Archives for posts with tag: inner city

Gail calls this the fancy pants gate.

This entrance leads to a gated community within the Lafayette Park neighborhood here in St Louis.  This gate is located where else but on Park Avenue.

I 64

about to cross the Mississippi into Illinois.  on our way to our Sunday-going-to-church with the East St Louis Corps.

With construction closures we had to take alternate routes this morning on our way to the not-so-fancy pants East St Louis IL Corps neighborhood.

Twice this past year a car has smashed through the gate and the fence to the East St Louis Salvation Army playground creating extra work for its Lieutenant AJ Zachery.  Smashed first as part of a police chase.  No one knows exactly what happened the second time.

I guess gates are subject to varying treatment depending on locale.

Some are fancy-pants.  Some aren’t.

Travis June 2016

Travis, reading scripture this morning for the East St Louis Corps.

Rudy Clay, former mayor of Gary IN was buried today.

I didn’t know Mayor Clay.  It was thirty years ago this summer that we entered our final season as Salvation Army corps officers in Gary.  We lived on Pierce Street, a half mile west of the corps building on Harrison.  A person could walk through the swampy, brushy dense woods between the two places.  We didn’t.  To us it looked like a jungle.  And there were other reasons.

We had arrived late June 1981.  During our first week began a series of night break-ins at the corps building.  The security alarm alerted Lake County Sheriff’s deputies.  Who would wait for me to arrive at the building to open and disarm the system.  They would search the building.  No one.  Someone was breaking in and leaving before police arrived.  And their escape route certainly led into the jungle.

I remember the deputies standing with me, staring into the woods.  Their lights aimed into and swallowed by the jungle.  Them?  Me?  Going in there?  No way.dark woods

I had a solution.  Denny Kellenburger can tell you.  Denny who bravely accompanied stupid me on a night vigil.  I can’t claim that our efforts caused it, but after a month the break-ins stopped.

Another reason we didn’t walk through the jungle was because of what had happened out there months before we arrived in 1981.  A young boy had been murdered after being tortured, left tied to a tree.  The police weren’t able to make an arrest though I think that even then they knew who they suspected.  It would take almost twenty years before they arrested a man for that murder.

During our years in Gary we felt dread.  Over an unsolved murder.  Whenever I wasn’t home and Gail began receiving phone calls with a silent caller on the other end [a correction from Gail:  he told me that he was going to kill me].  When we came home one evening to find our belongings scattered all over the house by someone.

Whenever I stood with deputies staring as far as a person can out into a dark jungle.

The death of a former mayor brings to mind his city.

And when I recall more of our three years in Gary I see faces of young people, so many of them teenagers, who had nothing better to do than go to the Salvation Army building on a Friday night to play in the gym.  Then participate in whatever we could conjure up with the little money we had.  Often with the help of the NW Indiana Youth for Christ Director, Roger Pavkov.  So many people stepped up to help.  And it was great.  We had a great time with these kids, and then with their parents.  At times it was wild.  But it was great.

Death and dread has a way of hanging over a place.

But, yea, though I walk through the jungle of the shadow of death.  I will not fear evil.  As to be frozen into doing nothing.

Vulnerability.

Can you imagine living through a situation where there is fear to go outside, where businesses are affected to the point of closing, and where everyone feels unsafe and vulnerable?

Noel isn’t talking about the Boston Marathon.  Read more at –

Reflections on the Boston Bombing from CCDA Noel Castellanos

Many generally hold that you receive what you deserve. That somehow people earn what they get.  

It is a common and satisfying explanation.  Thus we say such things as ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’, and ‘you reap what you sow’ (Galatians 6:7-8).

This morning the news was that within a 2½ hour window yesterday evening eight people were shot in Chicago.  Alarming.  Do people get what they deserve?
 
The universe operates in both clear and mysterious ways.  Depending on what you see.  From a distance they are stars shining in the night sky.  Under scrutiny scientists discover dark matter. You would think that long ago we had finished with the finding and cataloging of all living things; Genesis 2:19-20.  But in the most unlikely places we continue to discover and name new species of frogs and lichens.   What do we actually notice, see, understand?
 
So far this week my count is 24 or more people shot in Chicago.  It is awfully hot, a mitigating factor.
 
From a distance such as a distant rural county or certain Chicago suburbs it’s clear what we are seeing.  Gangs, drugs, heat-crazed.  People get what they deserve, right?
 
Examine closer.  We discover details which disturb us.
  7 year old Heaven Sutton and 10 year old Kitanna PetersonShot as they help mom run a neighborhood candy stand, as they cool down playing with their friends in an opened fire hydrant. 
 
Deserve what they get?  We can hear voices rising, explaining that parents ought to know better than let children …. that this just shows how choices made long ago result in …  that policies create conditions leading to …   Just all makes sense doesn’t it?  From where we are. 
 
Jesus, the man born blind, the disciples and the Pharisees.  John 9.  Whose fault was it?  Who sinned?  So many of us are analysts.  But Jesus sees and acts.  
 
To Pharisee and disciple alike the man is barely noticed because it is so clear what happened.  If he didn’t deserve to suffer then obviously his suffering was the result of his parents’ sin, ‘… they should have known better …  we understand what’s going on, our hands are clean of it, we have no responsibility other than alms giving to express our holiness from time to time as we are moved.  Amen.’
 
What is going on in Chicago this summer?  Does it signify anything?
 
Jesus said “I am the light of the world” and “we must work the works of him who sent me” and “that God’s works might be revealed” when asked who’s to blame for this mess.  (John 9:1-5)
 
Jesus was saying, still is saying, people of God do not withdraw.  Engage in the world.  Pay no mind to the common and satisfying explanations.  Instead, notice.  See.  ‘Do something’ continues to be the mantra of a 21at century Salvation Army.  Not only the Army’s.  Of anyone who would do pure and undefiled religion, “to care for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27).
 
Even care for mothers and fathers who live in fear of becoming suddenly childless this very hot Chicago summer.

This morning I returned to the office.  Plowing through email.  Talking with colleagues.  A couple meetings.  Near the end of the day I checked the Army’s online bulletin board.  Major Beverly Collet.  Promoted to glory.

Major Collet retired a few years ago after forty-two years of service as a Salvation Army officer.  She grew up in a Highland Park different than what it now is.   Went to the Training College and was sent back, starting her ministry in Hazel Park.  Virtually all of her service was in Detroit.  Grandale.  Harding.  The Detroit Children’s Home.  She saw Detroit go through riots and decline.  Stuck with it.  Helped young people and families.

As a clueless cadet I remember meeting Major Collet in 1979.  ‘ouch’ I thought.  You wouldn’t suspect the Major of coddling anyone.

In later years, near and soon after her retirement, I found a listening Major Collet, sharing wisdom in measured tones.  Bev’s insight and advice resonated.  Those of us who have served in the Army’s equivalent of the French Foreign Legion struggle at times to share about our ministry in inner cities.  It’s hard to make sense to people when they haven’t been there.  Time in Detroit qualifies one to wear a kepi.

The Major’s funeral was last week.  In metro Detroit.  Her body is buried there, too.  I guess that she and those who knew her best felt it as good a place until the day Detroit and all places are made new.

I exited I 64 at 15th Street and turned right.  It felt home.  Could be Gary, Detroit.

This morning I visited East St Louis IL.  It’s the rough counterpart to its larger urban cousin to the west across the Mississippi.  St Louis MO has rough places, especially its north neighborhoods.  But East St Louis is another degree rougher.  Or two, or three.

Burnt houses.  Old houses with roofs slowly crumbling in.  Much empty space, lots once filled with homes now gone.  A solitary figure here and there, slowly ambling, some still on this quiet grey chilly Sunday morning.

I pulled up to the Salvation Army building on 16th Street.  I look at the bronze dedication plaque.  1960.  Now a half century old.  This is where the corps gathers.

Inside, a Sunday school class led by the corps officer, Lieutenant Katie Harris-Smith.  Who earlier picked up families in the Army’s van.  Who cooked the meal for today’s Lunch With the Lieutenant.  Who would lead the worship meeting and preach the sermon and and afterwards kneel at the altar to counsel and pray with three persons who had listened and felt touched by God.  Then, table fellowship with men, women and young people who have found a people and a place to belong.

The corps’ pride has to be its small group of older teens and young adults.  I like them.  They know how to smile.  Quietly friendly.  They like one another.  The corps is family.

In between morning activities Lieutenant Harris-Smith says that the corps building is in between two schools.  Jackson Elementary to the south will close.  Miles D. Davis Elementary to the north will close.  This is a story.  School closings tell a story about a community.  It is a chilly Sunday morning and maybe that’s why I shiver, but maybe not.

1960.  The corps building now half century old appears to stand almost alone in this part of East St Louis.  It is an old building, even tired looking this grey morning.  But it is the only solid structure I can see in this neighborhood of raggedy and abandoned buildings.  And I get the definite feeling that the men, women and young people gathered in it today do so for that solid presence it brings to their part of this city.  A building, a community of believers, a Salvation Army officer sent on mission to this forsaken appearing place. 

Hear my cry, O God;
   listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
   when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock
   that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge,
   a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me abide in your tent for ever,
   find refuge under the shelter of your wings.
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
   you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

 from Psalm 61

I admit.  It has been easy to accept the existence of what are called food deserts in poor urban neighborhoods.  I remember lots of liquor stores and churches in the places I’m familiar with in Chicago and Detroit, but stores with fresh produce and milk, at prices us suburban dwellers expect?  nah.

The New York Times reports two studies on food in urban areas.   Maybe food deserts are really only a mirage.  Read about it here.

I am in Indianapolis tonight.

This morning, the Center City Corps with Pastor Loretta in charge.  Men and women from the streets of Indianapolis.  Mothers and children from the Salvation Army’s programs next door in the shelter, Carpenter House and Barton House.  A husband and wife, business professionals, who walk to the corps from just a few blocks away. 

The chapel is not large, cluttered, in a building that long ago saw better days as a place for traditional Salvation Army worship and life.  Life that was part of a time and place which no longer exists in America. 

But this morning, crowded with people who come to meet with one another and with God who opens his hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing. 

Pastor Loretta leads the service.  She knows who to call on to share their testimony.  An old man with a walker who has just given up not only whiskey and beer, but cigarettes as well.  He says the Lord whupped him.

A woman, younger, bright eyed.  She returned this morning.  Three years now both she and her husband have been clean of drugs.  She testifies to God’s grace, helping them.  She is grateful.  Her bright eyes  suddenly brim with tears and her lips tremble as she says this.

At the end of the meeting a man steps up to pass me a slip of paper.  Tomorrow he is entering the Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center here in Indy for treatment of his alcoholism.  He’s been told that he won’t have access to a phone for some time.  He’s heard that I’m from Chicago.  He asks me to contact his mother who lives on the southside.  I have a name and a phone number.  He wants her to know he’s okay.

Another man is waiting to talk to me.  He shares his concern about the future of the Center City Corps and Pastor Loretta. 

Another man.  He thanks me for the sermon and talks about his struggle and day by day dealing with alcoholism and being bipolar.  He is grateful for each day and the grace he receives from the God who hears his pleas.

The eyes of all wait upon thee and thou openest thy hand in due season.   Amen.

Today, a story in the Free Press of “a person dressed in women’s clothing” found shot to death near Woodward and McNichols in Detroit.   Neighbors say the area is “plagued with prostitution … women prostitutes and prostitutes who are men dressed like women” and that made me remember.

In 1980s Chicago along Madison Street were ‘heshes’.  That’s pronounced he-she with an ‘s’ for the plural.  Men dressed like women.  Black men picked up by white men who would drive into the neighborhood, Chicago’s Near West Side, and then drive away with a shehe.

This was a regular thing.  Gail got so incensed that one day she began writing down license plate numbers thinking that she would blow this thing wide open probably with the help of the newspapers, TV and radio stations, Mayor Washington, etc.  Never got to it.  Though she did compile a fairly impressive list. 

What to do?  For a season we held meetings on the sidewalk outside our front door on Madison Street, just east of Ogden.  With a little public address system we preached, prayed, sang.  It’s a form of Salvation Army activity known among Army oldtimers as an open air meeting.  Our location was perfect.  Plenty of people to harass/bless with our open air.  It got to the point where a pimp warned us to stop it or else.  Made us nervous.

Talking about pimps, there was a summer afternoon one with his entourage stopped to harass us as we conducted outdoor Bible school for young people across Ogden to the west in Union Park.  Then it turned into a semi-meaningful conversation.  He shared that he had attended Bible school at the Salvation Army.  Memorized Bible verses, lots of them, maybe it was a hundred verses.  He even recited some of them to us in Union Park.  I remember us saying later ‘a lot of good that did’.  Maybe if he had lingered we would have made him a teacher.

Back to Madison Street …

One evening after programs, Gail and our children were at the building waiting for me to return with the van after dropping off children in the neighborhood.  When I returned Gail was excited and a little shook up.  She had watched a drama in our sprawling overgrown neglected parking lot behind the corps building.  The lot was surrounded by old rusting wire fence.  It made for a very effective World War I battlefield.  That fence had trapped two heshes trying to escape some young white guy driving an SUV trying to run them over.  Gail said it was horrifying and hilarious.  Here were two creatures running for their lives best they could in high heels, dresses (very revealing dresses), wigs, makeup.  Heshes were always, shall I say slender.  Could fool you for a moment at least into thinking, yes, they could walk down the fashion runway.  But now two were frantically running from one side of Verdun to the other, looking for an opening in the fence to get away.

Gail phoned the police who responded with a yawn.  So, she watched, from behind a locked door.  Actually, the way our doors operated, once locked you couldn’t open them if you wanted from either inside or outside without some lengthy mechanical process.  That’s another story.

Then one of the heshes ran up to the door as if ‘HELP!’  All Gail could do was helplessly look.  But for just one second, eye to eye, it was as if looking into death.  It chilled her.

The heshe turned and ran.  The SUV was almost on him/her/it. 

Eventually one slipped through the fence.  And then the other.  The SUV left.  Leaving Gail and our three children standing at the door.

We guessed what probably happened.  The SUV driver thought he was picking up two women.  Surprise.  Thus the scene.

Men dressed like women.  One more story to share another time.

The streets are wet tonight in St Louis.  Gail and I arrived at Steve and Ketsia’s 8:30, unloaded, got reacquainted with Kyle and Lou.  John walked over with Boone from his place a block away. 

Tomorrow lunch and an Intersections Gathering across the street at the St Louis Temple Corps.  Gigi is cooking and John assures me it will be good. 

In the morning we’ll first visit Soulard Market for the day’s groceries and breakfast.  Jerk chicken cooked by Ketsia for dinner later and fellowship with the Temple House community of dozen or so Salvation Army people living on Arsenal Street within two blocks of the Temple building.  Sunday morning and potluck with the Temple corps.

Food figures this weekend.  We are in St Louis for table fellowship.  Amen.

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