Sunday, April 26, 2009

Violence: A Parable (Part 1)

I have a fairly large back yard, at least for Chicago. We bought our home here on the western edge of Humboldt Park almost five years ago, and when we moved in the yard was about in the worst shape you can imagine. It was barren, with broken glass and bricks and concrete and weeds and sterile soil. Where a pool had once been, there was a large area of sand that was completely devoid of anything living.

Not long after we moved in, I set out to create the Garden of Eden in my back yard, starting with the grass. So my plan was to remove the concrete and paving stones, pull the weeds and bring in some good soil. I bought six yards of dirt from Farmer’s Market up on Elston Avenue – about a dump truck full – and on my vacation that year I roto-tilled the entire back yard, then painstakingly transported the dirt from the pile in the empty lot next to my house to the middle of my yard using a plastic wheelbarrow. When I spread the soil over my back yard, I came to realize that I had only purchased enough to cover the existing dirt by about 2 or 3 inches. Undeterred by such a small detail, I proceeded to plant nearly a hundred dollars of premium grass seed and waited for my yard to transform into a golf course.

So it did. The grass came up beautiful and green, and it looked like I was going to have the yard I had always envisioned – a paradise for my kids to play in and a relaxing landscape for my wife and I to develop our green thumb in.

But then the problems began. Significant areas of grass just couldn’t handle the summer. I had to baby them with extra water, and still they looked like they were from Arizona. The grass just wouldn’t stay thick, and wherever the grass was weak and thin, weeds would pop up. Finally I gave in and bought a bag of Weed-N-Feed from Menard’s and spread the toxic junk all over my yard. Within a week – voila! – Beautiful thick lush grass was taking over again.

Problem solved.

Well, maybe not. Winter came and went, and the spring found my grass struggling again – in the same spots. Right over where the pool had once been, where the sand was just a couple inches beneath the topsoil. I painstakingly reseeded the bad areas and added some more topsoil from a bag, and when summer came I used the Weed-N-Feed again, but I soon realized that my efforts were in vain. Every year, my grass struggles.

I figured out what my problem was… I have bad soil. In the places where the soil is good, which is maybe 2/3 of the yard, I never have a problem. The grass has been thick and healthy since 2004 and weeds only show up on rare occasions and are quickly dispatched. This leaves me with a couple options: I can keep playing the Weed-N-Feed game every year, and every April and September painstakingly reseed the same struggling areas and do battle with weeds all summer, or I can go through the monumental job of removing the top layer of soil, getting rid of all that dead sand, bring in about $1000 worth of good soil, and actually deal with the root cause of my problem.

So what is the meaning of the parable?

Chicago is plagued with violence, particularly among young people. Every summer, as if on schedule, the gangbangers start shooting each other and numerous innocent bystanders, and the newspaper editorials, the neighborhood activists and the politicians parade their obligatory outrage over the problem and suggest the same tired approaches to try to deal with it.

What seems to be remarkably missing each year from the dialogue is the elephant in the room: The fact that these communities and the people who populate them are, for the most part, profoundly broken.

Broken people break things.

Poverty, fatherlessness, substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships and hopelessness are the order of the day. Yet when the politicians and activists speak, all I hear is more talk about more legislation and more funding, blah blah blah. Chicago is under four layers of firearms legislation, for example. Federal, State, county and city. In order for a criminal to use a gun in an act of violence in Chicago, he has to penetrate all four layers of government and violate around a dozen laws, many of which carry felony-level penalties. Despite the fact that this historically has resulted in nothing regarding reducing violence, the politicians suggest that if we just do more of what isn’t working, it will work.

I believe many of them mean well, but it’s hard not to think that some of it isn’t just posturing in order to appear that they are doing something about the problem. This is, in fact, the Weed-N-Feed approach: Ignore the genesis of the problem and keep attacking the symptoms.

And what is the genesis of the problem? Whew, that’s a thick one. It's the "bad soil" part of the parable.

That will be the next post…

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Blogger Tonisia said...

I think that's just it. "Broken people break things". I feel like you can't expect anything more from people who don't know. You especially can't expect the politicians to say that these people are broken and they need Christ. It does however speak millions on what the church is doing, or there lack of. We need to be out there, ministering to the broken. Once the hear and receive Christ, who better to go and tell their friends? I would listen to my peers and friends before I listen to a stranger, but maybe that's just me. All that to say, there's a huge disconnect between certain groups of people and the church. Too 'risky'...

April 27, 2009 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Tonisia! Thanks for stopping by!

Your last comment is right on... it is very risky - for churches or politicians - to get really close to the people who are most broken. That's why so few do.

But I would also say that the ones who do get close see God's power and are blessed.

April 27, 2009 at 6:20 PM  
Blogger Christopher B. Brooks said...

Love it. Right on the button. Chicago is like Minneapolis is like Phoenix is like get the point.

Our "urban" areas are in need of a holistic reformation - we need to re-form policies, schools, and expectations.

as I will always ask, how do we mobilize the Church to be the answer? And don't give me a line about unity, sucka. We need a true re-formation!!!

April 28, 2009 at 6:50 AM  
Blogger Christopher B. Brooks said...

Sorry about the "sucka" part. Just had to let it out :o)

April 28, 2009 at 6:50 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I'm afraid the church won't get serious until it becomes intolerably uncomfortable with the status quo.

April 28, 2009 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

And just what might that take?

Marches...riots...earthquakes, collapse... plague... war...? We humans are not very good at fixin' things...In the end, God will have to DO it all...Maranatha Lord Jesus...But in the mean time, the Living Word of God and the indwelling Holy Spirit will just have to make do ...with us!

April 28, 2009 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

You bring up an interesting tension, Nancy. Jesus will come back and restore all things, and nothing we ever do will accomplish that.

Yet I also believe Christians are called to address the issues of their day (slavery is an example) and stand for righteousness - in the power of the gospel.

I also do not believe we are going to solve our problems. As one is addressed, another erupts. The reign of Christ alone will solve our problems.

But still the church is called to bring the gospel to bear on various manifestations of brokenness. Not like the Emergent ideal, where we "bring" the kingdom by living like Jesus, but rather reconciling people to God through the gospel.

It's a temporal-eternal tension.

April 28, 2009 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Tonisia said...

tension indeed. I totally agree, but at the same time do I let this go on simply because people will do what they want regardless. I mean until Christ is in them, our words wont' do anything. Personally, I think that's a cop out. I don't stop praying for my family even though I know God knows who will accept Him as savior, and who will never. I don't know if my family will ever accept Him, but at the same time I am not called to make that judgement call. My purpose is to bring to them the gospel of Christ and leave the heart changing to God.

this song reminded me of this post Steve:

April 28, 2009 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Agreed...we are called to address the issues of the community in which God has sovereignly chosen to place us...With His Holy Spirit in us and the guidance of His Living Word...He has chosen to work through us in reaching out to our world...imperfect though we might be...*: )

April 29, 2009 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Good word, ladies.

We labor but leave the work up to God, if that makes any sense.

William Carey, the "father" of modern missions, wanted to go to overseas to spread the gospel, and an elder pastor told him to calm down - that if God wanted to reach the heathen He could do it without you or I.

And Carey went anyway - and the rest is history. God uses people.

If anything is to be done about violence in America, God will have to do it, but He'll probably do it through people. Imperfect, stumbling and falling-short people, but people nonetheless.

April 29, 2009 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I love LeCrae and all the 116 Clique guys.

Thanks, Tonisia!

April 29, 2009 at 10:44 AM  

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