Monday, July 18, 2011

Sounds Crazy to Me

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
Matthew 3:21-22

Jesus was preaching the Kingdom of God and casting out demons, and his family thought he was crazy. The scribes in Mark’s Gospel were collaborating with the Roman occupiers, and they were quick to support the idea that Jesus was crazy. What other explanation could there be?

At this point, as I imagine the scene, there were drums and loud guitars and Jesus sang a cover of the Billy Joel song, "You may be right, I may be crazy. But it just might be a lunatic you're looking for." (You have to sing it in your head.)

Last I knew, my colleague, Rev. Stewart Lanier was waiting outside a home in Randolph, Massachusetts, trying to prevent Fannie Mae for foreclosing on the residents. Stewart and three others have committed themselves to peacefully blocking the eviction, even if it means being arrested.

I am reasonably sure he believes he is casting out demons and preaching about the Kingdom of God.

Sounds fairly crazy to me.

I don’t know very much about the case. I understand that they have a Community Bank prepared to purchase the residence at fair market value and then sell it back to the family under a new mortgage agreement. And I understand that the family has been trying to pay rent and that their payments have been refused.

And I know that this story, of the mortgage holder refusing to accept payments, is like one I have heard in our congregation.

Mortgage defaults and foreclosures and bankruptcies are complicated. And they raise serious issues. Is it fair to let some people renegotiate their mortgages at lower rates with a reduced balance, when those who have also struggled but have never gotten behind in their payments get no relief? It’s not a simple matter.

So I will sit in my air conditioned office and think about it. And I will remind myself how complicated it all is, and I won’t even have to try very hard not to feel guilty. And Stewart will wait to be arrested.

I want a comprehensive solution. I want something that is fair to everyone (including the banks). The Barzolas family just wants to stay in their home.

And we do need to do something about the foreclosure crisis. Mortgage debt is a major drag on the economy, and there is a huge price being paid in the suffering of families.

Below is a copy of the letter that Stewart wrote to Fannie Mae, explaining his intentions:

Stephen L Harris, Fannie Mae

Dear Mr. Harris:

This is to inform you that on Monday morning July 18, as a direct result of your decision regarding the property at 7 Canessa St., Randolph MA, I will participate in an eviction blockade led by City Life Vida Urbana. I will peacefully block the constable from evicting the Barzolas family and will be arrested if necessary to defend them. I am an ordained United Methodist pastor, and will participate in this act of civil disobedience because of the flagrant immorality of Fannie Mae’s action. I will bring my action, and that of dozens of others, to the attention of faithful United Methodists in the New England United Methodist Conference and to news outlets.

If you are not familiar with this case, Boston Community Capital has offered to buy this property at a fairly appraised market value. Additionally the Barzolas family has attempted to pay fair market rent to Fannie Mae since their foreclosure, while the property is on the market.

You may not know that CBS news did a story on July 14 about Boston Community Capital’s work of buying foreclosed properties and then reselling them to their former owners at current rates. The CBS story was of a family who was able to buy back their home as a result of Boston Community Capital offer. This story had a happy ending.

If Fannie Mae proceeds with the current plan to evict the Barzolas family Fannie Mae will be entirely responsible for a story with an unhappy ending: a family homeless, another empty property on the block, and people who resist based on moral conviction, jailed.

I ask that you kindly reconsider your decision: accept the Boston Community Capital offer, or at least engage with them in good faith bargaining, and/or allow the Barzolas family to pay you rent. Allow this family to live in their home, keep their children in the same schools, and return to a life without daily fear of eviction.

Thank you for your consideration,

Stewart Lanier

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