What is a Communal Fast For Lent?
Lent has traditionally been considered a personal time to ‘fast’—deny ourselves something we enjoy, focus ourselves on God and our neighbor through prayer, and give ‘alms’ to those in need. Sometimes, Lenten fasts only result in charity. In addition to a personal fast, 6 churches in Chicago are participating in a corporate fast that will help us engage the issue of housing injustice together. Isaiah 58:6-7 makes clear what the Lord expects a true fast to accomplish:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
Why a “Compact for Housing Justice?”
The prophets of the Scriptures understood the relationship between housing and security. Micah 4:4 describes the day of restoration when all shall sit under their own fig trees and no one will make them afraid. Isaiah 32:17-19 looks forward to a day when people will live in peaceful habitation, secure dwellings and quiet resting places. Safe, secure, affordable housing is part of the vision of the Kingdom of God. At the same time, God condemns those who have the resources and power to accumulate land and houses at the expense of the larger community. (Micah 2:1-2 and Isaiah 5:8-9).
At the time of Jesus’ birth, his family experienced housing insecurity. Shortly after his birth, his family was forced to survive Herod’s violence by taking refuge in Egypt. At the start of his ministry, Jesus, who had “no place to lay his head,” announced the Year of the Lord’s favor—a reference to Jubilee and the return of families to their ancestral homes (Luke 4:18). Jesus also called his disciples to self-denial—not as a form of penance, but as an act of breaking the chains that bound them to the values of a culture of accumulation and exploitation (Matthew 16:24-27). Moved by the Spirit, Jesus’ early followers immediately reassessed their understanding of private property and redistributed their resources—including land and homes, thereby providing safe and secure housing for those who were poor. (see Acts 4:32-37).
Jesus has called us to live out the vision of the kingdom, breaking the yokes that bind us and our neighbors and providing shelter for the poor wanderer. When we tolerate homelessness and housing insecurity; when we stand idly by as people are denied access to housing; when we accept the inevitability of the “market forces” that displace families, we must re-hear Isaiah’s call and heed Jesus’ command, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves…” Through self-denial in the season of Lent, we must reassess our relationship to our homes and realign ourselves to God’s vision of safe and secure housing for everyone.
Why Fast for “Housing Justice” This Year?
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., announced that the civil rights movement would move north—to Chicago—to address unfair housing practices and segregation in the city. After moving to Chicago on January 7, 1966, Dr. King participated in non-violent demonstrations and protest marches, and met with city and business leaders to seek an end to housing discrimination. After 7 months of protests, Mayor Richard J. Daley announced a Summit Agreement in which the city would enforce the 1963 “Fair Housing Ordinance”, the Chicago Housing Authority would open additional public housing to African-American families, and the Mortgage Bankers Association would give minority families access to home mortgages in all neighborhoods. In exchange, Dr. King would end the marches. Dr. King called the Summit Agreement “a significant step” and led no additional marches. However, the agreement was never implemented (Mayor Daley called the agreement “unenforceable”) and housing discrimination continued to Dr. King’s great disappointment.
Despite some progress over the past fifty years, Chicago remains “the most segregated city in the nation” according to an analysis done by the US Census Bureau in May 2015. While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and additions to the Civil Rights Act prevent discrimination on any basis, access to safe affordable housing continues to elude poor and minority families in the city—especially on Chicago’s north side. As housing costs rise and as new market rate development expands, the city is becoming more segregated and less affordable. People are still being denied access to housing on the new bases of poor credit scores, insufficient income, and criminal background checks.
Even when families clear the hurdles, fewer homes are accessible due to the cost of housing. According to Trulia, a real estate sales website, housing prices in Logan Square and Avondale have increased 113.5% in the past 5 years –more than any other neighborhoods in Chicago. As of October 2015, the median sales price for a home in Logan Square was $320,000! And the average rent for an apartment was $1,822! More and more homeowners and renters are “housing burdened”—meaning they are spending more than 35% of their income on rent or mortgages. Gentrification—defined as “the transformation of neighborhoods from low value to high value”[i]—results in the displacement of long-time residents and businesses. Low-income minority families are most impacted by gentrification. Though thousands of new housing units are planned for Logan Square, few of the units will be truly affordable. At the same time, the Lathrop Homes public housing development to the east of Logan Square is being dismantled. The result of these housing pressures will be increased homelessness.
How Can We Fast for Housing Justice?
STARTING WEDNESDAY, FEBRAURY 10th, 2016, AND CONTINUING THROUGH EASTER
WE WILL…Give up the “Comfort of Home”
We buy and rent movies to watch in the comfort of our home. We purchase video games to play in the comfort of our home. We download music to listen to in the comfort of our home. And we stock our pantries with snacks and beverages to enjoy while we watch movies, play video games and listen to music. Select one of these “comforts” to give up for Lent. (You may also select a different “comfort”)
AND/OR…Give up purchases of home décor, home furnishings and home improvement (including decorations for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter)
THEN, WE WILL…Give the money we’ve saved to offer hospitality to a refugee family
The Biblical understanding of “hospitality” has nothing to do with creating a welcoming and cozy environment for our families and friends. In the early church, the Spirit’s gift of hospitality was understood to be the provision of secure shelter for the poor wanderer. (Making Room by Christine Pohl, 1999). This past year, thousands of families were displaced due to war and violence in Syria and Central America. These victims have sought shelter, but have been turned away repeatedly. Often, refugees are targets of discrimination or deportation if the US does not officially recognize their refugee status. Throughout Lent, we will collect funds with other Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance churches to sponsor a refugee family and provide a shelter in Chicago for these “poor wanderers.”
AND WE WILL…Spend the time we’ve freed to preserve Public Housing and Lathrop Homes
For the past decade, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has proposed replacing the Julia C. Lathrop Homes—the only public housing development on Chicago’s north side—with a “mixed-income” community. Under current plans, 525 units of public housing would be eliminated at the site along the Chicago River. And CHA has no plan to replace those units on the north side. For years, Lathrop residents and allies—including our church—have been fighting this plan, which is nothing less than “government-sponsored” gentrification. As we enter the season of Lent, we will continue to support efforts to preserve public housing at Lathrop and throughout the city, starting with the Keeping the Promise Ordinance Hearing on February 17. Our actions will culminate on Palm Sunday (March 20).
To help us fulfill Isaiah’s goals of true fasting, we’ll also participate in the following activities and actions for housing justice:
- Together, We’ll Remember the Chicago Freedom Movement
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., moved into Chicago’s North Lawndale community in January 1966, marking the beginning of the Chicago Freedom Movement and the fight to end housing discrimination and segregation in Chicago. On Thursday, February 18, at 7:00 pm, we will join San Lucas United Church of Christ and other local churches to view the documentary, “Eyes on the Prize,” and then discuss current instances of housing injustice and how we can address them as people of faith.
- Together, We’ll Stand Up for Affordable Housing along the ‘Bloomingdale Trail’
Working with community allies, we will advocate for truly affordable housing and tax abatement along the newly opened ‘606’ and the Bloomingdale Trail. Already, this neighborhood amenity has attracted speculative home buying and new real estate development—pushing gentrification toward the western edge of Logan Square. Long-term homeowners and renters are in danger of displacement due to rising property taxes. During Lent, we plan to learn more about the politics of gentrification and push for protection of existing homeowners and renters and for the creation of additional affordable housing along the trail.
- Together, We’ll Read #Occupy the Bible
As we prepare for public witness for housing justice, we will read Occupy The Bible by Rev. Dr. Susan B. Thistlethwaite, professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary. Each Wednesday during Lent, starting February 17, we will enjoy a discussion of the book with other LSEA church members. The discussions will be held at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 2837 W. Armitage Ave., starting at 6:30 pm and concluding at 8:00 pm. The evening will begin with a light meal. You will be able to order the book through our church.
Together, we will experience God’s gracious transformation and renewal so that housing justice becomes an ongoing part of our ‘Jubilee’ lifestyle.
We encourage you to
- use the daily Lenten Devotional to engage Biblical texts and other resources that address Housing and Housing Justice. Devotionals will be posted daily on this site.
- participate in the daily Morning Prayer and Protest at various important sites around Logan Square and beyond. (A list of locations will be posted each week.)
[i] [i]“Health Effects of Gentrification,” published by the Center for Disease Control