Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Violence: small town, urban neighborhood, or international event, it is always personal


A strange congruence of events -- three murders in my own Chicago neighborhood, one shooting death in my childhood hometown of Fort Benton, Montana (a bit ironic in light of my blog yesterday), and the anniversary of 9/11/01 -- begs contextualizing.

In Fort Benton, one young man is dead of a gunshot wound to the head. Was he murdered, or was it an accident? Two others, one the daughter of Fort Benton's mayor, were implicated in an apparent attempted cover-up of the shooting. I have no idea what happened, but mourn the senseless death, the effects this will have on other family members as well as the shooter and his girlfriend. And I mourn a little town I hold with affection, a place that violence isn't supposed to happen because it is (I wrongly want to tell myself) not a place such things are possible.

In my own Chicago neighborhood, within eyesight of our front door, two men were shot on two seperate nights. One if not both were homeless. These shootings happened just two and three days ago. Meanwhile, again just days ago, a man staying at our Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO) homeless shelter (his wife and children also are at CCO), was shot down right outside CCO's front door.

With at least two of the men being homeless, we wonder if this is a potential serial killer. Police aren't saying. Meanwhile, some rather nasty upwardly mobile folks speculated on their website that these deaths could be stopped if the homeless and poor were pushed out of our Uptown neighborhood. Others of us met together to help warn homeless women and men about the potential danger, and to attempt new ways of networking our social agencies and faith organizations / churches so that the homeless had greater visibility as individuals whatever group or agency they were being aided by. Last night, I walked with friends from EZRA, a Jewish-based community outreach with offices directly across the street from our 920 Wilson building, walked the area from 11 pm to midnight as a non-violent "neighborhood watch" presence. We wanted people to know we were there. It was nothing all that helpful, most likely, but it was one way of positive protest and unity against the darkness of violence.

Finally, 9/11 every year is a sad day. I remember that date's tears and outrage, my wife and I isolated away from our community for our anniversary, having only one radio, one another and One God to sort out our sorrow, rage, and anxiety. Since then, I've only felt further outrage at our own country's massive idiocy in attempting a response to the attacks, a response which in both its scale and lack of intelligence has linked the Prince of Peace with one nation's horrific acts of violence, acts against a nation which we falsely accused of aiding and abetting our enemies and hiding those infamously non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Christ's name continues to be dragged through the mud by these worshippers of unreasoning violence as diplomacy. Are we Jesus followers done yet believing those who say they speak for us? Will we at last tire of their lies, their cynical manipulation of our beliefs, hopes, and dreams? I don't dare hope so. I'm tired, and out of patience. Yesterday's anniversary reminds me not only of the dark deed done to us by others, but just as depressingly of the invincible ignorance of those who continue their project of blending Christianity (a bastardized version) with nationalism. I don't trust Christian leaders any more. Everything -- except the Love of God through His Son -- is up for reassessment. Old heroes don't wear well these days. If this is where our collective presuppositions lead, we need a whole new set of presuppositions.

Below is the short speech / prayer (not a very good prayer, because I think I was too upset and preaching more than praying) I gave at EZRA's offices on the afternoon of Sept. 10, the day of the third local murder here:

Today, we are gathered here to share in the suffering of the families of those slain, and in the anxiety and anger of our community in the face of these deaths. We mourn Phillipi Larrnarri, a thirty two year old homeless man who was shot while he slept on a bench only feet from where we stand. We mourn twenty-nine year old James Lane, shot outside Cornerstone Community Outreach's homeless center. We mourn one Mr. Belle, twenty five, shot on this block this morning.

Dear Lord, we are sad. We are angry. And though we don't like to admit it, we are afraid. Three of our neighbors have been murdered. Two in this very place. Who were they? Many of us know one or more of them. They were men. They were individuals. They were people of color, and poor. They had children. They had parents. They had friends. All that was taken from them in seconds. Gun. Bullet. Life. gone.

We want our neighbors' killers caught. And in the midst of that wanting, Lord, we confess we'd like someone to blame. We itch to accuse. We would like to blame our political leaders, or blame the police, or blame the poor and homeless. Some, even today, have so blamed. Yet two of these men were homeless, Lord. Forgive us. We lift up our mayor and our alderwoman, as well as our police force. Give them wisdom, God, to not only catch this murderer or murders, but also to find solutions more far-reaching, solutions that bring us together in common cause against these evils.

And Lord, help us to surrender our fear before it poisons us. We remember a day in September 2001, a day in which our entire nation mourned senseless killing, killing done in the name of God. What we learned since that day is that fear and anger can mislead a people, and that it makes of one terrible tragedy many such tragedies. Help us not to live in fear, but rather to acknowledge one another's suffering and so find in that suffering a common humanity.

Help us to empower and embolden the good, the true, and create solidarity in Uptown rooted in our common desire to love and live in safety. Help us to love even our enemies, yet remain vigilant in stopping evil acts and the systemic forces which create room for such acts. Help us to love, dear Jesus, help us to love life so much that we forget to be afraid in the midst of our love for one another.

We know that you are the God of Love. If you are not, then we are without hope. But your son loved us enough to die for us. As you mourned for your Son, so we mourn in Him for those whom he loved.


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