Quotation of the Week

Whatever my child may face in public school, I can assure you that none of it is subtle. On the other hand, the pernicious nature of the subconscious message of the exclusive private Christian school is the the message of upper-middle-class suburban Evangelicalism: materialism.

Fourth-graders putting condoms on bananas OR materialism. Which one damages the soul more? Which is harder to root out?

From Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum

Thanks, More Than Stone

“The kind people easily dismiss…”

For all of the jokes and smiles our little phone-line bullet has provided the past two days, I find myself occasionally glancing over at the little lump of metal and shuddering. I have fought back the visual memories of standing in my Chicago apartment bathroom helping one of the young men who had been one of the “founding kids” for my ministry in Chicago clean out a bullet wound in his shoulder. I remember washing and reapplying a bandage to the wound; I remember how his skin felt, and the way his muscles tensed.

I have shuddered at the memory of that same young man a few years later lying still in a white suit. I remember how cold his cheek was when I kissed it before saying my final goodbye. I remember how cold my heart felt for weeks as I longed for him to be recognized and mourned as a person and not just another urban statistic. I remember wanting to shout from a rooftop that Jamar was dead.

I stumbled upon a sobering website the other day. I was trying to find information on some recent shootings in our neighborhood when I found a blog titled The Homicide Blog published by a crime reporter with the Los Angeles Times. Utilizing police, media and coroner’s reports, she reports every homicide in Los Angeles County with whatever information is available. Occasionally she will write up a story about one of the victims, and the most recent one tells of a young man who was shot and killed outside of his home. Here is a portion of what she writes:

“Audrey Pious came up to the house moments after the shooting. Her 23-year-old son was lying in the front yard, by the bedroom window, his eyes still open. A neighbor was putting pressure on the wound.

She got down on the ground next to him. ‘I got his hand,’ she said. ‘I told him I was there.’ She could tell he was going to die. No one could lose that much blood. Still she told him: ‘Keep breathing.’

Her husband, a truckdriver, learned his son had been shot over the phone while on the road, and was able to minimize it. He imagined a painful, but not life-threatening wound.

WilliampiousverticalHe even rejoiced. Maybe now William would learn his lesson, the father thought. In his mind, he was already composing the lecture he would give him. ‘I could use this as a tool,’ he thought. ‘Now he will see what I am talking about.’

William Pious died at St. Francis hospital at 7:54 p.m. Feb. 21, less than two hours after he was shot. Police said Pious was a gang member, and called the killing ‘gang-related.’ The Police Department put out no press release. No reporters showed up at the crime scene…

Audrey Pious said she knows that this is the kind of homicide people easily dismiss–just another gang or drug murder in Watts, or Compton, like scores of others on the T.V., she said. She knows the unspoken judgment in that dismissal. She says she wishes people could know what it was like–how what look like choices from afar don’t feel that way up close…”

Reading this story reminded me of the murder on our corner, days before I gave birth to our sweet Mercy. It was my birthday, and we had left early that Friday evening to go and celebrate with our dear Santa Monica friends. I can remember driving off, through the throng of kids still riding bikes and playing, and remarking about how nice it was to see all of the kids playing together outside. Not long after we left, a young man was shot and killed while riding his bicycle down our street. We returned home late that night to discover a growing shrine of candles on the corner, and we knew there is only one thing that that could mean.

A few days later my husband wrote this on what was then our little family blog:

“In Memory and for a prayer”

shrine.jpg

“The above picture was taken from our deck of a shrine on our street created to mourn the death of a young man in our community. Carlos was murdered on September 24th. He was 33 years old. Carlos was riding his bike down our street when a car stopped and his killers opened fire. Though this kind of violence undergirds much of this neighborhood it has been a while since the activity has had such an ugly manifestation. This entry is not sweet nor censored. Please pray for our neighborhood, for Carlos’ family, for the gangs and drug pushers, for the children and families of our community, and for the work of God to manifest itself here.

We didn’t know Carlos. What we know of him now is that he leaves behind a wife and three children: 2, 6 and 8. We know that he was a member, or was a member at one time, of a gang. And we know that when he was shot several times and was bleeding out, lying in the street in the working hands of those from the neighborhood who had gone to try and assist him, many children were out on that corner. Our friend’s son had just passed Carlos on his bike and wasn’t even up the stairs into his house, two houses down, when the shots rang out. And Erika and I, having driven past the scene just moments before the shooting occurred while on our way to celebrate Erika’s birthday with good friends, had just commented on how lively and full of people our corner was that night.

There is nothing about the tragedy of what happened that night that does not disturb me. But the thing that haunts me the most is something our neighbor shared with us the next day. He told us that when the LAPD arrived on the scene they asked everyone to back away and cordoned off the intersection. They asked everyone to back away – even those who were engaged in CPR. I was recently recertified in Medic First Aid Basic response. You keep up CPR until help arrives and removes you to take your place. The neighbors engaged in CPR stopped and moved as they were told; but the police just stood there and did nothing. And Carlos died.

Chances are he would have died anyway. He was shot twice in the head and three times in the chest. He was probably drowning in his own blood. Even chest compressions won’t help if the body is denied air, and his airway was disturbed by blood. Because no one had barriers and he was bleeding a lot, mouth to mouth was not being administered.

Perhaps the police thought he was a lost cause because of his bleeding, his massive wounds, his deteriorating state. Perhaps the officers simply made a mistake or did not know the appropriate protocol. Or perhaps they felt he was lost long ago; signs of his losing etched all over his body in the form of gang tattoos.

And so, alone and unattended, Carlos laid in our street and he died.

May God show mercy.”

What next?

It has not been a great week so far. In fact, it’s really not been a great month, and I was just telling a friend that the verse in scripture that talks about how God will not give us more than we can bear must assume that, because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can bear death. So all of that false comfort given when we use that verse to assure others and ourselves that “God won’t give you more than you can handle” (and how we understand that in our suffering-averse day) is a bit misleading.

I have been working furiously on some Servant Partners‘ tasks these past weeks, still playing catch-up from the weeks before and after my surgery, and have repeatedly come up against interruptions in the phone and internet service at our house. As anyone who works from a home office knows (and especially anyone who works from home with very limited hours of childcare available), this amounts to the greatest possible frustration.

So yesterday the AT&T serviceman was here (this is our fourth or fifth visit I think this year–we’ve had our jacks replaced, we’ve had the box in the back worked on, we’ve received a new router from Earthlink, and on and on…), and he informed us that the problem was located in the main phone lines on 30th street, and that the truck would be out tomorrow to repair them. So of course, after Lauren arrived this morning to put Aaron down and to take Mercy out to play, I sat down at the computer to work only to discover that I had no connection with the outside world. A cell phone call to AT&T confirmed that yes, the guys are out there working on the lines and she was not sure how long the repairs would be.

Not too long after that, the phone line came back on, and I happily resumed working. Just now, the phone rang and it was the repairman on the line: “I’m out here working on the lines, and we found the problem. There’s a bullet that has struck the line. We’re working on it right now, and we’ll let you know.”

I hung up the phone and just started laughing. Of course there is a bullet in our phone line.

UPDATE: Daniel, the sweetest phone tech imaginable, just came by to report that they had fixed the lines and all should be running well from here on out. Oh, and he gave me the bullet :).

Outside looking in…

I had a hard time at church yesterday. I was feeling a lot of discomfort and even pain, and the morning had already been an exhausting one by the time we arrived. There were also some other barriers to my ability to enter into worship, and I found myself standing in the back, behind where the chairs are set up, leaning against the hospitality table.

At one point, a friend walked over and leaned up against the table beside me and asked if I was okay. “No,’ I said plainly, knowing that I am a useless liar. My friend quietly slipped his arm around my shoulders, and with that simple grace of touch came tears that quickly overran my eyes and flowed down my cheeks. My friend stood there beside me, and later his wife and son joined him, and they stood with me in my distance. They did not try to hustle me into a seat; they did not leave after a quick hug. They simply made a place for themselves beside me.

As the sermon was starting, I found myself able to move forward into the chairs, and join the rest of the congregation in our worship.

I later thought about my friends’ actions, and I realized that they demonstrated something we so often fail at in the church. We are so quick to hustle people into our pews or chairs and we too often lack the patience or will or the compassion to simply join people where they are, be it in their suffering or their disbelief. There are many reasons why a person may choose to stand off at a distance. Perhaps, like me, they want to participate but find themselves blocked by something outside of their control.

During the service I thought about packing up the kids and just leaving. The thing that stopped me? Two friends who didn’t force me in but who were willing to take themselves out for my sake.

Holy Week

Our first year living here, there was a homicide on our street on Easter Sunday. I remember sitting on our little second story porch watching detectives work the crime scene, and the coroner arrive to remove the body. The victim was shot and killed while sitting in his car, and no one we spoke with knew anything about who he was or why the killing had occurred. The police theorized that it was a drug deal gone bad, but no one really knew for sure. I still remember how jarring it felt: we had just spent a delightful day in nice clothes, eating nice food with family and friends after celebrating the resurrection together. And we came home to police tape, a street filled with cruisers, and that horrible sight of the coroner’s truck.

This year, we spent the late afternoon on Good Friday dealing with a crime scene in that exact place at the end of our street. Phone calls to 911, conversations with dispatch and the officers, and the burden of witnessing something alarming made for a sober ending to that day.

I was struck by the way that death and violence happen on both Good Friday and Easter. As much as the resurrection completely turns the world upside down, the realities of life on the other side can at times bear such a limited witness to the victory we celebrate and claim. We do not live in times and places of less suffering or of emasculated evil. I guess Tony Campolo gets it right when he preaches: “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming.”

What’s in your dish rack?

My mom brought down a beautiful china tea set for Mercy when she was here a few weeks ago, and Mercy’s tea parties are now a daily highlight. Mercy can fill her tea pot with water, and she is allowed one Girl Scout cookie to have as the “snack”. Or, if it is right after breakfast, I will give her a handful of Kix instead.

After Mercy’s last tea party, Jessie was kind enough to do the soggy-Kix clean-up. I walked into the kitchen later that morning to get a glass and saw this:

steves-head.jpg

It turns out that “Steve’s head” was one of the party’s guests, along with an eclectic bunch of animals and dolls. And Mercy had been very generous with the Kix…

Forsaken

This morning I received an email from our Senior Lead Officer about the spike in gang violence this past week. A conflict between the Rolling 20′s (the gang that runs our street and the blocks north of us) and the Rolling 30′s (recently named one of L.A.’s “Top Ten Most Dangerous Gangs”) who control the area just south of us has resulted in a series of shootings. While most of our church was away celebrating the marriage of our good friends on Saturday, there were seven shootings in our immediate area. Just today on our way to the library, we passed the street shrine from one of those killings. The victim was nineteen.

When I lived and ministered in Chicago, my kids would always let me know when gang wars erupted, and why. Too often they would claim the life of someone’s brother or cousin or girlfriend, and I remember struggling when I was a student with the way life on our campus would simply go on. There was one particularly painful week when five young people were shot and killed. Each of them was someone connected with one of my kids, and that was the first time I really, authentically wrestled with God.

It was also one of the first times I really burned with anger at the casual indifference or chosen ignorance of my “Christian” peers and our institution as a whole. The front page of our student newspaper screamed: “Five murders within blocks of campus” and the article that followed detailed the precautions we should take for our own safety. There was absolutely nothing in the article, not even a hint, that spoke to the fact that the children who called us neighbor were dying, or that our response should be anything more than choosing different streets to use when we walked to the El.

I struggle with that very thing today. My day has consisted of a delightful trip to the library with friends, making plans for dinner with a couple who will soon be getting married, and reading new books with my kids. Is there anything about my life that has changed as a result of these deaths? As we prepare to follow the path of Jesus this week, the path leading to humiliation and death, I marvel at how easily my life can remain sanitized from the pain of the “little ones” Jesus would commend to my care. As our church rehearses choirs and special music and coordinates flowers, I wonder how we are being called this week to live as crucifixion, resurrection people?

In the world

Yesterday we went to the little park by our house. Mercy’s God-sister, Jessica, is here with us helping out for the week, and it was great to have the ability to get out of the house and to go outside and play. When we arrived at the park, we were greeted by the noise of four young boys playing by the basketball court. This park is not heavily used and we are often there by ourselves, so it is always nice when there are other kids there playing. However, as we got near both Jessica and I were taken aback by the language of these boys. The sheer number of times the F-word was used in every sentence, often at shouting volume, was staggering. These boys were not old: maybe fourth grade?

I told the kids we had to stay at the play structure near the entrance. Mercy is definitely at the place where she repeats and mimics what she hears, and I honestly did not want that word to go into her vocabulary. Jessie and I continued to listen to the barrage of F-this and F-you and F-that, and it was so bad it actually made us cringe. I thought about going over to talk to them, and I probably should have; instead, I chose to keep us at as much of a distance as the small park afforded.

Jessie and I were talking about how, as parents, there is every instinct and desire to protect your young ones from the cruelties and vulgarities of life and the world around them. And parents do have a significant amount of control in what exposure kids receive. There are of course limits to this, as I recently saw when a three-year-old I know repeated a horrible phrase that no one has any idea where or how he could have heard.

There was a part of me that thought about just leaving the park. And that made me think about how I will handle my kids’ exposure to things in general, especially as they get older. And I know parents who have taken the strategy of total protection: keeping kids as completely free from any influence or relationship or kind of people that does not affirm or represent their values. While not the motivation for everyone, this can be a driving force in decisions about housing, public schools, homeschooling, Christian colleges, etc.

Which made me think: is it better for Mercy and Aaron to never hear the F-word, or for them to hear it and know how Doug and I and the other adults in their life feel about using that kind of language, and how we respond when people around us choose to do so? It is that balance between protecting and equipping, and so often I see Christians clinging fiercely to the former and failing miserably at the latter. I want desperately to preserve my kids’ childhood and the innocence that it should afford. I mourn the ways I see kids growing up so fast now: just take a walk through the girl’s clothing section in Target or Macy’s and you will see what I mean! And I do protect them from many things that their young eyes and ears should not have to see or hear. Sitting at the park yesterday helped me realize that I am only beginning to taste how complex this journey will be.

You can take the girl out of the Pacific Northwest…

Mercy and I went to a wedding on Saturday. Doug was there too but since he was doing the music, Mercy and I were on our own until the end of the ceremony. It was outdoors (as so many Southern California weddings are, of course) in a beautiful setting filled with flowers and fountains. I was pretty hopeful that I might actually be able to participate in a bulk of the ceremony due to the large number of appealing distractions available to my daughter.

She wore the sweet little Easter dress my mom had given to her, and we were probably there for five minutes (we lasted about three minutes in our chairs) before she found a little sprinkler head in the back that was filled with some pooled water where she could shove a bunch of dirt and leaves and stir with a stick: “I’m making soup!” she told me. I hadn’t seen that there was water inside it, and it wasn’t too long before she had wiped now muddy hands down the front of her dress. I found a drinking fountain for us to use to wash her hands (all of this during the processional), and her captivation with “Princess Sarah” the bride lasted about thirty seconds. The leaves and rocks in a nearby flowerbed, however, proved much more intriguing. In a matter of minutes we were back to the drinking fountain for another hand wash.

As we passed the back row, I noticed another mom (pregnant like myself) with a little girl about Mercy’s age seated quietly in a chair next to her. That girl looked impeccable, and nothing about that changed for the duration of the ceremony (unlike my little wood nymph). I have often marveled at these girls who sit sweetly and quietly through church services, funerals or weddings. Or little girls whose dresses and shoes and hair ribbons always remain in place. That has never been my little girl. She will find dirt and water in ANY kind of environment, and immerse herself in both. I suppose this is mostly our fault. We have always allowed her to get dirty when she plays. In fact, when Lauren first started babysitting for us I would send them out the door to the park or our driveway or wherever with this admonition: “Bring her back dirty!”

Later during the reception, Mercy could be soon making snow angels on the dance floor, and gathering flower petals and seed pods and bringing them to our table. Kind friends took turns walking and dancing and chasing her, and she had an absolute ball.

But I’m not sure that dress will be wearable for Easter…sorry Mom!