Archives for posts with tag: violence

Just a quick note.

Last Wednesday at 5:27 AM gunshots interrupted my morning quiet time of reading, meditation and prayer.

I heard 8 gunshots in rapid succession.  They sounded one or two blocks away.

We regularly hear gunshots especially in the middle of the night.  They wake us though most of the time they are several blocks away.  But last week’s gunfire was closer than usual.

We have no idea what is the shooters’ targets.  We do not hear news of someone hurt.  Is this simply the random firing of guns?

Whatever it may be, it is unsettling.

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Here on Arsenal Street I am observing our Temple House candle and prayer hour.

Each Wednesday our Temple House community lights a candle in a window at 8 PM.  For an hour we take time to pray for peace in our St Louis neighborhood.

This week I pray with the memory of 4 evenly spaced gunshots two nights ago.  The day before, Miss Gigi shook her head at our Sunday evening meal when we talked about how warmer weather means more shooting.  She pointed to the alley behind us.  They shoot back there.  Yup.

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Last week I took this photo walking home from Sara’s place.  We had finished our Tuesday meal together hosted in her home.  Over plates of enchiladas Stephen, Jessica and I had discussed how individuals who are people of color (Stephen and me) become the spokesperson for all those who look like us.  At least in the eyes of people who are not of our color.  I don’t mean just white people.  All of us tend to this simple-mindedness.  Our conversation made us more aware of our tendency.  More aware of what to overcome.  Then it was time for banana bread and fresh strawberries with whipped cream.

The weather has been great here in St Louis.  I’ll soon begin my fourth summer here and after years of Chicago summers can’t say that it’s any stickier, hotter here.  The sky over St Louis can be dramatic with cumulonimbus clouds and storm fronts that rush through.

Drama.  Living in a neighborhood with gunshots a regular feature causes a person to take the shooting a little less seriously.  A few months ago during an early Sunday morning run I heard gunshots, listened carefully, gauged them to be from one direction several blocks away, and corrected my running course in another direction.  Simple.

A little less serious.  Cavalier?  That, among other reasons, is why on Wednesday evenings we light a candle and pray.

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Sunday evening in Temple Gardens for a grand cookout and potluck.  Behind us to the right is the alley about which Miss Gigi just shakes her head.

Prayer candle

This week began our Wednesday evening prayer for safety and peace in St Louis.

Behind the candle in our window is the bell tower of St Francis de Sales.  Gail and I started our eight o’clock hour of prayer observance with the bell of St Francis.  We joined other Temple House homes on Arsenal, Wyoming and Jefferson (and in solidarity even far off in Chicago).  A candle in our window for one hour.

It was an hour of meditation and peace contrasting with gunfire and violence.  It is part of our witness.  And we believe that it also is a time of God at work in us and in our Benton Park West neighborhood.

Amen.

Last night we met on the back porch.  Jessica had warm chocolate chip cookies and a home-made pizza.  We talked, again, about the same thing we had discussed last week at Darren and Char’s place.  What to do about the shooting in our neighborhood.

Last week someone was shot to death in front of Darren and Char’s building.  It’s the first shooting death this year in our neighborhood.  But many gunshots have come before that one bullet.  At times we hear them as we lie in bed on an otherwise quiet night.  Or we happen to glimpse out the window just as someone falls, writhing in pain.

What do we do?

Last week we agreed.  Prayer.  And a candle in the window.  Last night, more logistics.  Today, Gail posted to Temple House Dwellers Facebook:

“Last night we decided to light a candle every Wednesday from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM and pray for an end to violence in our neighborhood. We hear gun shots but acknowledge that there are other acts of violence as well. We want our neighborhood to be a welcoming place where hospitality is practiced. Shooting at each other is not welcoming or hospitable…(yes, I often state the obvious, can’t help myself). We know that there is more to do on this but we are going to start with the lighting of candles and ask God to help us hear and see what the next step will be. We still have not come up with a ‘slogan’ but feel it will come.”

One more thing we agreed will help us to pray for our neighborhood.

When we lie in bed on a quiet night or are out walking and hear ringing in the distance on the hour the church bell of St Francis de Sales Oratory we will pray.

So, here we go.

St Francis in the distance

We agree.  Let’s go see.

First, lunch.  The Hardee’s drive-thru near our office.  Charbroiled chicken sandwiches.  Neal’s driving so I get to eat mine first.  Neal wanted to try the jalapeno something-somethings, which look something like batter dipped french fries.  I try one.  Neal munches while he heads the car onto westbound I-64.

People, some people, around here still insist on saying “Forty” when referring to I-64.  US 40.  It is.  But after a year in St Louis I know it’s the old-timers.  Some of those old-timers really aren’t old.   It’s more a frame of mind.  US 40.  It hints back to a day before the federal interstate system.  Pre-Eisenhower.  I guess that when I was a kid someone was starting to build these interstate roads.

When I was a kid.  That would have been the days of Kennedy, Nixon.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

North on I-170.  East on I-270.  Exit and then south on Florissant Ave.  We turn left into the drive for a community center where Salvation Army and a few other agencies set up last Saturday, will again tomorrow, to serve people of Ferguson MO.  Park.  Go in.  Talk to a couple of the staff.  Who commiserate with us about the troubles.  Back in the car.  I drive so Neal can eat his now cold sandwich.

We continue south on Florissant.  It is a suburb that looks like a suburb.  Businesses, not close together.  Just enough space to give them the look of eyes a little too far apart.  We are seeing police cars everywhere.  St Louis County cruisers.  At about every corner.  It looks like the President could come through.  Not today.

We also see homes.  Neat, definitely not ostentatious.  Tidy neighborhoods.  Closer together than Florissant Ave. businesses.  Humble homes huddling together, still.  It’s early afternoon and they look very quiet.

Now, lots of police.  Cars, but now standing, small groups walking.  I notice the older policeman who seems to be represented in each group of county brown.  How they are described, they look, in their uniforms.  Yes, mostly white.

We have joined dense slowly moving traffic.

Somehow it reminds me of the tourists who visit Paris to see Notre Dame at Sunday vespers.  Worshipers sit.  Around them slowly circulate the tourists there to see the cathedral, hear the organ.  Not engaged, not worshiping.  Just came to see the thing.

On the left.  The burnt-out Quik Trip which is a landmark for these times of trouble in Ferguson.  Dramatic, how the burnt front and center is skeleton like, structural metal bare, swooping upward.  Now it reminds me of Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.  I have an overactive associating mind.

On the right, the McDonald’s which is not burnt but has seen its share of troubles.  Lots of people and dozens of police.  Later in the day we hear it’s because Jesse Jackson was in there.

We see the Schnucks and Target stores and the ominous dark law enforcement vehicles in their lots.  I think Neal said ‘FBI’ and I think I saw SWAT on one.  Here and there, traffic lanes and drives blocked off.  Some shoppers.  All who we see, police and non-police, are in slow motion, not unpleasant.  Even the few protesters with signs seem to have that certain je ne sais quoi.

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I’m driving and Neal’s trying to take photos.  When he holds the iPhone up some give us looks.  Not real hard looks, just that squinty ‘hey, what …’ look.

We drive around the Schnucks/Target lots, back to Florissant Ave.  North to I-270.  The yellow then red traffic signal abruptly catches me and we joke about getting pulled over by the police.  We both give little nervous laughs.  We are out of here.

 

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I laughed, and I’m sure I shouldn’t have, when I read what Jaylen Price’s great-uncle had to say about whoever’s bullet hit his 10 year old nephew a few days ago here in Chicago.

In some parts of our city you expect to hear gunshots.  See bullet holes in walls and windows.  Talk with someone about who got shot.  Chicago’s story is full of bullet holes.

If you stick around long enough you too will have your own shooting story.

Jaylen was hit by a ricochet waiting for a pizza delivery when men down the street started shooting at each other.  His great-uncle, Alvin Ponder,  gives it straight and simple about guns as reported in the Chicago Tribune

“They (politicians) won’t stop everything, I understand that,” he said. “They don’t have to ban the guns, but they have to do things for gun safety, background checks, big magazines. These war weapons don’t belong on the street. Anything that is a semi-automatic is an assault weapon.

“If you can’t hit a target with 10 rounds, you should be doing another hobby. You need another life.”

It’s that last statement.

do you all understand?  10 rounds?  you still can’t hit it?  you should be fishing.  scrapbooking.

Get another life.  Not mine.

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

I am a runner.  I’ve never been to Boston.  And among the few races I’ve felt like running, only one marathon, the Chicago in 1986.  I enjoyed it and would do more but my plantar fasciitis is controllable now and I don’t want to jeopardize the great pleasure and benefits running gives.  I no longer have a young man’s feet.

But I share the sentiment of one runner expressed this week after the bombings.  Let’s show up in Boston next year and run it.

Many of us are just naturally defiant.  Downright ornery.  However, prudent man that I am, God bless each of you who run the Boston Marathon next year.  I’ll cheer you on and manage my achy left foot.

Defiance is a quality we admire in those with a cause.

As of this afternoon we don’t yet know the cause of the bomb-person in Boston.

We do know that much of the bombing taking place these days around the world is connected to causes.  And if we take a moment we may also realize that most of these bomb-generating causes are from those who in a sense are powerless.

I mentioned last week Jurgen Moltmann’s Ethics of Hope.  Moltmann is a German theologian, one of the most prominent of the late 20th and this century.  He wasn’t quite a man when called up for service in the Wehrmacht during the closing weeks of World War II.  Barely a soldier he quickly became a prisoner of war when he moltmannsurrendered to the first British soldier he met.

During imprisonment he watched, and began to wonder about, the role which hope plays in human survival and existence.  Later, he became a dedicated Christian and theologian who wrote about his discoveries in Theology of Hope, The Coming of God and Ethics of Hope.

In Ethics Moltmann says “today human life itself is in acute danger.  It is not in danger because it is threatened with death – that was always so.  It is in acute danger because it is no longer loved.

After World War II, Albert Camus wrote: ‘The secret of Europe is that it no longer loves life’ … we had stopped loving life so as not to be so deeply touched by our own death and death of people we loved.

‘You love life, we love death’ claimed the letter of the Madrid bomb explosions of 2004.   ‘Viva la muerte!’ shouted a Facist general in the Spanish civil war of the 1930s.  The Nazi SS slogan was ‘Give death – accept death’.  The Taliban’s Mullah Omar boasted that ‘your young people love life; our young people love death.’

Moltmann identifies all these as symptoms of a ‘religion of death’.   It is a system of belief based on an experience of life where hope is absent.

A deterrent works only if the opponent wants to survive as well … this ‘religion of death’ is the true enemy of the love of life.

Robert Frost ends his poem The Census Taker with this yearning expressed by the lonely census taker counting up humans in places they are increasingly absent, somewhere in the wilderness of northern New England –

The melancholy of having to count souls

Where they grow fewer and fewer every

year

Is extreme where they shrink to none at all.

It must be I want life

to go on living.

Whoever made and set off the two bombs this week in Boston, is this a person who is an enemy of the love of life, whose religion is death?  Who does not want life to go on living?  Who has lost hope?

Whoever it may be, I don’t believe this person is a runner.

Is there hope?  And if so, how can we who love life bring good news to those (including bombers) who dwell in the land of the shadow of death? (Isaiah 9:2)

Time to turn the burner down to begin simmering the split peas.  After the soup stock first comes to a boil.  Dinner later.  Saturday.  We are home.

Perhaps it was a mistake to check the Chicago Tribune online so early in the morning.  With a cup of coffee.  Does the paper replace a cigarette?

The morning’s report included “5 teens shot across city Friday”.  Ages 14, 16 and 17.  The fourteen year old merits a separate story.

Maybe because he died Friday night in the front hallway of his home, a few feet away from the front steps where he was shot several times while talking on a cellphone.  Maybe because like other shootings our assumption he was a gangbanger goes against those who knew him as a young person, one who stayed away from gangs.  Maybe because his stepmother would have wanted to say “Happy Birthday” Tuesday, today.  He would have been 15.

I am struggling here, trying to get to the point.

My emotions are in solidarity, circling around a raw place in me.  It frightens me when that place is threatened by contact with the kind of things that created it.  Don’t touch.

The Tribune reporter makes a closing observation –

On the sidewalk near the crime scene, the father of one of the boy’s friends sobbed as he paced near a group of somber teenagers.

Without warning it has been touched.  Inside me, that place inside me.

I don’t care for it.  Over the years I have learned to be careful reading and hearing stories of the terrible things done to others.  I don’t want them to reach out, touching that deep place.

Someone said they think it’s PTSD.  From serving years in places hearing, seeing, being with those who suffer, dead and buried remain as stories, also circling, deep in me?  Years have passed.  I no longer work daily in Gary, Chicago or Detroit.  The stories still circle, just more distant in miles and memory.Bullet Proof Vest  PBS 2

But the father of the boy’s friend suddenly stretches out and touches this raw place.  That astonishing mix of grief, fear and anger he feels brings back mine.  Is it guilt?  I don’t want it but it’s there.  One unhealed wound made up of small rips and tears.

The man’s pain reminded me of one, a young man who was shot to death Christmas morning years ago in a home he had every reason to believe all is calm, sleep in heavenly peace.  But there it has simmered, to boil up again.  Yet raw.  Never done.

Near the crime scene.  Police will investigate it.  Friends will grow quiet near it.  The stepmother and family will have to figure out how to live there, live with it, walk past the spot and memory of a teenaged boy who once stood and talked there.

Violent death, violent shooting deaths.  Never expected.

Yes.  There is a cost to shootings.  They produce death.  And psychic pain.

News all summer in Chicago has been about the shooting and killing.  Mostly on the south and west sides of the city.  It is a ‘statistical aberration’ according to some.

Hunting culture.  Killing culture.  I’ve been trying to sort it out.  A gun lies silent and inert before you.  Early morning in the corner of a farmhouse kitchen it represents uncles gathering to hunt deer.  Flashed at you on a city street means fear and death.

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