I remember it was Easter Sunday our first year living here when we experienced our first homicide on our street. I remember standing on our front porch watching while the area was taped off and and the LAPD worked the scene. I remember watching the coroner’s van arrive to take away the body of the man who had been shot and killed while sitting in his car. I remember what a sober ending it was to our day of celebration.
It has been a tense week here in the neighborhood. The graffiti is shouting war right now, and the heavy presence of police helicopters, sirens, and occasional gunfire confirm it. Early in the week Doug was working hard on a final project for his class at Fuller, and as he sat typing, we watched and listened while a helicopter painted an area a few blocks from us for close to two hours, and every manner of law enforcement vehicle, some we had never seen before, flew down Jefferson with lights and sirens blazing. “We have the area surrounded” a voice declared over a loudspeaker about an hour into the ordeal.
We had the joy of spending the day today with a very dear friend of mine from Chicago. Annabeth was a young girl who lived a few blocks from North Park’s campus and who became like a sister to me during my years there. She witnessed much during her childhood, and we were companions through the loss of one of her best friends, a young man I loved dearly, who was murdered: shot at close range while sitting in his parked car.
Tonight Annabeth and I shared memories of Jamar, and talked about even recently ways that we have grieved his death. Mine was catching a brief movie clip last week on Oprah of a funeral procession winding through a manicured cemetery: alone, I started to weep uncontrollably. For me, it was our arrival at the cemetery to bury Jamar’s body that had pierced me with the finality of his death. After the burial, I remember standing in a sea of an almost surreal green, being held up by Jamar’s best friend and crying louder than I knew was possible. I remember wondering if I would ever catch my breath.
This morning Doug offered an invocation where he shared a story about Aaron. This past week, Aaron was sitting at the dining room table when out of the blue he declared: “I love God…God is a train.” Doug shared how, for Aaron, he wasn’t as much describing God’s being as he was ascribing worth and delight. For Aaron, a train is the most majestic thing he knows. Doug commented that Aaron was doing what we all do when we seek to describe what God is through our always limited understanding.
And then Doug told the story of Mercy accidentally painting a cross on her paper this week, and how horrified she was when I pointed it out. And he contrasted Aaron’s desire to ascribe to God that thing of greatest value and glory that our imaginations can muster with the thing that God chose to ascribe to himself: the cross…something which makes us recoil in disgust.
Tonight I find myself considering the darkness around me, past and present, and desperately clinging to that crucified God. Tonight I find myself longing to touch the hem of that kind of love. Tonight I find my spirit remembering words sung with awe this morning:
Of all the songs sung from the dawn of creation
Some were meant to persist
Of all the bells rung from a thousand steeples
None rings truer than this…
It’s all God’s children singin’
Glory, glory, hallelujah,
And all the powers of darkness
Tremble at what they’ve just heard
Cause all the powers of darkness
Can’t drown out a single word.