reducing crime rates, and

WHEREAS, economic violence among young people who don’t have jobs or an education or enough to eat leads to violence in the streets of our communities, and

WHEREAS, the church in all communities has a mission to work toward peace and justice, therefore be it

RESOLVED, that a Bishop’s Advisory Group be established to be a resource for individuals, congregations, and communities who seek ways to transform the culture of violence and drug and substance abuse through methods such as mentoring programs, intentional training in non-violence, community involvement, and other partnerships in their community and that April 4th be designated as Metropolitan Chicago Synod Anti-Violence Day.

RESOLVED, that congregations and individuals of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod be encouraged to share ideas and resources with each other that seek to prevent violence in our communities, and be it further

RESOLVED, that the congregations and individuals of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod commit to working toward changes in public policy issues which impact violence.

Submitted by:

Metropolitan Chicago Synod Council

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Painful, Unnecessary, Inhuman Practice: Caging America’s Young Adults

by Leslie Willis
Member, Kimball Avenue Church

REVIEW: The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

This book masterfully details the huge leap in the numbers of people, especially people of color, who have been jailed in the last few decades, mostly under the auspices of the war on drugs.

I think this book is also great in exposing the prison industry as a moneymaking industry and especially as a political tool to keep down the most oppressed section of our population. For these reasons alone, every person of conscience should read this book.

One thing I’d like to add is that although the author’s concentration is on showing how mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow for African Americans – what it ends up showing us is the danger to the whole society. An example is the case of the judges found guilty of selling kids for cash into juvenile detention centers. Petty events were characterized as crimes and juveniles received long sentences. Young lives were ruined, there was a suicide connected to this trauma and family traumas were rife. This case received so much attention (a book – a documentary – not to mention a court case with convictions) perhaps because it involved a lot of white teens in the community. (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 2011)

This book discusses the Civil War and in our discussion it became apparent to me that Slavery was a system that insured huge profits off of this labor during the developmental years of industrialization. Slave labor was free and the products it produced like cotton were the backbone of northern industry. Northern industry developed world trade with the commodities, it produced, turning the U.S. into a world power.

After the abolition of slavery, Jim Crow was a method of guaranteeing those profits and maintaining control of the descendants of slaves. In the South, social privileges given to whites were the price they paid for low wages for everyone. As industrialization continued Jim Crow had to go to make way for an integrated work force in the low wage factories that became based in the South.

Today, mass incarceration is happening as the electronic revolution is transforming our society. I believe this to be because the introduction of computers and robotics is causing unsolvable contradictions under the current system that we have for the distribution of goods and services. It is now possible to produce things faster, better and with little to no labor involved. If people are not employed then they have no wages to consume the huge amount of goods produced.

What becomes clear in this book is that profiteers along with the cooperation of our government are now warehousing people that they have no jobs for and by privatizing the prisons there’s a buck to be made during the process. These people, the new disposed of our society, come out of prison stripped of their rights and disenfranchised.

Finally, this book convinced me that it really is up to people of conscience, and one hopes that we are talking about the faith community, to become well informed so that we can speak out about this painful, unnecessary, inhuman practice of caging America’s young adults.

Leslie Willis is a member at Kimball Avenue Church. This review was prepared for a discussion of The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance member congregations.

[To learn more about this book, see An Introduction to Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" by Matthew T. Avery.]