Tonight we gathered for a meal and then a prayer service at Imago Dei Church. The meal was a typical potluck meal, which worked out quite well. And then, we all headed off to the chapel for prayer. We were all a little late, but whatever, right? We were going to have our prayer service.
Except we couldn’t. Because it was occupied.
Looking in the windows in the doors, we could see two members of the Imago prayer team praying with someone.
So they moved the prayer service. You know, because the chapel was being used to pray.
It turns out that the man they were praying with lives across the street from the church. In fact, Crystal actually saw him this morning when she was at the church for Bible study and prayed for him. Apparently his need drove him to come seek help. And he found love and care, and he was ushered into the presence of the Father in prayer.
That’s tremendous. That’s wonderful. That’s a worthy reason to move the prayer service.
And it made me glad to be part of a church that has been positioned to be able to be available to the lost and needy, like our neighbor.
Hi, SEO guys! How’s it going?
This is one of those thoughts that has been kicking around in my head for a while that hopefully won’t get me in trouble.
So, since I was exposed to Christian hip-hop recently, I’ve been thinking about hip-hop culture. Folks like Lecrae, Trip Lee, or Thi’sl are always decrying the state of the black community, especially the glorification of sin that is a part of hip-hop culture. Just think about the stereotypical rap video: barely-dressed women draped over some rapper who is dripping with gold chains and giant jewelry, maybe driving down the street in a car with shiny rims, maybe smoking a joint or drinking from a champagne bottle. (Now, perhaps I’m a bit out of touch with the current scene, though, honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to go poking around too much for music videos to illustrate my point.)
And so, we look at this sort of thing and shake our heads in disgust. The filth! The depravity! The degradation of women! And, yeah, it’s all true.
Ah yes, the hip-hop dream: money, sex, and power, all on display. But then I ask myself, “How is this really different than rest of America?” Look at the mainstream culture. Think about the movies, the music, the magazines. Maybe the skin color is lighter, but aren’t there the same trends? Barely-dressed women, offering themselves? Fast cars? Pompous displays of wealth and power?
When you stop and think about it, we’re all chasing the same paper and lusting after the same things. Hip-hop culture is just more honest about it. (Well, it’s also gaudier in its pursuit, but that’s not really relevant.)
So, once again, the problem isn’t race or class or wealth. The problem is sin. And the answer, for both black and white, rich or poor, is repentance and faith in Jesus.
I’ve heard the sentiment from various quarters that living in the city is bad for Christians, because of all the corruption.
My reply: Christians are supposed to be the salt of the earth, right? That’s salt as a preservative, which prevents rotting. In other words, we’re supposed to be around corruption. It’s part of our job.
“Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.” (Augustine of Hippo)
I wrote this for the Spring 2009 issue of our neighborhood newsletter, but I wanted to share it with those of you who are outside the circulating area of that newsletter.
I remember being poor. I remember trying to provide for a growing family on a meager income. I remember going over our budget with a man from our church who stared at us incredulously, amazed that we were getting by on so little.
I remember being on food stamps. I remember how my wife dreaded going to the assistance office for the next dole. She would make sure that her wedding band was prominent, like a talisman against the disapproving glares. She wished that she could just yell, “I was married before I had these children!” But it wouldn’t matter. The steady stream of supplicants were despised by the case-workers. And so, each month, Crystal would swallow her pride and endure their scorn and condescension so that we could afford to eat another month.
And I remember one night when Crystal came home from the grocery store with a tale to tell. The Hispanic couple in front of her in the checkout line were struggling with their food stamp card. Their PIN wasn’t working, so they couldn’t buy their food. Eventually, they had to leave their shopping order and walk away. It broke my wife’s heart. She wished that she could have just stepped up and bought them those groceries. But we were sinking into financial morass ourselves, and all she could do was watch.
Much time has passed since those days. A friend rescued us from the tyranny of the assistance office and helped us dig ourselves out of the debt that we racked up trying to climb out of poverty ourselves. Now I have a good job, making decent money. We’re out of debt and feeding our family, which has continued to grow.
But I remember being poor.
In our society, it seems that the poor are treated either as a plague that must be eradicated or a social ill that must be addressed by some philosophical position or government program. But all these responses hold the poor at arm’s length. Everyone talks about the poor as a group, but few talk about specific people. Everyone talks about helping the poor, but few talk about loving the poor.
I want to love the poor. I want to help provide for their needs as best I can. I want to be the warm embrace, the stern word given in love, the shoulder to cry on when it’s just too hard. And I want to be
the protest and outcry, the public conscience that speaks for those who are powerless and will not be heard.
But it is not enough to live in some upscale neighborhood and occasionally descend from the mountaintop, deigning to bless the underclass with my presence. That would be condescending and
insulting. Instead, I look to the example that Jesus set. The Apostle Paul talks about the love of Jesus in these terms: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) If Jesus loved me like this, shouldn’t I love those around me in the same way?
And that is why I live here.
Billy is correct:
And frankly, I think it’s time for the city council to reconsider what exactly qualifies a neighborhood organization as the go-to people to speak for a neighborhood. For example, the RRRI allows renters to sit in on meetings, but doesn’t allow them to join and vote.I’m pretty sure that the many-long time renters who live in my building and in neighboring buildings have rights and are affected by the Methodist expansion too. Renters pay property taxes — it’s part of their rent.
But I was really surprised to see this from the comments:
But yeah… do any neighborhood associations really represent their neighborhoods? The utter lack of participation in support of these organizations is alarming. It’s a classic little red hen story… the poor hen making her bread and no one helps her. But they sure as hell complain when it something affects them in a way that matters to them. Here in the uplands only about a couple dozen people (out of 375 or so households) are involved in any tangible way with the neighborhood association. It is frustrating.
That was really surprising to me. I’ve always had the impression that Uplands really had their act together in terms of organization and participation. If a solid association like Uplands only has a “couple dozen people” participating, then what about the less organized ones?
In light of all this, I have to ask: is the neighborhood association concept really the best way for the city to reach its citizens?
Hey, Barb! I still owe you a response to your question about Traffic and Crash and The Wire. Been a bit busy. However, I think that I have additional experience now to tack on to whatever answer I finally develop.
For those of you who don’t know, last Saturday, while Crystal and I were driving home from Erie (you know, after her mother died and all that particular joy), we were robbed. We stopped in Indianapolis at a Cracker Barrel and, while we were eating inside, parties unknown smashed one of the car windows and stole a bunch of stuff from the back seat.
So, I’m heading out to the car, while Crystal is, uh, attending to some business inside. I see a police car parked near our car. I’m thinking, “Oh no. What’s going on? We haven’t done anything wrong. It’s a rental car….” And so on and so forth. But I continue to walk the car.
Then I see the woman sitting in the passenger seat of the police car. This is a bit unusual. Normally, if you’re busted, you’re in the back of the car. Then I see her car and the shattered glass. Now I understand! She’s filing a report, and the police officer let her sit in the car, where it’s not quite so cold.
My heart goes out to the poor woman. “That’s terrible,” I think. “I can only imagine what that would feel like.”
And then I see our car, window similarly smashed.
Even then, it takes me a moment to realize that stuff is missing from the back seat.
I’m really surprised at how matter-of-fact I felt about it all. At least right then.
The rest of the scenario played out about how you’d expect. We talked to the police officer and filed a report of our own. The other woman, who actually works at the restaurant, ran back inside to check the security camera tapes. No dice; our cars were both conveniently in a dead zone of coverage. We canvassed the area a bit, hoping that the thieves had stashed our stuff somewhere to come back for it. Nope.
All of it was gone.
My laptop was gone. Among other things, it held my gaming archive, including various playtest versions of games, hard-to-find character sheets (like the sheets for The Mountain Witch). It also included notes for various games-in-progress, as well as my manuscript for Showdown.
My backups were on external hard drives, in case of hardware failure. They were in the laptop bag.
Those of you who have met me know that I carry a large black bag. I’ve done this ever since college. My bag is my toolkit for life. If I think that I might need something, I carry it in there. So, on our trip, my bag contained the following:
–my brand-new ESV Study Bible
–copies of each of my games (including my personal copy of Junk)
–my copies of Breaking the Ice and Shooting the Moon, each autographed by Emily Care Boss
–the game Hive, including the Mosquito expansion
–the book I was currently reading (Homicide by David Simon)
–the book I had finished reading (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
–my PDA charger
–my phone charger
–several decks of cards
–a digital recorder
–a green plastic alien who dangled from one of the zippers, which had been a present from my sister Elizabeth
And more, of course.
My bag is an extension of myself, almost a portable sanctum.
The list goes on. Crystal’s dad had given her a couple pieces of jewelry that her mom had bought before she died. They were in another bag in the back seat, which was taken.
Several of my CDs, including one on loan from Raquel.
Gone. Gone. Gone.
They didn’t take everything, thank God. But they made out…well, they made out like bandits.
And somewhere in there, my emotions caught up with me. And, besides the anger and the sadness, there was this feeling of being offended. What had I done to these people that they treat me like this?
And then I felt violated. This was more than just my sense of security being shattered, though that’s certainly true. Rather, I felt attacked. These are things that I carry close to me, and they had been suddenly stripped from me. Violence had touched me, leaving me feeling exposed to the cold dark world.
I really needed that laptop to do work this week. Instead, I’m trying to do time-sensitive work while configuring a new computer. That’s frustrating.
I’m so used to carrying my bag everywhere that the lack of it is a constant reminder of what happened and what I lost. Crystal encouraged me to start putting together another bag, which I’ve done. But, it’s not really ready yet. And I’ll never be able to replace that green dangly alien.
And here I am, writing this, and I’m actually starting to cry over a silly plastic alien.
But it was special. It meant something to me. It was mine.
And someone stole it away from me. Just like that. Stole it and probably threw it away, because it wasn’t actually worth any money. Or worse, dangling from someone’s key ring as a trophy of that amazing smash-and-grab where they scored big.
If you have to be a victim of a crime, I guess this is the best kind. Neither Crystal or I were hurt. In fact, neither of us were physically threatened in any way. I mean, I’ve been reading Homicide, right? Those victims don’t get to walk away. So, I’m thankful to God for that.
And yet, we both are still feeling violated and hurt. And, honestly, there’s nothing to do except try to move on from here and say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” And, by God’s grace, that’s what we shall do.
But, I suppose, I have also gained something. I have gained an immediate understanding of what it feels like to be a victim of crime. And, if nothing else, I will be better able to empathize with others who have been similarly victimized. And, perhaps, I will be better equipped to help stop others from being victimized, too.
And, lest anyone is concerned, yes, I still plan on making and playing crime games. I mean, after an experience like this, how could I stop?
Hello, my loyal readers. Today I will tell you a small tale about the glory of God.
This afternoon, I went out to the alley to collect my trash cans. As I normally do, I looked into the trash cans to see what was sloshing around in them. Given that we’ve just had a fairly intense ice storm, it seemed like a reasonable thing to do.
In one of the trash cans was a purse.
I looked at it for a moment. It seemed like an odd thing to be in my trash can. But maybe we were throwing away a purse that had been a toy. But I’ve been trying to train myself to pay attention to small things. So I fished it out of the trash can. It was so soaked with water that it was dripping everywhere. I poked around at the contents.
It was someone’s purse.
Among other things, the purse included photo ID and a piece of official correspondence. So, I had a name and address. Patty (not her real name) from a South Side address.
We couldn’t find a phone number, so we drove down to the place indicated on the ID. It was actually just on the edge of where Downtown and South Side meet.
She wasn’t there. The address was a group home where her mother lived. But one of the women on staff said that she was normally through several times a week. We were all concerned, because no one had seen Patty for a few days. Eventually, I left the purse and my phone number.
And that would be that, I figured.
Except it wasn’t.
This evening, Patty called. She was overjoyed that her purse had found its way back to her. She said that she had been shopping at Campustown and someone stole it from the car. She thought that she’d never see it again.
I know that this might look like a story about a virtuous citizen helping another person. But that’s not what I see.
I see the glory of God. I see my amazing Father bringing healing to my hurting city. Sure, it was a small thing. But, to Patty, it was a big thing. Tonight, she experienced a little of the rescue and redemption of the Father of lights.
And I was there to see it.
I didn’t think that I’d get to see the end of this story. But I did. It was encouraging. I got to see the hand of God at work.
It was good.
Lord God, John Knox once prayed, “Give me Scotland or I die.” I confess that my vision is not as broad as his. But Lord…give me Peoria. Give me the South Side. Give me the Near North Side and Downtown and Bradley University and Renaissance Park. Give me the poor and the broken. Give me the prostitutes and the johns, the crack addicts and the drug dealers, the abused children and their abusers, the poor and the rich. Give me the broken of our city, the discarded detritus of our society, and build from them a temple for Your name.
And with it, Lord, give me an open and willing heart. Give me the love and compassion to reach out once again to the hurting who lash out. Give me the hospitality to open my home to the dirty and inconvenient. Give me the willingness to sacrifice my comfort, my sanity, and my privacy for the sake of those you send my way. Make me the kind of man that I need to be to carry out this mission.
Lord, I walk the streets and alleys of my city, and I see a people who desperately need You. Do not be far off.
Give me Peoria, Lord, or I die.
I just finished reading Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War, the first book in his Kenzie/Gennaro detective series. As a point of reference, Book Four is Gone Baby Gone, which was recently made into an outstanding film. (I discuss the film with spoilers here.)
This is an unformed thought, but here goes.
So, this book is part of a stream of crime fiction that I’m finding I really appreciate. To wit, it’s social critique in fiction form. The Wire would be another example of this. (Fun fact: Dennis Lehane wrote several episodes of The Wire.) Specifically, it’s a form of crime fiction dealing with issues that counselors and social workers would have to address. In many ways, it seems comparable to the Spy vs. Guy espionage fiction written by John le CarrÃ© and others, as both are actually about addressing social and political ills through genre fiction.
And all this makes me think about an aptitude test that I took way back in high school. This was one of those tests that you take to help you figure out what you want to be when you grow up. At the time, I knew what I was going to be: a computer programmer. Duh.
So, imagine my surprise when “social work” came back at the top of my list.
That’s stuck with me over the years.
But, as I’ve gotten older, it has started to make more sense. That’s really where my heart is: with hurting, violated, abused people who need to be rescued from their sins. Hurting people who hurt people. That’s how I see my calling.
So I guess that my interacting with crime fiction makes sense. It’s preparation to interact with the people that I really want to help. Maybe that’s why it feels so much like coming home.
Hooray! Peoria made the national news!
Illinois Police Pepper Spray Crowd Mourning 4-Month-Old Baby
Honestly, this looks like a mild rewrite of an article from our very own Peoria Journal-Star.
Baby found dead in Peoria home; police fire pepper balls on crowd
Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?
Now, one of my co-workers is a member of the Tazewell County Auxiliary Police, and when this story was passed around the office, he was a bit put out. He pointed out that it is the job of the coroner to take the body of the deceased. It’s also the job of the police to secure a crime scene. For the record, an area where an infant died suddenly counts as a crime scene. Finally, he noted that it is normal procedure to give multiple warnings before using pepper spray.
Here’s an excerpt from the Journal-Star story:
“A bunch of family and friends came and were refusing to let the officers out with the baby,” said Lt. Marshall Dunnigan. “We had to use great force to get the coroner out with the baby.”
So, hang on a sec. There was a crowd of people attempting to interfere with the police doing their proper duty, and so the police eventually responded to protect the coroner and enforce the law? Why is this a problem?
But even the Journal-Star story sounds like the police overreacted, not to mention the Associated Press story that Fox News ran.
Another co-worker put his finger on this issue:
The problem lies in the use of the word “mourners.” That automatically puts the police in a bad light, implying they used force on people who were in emotional distress. It was a crowd gathered at the house that threatened to turn into a mob by interfering with police. Mourners are usually found at funerals, visitations, grave sites, etc., not congregating at a possible crime scene. It shows us how one eight-letter word can skew the perception of an event.
And that’s it right there. Let me reword the lead sentence of that news article by making a slight adjustment:
Police officers fired pepper balls into a
group of mourners mob gathering at the house of a 4-month-old girl who died in her South Peoria home Wednesday.
Makes a big difference, doesn’t it?
Or, as an alternate example, check out how I tweak this headline:
use pepper balls to break up mob of about 100 people fire pepper balls at group of children
Use of force by the police always draws a lot of scrutiny, and that is certainly a good thing. I’m fairly confident that the entire situation will be reviewed and investigated as necessary internally; moreover, it’s good for the police to be accountable to the public at large. At the same time, we all need to be careful of the opinions that we form as a result of our interactions with the media. Just a single word or phrase can change all our opinions and reactions.
Learn to read between the lines.
First, check out this video of David Simon, creator of The Wire, talking about Baltimore. Here’s a salient quote:
“Some of the smallest, gentlest moments I’ve ever experienced have been being a bystander to how people relate to this city and to each other as Baltimoreans. The trick is to tell the stories [on the Wire] with enough insider affection and insider angst and insider worry and insider anger that other Baltimoreans recognize that it [The Wire] is something of a love letter. It’s from a conflicted and often frustrated lover, but it’s nonetheless a love letter.”
Replace “Baltimoreans” with whoever you live with. Yeah, that’s how I think Dirty Secrets ought to be played.
As I worked on designing Dirty Secrets, I found myself developing this same affection for Peoria. Yeah, I learned all kinds of badness about my city, and I’m still learning more. But, at the same time, it’s my city…the place that I love. This same sense drives my political critiques and all that. I love where I live, warts and all.
So I hope that some of the players of Dirty Secrets would develop a similar feeling about where they live. I guess we will see.
“In that regard, Bob Brown is what every police official and neighborhood association claims as the solution to the trouble in their streets. He is every bit the old-time beat cop, the retrograde image of walk-the-footpost, know-the-people policing. Get the cops out of the radio cars, runs the latest theory, and you begin to get them back into the neighborhoods. Get the out walking their real estate, and they’ll start to reconnect with the people, learn the neighborhood, prevent crime. Community-oriented policing has become the watchword of the nineties in law enforcement. Houston, New York, Washington, Detroit–everyone is nostalgic for foot patrols and grassroots policing and whatever the hell else kep the streets safe in 1950. That Bob Brown knows his post from one end to the other, that he can recite most of the players and their deeds by name, that he has fought for the same terrain for two decades–all of it seems the textbook model of what the visionaries in law enforcement are promoting. That there are already Bob Browns on the streets, that for all their will and desire and knowledge, they have lost their private wars in hardcore places like West Baltimore–that is somehow beside the point.”
–The Corner, David Simon and Ed Burns, p. 152
I came across this on CNN.com:
Is America’s suburban dream collapsing into a nightmare?
Instead, they are looking for what Leinberger calls “walkable urbanism” — both small communities and big cities characterized by efficient mass transit systems and high density developments enabling residents to walk virtually everywhere for everything — from home to work to restaurants to movie theaters.
The so-called New Urbanism movement emerged in the mid-90s and has been steadily gaining momentum, especially with rising energy costs, environmental concerns and health problems associated with what Leinberger calls “drivable suburbanism” — a low-density built environment plan that emerged around the end of the World War II and has been the dominant design in the U.S. ever since.
Yep. We’ve been seeing some of this happening here in Peoria, too. And, generally, I happen to think that this is a positive trend. There’s something a little too sterile about suburban living, or at least the way that we’ve practiced it here in America.
However, this comes with its own price:
Yet Nelson also estimates that in 2025 there will be a surplus of 22 million large-lot homes that will not be left vacant in a suburban wasteland but instead occupied by lower classes who have been driven out of their once affordable inner-city apartments and houses.
The so-called McMansion, he said, will become the new multi-family home for the poor.
“What is going to happen is lower and lower-middle income families squeezed out of downtown and glamorous suburban locations are going to be pushed economically into these McMansions at the suburban fringe,” said Nelson. “There will probably be 10 people living in one house.”
In Shaun Yandell’s neighborhood, this has already started to happen. Houses once filled with single families are now rented out by low-income tenants. Yandell speculates that they’re coming from nearby Sacramento, where the downtown is undergoing substantial gentrification, or perhaps from some other area where prices have gotten too high. He isn’t really sure.
So, yeah, what about them poor folk that used to live in the urban cores? Where are they going to live?
We’re seeing some of that here, too. My neighborhood is poised to be a part of the ongoing urban renewal in Peoria, which means that real estate prices in University East are pretty high, compared to what they were just a few years ago. This is going to make it more difficult for working-class families to be able to live here.
Sure, this is really just a mirror development of the previous migration of the poor to the urban cores. However, there’s at least one significant difference. The urban centers actually had generally well-built buildings. For example, my home started its existence as a single-family dwelling, was divided up into three separate apartments, and then was returned to being a single-family dwelling by the time that we bought it. It’s a solidly constructed house.
The McMansions of the suburbs, though, are not so well built. The quality of materials and construction simply isn’t as good as the older homes. As the working class moves into the suburbs, are they also going to be trapped in rapidly decaying buildings?
And where will they work? If you live in town, at least you can use mass transit or hoof it yourself. If you’re out in the ‘burbs, your options are limited. After all, the suburbs only work as long as those who live there have automobiles.
Now, I say this as one who really enjoys the thought of living in the proposed Renaissance Park area. My idea of a good night is hanging out at One World Eats or Water Street Wines, Cafe and Coffee on the riverfront, both of which are the results of the sort of urban renewal that we’re talking about. Personally, I like the idea of living in a bustling urban area, filled with arts and music and coffee houses and restaurants, all within walking distance of my house. That sounds fantastic!
And yet, I have to raise the question: who are we displacing? Are we forcing the working poor into another migration, simply because we want to have our beautiful urban centers?
Or is there another way?
These are real questions. I don’t have answers. But I think that the time is rapidly approaching where we need to begin thinking about how to answer them.
“A large city cannot be experientially known; its life is too manifold for any individual to be able to participate in it.”–Aldous Huxley