What Does Shalom Look Like?

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by Katie Delp

Five years ago, we planted a peach tree next to our house. Each year it has produced a bountiful harvest, though I’ve spent the last few summers in a epic battle with the neighborhood squirrels for the fruit. But this year we outsmarted the squirrels, and my kitchen is overflowing with peaches!  

I sent my son Sam and the kids who live across the street outside to pick peaches from the tree. They stretched and climbed and grabbed as many fruits as they could reach. Then, I sent them on their bikes to pick up flour and butter from the Carver Neighborhood Market, a few blocks away. I texted neighbors on our street: Warm peach cobbler and ice cream on our porch at 8!

Shortly after pulling the cobbler from the oven, our next door neighbor knocked on the door. We settled in on the porch, and more neighbors soon joined us. For the rest of the evening, we laughed together, enjoying the company and scooping up cobbler for the kids.

Our mission statement at FCS says we partner with under-served neighborhoods to provide innovative and holistic development that produces flourishing communities where God's Shalom is present. As a team, we often discuss what Shalom looks like in our neighborhood context. What does it mean to to work towards a South Atlanta filled with God’s peace and presence?

Shalom is a Hebrew word that’s been translated many ways into English: completeness, safety, health, prosperity, peace, contentment, restoration, and peace, to name a few. It’s a concept that stirs my soul. But what does shalom look like day-to-day?

For me, shalom looks like sticky fingers grabbing more folding chairs for late arrivals. It looks like fruit from the yard cooked with ingredients from around the corner at a business that employs people on the street. Shalom looks like a crowded porch, filled with longtime residents who’ve lived in South Atlanta their whole lives and new neighbors from other states and even other countries.

In the midst of the conversation, laughter, and requests for seconds, I was so aware of God’s presence and goodness. It was a living and breathing night of Shalom. Right there on the front porch. God is always present in our communities, but I give special thanks for the ways neighbors, organizations, and peaches can bring forth community and flourishing. And I’m thankful for the nights when Shalom tastes just like fresh peach cobbler.  

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White Privilege

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by Bob Lupton

We have been hearing a lot about white privilege these days. Mostly negative. Mostly accusatory. Mostly equating white privilege with power and position used to oppress minorities. As a white American male who has lived most of his adult life among minorities (mostly African Americans), I thought a few personal reflections might add balance to the discussion.  

 

I had never heard of white privilege when I moved into the inner-city. Naively, I attempted to “fit in” by learning Ebonics, developing a taste for collard greens, and listening to rap. One of my curious neighbors asked me, “Why do you act like that?” It was apparent to him (and probably to all my neighbors) that I was a white guy trying to “act black.” It didn’t work. Instead of identifying with my African American neighbors, I was pretending to be something I was not.

 

There were a few things that gave me away. Skin color was the most obvious. And the size of my house. And my boat. It was immediately obvious to my neighbors that I was a person of privilege – white privilege. And if I was ever to be accepted as a trusted neighbor, I would have to become authentic. I would have to embrace who I really am – a white, educated, middle-class, connected male struggling through his own racial, cultural baggage while trying to be an engaged, non-patronizing member of the community. But this was much easier said than done.

 

Why had I come to this neighborhood in the first place? To help? To save? Yes, I viewed myself as a missionary. And I had the answers I was confident could fix the problems of the poor – spiritually, morally, economically. Fixing people, however, proved not a very effective way to develop healthy relationships. The subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) message that came across: I have it together, you do not. You need help, and I can give it. Neither my friendly personality, nor my façade of humility, were enough to disguise my underlying agenda or the arrogance it embodied. 

 

There were occasions when it seemed my presence in the neighborhood was appreciated. Like one night when trouble erupted and the police swarmed in. My voice seemed to be the voice that the police listened to, the trustworthy translator of what was really going on. I felt like an advocate for my neighbors, a voice for the community. What I did not recognize was the deep-seated distrust that festered between my black neighbors and the police, animosity borne of a long history of prejudicial and even unlawful police practice. Nor was I aware of how they perceived this obvious alliance I had with the police.  

 

From childhood, I had been taught the police were my friends. I could always count on them for help. Of course, they would listen to me and believe what I said. With that confidence, I had no hesitancy approaching the officers when they raced onto our street with blue lights flashing. I felt very good when they accepted what I said as fact. But to my black neighbors, this added insult to injury. It was one more example of the police believing the word of a white man over the word of black residents. It was the first time I became painfully aware that white privilege had an ugly underbelly.

      

There were, of course, many other incidents that made me aware of the inequities my white-middle-classness afforded me. The special attention my two boys received from teachers in the neighborhood school, the freedom of going into stores without security following us, friends who shared their lake homes to give us relief from the pressures of the city – that sort of thing. Privilege is nice. Really nice. But it can also separate neighbors. And when community building is an important part of one’s vision, it can become an obstacle. So what to do with this thing called white privilege? Could the benefits be somehow shared with my less privileged neighbors? I gave it a try.

 

Boating was our family weekend get-away. Rather than “hide” my boat in a storage shed near the lake, I could park it visibly in my backyard and invite neighbors to go to the lake with us. We were probably the only street in the city where all the kids learned to water ski! My boat – a symbol of middle-class affluence – became a community asset.  

 

I had a new lawn mower. Rather than keep it for the exclusive cutting of my own grass, I could “rent” it to neighborhood teenage entrepreneurs who earned income mowing neighbors’ lawns. My tool became a community asset.

 

My employment with a nonprofit organization also became a value to the community when the neighborhood association was raising money to construct a basketball court for our youth. The community owned the land and had commitments to fund the project. But a local foundation’s grant stipulation required funds to be channeled through a 501c3 tax-exempt corporation. The neighborhood was not incorporated. But the nonprofit where I worked had the required IRS status and agreed to serve as the fiduciary. My connections proved useful to the community. 

 

There were other ways to share as well. Like personal investment in the PTA, recruiting educated friends as volunteer tutors, getting use of a tractor for a neighborhood hay ride, convincing a developer friend to build much needed affordable housing in the community, recommending neighbors to business owners who offered decent jobs with benefits. Sharing connections actually proved to be the most empowering way to share. 

 

I have seen that privilege, when shared, can indeed be a blessing. Even white privilege. It is certainly not something to be denied. Privilege is a given. Within every culture. There are always some who will have more than others – greater talent, more wealth, higher status, better luck. Denying such diversity is a denial of reality. So the question remains: how do those with more share wisely with those who have less? Jesus said it this way: “To whom much is given, much is required.”    

 

Sharing resources and connections is a start. A good start. But this practice does not necessarily address the underlying racial prejudices that pervade our society – prejudices on both sides of the racial divide. I weary of being viewed as the white male oppressor by blacks I encounter, even as blacks weary of being judged by whites as inferior. The only way I know of correcting such deeply imbedded attitudes is community.

 

When we worship together, raise our kids together, plan neighborhood block parties together, the opportunities for trust, genuine friendships, and mutual understanding increase dramatically. The “beloved community” has a chance to take root when we become neighbors. This may seem like a radical, unrealistic concept. Yet, wasn’t becoming a loving neighbor the very thing Jesus equated with loving God?

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A Joyful Send-Off To Our Summer Interns

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In short, our summer interns have been amazing. We hosted three engineering (civil and mechanical) majors from Georgia Tech - Adrienne, Eric, and Luke - thanks to the GlenTech Fund at the Georgia Tech Foundation. And Samantha also joined us from Tulane University made possible by the Arthur M. Blank Foundation. We loved the energy and creativity these students brought to our team this summer!

And they kept busy! From demolition work on one of our housing properties and setting up our online ordering system for Carver Market to helping us prepare for our upcoming move and creating healthy smoothie recipes for Community Grounds, they have pitched in anywhere and everywhere. Adrienne says, "Working with a nonprofit, you never really know what your day might include, but it's the atmosphere that makes it interesting. You just have to be prepared to do what is asked of you."  

We are grateful for the work they contributed this summer, but we also value the things they take away from serving with us. Samantha, who worked closely with our grocery store and coffee shop, says, "I've learned more about the issue of food access in Atlanta and the organizations that work to solve it. It's inspiring to see that these organizations are not only striving towards their own objectives but also embracing collective action to tackle complex problems facing our city." She created a Smoothie Recipe contest to engage youth with the store and discover healthy alternatives to try on our menu.

Eric got involved with FCS after he heard Bob Lupton speak at his church, Grace Midtown. His lesson from the summer is a valuable reminder to us all. "One of the most important things I've learned (or been reminded of) is that when an organization like FCS coming into a neighborhood, God is already there and actively working. We need to remember that we aren't the saviors; we need to be humble and open to the fact that our neighbors may end up impacting us more than we impact them. Our job is simply to live life with the people in the neighborhood; not to try to fix or rescue them, but to do our best to be loving friends and neighbors."

We have been so thankful for their hard-working and generous spirits on our team this summer. As they head back to school, we hope what they learned will impact their future endeavors. We are humbled and encouraged by words like Luke's when he says, "FCS gives context to what a thriving, impactful nonprofit is and does. Having seen this, I have developed a desire to work in an environment and with a mission like FCS... I want my vocation to have the local and lasting impact on a poor community that FCS does, and I want my personal life to be marked by strong community ties." 

Adrienne adds, "Before this internship, I know I had a passion for serving others and civil engineering, but wasn't quite sure how they would intertwine. This [time with FCS] has allowed me to combine both of these, and I hope to keep that combination in the future." 

We wish all our interns the best as they say good-bye to us and return to school. We know they will go on to make a difference in the world! We are so grateful to the GlenTech Fund at the Georgia Tech Foundation and the Arthur M. Blank Foundation for partnering with us to provide such terrific interns!

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