Today is April 30, 2015. Last Saturday my neighborhood was rocked by two shootings. The first occurred at a funeral, leaving one man dead. The second followed later that evening, leaving a neighborhood fearful. Monday afternoon I left for a trip. By Tuesday evening my wife called to say there was yet another set of shootings. One person was dead and two others critically wounded. All of this took place within blocks of where I live and where I call home.
Like many of you, I also spent much of my time this week watching the news as unrest unfolded in Baltimore.
In 1992 I, a young youth pastor, took a group to South Central LA, 45 days after the Rodney King riots. One of the biggest surprises of that trip was how my experience in South Central had very little to do with how the media reported about the events. The vast majority of the people we met were hard working folks, who simply wanted to be treated like human beings. Time has certainly impacted my memory of that trip, but I do not recall meeting any “thugs.”
Today, if you listen to some the media, it becomes easy to believe that urban neighborhoods are filled with vandals, thugs, thieves, and looters. As someone who lives in one such neighborhood I can tell you this isn’t the whole story. It is true that urban communities can erupt. Rarely is this random; often people are just sick and tired of being ignored, marginalized, and brutalized by powers and systems they have no control over.
One of the reasons why I have spent 20+ years at DOOR is that I am convinced that people of faith need to hear the other stories. Stories of forgiveness and reconciliation, stories of faith in spite of the odds, stories of family values that go deeper and wider than our mainstream faith traditions are comfortable with.
One effective way of moving beyond a world of violence, fear, stereotyping, and racism is to simply start spending time with each other; hearing stories, laughing together, crying together, working for change together, and just plain being together. DOOR does this well. We bring outsiders into urban communities, not because urban people need rescuing or saving, but because we need to save each other. We need to build bridges of understanding, mutuality, and empathy. This kind of transformation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It demands physical presence.
When we don’t take the time to know each other, hear each other, or sympathize with each other, then spaces are created for anger and violence.
In Philippians 2 the apostle Paul takes about a savior who emptied himself, who became one of us. Maybe this is what our country needs more of, people who are willing to empty themselves. To know each other’s struggles and frustrations. To stand together against injustice and dehumanization. To become part of each other.