I got up before the alarm yesterday even though my sleep was fitful and restless. Though it was hard for me to know for sure, I was fairly certain that a series of gunshots had woken me up in the middle of the night, and that what had followed was a series of nightmares about more violence, break-ins, muggings, and deaths, including my own. I won’t lie; despite the victorious tone of the last entry here, I’ve been pretty anxious this past week. Every time I open my door or hear a creak in the floorboards or listen to the mice (or something else) scuttling around, I say another prayer, sing another verse of “God of Angel Armies,” and try to move on.
One of my bookmarked webpages is a running description of violent crime in the city. Of course, today I read about this incident:
Feb. 4, 2013, around 12:52 p.m.: Police responding to reports of a shooting found a 29-year-old man with a gunshot wound to his chest.
Two men wearing all black and masks entered the victim’s home and attempted to steal items. When the victim confronted the suspects, one of them shot him and fled southbound on ______.
This is perhaps 5 blocks away from where I live, and happened to someone the same age as me. Perhaps it could have been me. Perhaps that is why I was so disturbed in my spirit the night before; I have found, more out of necessity than out of a sense of piety, that I have become much more prayerful. I am grateful for that.
As I drove home last night, I was on the phone with my parents trying to describe last week’s incident in a little more detail. I drove down the street and was tempted to park around back, far removed from the scene I was verbally describing. But I am glad to say that I parked in the same spot, got out of the car, and was blessed to see a friendly neighbor. We sat in my kitchen and had a great chat over some popcorn and fresh asian pears I had managed to get over the weekend. I told him how glad I was to have him as a neighbor, and how happy I was to have moved in. And I meant every word.
Every day, I find more and more people who will teach me what it is like to live in the city. Yesterday it was a medical assistant in the office, whom I also ran into at a local convenience store. We talked about the development of the city over the past decade, about the police officer who was shot in the face the day before, about her life growing up with a brother who was shot and paralyzed from the waist down, then later shot again and finally murdered by the same people who didn’t think paralysis was punishment enough. Last week the conversation topic was a 16 year old boy who was shot in the head, murdered in a drive-by shooting for supposedly “snitching.”
I have only been here for half a year, but I can feel my soul beginning to ache from the gravity of perpetual violence. Contrary to popular opinion, it is never something one “just gets used to.” I didn’t understand what this all meant at first, but a good friend of mine, who also lives in the city and works with the children here on a daily basis, wrote this in her blog:
“On half of your paper, use the watercolors to paint something that you are afraid of or makes you angry.
On the other half paint something that gives you hope.”
If given these instructions in a suburban after-school program, I wonder what the response would be. Maybe it would be the same. I don’t know for sure.
But I can tell you the theme for my kids as they shared in front of each other.
Guns and the men that hold the guns.
“Because the people feel like they have so much power when they hold them.”
“Because I don’t want to die before it’s my time.” Answers a third grader.
And what gives you hope?
“Why?” Kiera asks.
“Because he made us and he died for us.”
And I don’t know whether they actually believe it or not. That’s not for me to judge. But I can tell you one thing. I don’t see much use in hoping in anything else. People, the government, religion…it all amounts to nothing in the wake of real tragedy. If Jesus isn’t real. If hope isn’t alive in His resurrection, forgiveness of sin, reconciliation between us and our Father….then, I sure don’t see much hope in anything.
I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to grow up in a place where I feared gunshots. Each day a couple of kids ask me to walk them home. “we’re scared.” “it’s too dark.”
Oh God, I can’t give them anything but You. And I wouldn’t want to. College, education, all of the money in the world, living in the suburbs…it’d all be false security. So, Jesus, above all, I pray that they’ll know You. And yes, Jesus, please protect these little ones. May they find peace in You.
There’s power in Your Name, Lord Jesus. And it’s in that power that I trust my friends. Let me serve where I can serve, wait when I need to wait, trust when I need to trust, be still when I need to be still, suffer when I need to suffer, and help me in my unbelief.
Our next series on violence, specifically gun violence, will feature more stories from her blog (which I really encourage you to read and support! She was the one who introduced me to the inner city and the people I now live with.) In the heated national debate on constitutionality, guns, and violence, there is much talk about liberty, defense, and rights. But there is little talk about the laying down of our entitlements, of redemption through suffering, of the knowledge and exaltation of Jesus Christ. And yet, what else can we hope for in this world of terrors? From where else will we derive our joy?
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3
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