Sunday, March 30, 2008

Charlie and the Boy

At our church gathering this morning, during the time when anyone can speak, a man named Charlie, who is very elderly and confined to a wheelchair, told the following story:

Charlie's father died when Charlie was 12. This was during the Great Depression and although Charlie's mother worked to provide for the children, they were very, very poor. After school, Charlie would go and stand in the bread line to get food for his family. If one of the kids from school spotted him in the line he would "die a thousand deaths" from shame.

Charlie grew up to become a Junior High School science teacher. All these years later, one student still sticks out in his mind. It was a boy who was also from a very poor family. He was quiet and withdrawn. Charlie could identify with how the boy felt and, as his teacher, decided to meet with the boy once a week to offer some comfort and encouragement.

During one such meeting it began to snow. Big puffy snowflakes drifted down outside the window in Charlie's office and began to cover the ground. It was almost hypnotic to watch. "I love snow.", said the boy. "Why is that?", Charlie responded. "Because", the boy answered "it makes my house as beautiful as everyone else's in the neighborhood."

Charlie and the boy sat and watched the snow fall in silence.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Inductive Theology

For a couple of days now I've been pondering something I read in The Quiet Rebels: The Story of the Quakers in America by Margaret Hope Bacon:

"To George Fox and his fellow Quakers, the Truth which they experienced in quiet meditation, and proclaimed to the world, was as real and concrete as the stones, the grass, the brook, the sky. Having found for themselves this reality in spite of, and not because of, the long-winded argumentative sermons of the day, they were deeply suspicious of "notions" and "airy knowledge." In the language of semantics, they believed that the object itself, not the symbol used to describe the object, was really real.

When he planned the first Quaker schools, George Fox looked for ways to transpose this inductive approach to education. He proposed that such schools teach 'whatsoever things are civil and useful in creation.' With William Penn he drew plans for a garden house. All kinds of plants were to be gathered so that the students could observe them firsthand, then begin to learn such abstract matters as their names and classifications."

Fox and Penn's approach to teaching Botany was for the students to begin by seeing/touching/smelling/experiencing the plants and then follow the experience with the information about the plants. This method echoes their approach to theology, which was to experience the presence of God first and foremost and then to turn to scripture. This by no means implies that early Quakers had a low (or liberal) view of scripture. Rather, it means that they placed highest priority on experiencing the One who had inspired (breathed) the scripture. They sought a higher authority than scripture, believing (and finding) that what the Holy Spirit spoke to them directly would not contradict what was in the Bible. It helped, no doubt, that Fox knew the Bible very, very well.

It strikes me that much of modern day Evangelical Christianity (at least, that which I've experienced) is built on the reverse methodology: We study and sermonize about that which we hope to one day experience (or believe can no longer be experienced). And yet, Jesus still says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me." I don't believe this invitation only applies to a one-time salvation experience. Rather, He is always at the threshold, ready to come in and have intimate fellowship with us, if we but open the door.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Quote of the Day

“The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion, and when death takes off the mask, they will know one another though the diverse liveries they wear here make them strangers.”
– William Penn

Monday, March 24, 2008

Benjamin Lay

One of the things I love about history is that you come across the most remarkable people and circumstances. If there is one thing that history teaches us, it is that almost anything is possible.

One such remarkable person was Benjamin Lay (1681 - 1760). Lay, a Quaker, was born in England, and grew up to become a merchant seaman. He and his wife eventually settled in Barbados, West Indies, a hub for the slave trade. There Lay witnessed firsthand the horrors of slavery. He was so shocked and appalled that he devoted his life to speaking out against slavery. In Barbados, Lay would invite hundreds of slaves to his home each Sunday for meals and Gospel preaching. This did not go down well with the slave owners, who feared he would incite rebellion. Lay was eventually asked by government officials to leave Barbados.

He next settled in the then new town of Philadelphia, which was founded and governed by Quakers, but was upset to learn that slavery was being practiced there as well.

Lay was an unusual man both in his obstreperousness and his physical appearance. He was a dwarf--standing just over 4 feet tall--with a thin body, hunched back, protruding chest, spindly legs that looked like they wouldn't support him, very long arms, an unusually large head and a thick white beard. He was a vegetarian and refused to use any products that were made from animals or slave labor. Mrs. Lay was equally diminutive and hunch-backed as well. The slaves in Barbados believed that he must have sailed the world to find a matching woman. Mr. and Mrs. Lay purchased a piece of property in Pennsylvania where they grew their own food, including flax which Mr. Lay spun himself and made his own clothes with.

Lay, who would often walk five miles into Philadelphia to visit his friend Benjamin Franklin, wrote a continuous steam of anti-slavery pamphlets and became a thorn in the side of his slave-owning Christian neighbors. He was known for his dramatic one-man demonstrations against slavery, such as lying half-dressed in the snow in front of the church on Sunday to bring attention to the fact that poorly dressed slaves had to work in the cold. He once walked into church dressed in sackcloth, stood motionless until the conclusion of the sermon, then began berating the congregants for their complicity in the slave trade.

Perhaps Lay's most over-the-top and memorable demonstration was at the Quaker yearly meeting in Burlington, New Jersey. He had filled a bladder with blood-red pokeberry juice, hollowed out a book and inserted the bladder inside. He had then dressed up in full military regalia, sword included. He covered his uniform with his gray Quaker cloak, went to the meeting and found a seat that would be highly visible. During the course of the meeting, Lay stood and spoke out once again against the plight of the slaves, crying out, “You might as well throw off the plain coat as I do [casting off his Quaker coat] and thrust a sword through their hearts as I do this book.” At which point he stabbed the book with the sword, piercing the hidden bladder and spraying "blood" upon nearby attendees.

Benjamin Lay continued to offend and incite for the abolition of slavery until his passing at 82 years of age. Not long before his death in 1760, the Society of Friends (Quakers) officially voted to dis-fellowship any members who bought or sold slaves, and urged their members to free their slaves. When Lay heard the decision he cried out, "“Thanksgiving and praise be rendered unto the Lord God! I can now die in peace!”

In 1775 the first abolition society was formed. It was called The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and was primarily comprised of Philadelphia Quakers.

In 1780, the congress of Pennsylvania passed An Act for the Gradual Abolishment of Slavery. This was nine years before Wilberforce's first abolition motion in England.

By 1798 all Northern states had enacted laws abolishing or severely limited the slave trade.

The importation of slaves into the United States was officially banned on January 1, 1808, but it wasn't until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 that slavery officially ended in the U.S.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Faces of Meth

Bret King, a corrections deputy in Multnomah County, Oregon began to notice a dramatic degeneration in the health and appearance of returning repeat offenders. When he compared their most recent mugshots with mugshots from previous arrests, the difference was startling. The cause was methamphetamine use. King began collecting the "before/after" pictures and posting them on a website he created called "Faces of Meth". You can also view some of the pictures at this site.

Christians persecuting Christians

I stumbled upon a great little book at a used book store the other day entitled The Quiet Rebels--The Story of the Quakers in America by Margaret Hope Bacon. One thing that jumped out in the first few chapters was the level of persecution that the pacifist but obstinate Quakers received at the hands of Puritans in the American colonies. The book begins with this account:

"On July 11, 1656, two women sailed into Boston Harbor aboard a small ship, the Swallow. Upon hearing of their arrival, the magistrates of the twenty-seven-year-old Massachusetts Bay Colony were shaken, according to a contemporary observer, "as if a formidable army had invaded their borders." Governor John Endicott being out of town, Deputy Governor Richard Bellingham took prompt, if frenzied, action. The women were held on shipboard while their boxes were searched for "blasphemous" documents. One hundred such books found in their possession were burned in the marketplace by the common hangman. The women were then transferred to prison, stripped naked and searched for tokens of witchcraft, and kept for five weeks without light or writing materials. The master of the Swallow was finally ordered to transport them to Barbados and to let no person in the American colonies speak to them en route."

What was the cause of such severe action against the women? Simply that they were Quakers.

Quakers had already known fierce persecution in England at the hands of the government and Church of England. Imprisonments were common; and British prisons in the 17th century were not nice places. Floggings, brandings, tongue borings and executions were also inflicted upon the early Quakers. There are accounts of entire meetings being arrested except the children, who continued to gather for daily to worship while their parents were imprisoned.

Here are a few examples of the treatment by Puritans of Quakers who arrived on the shores of the New World:

Mary Clark arrived by boat, went to Boston and received a severe whipping and twelve weeks in solitary confinement.

John Copeland and Christopher Holder were beaten with a three-knotted whip and placed in an unheated prison for nine weeks.

Cassandra Southwick, an elderly Puritan woman, was imprisoned for seven weeks for befriending a Quaker and having a Quaker paper in her possession.

Mary Dyer, a Quaker, was hanged in Boston Common. There is now a statue there in her honor.

William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson and William Leddra were also hanged for being Quakers.

Three Quaker women who arrived in New Hampshire were ordered stripped to the waist, tied to the end of a cart and whipped through the length of eleven towns.

Robert Hodgson was sentenced to two years of hard labor at a wheelbarrow. When he refused, he was beaten and thrown in prison.

Henry Townsend, a Puritan, was heavily fined for allowing a group of Quakers to meet in his home. When he refused to pay the fine, he was imprisoned and beaten.

Similar stories abound. These persecutors were not red-robed Jesuit Inquisitors, but Puritans, who themselves had come to the New World seeking religious freedom. We're talking Plymouth Rock and Thanksgiving Turkey and all that.

It was a surprise to me to read about the cruelties inflicted upon Quaker women and men by Puritans. It was also a surprise to learn of the one group that was consistently kind and welcoming to the Quakers: Native Americans. Of course, we know what happened to them.

It's amazing how swiftly a group can move from being the persecuted to being the persecutors. Perhaps Blaise Pascal put it best when he wrote, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

Of course, American Christians in the 20th and 21st centuries are far too enlightened to commit such heinous acts against our brothers and sisters in Christ, aren't we? Or will future generations judge us harshly for our complicity in the persecution of fellow Christians?

For example, Evangelical Christians who subscribe to dispensational eschatology have pumped billions of dollars into Israel with no questions asked. In doing so, they have contributed to human rights abuses against Palestinians and the near destruction of the Palestinian Christian community. American Evangelicals overwhelmingly supporting a war in Iraq, which has led to the decimation of the Iraqi Christian community.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tell me this isn't a siege.

Gaza's humanitarian crisis
BBC News
March 6,2008

A group of UK-based human rights and development organisations have called for fundamental policy changes towards the Gaza Strip by Israel, the international community and the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership.

Their report details what are calling the worst humanitarian crisis in the strip since Israel occupied it in the 1967 war, and describe it as a man-made disaster resulting from the isolation and blockade of Gaza after its take-over by Hamas militants last June.

The following are the main points in the report, sponsored by Amnesty International, Care International UK, Cafod, Christian Aid, Medecins du Monde UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK and Trocaire.


More than 80% of Palestinians in Gaza rely on humanitarian assistance, with UN food aid going to about 1.1 million people - three quarters of the population.

The number of families dependant on the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) has increased tenfold since 1999.

Household monthly incomes dropped by 22% in less than four months (June-September 2007). The number of households earning less than $1.20 per person per day went from 55% to 70%.

The UN appeal for humanitarian aid in 2008 is $462m, more than twice the 2006 appeal and the third largest UN request after Sudan and Congo.


Israel prevents the import of a list of specific essential humanitarian goods requested by aid agencies, including some fuel supplies, spare parts, cement, technical assistance and cotton for hygiene items.

Travel in and out of Gaza is all but impossible and supplies of food and water, as well as sewage treatment and basic healthcare can no longer be taken for granted.

Food prices are rising and wheat flour, baby milk and cooking oil are increasingly scarce.

A joint Israeli-Palestinian agreement in November 2005 has not succeeded in allowing cross-border access and movement to bolster the Gazan economy.

On average 12 export trucks a day passed through Karni goods crossing during 2006 - a fraction of the intended number.

Supplies to Gaza, intended to be 250 trucks a day, are limited to 45 trucks a day.


Most private businesses have shut down in the last six months and 95% of Gaza's industrial operations are suspended as a result of import and export restrictions. Unemployment is close to 40%.

Construction and agriculture have ground to a halt, 3,500 factories out of 3,900 have closed, causing 75,000 private sector job losses.

Gaza's agricultural sector has suffered from repeated Israeli incursions destroying fields and greenhouses. Israel insists that no crop is allowed to grow over 40cm high, limiting farmers to cash crops which are costly to produce and heavily reliant on accessible export markets.

The numbers of people working in Israel, 24,000 Gazans in 2000, has been reduced to zero.


Israeli allows 2.2 million litres of EU-supplied industrial diesel per week, which is not enough to keep Gaza's main power plant operating at full capacity.

There is a 20% shortfall in electricity with implications for hospitals, sewage works, water supply and other public institutions.

Between 25-30% of the population of the Gaza Strip does not receive running water at home because electricity is not available for pumping. About 30-40 million litres of sewage flows untreated into the sea every day.


Hospitals experience power cuts for 8-12 hours a day and depend on generators to run basic facilities, although there is a shortage of diesel. Spare parts for generators are almost impossible to obtain.

Access to lifesaving treatment outside Gaza has become more necessary, but in December 2007 only 64% of applicants were given permits to leave the strip by Israel, leading to dozens of patient deaths.


More than 56% of Gaza's population are children. Almost 2,000 pupils have dropped out of school this academic year.

School has been disrupted by electricity cuts; classes with high energy consumption such as IT have been cancelled; there is a shortage of textbooks and other resources.

A UN survey indicated 80% failure rates in most years and up to 90% failure rates in mathematics.

Director of the UN relief agency for Palestinian Refugees in Gaza, John Ging, said: "What we are seeing is the collapse of education standards due to the cumulative effects of the occupation, closures, poverty and violence."


Israel retains effective control of Gaza's land and sea borders and air space, and the movement of people and goods. As such it has obligations as an occupying power to ensure the welfare of the Palestinian population, the humanitarian agencies say.

They acknowledge Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens from rocket attacks from Gaza, but argue that the current strategy of isolating and blockading Gaza has not stopped rocket attacks.

Gazans' lives are mostly characterised by insecurity according to the agencies: military presence and attacks, extra-judicial assassinations, loss of land, restrictions on movement, lack of drinking water, unemployment, and barriers to healthcare and education.

From AsiaNews (a Roman Catholic newspaper):

Gaza Catholic priest: "They want to kill us all slowly"
by Joshua Lapide
March 6, 2008

Father Manawel Musallam confirms the inhuman situation of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip under the Israeli blockade,…

"They have decided to kill us, and are doing so slowly, in an indirect way, without weapons, but by depriving us of food and medical care; if the international authorities are unable to stop Israel's violence against Gaza, we at least ask that they guarantee us a burial fitting for human beings". This is the desperation of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who have been under an Israeli blockade for months. The pastor of Holy Family Parish in Gaza, Fr Manawel Musallam, explains the situation to AsiaNews. The Catholic priest confirms the dramatic situation in the zone as depicted in the report released yesterday by eight NGO's headquartered in Great Britain. The document says that the blockade of the Gaza Strip has created the worst humanitarian crisis since the beginning of Israeli occupation in 1967.

"We have no food, there is a lack of doctors and medicines, the hospitals are full of dead people, and people are treated in the streets, under inhuman conditions", the priest says. "Many are mutilated, children are a third of the victims of the latest Israeli attacks (February 27 - March 4); young people are experiencing incalculable psychological trauma: there are young school children who are no longer able even to study".

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Quaker "Quintilateral"

[This is an excerpt from the book Wrestling with Our Faith Tradition by Lloyd Lee Wilson. In it, Wilson describes one of the pillars of Quaker spirituality: The direct, unmediated relationship with God--the belief that God speaks directly to us, if we are willing to dial down and listen. A fundamental teaching of Quakerism is, as George Fox put it, that "Christ has come to teach His people Himself."]

"Some Christian traditions emphasize the Scripture as the pre-eminent source of guidance for the believer; some emphasize the teachings or traditions of the institutional church. Christians in the Wesleyan [Methodist] tradition talk of a "quadrilateral" of Scripture, tradition, reasoning, and experience that interact with one another. Friends [Quakers] add a fifth element, and consider it more important than the others: this immediate relationship, direct communication, continuing revelation. It is this direct revelation that adds creativity and innovation to the Wesleyan quadrilateral.

In the contemporary world, many persons experience the scriptures as devaluing them as individuals, or condoning violence, or having been used as a tool to keep them "under control." Whether Scripture, properly understood, can be said to support these understandings is less important than the fact that a large number of persons are turning away from Scripture and the ways Scripture is presented as irrelevant or even inimical to their own lives. Church tradition, and the institutional church generally, no longer receive the trust of many persons. The recent problems of the Roman Catholic church are only the latest and most publicized of the many reasons individuals have become increasingly suspicious of the truths the institutional church is trying to teach them--suspicious even of the motives of their own church leaders.

Our own reason has proven us false, as well. We are the heirs of over two centuries of the great Enlightenment project. I stand before you as an example of the idea--the faith, really--that the intellect and reason of human beings could and would solve all our problems, leading humanity ever forward in a steady progress toward a better and better world. I was raised and educated in the great tradition of the modern mind; I have two degrees from MIT, and went through my college years convinced that technology, the fruit of our human reason, could and would solve all our problems in time. Nearly forty years after first setting foot on the MIT campus, I must admit technology has failed us. Our human reason alone has not enabled us even to feed, clothe, and house each other adequately.

The forth side of the Wesleyan quadrilateral is experience. It is to experience that many persons have retreated as these other sources of truth have proven untrustworthy. "At least I can depend on my own experience," seems to be the common thought. But our personal experience is not big enough to answer the really important questions. It seems to draw us into an egocentric view of the world, where accumulating stuff--possessions, power, and prestige--provides meaning to one's life. It is a transient, hollow meaning because ultimately we all die, and our "stuff" vanishes or passes to someone else.

What Friends [Quakers] have to say to people who have experienced the unreliability of these other sources of truth and guidance is, "Listen." There is One who is already reaching out to you, One who is already talking to you, who yearns to be in intimate relationship with you all your life, and beyond. This One is reliable; this One is completely trustworthy, because this One loves you infinitely."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pagan Christianity

Three books by Frank Viola have had a profound influence on me and on how I understand the church: Rethinking the Wineskin, Pagan Christianity and Who's Your Covering? In these books, Viola pulls no punches and gets right to the point of examining why we "do" church the way we do. I first read them a few years ago as an associate pastor wrestling with the question: What is church supposed to be like? Viola's books gave me encouragement, comfort, insight, useful information and much food for thought.

It used to be that you had to search out Viola's books by going to his website, His books were self-published and not available in bookstores. It seemed as if no Christian publisher or retailer would touch his books due to their incendiary content.

Recently however, George Barna (founder of The Barna Group, a highly respected Christian research firm) teamed up with Viola to revise and re-release Pagan Christianity. This time around, it is being published and distributed by Tyndale House (brave souls they must be).

Pagan Christianity traces the roots of our most commonly accepted church elements--from church buildings to choirs to sermons to worship leaders to clergy to tithing--and finds that they were not a part of the New Testament church but were later imported into Christendom from the surrounding cultures. That in itself doesn't make such things bad, but it does make them not inherently Christian and not necessary for a church to exist and function.

Viola and Barna go further to show how some of these practices actually are detrimental to the proper functioning of the Body of Christ. For example, church buildings are oftentimes a drain on resources and, considering the ratio of time that they are in use versus their cost, bad stewardship of God's money. Another example: The emphasis on ministry being performed by professional clergy actually thwarts the growth of Christians into mature followers of Jesus by turning them into a passive audience.

I picked up a copy of the revised Pagan Christianity last week and have thoroughly enjoyed reading through it again. I can't recommend this book highly enough. If I were a rich man, I would purchase millions of copies, delivering them free of charge (and in plain brown wrappers) to church pastors everywhere and hiring volunteers to hand out free copies in church parking lots. I guess it's a good thing I'm not a rich man.

You can find out more about Pagan Christianity, and read a sample chapter, at the following website:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Israel/Palestine Conference

My friend Mona, who is an American Christian of Palestinian descent, told me about a conference coming up here in Seattle in April which looks very interesting. The event is entitled Standing with the Living Stones of Israel and Palestine.

According to the organizers, "The 'Living Stones' conference evolved out of a sense of urgency to support the alarming decline in the number of Christians in the land of Christ's birth. In the cradle of our faith, there is a living, faithful community whose existence is threatened and who feel forgotten."

The percentage of Palestinian Christians in Israel has plummeted from 20% in 1948 to just 2% today. Here is an excellent article from the magazine American Conservative which sheds light on the causes behind the dramatic decline.

The cost of the conference is only $50.00. I'm hoping to attend. You can read more about it at the conference website:

Mona was in Israel in January and says, "I saw first-hand what is going on. The facts on the ground very clearly show Israel’s intentions to systematically obstruct the survival of the Palestinians. This is not how God furthers his purposes."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted."

Rae posted a link on The Narrow Path to this great video that shows the illusion of beauty created by advertisers (which young women then torture themselves trying to match).

Here's the link:

Be sure to check out the feature after the video where you can "roll over the picture to explore the illusion".

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sin Makes You Stupid

The big news story this week is that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was caught by the FBI engaging the services of a prostitution agency. What tipped the feds off were suspicious transfers of funds to the prostitution ring. The irony is that Spitzer, a former state Attorney General, would know better than most the tactics that law enforcement agencies use to identify illegal activities such as those he was engaging in. He should have known better.

Spitzer's career and possibly marraige have been ruined. He could face prison time. Pundits on TV and radio have been discussing how he could have been so careless. The answer is simple.

As the pastor of a church I used to attend liked to say, "Sin makes you stupid."

I've seen a TV program a few times called "To Catch a Predator" in which men are lured to a house where they believe they will have sex with a teenager whom they've been chatting with online. The house is wired with cameras and microphones and the police are waiting in the wings. The men caught have included pastors, rabbis, schoolteachers and doctors. It's sad and pathetic to see these men publically humiliated, but of course, not as bad as what might have happened had it been a real 14 year old in the house. The sentiment most often expressed by these men when they're caught is that they knew what they were doing was wrong and they should have known better. Sin makes you stupid.

I can't really join the media chorus in pointing fingers and clucking tongues at Spitzer and those similarly caught and exposed. When I begin to, the words echo back to me, "Be careful if you think you stand, lest you fall." (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Listen to our music online!

I just finished adding a page for Carla and I on the Track10 website. Track10 is a site that was set up by a really nice lady named Brenda Fysh with the goal of promoting Christian musicians in the Seattle/Tacoma area.

You can listen to some of the music Carla and I have written and recorded by going to this link:

These are older recordings and the production quality is poor. We hope to do some more up-to-date recording soon; Lord willing and finances depending.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sometimes getting shot down is a good thing...

I came across a wonderful story in today's Seattle Times. It is an example of how incredible good can arise from what appear to be terrible circumstances.

Monday, March 03, 2008

5 miles

I'm in Jacksonville, Florida this week, staying at a hotel located in the heart of downtown. I read in the dining guide in my room about a highly rated Thai restaurant and decided to go there for dinner. According to my map it was about 5 miles Northwest of downtown, so I set out in the car. I ended up in the scariest neighborhood I've ever encountered. No sign of the Thai restaurant, but ramshackle houses, feral dogs and cats, roving packs of young men, heaps of garbage and broken furniture on the sidewalks. More than once I came upon police cars huddled together in the middle of the street. I almost expected to turn a corner and see the film crew for COPS. I saw no one who looked like me and I felt conspicuous. A little voice in the back of my head said, "Just keep driving."

I never did find the Thai place and so decided instead to head to a part of Jacksonville that I know has restaurants. It was about 5 miles South of downtown, across the river. This neighborhood was comprised of large brick homes with immaculately landscaped lawns and shiny cars in the driveways. Couples walked dogs, women jogged alone in the twilight and a small crowd clustered around a Starbucks. Everyone looked like me. I felt utterly comfortable.

I wish I understood why going 5 miles in either direction in an American city can lead one to such vastly different worlds. Why is this neighborhood black and that one white? Why does this one reek of hopelessness and desperation while that one oozes satisfaction and success? Why would I be afraid to get out of the car in this neighborhood but could walk down the sidewalk in complete confidence in that one? I wondered what the history is behind these two neighborhoods. Why did the poor black population concentrate here and the wealthy white population concentrate there? And is there anything that could bring them together?

And why was I so relieved to be across the river?