Detroit: on being a witness to progress

A Christian Science perspective.

A few years ago Nike launched a “Witness” marketing campaign to celebrate the career of LeBron James, a superstar basketball player then playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The campaign, with the slogan, “We are all witnesses,” acknowledged the millions of fans who regularly bear witness to James’s “greatness, power, athleticism and beautiful style of play.” 

Lately I’ve been thinking about the true meaning of the word “witness” and this verse from the Bible, the end of which is quite similar to the James campaign slogan: “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32). The Bible is filled with stories of God’s children being called upon to bear witness to God’s healing power, His mercy and grace, His protection in times of trouble. Psalm 145, which is attributed to David, says, “They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power; to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom” (verses 11, 12).

One of the Ten Commandments proclaims, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). Diving deeper into the meaning of those words, I realized that this commandment isn’t just reprimanding those who would tell lies or give false evidence of a person or situation. To me this commandment is a call to step forward as a true witness with relevant, supportive testimonies of the goodness and possibilities of each of us. So I’ve concluded that it’s not enough to refuse to speak ill against my neighbor, to live by the adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Instead I need to see and bear witness to the good in my neighbor and even to speak of it publicly.

As a resident of Detroit for years, I’ve read and heard many false reports about the prospects for my hometown – even more so since the announcement of Detroit’s unprecedented bankruptcy. Whether I turn on the news or am having dinner with friends or am traveling on an airplane, I continually hear of Detroit’s woes, which do seem to be many, and which are often exaggerated. I have refused to join this sad chorus, and I’m committed to seeing the infinite possibilities for good in my city – in its leaders and in the progress being made daily to grow and prosper.

As an active witness for God’s continuous creation of good, I can acknowledge, proclaim, and give thanks for all the good works that are always going on. In the case of Detroit, it has often been difficult to see the good going on, so thick are the clouds that seem to surround the city. However, as a witness to Detroit’s potential and strength, I have remembered that even if an immediate solution is not apparent, the infinite Mind can always show a way out of any trouble.

A report of the true witness of Detroit’s progress and possibilities includes the upcoming addition of a new light-rail system along the city’s busiest corridor; a recently approved project for a new entertainment and sports complex surrounding the new hockey arena near the heart of downtown; new management and refurbishment of one of Detroit’s most beautiful parks, Belle Isle; and a complete remodeling and expansion of Cobo Arena, where the 2014 North American International Auto Show took place last week.

Prompting me to write this article was a significant and creative announcement made last week of progress in the bankruptcy proceedings. An unprecedented collaboration between the state government in Lansing, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and several major charitable foundations will seek to donate over $680 million to help bolster the ailing pension funds and protect the valuable works of art owned by the DIA and the city.

These reports of creative solutions and steady progress in the midst of the largest municipal bankruptcy proceedings in United States history certainly contradict the cries of the “false witness.” Unproductive, negative, and unsupportive reports don’t gain traction if no one is thinking or speaking them. This true report is inspiring and deserves to be recognized and to be the focus of our discussion surrounding Detroit.

Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy, quoting St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, wrote, “ ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ If He be with us, the wayside is a sanctuary, and the desert is a resting-place peopled with living witnesses of the fact that ‘God is Love’ ” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 150). Wherever we make our home, and whatever challenges we’re facing, we can bear true witness to God’s grace and intelligence that unfailingly guide us.

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