Where’s the outrage?

Yesterday, I took that bike ride with a woman in the congregation. It was beautiful day and we road 16 miles. It felt good. Today I talked with a colleague about the images of the shooting still in my head. The sense of anger and frustration at not being able to stop the violence. The very particular pain at not knowing what happened to this specific young man. We talked about the fact that so many in our society just shrug and seem to accept that young black men kill each other. It is as if it is somehow okay. As if this young man — any young man or woman — is dispensable. Where is the outrage? I know there is outrage in the Black community and in the Black Church. Where is the outrage in the white community, and every other community?

If a white kid had been shot in that spot two days ago, wouldn’t the neighborhood be shocked, outraged, looking for answers? I realize it is not about me or how I feel; it’s about the young man in the white t-shirt laying in the street. But I believe my inability to get past seeing him is precisely because I saw him. I don’t want it to be okay. I don’t want it to be normal. I don’t want it to be just “what they do” (as someone said to me). That is not acceptable. That acceptance is what grows out of racism.

I think of youth who have been active in the church — Some are still here or perhaps in another place, but doing well — in school, or working, or raising their own families. There are others who are or have been in jail and in prison. Two currently. Both young black men with families who love them. I remember specifically when one of these boys was young. It was during a “Children’s Moment” in worship when we asked what they children wanted to do when they grew up. This young boy said that he wouldn’t grow up. He already knew older friends and family members who had been shot. He accepted what others accepted for his life. I ached and raged inside then. We tried for years to instill an expectation of life and purpose and future. Today, I am painfully aware of our failure.

We have work — ministry — to do.

This morning when we were on the street for “Happy Friday”, we were meeting people and serving coffee and cocoa as usual. It was not “as usual” however; I kept looking at the spot when the young man fell and lay. It wasn’t the same. It could not be the same.

This afternoon I planted flowers. The Director of our Isaiah 58 Hunger Program came outside and with some amount joy described how much those we serve in the food pantry and clothing room are enjoying resting on the new benches in the garden before they walk or catch a bus with the bags they are carrying. Today was fresh produce day; I found a banana peel by one of the benches. I had to smile; it was a good thing. A little thing, but I’ll take it. A good thing.

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… and reverberations

I’m still shaky today.  Didn’t sleep well.  Just replaying the shooting.  Hmmm.  Yesterday, I was trying to reflect on violence, church, ministry, etc.  Today I only feel the shock and see him laying in the street in front of the church. Though it’s a “work day”, a church member has suggested we take a bicycle ride this afternoon.  I think I’m going to do it.

Shots Fired

In my dreams the very presence of the church in a place makes a difference in the community.  I believe that is true with Compton Heights CC as we see people receive care and nurture – through the worship, prayer, and faith sharing in the congregation, the sharing of food and clothing with those in need, help with employment for those searching for jobs, and the opportunity to discover and share our gifts to extend God’s love to others.  In my dreams, I see the church creating a safe space, a beautiful and nurturing space as people rest on benches in the church garden and share our lives in SOUL CARE.  Lately, I see these dreams being realized.

But today I was reminded once again, that we are present in the midst of the mess of society.  We do not take away, fix, or heal the anger and the violence.  We are in it with the rest of the community.

Late this afternoon, I was at my desk when I heard gunfire.  I ran to the window (probably not the best response to the sound of gunfire) and saw a young man fall to the street.  Others were running.  Some away and some toward him.  As I called 911, I could see the blood begin to come through his white t-shirt … it looked like he was shot to the side of the abdomen.  As I was describing what was happening, the dispatcher told me to let them know they were on the way.  But then 2 of the guys running toward him, picked him up out of the street and began carrying him to a truck they had parked at the corner.  They laid him in the bed of the truck (with no license plates) and sped off.  When I got outside, there was one other man who had tried to intervene.   He indicated that none of those involved would speak to him.  He, too, had called the police.  But they were intent on getting away before anyone could arrive.

As one of the officers interviewed me, I was aware of how difficult it was to describe everything I’d seen and heard.  How many shots?  How many people?  The make of the truck.  I mainly remembered colors – white shirt with blood coming through.  Green truck.  The light grey sweatshirt of the guy who jumped in the back of the truck with the one who’d been shot.  The contrast of the young man laying shot in the street with this beautiful, blue-skied day and the flowers blooming in the boulevard planters and the bank of roses on the opposite side of the street.   The dispatcher had asked me how much blood?  Now this officer wanted to know.  That widening circle on a white t-shirt on a human being.  It was as if my mind was stuck on that image.   And quiet — eerily quiet — a few shouts at first and then quiet.

The police combed the street and the planter for evidence, and then everyone was gone.  A few neighbors still standing outside staring.  But I looked at the street and it seemed unreal that only moments earlier, he was laying there — shot.  And then whisked away by those who wanted to protect themselves.  Gang activity.  It’s not new here.  We live just down the street and we’re familiar with the territories of the Bloods and the Crips.

We hope that our Isaiah 58 Ministries Youth Groups have a positive effect on kids, providing a place of  belonging so that they do not turn to gangs.  Covenant House is working in our neighborhood with youth who are on the edge.  We reach out beyond the church building to interact with people on the street in our neighborhood.  The reality, however, is that gang violence continues.  Young black men, in particular, lose their lives and take the lives of others for no reason.  They are looking for something sadly misnamed as ‘respect’ when, in fact, there is no respect in it.

Following the shooting, I needed to eat supper and then have a pastor’s cabinet meeting there at the church.  I was then and still am — hours later — shaken, and running the images over and over in my mind.  I’ve prayed for those young men and others like them.  I’ve prayed that the Church may make a difference; that we may set the table of reconciliation with God and God’s people right out there in the street.  Oh, God, let it be so.

Helpful Redirect!

I appreciate Bob Cornwall’s comments on the book UnChristian and his redirect to the book From MySpace to Sacred Space by Amy and Christian Piatt.  I’ll look forward to checking it out.

The Spirit’s movement was apparent this evening!  My spouse and I just attended the farewell celebration for a wonderful friend, Paul, who is moving from his position as Pastoral Musician at Trinity Presbyterian Church here to be come the Pastoral Musician at Park Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in New York City.  I feel privileged to witness the transformation of one congregation and to anticipate the transformation of another  through one who truly understands music as prayer uniting God’s people across our many languages, cultures, and experiences.  The language of music — It surely is a Pentecost thing!!

Pentecost Whirlwind

I have been off-the-blog for about 3 months and have missed it.  I even came back to find that the WordPress dashboard has changed so much that I must figure it all out again!  It occurs to me that this must be a bit of what it feels like when folks stay away from church for a while and come back to find just enough change to unsettle them.   Small changes in the worship bulletin can seem great.  New people are leading worship (people I have not even met!).  The construction has changed the entrances to the sanctuary.  Whoops! There used to be a nursery there — Oh, it’s down the hall and around the corner.  And I don’t remember those restrooms being there … they’re new!

As we approach Pentecost Day, I am reminded that the wind and fire of the Spirit at Pentecost brought change.  New ways of hearing, and understanding.  A new perspective on the mighty works of God through the experience of others.  New ability to communicate what God what was doing.  It was change, brought by the presence of God’s Spirit, that birthed the Church.

It is the breath of God’s Spirit renewing life in the Church now.  This renewal is taking place in congregations throughout the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and in other denominations.  It is taking place in historic congregations and in new congregations in formation.  When true transformation takes place, the church seeks to live in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  I see that happening in our congregation, as we seek to live the compassion, radical welcome, love, and peace that Jesus embodied. And I see it in other vital congregations in many places.

Our congregation does not fall in the category commonly identified as “evangelical churches”, but we certainly seek to be evangelical in the sense of living and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.  I was interested in today’s Sojourner’s online article by Jim Wallis in which he speaks of the image many young people have of the church and of Christianity.  The book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyon reveals that many young people perceive Christians as “hypocritical, too judgmental, too focused on the afterlife, and too political in the worst sense of the word.”  But Wallis indicates that other studies show that people view Jesus as “compassionate, loving, caring, hung out with sinners and poor people, for peace.”

It is clear that when the Church moves in a direction that is in conflict with the way of Jesus the Christ, the Church loses credibility — as well it should!  But when we have the courage and the openness to allow the Spirit to move in and through us so that we live as the body of Christ in the world, we become true Church.  That does not mean that one denomination or congregation becomes the only true Church; rather it means that all those who live in the Spirit of Christ become true Church.

Today, evangelical leaders produced “An Evangelical Manifesto”  which appears to make an effort to connect the image of the Evangelical Church to be consistent with the way of Jesus the Christ.  They recognize that the association of Christian with political “right” or “left” is inappropriate.  I hope that this is marks a change not only in image, but in substance.

I pray that the whole Church – across the world – is receiving the breath of Jesus, being transformed by the Spirit.  I pray that whether we are identified as mainline, evangelical, emergent, Protestant, or Catholic we have only one identity and that identity is in the person of Jesus the Christ.