Today marks almost exactly one month that I’ve been in Flint. I am the interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist congregation there. People read about Flint in the news, see videos about it on the internet and TV, but the real Flint is different from even that. The real Flint has a legacy of factories that contributed to the boom of the automative industry in the United States. For better or for worse, that making and doing is an important part of American history. Certainly, factory production has been reduced. Sometimes people call this area, “The Rust Belt” because of the lessening of production. This is a true impression, but only a partial one. The people who worked in those factories remain. Their adult children remain. And they love Flint for being home. Flint has a school nurse who takes time with children rather than simply send them home when they are acting out. It has a lawyer who opened a bookstore and cafe across the street from his law practice. It has breweries and organic urban farms. It has kind Uber drivers, like the one who went into the grocery store where he was dropping me off and brought a scooter to the car for me. You’ve read about the water being poisoned, but you’ve read much less about the people who have come together to heal their own city.
Flint has a United Methodist pastor, Reverend Faith Green-Timmons, who did something at which most of us might hesitate. You see, the Republican presidential candidate (I try not to use his name) came to Flint on Wednesday. Pastor Green-Timmons interrupted the candidate from an attack on Clinton. She didn’t make a big deal of it. She reminded him of the purpose and terms of his invitation. But she didn’t stop there. Pastor Green-Timmons also interrupted parishioners who were inclined to heckle the candidate. She established that he was a guest of the church, and as such, should be treated with respect. Of course, the following day, the candidate asserted that Pastor Green-Timmons was playing games and having agendas with him. I suppose those weird, loaded words could be applied to the situation, but, mostly, respect was the agenda, everyone respecting, whether their name was unknown or in lights on fancy buildings.
This strength, inside, in the face of hard things is the real face of Flint. The possibility of renewal and rebirth is both latent and blooming. It reminds me of the blessings in the teaching of Jesus, Matthew 5, in the Good As New retelling of Scripture (John Henson):
Splendid are those who take sides with the poor: They are citizens of the Bright New World.
Splendid are those who grieve deeply over misfortunes: The more deeply they grieve, the stronger they become.
Splendid are the gentle: The world will be safe in their hands.
Splendid are those who have a passion for justice: They will get things done.
Splendid are those who make allowances for others: Allowances will be made for them. Splendid are those who seek the best for others and not themselves: They will have God for company.
Flint may be different than your average city. It may have a poisoned water problem. It may have changing infrastructure and many needs. One other thing it has is splendor.