A cry for renewal

Last Thursday, one of our very close friends here was robbed on the street. She has a baby the same age as Elijah and she was pushing him along in his stroller when two men ran up from behind and grabbed her purse off her arm, tipping the stroller over in the process. Thankfully, baby was strapped in and was not harmed. My sister was with her, pushing my two nephews in their stroller. Thankfully, my sister wasn’t touched and it was a grace that the boys slept through the entire attack.

When I got the call from my sister, my heart raced in that mix of terror at what had happened and relief that they were all okay. Tears stung my eyes as my heart felt all over again the violation of being attacked. There can be a temptation in circumstances like this to brush it off almost because everyone was okay and the crime itself wasn’t major. But I know that the pain of being attacked is more than the actual physical pain of bruises or cuts.

The thing I cannot shake is this: these women were pushing strollers with babies in them. I confess I have often told myself that I am safe out and about when I have my little ones all around me. Because what kind of monster attacks a mother carrying her children? But last week reminded me that crimes of desperation are just that: desperate. And while I never walk around with a purse in general, I am already thinking about how I will behave differently when I am out walking with my babies.

It is interesting to have my different false clams to security dissolve here. Like the realization that living on the second floor doesn’t mean that bullets can’t enter. Or now that pushing a stroller with a baby in it is not a reason for someone not to attack.

The other night, Doug and I were almost asleep when our apartment was filled with the sound of angry screaming coming from the street. It was around midnight, and we ignored it at first until the tone and language became so clearly violent. As we peered through our blinds, we saw a half-dressed young man walking wildly down the street screaming in rage. Another young man walked with him, and a cluster of young women walked at a distance behind them.

“You’ve never had your mom tell you you ain’t sh–. You’ve never had your dad wish you were dead.” And he went on, screaming through tears and punching the air.

“We’re in the middle of the street. You need to be quiet. Someone around here will call the cops,” one of the girls said, gently.

“Fu– them. Fu– the cops. They can come. I don’t care. They can kill me. I don’t care…”

My heart broke for that boy that night. I’m not sure how old he was, but he seemed so vulnerable. A child desperately wanting his mother and father’s love. A child who knew too well the language of despair. I remember the many conversations I had with young men in Chicago who genuinely doubted that they would live to see their eighteenth year. And I remember around the time of Jamar’s funeral finding out how many of them did not. This boy seemed to hold his life loosely in that same way: “I don’t care.” “It doesn’t matter.” “Fu– ’em.”

There is so much that makes the system here what it is. And while I can point to all the great ways we are involved in the community; while I reflect on our afternoon spent swimming next door with a family whose son has been in and out of the juvenile system; while I consider the light that is our neighbor Elliot who is unflinching in his love for the youth of our street, I still struggle to not despair.

Just yesterday I was reading Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places where Eugene Peterson writes that creation is not something that God did in Genesis, but rather the thing that God keeps doing in our midst: “it is not confined to what the Spirit did; it is what the Spirit does.”. He makes the point that the verb to create is used more times in Isaiah’s preaching to God’s people in exile than in the whole creation narrative: “The Spirit of God created life out of nothing in the Babylon of the sixth century B.C. just as he had done in the formless void when the ‘darkness was upon the face of the deep’.”

Hollowness. Darkness. Chaos. These words can describe our community, a community than can feel almost exilic. And when I think of my friend watching her baby tipped over in front of her; when I hear the cries of a youth’s broken life; when I consider the addictions and desperation that fuel gang wars and rapes and robberies, I can only drop to my knees and cry out for a new creation.

In our worship service on Sunday, Doug led us in a song based on Habakuk 3:2. We sang:

I have heard of your fame and I stand in awe of your deeds

I have heard of your fame and I stand in awe of your deeds

Oh Lord.

Renew them, renew them
In our day, and in our time, make them known

Renew them, renew them
In our day, and in our time, make them known

In wrath…remember Mercy

In wrath…remember Mercy.”

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