Imagining Abundance and Justice for All

The Presbytery Leader’s Blog… the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown….

One joy of this summer has been visiting the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.  People of all ages with dogs in tow meander through the stalls that offer fresh vegetables and fruit, meats and cheeses from organically fed animals, yoga and massage, jewelry and clothing, kids playing in fountains, and live music.  Meandering through the stalls at Farmer’s market, I receive a sense of abundance, of plenty, and it is difficult to imagine that just a mile away or less, a child wakes up hungry, a young person rouses from a drug-addiction induced slumber, a man faces another dismal day with no prospects for employment.

The Farmer’s market shows off God’s bounty, carefully nurtured from the earth by small organic farmers, Amish who preserve an earlier way of being in the world, young nature-friendly entrepreneurs. At the Farmer’s market, a vendor sharpens knives while people shop for produce, and I think about bringing all my food prep knives to be sharpened. Pulling the knives from a drawer one by one, I examined them. Two of my favorites are missing their tips, and seeing them annoys me, since I did not break off the tips, and remember, not very fondly, who did. Years ago I purchased three Cutco knives from a young adult member of the congregation I was serving.  She was earning her way through law school selling, of all things, knives.  I had never heard of Cutco, but her rope-cutting demonstration and my sympathy convinced me to buy some. Truly, they are the best knives I have ever used.  Remembering a lifetime promise from Cutco to keep the knives sharp, I looked online for an address to which I could send them. Much to my surprise, I discovered a Cutco retail store in Creve Coeur!

Since we do not have a PCUSA congregation in Creve Coeur, I had never been there. Hardly ever do I go shopping further away than Brentwood, and usually not past the Central West End where I live. More often than not, I buy groceries at the Schnuck’s a block from my condo.  It seems familiar, reminding me of the Giant food store next to the church I served in a mostly African American community in Baltimore.  While I was out in Creve Coeur, I stopped at a grocery store for a snack.  I could hardly believe the experience– walking into a beautiful, open, abundant place, full of well-groomed and expensively attired white people (except for a few store employees), and elegantly displayed groceries. How different it was from the Farmer’s Market, and a complete disparity from grocery store near my home.  I found myself wishing that the shopping in my neighborhood had this feel of opulent abundance. Reminded of the disparities in the St. Louis area, I drove home pondering the complications of race and social class that have become very apparent during my first year here.

Less than six weeks after I moved here, Michael Brown lay in the street of a St. Louis suburb, the victim of a police shooting.  Discrimination in policing, redlining, and other forms of discrimination have a persistent hold on this country, and during this past year, God has been working among us to raise awareness and motivate further advocacy for change. If there is one thing that has been made clear to us in the past year since the death of Michael Brown, it is that there is much, much more we must do in the name of Christ to bring healing and wholeness to our city and to our world. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds us that “God, who is rich in mercy, out of great love… has broken down the dividing wall…the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:14)  The angry expressions and arrests have been repeated, and we wonder “will we ever break free of the hostility?” Then I remember that God never gives up on us, and has done everything possible to bring an end to fear and hatred and oppression.  In faith, we trust that ultimately, good overcomes evil, we are called to continue Christ’s reconciling work.

News has come of a Whole Foods market being built in my neighborhood, bringing some competition for the Schnuck’s, Aldi’s, and expensive Straub’s, offering a new choice. Yet, even this development holds paradoxical promise. Will Whole Foods–Central West End– look like the Whole Foods in Brentwood?  Will those of us who now shop at Schnuck’s and Aldi’s be able to afford to shop at Whole Foods? Will building this new store make even more obvious the divisions among us?  Or will it bring well-being for everyone who lives in the community?

I pray that we keep alive the momentum to not just talk about the need to change, but to reflect theologically about the choices we make every day in every circumstance, and act to bring well-being for all our neighborhoods.