What’s going on!

Motown, from the Motor City. Surely everyone loves at least one Motown song! I visited the house where it all happened. We were led on a guided tour through the building and history itself. As a group we even got to sing ‘My Girl’ in the recording studio!

Motown started in a time dominated by jazz and blues. Jazz: as creative or traditional as it can be be. Blues: singing about the pain.

Motown soul wanted to be different. It wanted to promote great music, but (and I quote the Motown tour guide) it wanted to bring ‘hope and love’.

60 years ago this year, it started to fulfil its mission. Surely there’s at least one Motown song you like?!

But the mission of Motown is still alive… unfortunately. It still speaks of the skin colour equality. It still speaks of gender equality. It still speaks of the cry of Marvin Gaye…. what’s going on? It still speaks of the skills of those with different abilities….. Stevie Wonder. This world still needs Motown from the Motor City.

I have learnt a lot about Motown. It has now become a voice I need to listen to to help me understand this day.

This is a wall.

The Detroit Lions is the American Football team. They aren’t bad. Not at the top, but a good team. Their Ford Stadium is imposing in Downtown Detroit, a real landmark. I was hoping to go and see them but for various reasons I didn’t. But I love their advertising. Now it may be just a sporting saying and I may be reading too much into it, but they have a very big advert on the back of their stadium which can easily be seen for the freeway, it’s a picture of their defensive players and carries the words: This is a wall.

I have yet to encounter anything but anger, frustration, regret, and even apology for Trump here. The wall has been mentioned. There is good integration here in Detroit. People have come here over the years from Poland, Hungary, Ireland and of course the southern states of the US. This is a migrant city. People have moved away. People have moved in. One of the areas that had major road refurbishment before others was the Latino quarter. It was a statement about integration.  This is a tear down walls city. Ironic for a city that has been so good at building things.
Other walls are being built though. Invisible walls. Corporate walls. Walls that protect the rich and allow them to develop their ambitions, often (perhaps not quite always) at the expense of the people. It’s easy to get caught up in a big of justice conversation about the Great Wall of Trump, but I have been challenged to be on the look out for other walls. I’ve been thinking of the great barbed wire walls that the UK has been building in France to keep refugees out. But closer to home, there’s redevelopment in Maidenhead, and the latest wave of housing permission has been given on the understanding that NONE of it will include ‘affordable’ options. What does that even mean?
I continue to learn from Detroit. It’s teaching me about walls. I want to be a wall destructor. Which makes sense…. especially if you’ve ever encountered any of my DIY efforts!

If a tree falls on someone else’s house… does it make a noise?

This week there have been some strong winds here. On one day a tree fell onto someone’s house. The city was on city owned land. The house was the home to a mum and her children.

It will take time to work out who is responsible for recovery and finance etc. Seriously, it will take time. Which was no help when the rain came. Water just rained into the house.

Where’s Direct Line when you need them! (Other insurers are available). Actually, where is any insurer? For many people here house insurance is either so expensive that it can’t be afforded, or just not available depending on the neighbourhood.

There are so many groups here that are run ragged by constant demands for help. Church groups, community groups and others.

The family have now been put up in a motel room. A community group is arranging for a tarpaulin to go over the house and church groups are arranging other practical help.

It’s easy to moan about the cost of insurance, the length of application process, the demands to save money on insurance… but perhaps I forget that the choice of insurance that I have is actually a sign of my privileged position in society.

If God is on the side of the poor, we may expect that to relate to a monetary poverty. But poverty through lack of choice may be worth exploring more. What do I take for granted? Far too much.

I’ve just renewed my home insurance. Perhaps in need to say a prayer for those who have suffered a ‘fallen tree’. The noise of that tree reminds me to be thankful, and remember the plight of others.

And that’s how I ended up nearly being posh.

Water. There is so much around here. The Great Lakes are massive, and Detroit is surrounded by water. It’s geography is odd. To stand in Detroit and look south, over the water, and see Canada. It still feels odd.

Water. There is so much, that it’s killing people. I’ve mentioned in a previous post about the fact that Detroit has suffered so much flooding that houses are wr caked and some are now sinking. But a city near here, Flint, has revealed even bigger problems associated with this area.
Detroit became such a focal point for the automobile (sorry, I mean ‘car’) industry because of its plentiful supply of both water and wood. In the 1800s you could do any industry with water and wood. Carriage makers started here, and they gave way to the first car makers. Industry grew. But pollution also grew. Over the years, the water around here received millions and millions of unwanted pollutants from industry and from the rapid increase in population. Lead pipes were put in quickly.
Unfortunately, the pollutants and the lead pipes didn’t get on together. Cuttings very long story short, Flint was so disgusted with the water quality in Detroit that it went back to using its own river. Now, it’s a city blighted by the results of lead poisoning.
So much water everywhere that it’s killing people.
Detroit’s water supply is being patched. But it really needs long term investment. But the officials of both give men and business are debating this, and have been debating it for years. It is now rising to the top of the agenda. Why? Because even middle class areas are being effected by it.
Yesterday I saw a film made by the Presbyterian Church that told this water story. It is a social justice film. It is brig well made, and very disturbing.
The church ran a conference for water resilience training. Helping people work together to have resilient communities, and take positive action. The people who took part in leading it were from Minneapolis, and were from a water charity. I was speaking with them and the many issues around the world that water gives us.
I learnt a lot.
At the end of the afternoon, packing up, one of them said she had some spare tickets to a concert being given that night by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. So, we left at 7:15, and arrived just a few minutes. I was in jeans and polo shirt for the special 100th anniversary concert of the DSO. The guest half was the same music played on that opening night in 1919. The second half was music from West Side Story, Cole Porter and….. Star Wars. Then there were cup cakes at the end of the concert for everything as a birthday cake. And, even if just for a couple of hours, that’s how I ended up nearly being posh.

3×2 is not the same as 2×3

The Cass Community.

I was unsure how I would feel returning to the Cass Corridor (part of Detroit). Last time I was there, I was scared. Really quite scared.

There are now more green spaces where houses have been removed. Nothing was burning. Kids playing in the street.

But the Cass Community…. it continue to take my breath away. A church that has grown in the last 4 years. It now gets 50 people on a Sunday. But it’s impact is amazing. Look for it on line. The church is now building Tiny Homes, and they are small. But it’s a very basic and cheap way to get accommodation. Their industrial centre now employs more people than ever. Their confidential paper shredding business is still growing (it’s confidential because they only employ people who can’t read or write). They get over 7000 volunteers coming from all over the place to help build, rebuild, and change the community.

I had a good morning of conversation and then helped build some offices. Three offices in a warehouse room.each needing and door to each other, and out to the main area. We built the structure, and then got to the doors. The doors we had…. well, we had three doors to fill the two link doorways, and two doors for the three external doors. But, the team will continue there and get it sorted. It just needs imagination and team work.

Thats what is going on here, imagination and team work.

I could talk for hours about Cass. Hopefully though, the least I can do is learn from it.

It looks like a bomb site

There are still parts of Detroit that look awful. Big old factories, shops, and houses just falling down. Smashed windows that no longer keep out the rain or the wind. Brick work that has collapsed, a sign of the end of a house being a home. Company signs that hang at an angle, because no one cares.

Sometimes it’s worse. A house may look like it’s in good condition from the outside… but inside tells a different story. The home I visited today looks good from the outside, but conditions inside… no one has been upstairs this year! No doors left, except for one on the front door that doesn’t lock. Heating inside is by a fan heater. No curtains, just sheets stapled up. No money to invest. No savings left. The resident, who struggles with bad health, keeps a gun close by at all times. It looks a bit like a bomb site.

I met a church minister today. She moved to Detroit to return to some of her roots. When she was considering her calling to her next ministry she saw that parts of Detroit looked like a bomb site. She agreed to come her because as she said “I suspected God was going to be near bomb sites”.

I am humbled by the work of those who are here. Helping flood victims, feeding the hungry, clothing families, tending those who have health issues, and so much more. It’s a wake up call to me. Not about the state of Detroit, or the USA, but a reminder to me to be thankful.

There are angels here; and they are working near ‘bomb sites’.

But there’s no centre….

Yesterday I went to the suburbs, well, one suburb really. Livonia is 5 miles wide and a nice suburb. A good place to live. A lot of people there work in Detroit, but choose to live just outside. It’s all decorated for Halloween.

But what’s interesting is, it is a town with no centre. No town centre. I’m so used to seeing (historically at least) a pub, a church and a post office in the centre of a village or town or city. Even here in the US there’s that typical Main Street image of an American town, or the ‘Downtown’ of the city. But in this place, there is no centre. There are shops… all over the place. There are churches … all over the place.  No where to say “I’ll see you in town”. There’s no centre.
Which was also a theme of a conversation I had last night with other church leaders. They told me quite clear that there is no centre anymore.  We weren’t talking about town planning, but instead: politics. They were clear that to stay in the centre meant to be complicit with the lies of “the man with the orange hair” as one church leader kept calling him.
Apparently lots around here didn’t vote, one church leader said he knew that a lot of people in his church didn’t vote. So in effect, they voted for Trump.
There are concerns about the lack of political cooperation…. that’s seen as a weakness. They are concerned about the division in society. To hold the centre these days is to be neutral, and to be neutral is to allow Trump to continue. There’s no centre.
Thankfully, I’m from England…. well, the UK that’s part of the EU and we don’t have such….. perhaps there’s no centre for us anymore, either.

Don’t I know him?

Spent some wonderful time today with Detroiters. The best thing to ask someone who is a Detroiter is “what makes this city special?” They will always respond about the pride and respect that the communities have. So many people light up when they talk about their city… “the biggest little town in the area”.

I stand by what I wrote yesterday, and the hope that flows from people.

But, Detroit is still broken. Next year “only” 10,000 will be pulled down. House fires don’t happen like they used to, but corruption does.

When I was here last, there were discussions about what the illiteracy rate was. Apparently now it has been determined that across all ages, the percentage of the city that is classified as being illiterate stands at… wait for it….. 65%. That blows my mind.

Schools are still struggling. Local government is still struggling.

But, the smile on someone’s face when they talk about their community… that’s isn’t a struggle. People know their neighbours. People take care of their neighbours. People respect their neighbours. I think a massive part of that is because of what they have survived together over the last few years. Driving with people here, I have often heard whoever has been driving saying “that person over there, I know “.

I feel bad bad that I don’t know people on the side of the road. I feel like I should be saying “see that person over there…. don’t I know him?”.

But someone I met today greeted my today by saying “welcome. You are no longer a stranger. You are a friend of Detroit”.

Detroit is quite a model for us in our thinking about relationships and neighbours.

The thing I don’t like about religion is….

….. It stops people getting together for bbqs.

Said a man I met today who’s life is being turned around by the church. He cannot walk, lives by himself, and has no running water in his house… which is ironic because his house is sinking.

Well, it was an interesting conversation. I asked him what three things I should see when in Detroit. He looked at me and said “firstly, me. then secondly me, and third….. me”. I’m all you need to know about Detroit.

His life seems to have fallen apart over a period of time. But he is now getting medical help… supported by a church. He gets meals… provided by the church. His shopping is done… by the church. His life is starting to get back on track.

So is Detroit.

It is not the same city as the one I visited just a few years ago. The murder rate has dropped, drug use is now under the radar, and people aren’t fleeing in the way they were. This year, as many people will come to live in Detroit as will leave. That’s the first time for many a year.

Houses are still empty and decaying, but thousands have just been demolished. Detroit now has space. Thousands of houses still need to be pulled down, but the balance is being reached.

Downtown is alive. When I was last here, there was a hesitancy in the city. Now, there is life. New building work, better shops, more restaurants.

A family member (and I won’t say who) says that the British are never happy unless we are digging up roads. Well, here in Detroit roadworks are happening! The city is no longer bankrupt. Perhaps here, people are happy (even happier than the Brits) when roadworks are happening.

Churches have been at the heart of so much regeneration and rejuvenation here. Tonight I went back to seminary to take a class on preaching! I meet people from different church traditions and different understandings of the Bible. But all who I spoke to were passionate about this city. We talked together over drinks, crisps and M&Ms! It was great.

That’s the problem with religion. It works really well when there’s food for the body, the soul…. and this city.