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“But I’d always seen my work through the lens of social justice.”

When I read it I realized this was also true for me.  Increasingly so, over the years, the decades.  Soon four decades as a Salvation Army Officer.

I have worked in Gary IN, westside Chicago, Detroit.  I now live in the Benton Park West neighborhood of St Louis where young white professional people are showing up as homeowners alongside BPW’s long time black community largely of renters.

My morning runs go south through the Dutchtown neighborhood where I note houses and street corners people have been shot.  On one block alone I watched the news last year as first one then two more were shot to death there.  One block.  It seems like such a nice block, too.  Early rising neighbors wave and exchange greetings with me.

When I read the above quote of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who exposed the lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan, I feel kinship.

My profession as a Salvation Army Officer requires among other things a generalist approach to the kinds of work an Officer does in the name of The Salvation Army.  Social work, preaching, youth development, fiscal management, property projects, discipling Christians, fundraising, loading potatoes, praying, unloading potatoes.

But at fundraisers I look around the room and notice.  At youth rallies.  On Sunday mornings I look at the crowd and notice.  At the monthly reports.  At where we allot financial resources and volunteers.  I can’t help it.  I notice and exercise what leadership I possess.  My voice, a question.  For many years now I’ve developed this sense and I can’t escape it.  At times it is burning in my bones.  Really, I’m not all that dramatic a person.  But it’s there.

I have come to realize that I am tuned to the key of justice.

Started in school.  Only twice I got into fights.  Hardly call them fights for I used my fists on surprised bullies picking on others.  A couple punches and it was over.  Remembering now, I feel something rising up in me.  It’s still there.

“lens of social justice”

That sounds much more elite-academia than working class-fists.  But the way I see it, it’s pretty much the same.

Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha

Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha 

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It is early Saturday morning on Arsenal Street, quiet and still in the back of the house.

The study window faces south and where I am seated gives a southeast view as dawn comes and goes.  With the dawn I listened to this recording of the Sibelius Scene With Cranes.  The artists are unattributed which perhaps will help it keep its place in one of those out of the way corners in the Youtube world, bringing no deletion wrath from the liability gods.

In the Youtube world I really do enjoy another version for its whimsical, then moving integration of music with, well, a scene with cranes, construction cranes.

But this morning’s recording was right for the day’s dawning moment.  Intense, limpid.  Neither overwrought nor an affectless face.  Unrushed pace of sound with dawn’s arrival.

The music and my southeast view of this neighborhood sky integrates with my anticipation of early morning migrating cranes which will come later this summer.  They will fly a northwest course high over this inner city neighborhood.   I see these cranes, by summer’s end hundreds will have traveled overhead, as I go on the streets for my morning runs.  Their flight intersects at a ninety degree angle with my runs.  It really is beautiful and I am looking forward to it.

Migratory cranes and waking inner city.  Construction cranes and Sibelius’ music of death.  Movements integrated.

This morning’s New York Times pointed out that mass school shootings happen mostly in small town America.

Okay, this seems to be so, in light of Parkland FL and Santa Fe TX.

But I thought immediately of the cumulative toll of shootings in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, my St Louis, etc.   While mass shootings in big city schools are rare, I feel confident in thinking that the total deaths of urban young people by gun tops the cumulative death total of these small town school mass shootings.

For example, 27 young people age 15 and under shot to death in Chicago during 2017 including a 4 day old preemie shot while in her mother’s womb.  I love Chicago but it’s notorious in recent years as the city with the most Americans shot to death.  I won’t make the effort to try add up all other American big cities.

So, is some light shed on the question of guns and violence, and a way forward, if we take a good look at this contrast?

 

Gail and I have followed David Claerbaut for years.  First many years ago in his published writing on urban ministry, then several years ago a visit to his church around the corner from us in Chicago.  Now I keep up via his blog.

This is the week America remembers the killing 50 years ago of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Here’s what D.C. wrote on it.  I found it helpful:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered 50 years ago today.

I remember it well.  The announcement that interrupted normal television programming was chilling.  King had been in Memphis supporting a strike by sanitation workers, yet another of his many self-sacrificial efforts on behalf of the powerless. In a fleeting moment this larger than life public figure was gone.

It is hard to describe the impact of this 39-year-old martyr for the cause of the Second Great Commandment.  Upon news of his death, cities exploded in violence, people—black and white–were plunged into despair; the civil rights movement—of which King was all but the incarnation—appeared over.  Everyone was in shock.

His death did all but mark the end of the turn-the-other-cheek non-violent form of political resistance.  His official successor, Ralph David Abernathy, had none of King’s charisma, and the divisive Jesse Jackson, who all but hijacked King’s mantle, has always seemed more in a quest of the nearest camera and the attendant self-aggrandizement, than the cause of justice.

It has never been the same since King died.  He was a unifier, a man of the people, shunning celebrity and a life ease in favor of the less traveled path of genuine servanthood.  Though quoting from scripture and often in prayer, some evangelicals criticized him as a theological liberal for his emphasis on social rather than specifically spiritual causes.  Yet many of the very seminaries from which those critics graduated would not admit King, because there were on the wrong side of the Second Great Commandment—the one King was living out.

His work was rooted in faith and a call to God’s work.  “Before I was a civil rights leader,” said King, “I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”

The man who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” was a giant—clearly among the most important figures in the second half of the 20th Century.  Like Moses and David, Martin Luther King, Jr. had his imperfections, but I shudder to think of where our nation would be without his brief but shining presence. DC

You might also be interested to know that the killer of Dr. King escaped from a Missouri state prison for an armed robbery on the street I run along every morning.

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A little over a year ago Gail and I talked over lunch with Rob and Stacy about what we’re doing in St Louis and our shared commitment to mission. Excited to see this new missional community expression on the West Coast!

Waking up this morning before the sun, the above photo was the beautiful scene – a Valley we are falling in love with every day, ready to fulfill God’s purpose for its existence.

January 2018 is when valley miSsionAl communitues officially launches (if you haven’t yet, see the last blog post with the 2023 Vision). We will be moving into a house in Canoga Park any day now, and so much is being planned: a house blessing party, Bible Study, worship, meals and much more. It’s going to be a place to send people out in love and service.

Even though Crags and Gilmore in Calabasas has been our home for several months, we are only ten miles from Canoga Park and go frequently.

Tuesdays, Sweet Prayers day, we now visit 5 Massage Parlors faithfully. After meeting in the parking lot of the Adult Rehab Center…

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More of my local life as a St Louisan.

I live in the Benton Park West neighborhood, not as chichi a place as Benton Park to the east. BPW’s greater socio-economic diversity means that it tends to have more ‘issues’ so we keep our eyes and ears open to dangers. But also to its uncommon beauty.

img_0297I run a regular morning route south into the Dutchtown neighborhood, seeing far more aesthetic pleasures than I am able to capture in photos. I style myself as a member of the nonexistent Dutchtown Runners Club.

This week I’ve enjoyed these two ongoing studies in migrating bricks.

Construction and deconstruction.

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From today’s New York Times –

“It couldn’t have hit a tree? A light pole? A sign?”

SGT. MICHAEL J. LOPUZZO, the commander of the 40th Precinct detective squad, on a bullet that had traveled nearly two city blocks to strike an unintended victim, in the Bronx precinct’s 14th – and final – homicide of 2016.

It reminded me of our family’s experience with a traveling bullet we had nothing to do with, yet it visited us.  Here’s ‘pop’ from some time ago.

Last week on my early morning run police were gathered outside a home, ready for something.  It was quiet.  They were nervous.   I got the hard stare as I passed before their attention returned to the home.  Had they tracked down the random gunfire we hear at night?  It’s been quiet since.

It is unsettling to hear gunfire where it doesn’t belong.

It is a 100 degree day on our street.  I say to Gail ‘let’s walk to El Bronco‘.  We go.

We walk down Iowa.  A mother and her young daughter coming out of their home smile and greet us.  We return the greetings.  We each know not the other’s name.  But we know we are neighbors.  Neighbors walk in their neighborhoods.

Across the street three young men yell greetings to us.  We smile and I give thumbs up.

At Cherokee we turn west.  Cumulonimbus overhead arriving from the west.  Are we going to get wet walking home?

Our usual.  A chimichanga for her.  For me the two taco lunch special which you can order anytime.  Not fancy, but simple goodness.  The place quieter than usual.  Heat has people down.   Not us.  We have to eat.

Tonight Gail tells me that she wishes she knew the names of El Bronco staff.  Our waitress.

When she comes to collect our bill I ask ‘what is your name?’  She always has a warm smile for us.  But now her smile turns beatific, more intensely warm.  As if ‘I’ve been waiting for you to find out’.  As if we just gave her a gift.  Her name is Maylee.  I introduce us.  ‘Phil and Gail’.  That smile is with her as she leaves our table.

During my first taco (steak, onions and cilantro wrapped in two warm corn tortillas drizzled with lime) I happen to look up and notice that Pastor Dave is with the group of men that had entered a few minutes earlier.  We catch each others attention, wordlessly exchange waves.  After paying our bill we go over and Dave introduces his three guests.  The men are visiting from Springfield MO, Denver, and Kansas City. We chat a little.  They ask about our Salvation Army work.  Pastor Dave asks what Salvation Army people think about Sara Johnson’s Democratic Party committeewoman campaign (enthusiastic).  He also asks about our son, John.  John introduced us to Pastor Dave a couple years ago.  John knows everyone in Benton Park West and everyone knows John.

We leave El Bronco.  The sky has grown darker with clouds.  We start up California.  Thunder.

I say to Gail ‘show me the grapes’.  She told me about them a few days ago, grapes that finally have appeared on a vine John put up a few years ago behind the Salvation Army Temple Corps.  Rain sprinkles, but I want to see the grapes.

We turn east on Juniata and jog to the left down an alley to a trellis.

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Will they survive?  When some unknown passerby notices that they are starting to look good …

Across the street Miss Gigi sitting outside at Booth Manor, keeping cool, notices us.  We cross the street to talk.  We all agree.  The grapes look promising.  For now Miss Gigi is keeping an eye on them.  She will put up a little fence with a sign.  She tells us that should be enough to help people respect the grapes.  We believe her.  Miss Gigi has authority.

The rain starts to fall.   Miss Gigi sends us off.  We pick up the pace.  The wind has too, the air cooling.  But before going inside I need to inspect Gail’s flowers.  She noticed today that the black-eyed Susans she and Sara planted a few weeks ago are doing well.

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Inside, before the heavy rain begins, ends, leaving a quiet St Louis sky.

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I tell people that this is the first time in a long time that I have lived in and felt like part of a neighborhood.  The experience of walking to a restaurant.  Of meeting and visiting with people I know.  It makes me feel rich in the Holy Currency of relationship.

I like being a neighbor.

We all brought food.  

Miss Gigi’s spaghetti.  Gail’s deviled eggs.  Sara had a hot grill going for a package of Nathan’s hot dogs.  Hannah made cucumber salad with herbs from Temple Gardens.  

A full back yard of conversation and food.  Farewells to Captain Mary Kim and Lieutenant AJ Zachary.  Cookies and brownies.  

Life together.  

Stephen Eide wrote last week in the NY Times of Nathan Bomey’s new book  Detroit Resurrected “the most thoroughly reported account of the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. It also stands as a valuable work of urban policy. The overarching theme of the book is how Detroit turned to bankruptcy to restore the social contract.”

I have been gone long enough (12 years) from Detroit that the image in my head is likely marred by inaccuracy of memory.  The city is also a different place.

Four years ago I was back in town, by choice.  A weekend trip for an event north of Detroit gave me a few hours to revisit.  Even then the city seemed different from my memories.  And it was in worse shape.

The building I had worked from was trashed.  The neighborhood grocery, one of few independent stores in the city, was closed.  Its parking lot was filled with garbage.  Windows smashed.

It was sad to now see the former Salvation Army building at the corner of Dundee and Grand River.  Left alone, an orphan, unclaimed and empty.  Not long after my visit the building was burned.  I haven’t been back since.

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My weekend visit four years ago:  I decided not to try go inside.

When someone writes of Detroit in terms of resurrection is it a miracle?  In spite of appearance, the reality is that this largest of municipal bankruptcies featured “ownership of a world-class art museum and the almost unbelievable harmony that prevailed among all public officials involved in the process: local Democrats, the Republican governor and State Legislature, members of the judiciary and the state-appointed emergency manager. After six decades of uninterrupted decline, Detroit, for once, seemed to catch all the breaks.”

Resurrection needs to rise from someplace.  An art museum worth more than eight billion and unanimous good will.  Detroit, the city, has this.

Now it’s to be seen if Detroit, its neighborhoods, each of them, have someplace from which to rise.

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