My neighborhood meeting last night disturbed me, and I sat on my front step this morning and prayed a lot and cried a little over it. Crime is up in our neighborhood and city. One man has had his house broken into twice in the last year, his car broken into twice, too. Wrong. Bad. Air conditioning units are being destroyed left and right for the copper. Four houses/buildings (all vacant) across from me have had their units destroyed. The church fellowship hall in which we sat was uncomfortably warm because they were hit by the copper thieves the other day.
Police were on hand to exchange information, defend and explain their work, listen sympathetically. Anger escalated with each account of being victimized and afraid and pretty soon, the question that always gets asked at this moment was asked of the officers:
“What’s the law about me protecting my property? Can I shoot someone?” and we began to smile and laugh in our discomfort, in our relief at the thought of taking control, fighting back. Some murmured “shoot to disable,” others “shoot to kill.”
We talked of absentee landlords, too, a problem on my block that leads to bigger problems from vandalism to falling property values to rats (the worst of the three in my mind!). And how landlords rent to convicted sex offenders and other felons. Not good. But I asked myself, for Christ’s sake, where is mercy for these offenders? Are they to be denied a place to lay their heads? Denied a fresh start? Do I want to live next door to a sex offender? Not particularly. But I ask, for Christ’s sake…
In broad daylight in Chicago c. 1967 I was attacked, rape was attempted, and my purse stolen. The perpetrator had my address and the keys to my apartment. I’m pretty sure he tried to get in before the locks were changed but was stopped by the safety chain. Which is to say I know fear and violation and outrage. But still I ask, what is the best response, for Christ’s sake? WWJD? Seriously, what would he do? What did he do? What has he told us, time and again in the Scriptures, to do? Be not afraid. Trust in God. Show mercy.
Like Renee Splichal Larson said in her sermon just now at the churchwide assembly of my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America /ELCA (I attended the closing communion service virtually), “I just can’t get my mind around how different the world’s idea of justice is from God’s justice.” She said something close to that, and my head was spinning with that same confusion in the meeting last night, when we were laughing about killing someone. We are good, decent people, not killers, and yet we laughed at the prospect, even the satisfaction, of ending another human life. Pastor Larson’s passionate sermon was precisely relevant to our community meeting and to living out God’s justice even when it’s hard and risky. But last night, I felt alone sitting on my molded plastic chair in that hall, and I felt weak that I could not speak for mercy and a reasoned approach to the problem, couldn’t seem to live out my convictions at that exact moment, even when I was pretty sure that there would be others who would share my perspective.
In my prayers this morning, I heard words of grace: 1) Stop bemoaning your presumed guilt for not being a super-hero of faith in a complicated situation; you’re not the point, and, more importantly, you’re baptized. Live in grace, for crying out loud. 2) There are always more chances to behold God’s light in the world and witness to it. “Don’t worry what you have to say; don’t worry because on that day, God’s Spirit will speak in your heart…” 3) Call Margaret. So I called my friend Margaret, steeped in the African-American church and that style of preaching so that sanctified, encouraging Bible verses and faith slogans roll off her tongue like honey. She talked me down—or up, actually, as in lifted my spirits, reminded me of what we believe and what God promises. Sweet words, sweet as honey.
I’m not alone at all, I realize once again. Seems strange, now, how often I forget that.
I took communion in front of my computer with the ELCA crowd in assembly. And I prayed for Earlewood, my neighborhood; and for all victims of crime, including crimes of oppression and economic injustice; and for those who would shoot to kill and those who would shoot to disable and those who would rather die than shoot; and for sex offenders and law-breaking citizens, that they might find enough mercy to repent and heal; and for irresponsible landlords, that the same might happen to them.
Whew. I’m better now. Thank you, God.
“Kyrie eleison, on our world and on our way, kryie elieson everyday…”