Gracious and loving God, fill our hearts with love so everyone will know we belong to you,
Let our love for one another light the way for those in the darkness.
Welcome into your loving presence the lives lost in shootings last week, this week, each week, here in Chicago and in every town, city, state, and country where hate has found fertile ground; and comfort all those whose hearts and lives have been shattered by hate and senseless violence. We pray for peace in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I give you a new commandment: love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other. ~ John 13:34-35 CEB
I have struggled to write this piece. In my relatively short time as President of this seminary, I have written on Charlottesville and Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Christchurch. I’ve written and commented on hate, violence, and injustice in our city and others. One might think with so much practice, it would be easier. But it isn’t. Yet, I, and others, we keep writing. We write to find answers; to find hope; to console. We write because we hope that in our words we might find a salve to soothe our souls.
As some of you know, I spent the week before last with my family in the mountains of Colorado. It is humbling to hike trails at elevations between 10,000 and 12,000 feet. Humbling to see what God has made; the majesty of the mountains that surround you and the intricacy of the tiny wild flowers that blanket each hillside. At first, it’s very easy to let the big things overshadow the little—but no less consequential—things that surround your feet.
Colorado is what people call a “purple” state these days. In statewide elections, it tends to elect folks from the “middle” whether they are Democrats or Republicans. As we traveled the state from Boulder to Denver to Silverthorne (a town nestled between the ski resorts at Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, and Breckinridge), we saw the contrasting lifestyles from college town to big city, from cattle ranches to high-end resort towns like Vail and Beaver Creek. In each of our stops, we noted that the populations were surprisingly diverse, even in the smaller towns. Black, White, Latinx, Asian; folks speaking English and Spanish, French and Farsi, Thai and Italian. Some of the folks were working at the hotel or the grocery store, some were visitors like us, and others just folks who just happen to live, work, or go to school in Colorado.
Colorado, at least on the surface, appears to be finding ways for people of different backgrounds and languages to share an equally diverse landscape. But, tensions exist here, too. Some reported in the press, others noticeable, even if not newsworthy.
During our stay, local news was continuing to cover the story of a young black man, 19-year-old De’Von Bailey, who had been shot in the back by police in Colorado Springs on August 3. His devastated family was working to organize the community to condemn the shooting. Here, too, they have officers of the law that apparently believe shooting a “suspect” in the back is justifiable.
Big things, and little things.
As I wandered through the produce section of a local grocery store in Dillon, Colorado last week, a husband and wife were clearly on a mission, moving quickly between bins of fruits and vegetables to find, I was to learn, organic tomatoes. The husband proudly yelled to his wife who was searching two bins over that he’d found them. I watched his wife rush over to confirm his discovery. She reached into the bin and grabbed a red, ripe tomato in each hand. After inspection, she threw them (literally, threw them) back into the bin and said loud enough for all to hear that she wouldn’t buy anything from Mexico and would buy the non-organics grown in Kansas instead. Standing right between this couple and me, was a young Latina mother and her daughter. They saw what I saw and heard what I heard. They quietly walked away and continued shopping. And so did I.
Now, maybe the woman who threw the tomatoes back in the bin just likes to buy “American” or maybe she believes that American produce is “safer,” or maybe she’s from Kansas, but her physical and very public pronouncement regarding the origin of the tomatoes seemed deliberate and intentional. She wanted us to hear what she had to say. As she stormed back to the Kansas tomatoes, her husband just slumped and shook his head. I concluded that there was at least one Trump supporter in that household.
The next day, I took my wife and kids up to Keystone so they could take a two-hour trail ride. I decided to stay behind and take a little quiet time to explore the ranch and stables on foot, and then sit down to read a local newspaper. As I was sitting at a picnic table, a young family walked down the path toward the stable. Leading the way were two small children, a boy and a girl, neither more than 10 years old. Their parents were not far behind. The mother wore a hijab, and I believe they spoke Urdu to one another. I watched as the mom struggled to tighten the strap on the little girl’s riding helmet. After adjusting it as best she could, she patted the little one on the head, and handed her off to an older, scruffy, white, male stable hand that had just finished saddling up a small horse. He greeted her with a broad smile and a hearty “hello” and enthusiastically asked her if she was ready to go riding. She grinned and shook her head affirmatively, the helmet rocking back and forth nearly covering her eyes. He reached down and tightened up the strap and then lifted her into the stirrup and onto the saddle while mom and dad smiled and snapped pictures on their iPhones.
Colorado is a place of unexpected contrasts.
When we think of Colorado we think, of course, of the Rocky Mountains. We think of skiing, biking, and hiking. We think of it as a place for healthy living and, according to the data, it is. Colorado is perennially ranked one of the top 5 or 10 healthiest states in the union. Mortality, infant death, obesity, suicide, and smoking rates are well below the national averages. The rate of adults reporting poor mental health is lower than most states. Like many states, particularly among the “purple” ones, it is increasingly urban, with more than 85 percent of its population now living in “urban” areas. (According to the 2010 U.S. census, only 13.8 percent of Colorado’s population was considered “rural”; in 1950 the state was nearly half rural.) In 2017, the Denver Post described this “seismic shift” in population and offered analysis on the “two Colorados.” Similar stories could be written about Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia—and even Illinois. Despite its shrinking rural population, Colorado’s gun ownership rate remains relatively high at 34.3 percent. That makes it number 21 among the 50 states. (Illinois, by the way, ranks 38th at 26.2 percent.)
On the heels of the latest mass shootings, it’s very hard to be in Colorado and not think immediately of Columbine and Columbine High School, home of the 1999 mass shooting that first awakened the nation to the horrors of automatic weapons in the hands of high school students or the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting that followed 13 years later.
Other than an occasional commercial urging Colorado’s Republican U.S. Senator, Cory Gardner, to support a bill to strengthen background checks, I didn’t see much in the local news regarding the shootings in El Paso or Dayton. Truth be told, I didn’t scour the Denver papers or watch the evening news everyday, but if 12 dead students and 1 teacher at Columbine High School (1999), 12 dead and 58 wounded at a theater in Aurora, Colorado (2012), 26 slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut—20 of them between the ages of 6 and 7 (2012), 6 killed and 4 wounded at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (2012), 9 killed, including the pastor, at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston (2015), 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (2017), 58 killed and 422 wounded in Las Vegas (2017), 11 worshipers killed and 7 wounded at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (2018), and all the other mass shootings in this country not mentioned here aren’t horrific enough to re-instate a ban on assault weapons, get tougher background checks, curb gun show sales, raise the age for gun ownership, or, perhaps most impactful, limit the size of magazines, why do we think what’s happened in El Paso or Dayton—or Chicago—is going to change things.
So, here we are again and it is hard to imagine anyone being shocked or surprised.
About a month ago, FBI Director Christopher Wray said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the majority of domestic-terrorism arrests over the last nine months have been tied to white supremacists.
“I will say that a majority of the domestic-terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white-supremacist violence….”
According to the conservative National Review, “Wray explained that since October, the FBI has arrested about 100 people on international-terrorism charges and about the same number of individuals on charges related to domestic extremism.” Think about that for a moment: nearly 100 persons arrested since October on charges related to domestic terrorism, a “majority” of whom, according to the FBI, are motivated by some form of “white supremacist violence” [emphasis added.] Sadly, as a community and a country, we know more about the search and apprehension of a four-foot alligator in Humbolt Park than we do about the 50 or more persons affiliated with white supremacist organizations arrested on charges related to domestic terrorism in the last nine months. We know more about “Chance the Snapper” than about the lives lost in Lawndale. What does that say about us, about our so-called “liberal” media, and about the effectiveness of our collective (and oh-so-predictable) responses to these abominations?
Closer to home, the Chicago Police Department reported recently that from January 1 through July 31, murders decreased by 13 percent and shootings during the same period decreased by 12 percent compared with last year. In the month just ended, Chicago reports 43 murders and 231 shootings (68 of those shootings were recorded over the Fourth of July weekend, alone). As staggering as those numbers are, they are, in fact, down from 64 homicides and 264 shootings in July last year.
While we are grateful for progress—any progress—these numbers are a sad reminder of how violence, especially gun violence, continues to terrorize many of our neighbors.
Over the last several weeks, we have watched three more “mass” shootings: 3 killed and 13 reported injured at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California; 22 killed and dozens injured at a mall and WalMart shopping center in El Paso, Texas; and 9 killed and 27 injured outside a nightclub in a popular entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio.
And between Friday, Aug. 2 and Sunday, Aug. 3 here in Chicago, 7 were killed and 47 were wounded—17 of the shootings occurring during a two-hour period in Lawndale. Last Monday, CPD released a recording of dozens of shots fired in a 52 second period near 18th and Kildare. If you want to hear the sound of terror, the sound of a mass shooting, listen to that recording.
Our thoughts and prayers don’t have to travel very far to find victims of a mass shooting.
Yet, some argue that the killing and terror that occurred here in Chicago is not, in fact, a “mass” shooting. So, when is a mass shooting a “mass” shooting? It turns out the answer depends, like so many things these days, on which side you are on.
A 2017 article by Chris Nichols of Politifact California took House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to task for a letter and public comments in which she said there had been 273 “mass” shootings in 2017—“one for each day of the year” as of the date of her letter. Politifact is known for its “Truth-O-Meter”—a gauge of whether claims by a politician are more or less “true.” Politifact was unable to rate her claim on their Truth-O-Meter because the “current debate over the definition of mass shootings is more unsettled than ever.”
Pelosi had relied on the definition used by an organization called Gun Violence Archive that tracks and tabulates media reported gun violence. They define a mass shooting as “one in which at least four people are injured or killed in one location, not including the suspect.”
The Congressional Research Service (“CRS”) has a different, more limited definition. The CRS defines mass shooting as "a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity."
Others, including academics and some law enforcement officials have critiqued or refined those definitions, but as best I can tell, we cannot even agree in this country on what a “mass shooting” is. Perhaps it is like Justice Potter Stewart’s oft-quoted definition of pornography, “I know it when I see it.”
By any definition, the domestic terrorist attacks in Gilroy, in El Paso, and in Dayton were “mass shootings.” Because the shootings in Chicago were allegedly “gang- or drug-related”, some argue these are not “mass shootings.”
Seventeen human beings shot in a two-hour period in the same neighborhood not a mass shooting? Dozens of shots fired at a group of people over the span of 52 seconds at one location not a mass shooting? Could it be that we don’t want to call it a mass shooting because the news anchors on the morning and evening network and cable newscasts would be covering nothing but mass shootings each week here in Chicago and in other cities across the country; or the American flag would fly permanently at half-mast; or that we’d have to honor the dead and first responders, aid grieving families, acknowledge their humanity, acknowledge that they are our neighbors, acknowledge that we have chosen to turn our backs and admit that we’ve decided that some lives are just not as important as others on a daily basis?
If we cannot even agree on what a mass shooting is or isn’t, how is it we think we can all agree on both the cause (or causes) of the violence and the solutions? Who among us really believes that the United States Congress could somehow magically all come together, pass “common sense”—whatever that means—gun control legislation, have it signed by a president, and upheld in the courts? And, even if that were possible in the near-term (say, three to five years), do you really think much would change if we do not address the fundamental issues of poverty, racism, inequality, and human dignity?
I am not suggesting that we abandon a legislative and political agenda; indeed, coordinated, sustained legislative pressure is vital. But given the current state of our political discourse, our divided national government, the power of lobbyists and money, and the pro-gun tilt of the U.S. Supreme Court, it seems to me we need to start closer to home if we are actually going to find meaningful solutions.
So, then what? Where do we start, as a community, a city, a country?
How do we get beyond what some have described as the ‘wash, rinse, repeat’ mass shooting response cycle? We all know it by heart:
For Democrats and “progressives,” it goes something like this:
- offer thoughts and prayers;
- alternatively, disparage the adequacy of thoughts and prayers and express anger and outrage;
- blame hateful rhetoric from the current occupant of the White House;
- call for “common sense” gun control [meaning, I suppose, something that might get past the NRA and the Supreme Court—in short, nothing particularly useful in the current environment];
- wring hands,
Or, for those who subscribe to the current Republican agenda,
- offer thoughts and prayers for the victims and focus on heroic first responders;
- call the shooter names (“deranged,” “mentally ill,” “evil,” “sick,” etc.);
- demand the death penalty for the shooter (ignoring the fact that you just blamed mental illness);
- make pious statements that now is not the time to talk politics;
- reject any notion that this could have anything to do with the current occupant of the White House’s hateful rhetoric;
- say we’re “open” to background checks;
- just wait for this all to be replaced by the next Trumped up crisis or sideshow; and
Friends, we are better than this. I pray we are better than this.
The work to be done is immense and complicated. The arc of history is long and does indeed bend toward justice as Dr. King reminded us; but we are not simply spectators to history. We cannot look to the heavens as though the arc of history were a rainbow or a sunset. It will not bend toward justice unless we, together, bend it that way. Micah tells us there are three things the Lord requires of us: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. So, as we think together about responding to the hate and violence here in this city and in so many places around the world, let me offer five initial steps, all known to us, all within our reach.
Step 1. Love each other.
Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other. ~ John 13:34-35
I opened this reflection with these words from Jesus in John’s Gospel. Is it naïve to think that we might all find a way to commit ourselves to this one simple commandment? Love each other.
I suspect that some of you may think this is too simple. But can any of us say that we have truly followed this “new” commandment? If we who have been given the privilege and peace of this place cannot make this commitment or are not willing to lead by this example, it seems to me we may as well shut our doors.
Jesus’s words are uncomplicated, like a parent talking to her children. Like the simplicity of Micah 6:8, Jesus’s words are brief, clear, and direct: Love one another for this is how they will know you are my disciples.
In their commentary on Micah 6:8, the editors of the second edition of the Jewish Study Bible note:
- This didactic saying is one of the most influential and often quoted sayings in prophetic literature. It was considered as a possible compendium of all the “mitzvot.” R. Simlai when preaching said: Six hundred and thirteen precepts were communicated to Moses, three hundred and sixty-five negative precepts…Micah came and reduced these to three [principals]…
In Matthew, we hear Jesus reduce the Ten Commandments to two: you must love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind…[and] you must love your neighbor as you love yourself. Matthew 22:36-40. CEB
And here again in John’s Gospel, we have Jesus speaking with his closest friends, knowing what the next days will bring, knowing that time is short, and he gives them one command: Love one another and this is how everyone will know that you are my disciples.
So, what impedes us, prevents us, from loving one another as we’ve been told? I suspect there are many reasons, but if I were to choose just one, I would argue that it is fear. Fear is a powerful ally for the purveyors of hate. Have we reached a point where fear has overcome our capacity to love as Jesus has commanded us? Has fear so infected us that we can no longer act in ways that show our love for one another and offer an example of another way?
Step 2. Resist fear; There is no fear in love.
- There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen. This commandment we have from him: those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also. ~ 1 John 4:17-21 CEB
If loving one another can be seen as a relatively simple step (in theory, at least), to live without fear seems difficult beyond measure.
A couple of months ago, Rev. Nannette Banks and I had the opportunity to sit in a small group of faith leaders and chat with author Alex Kotlowitz. Many of you know Alex’s name from his powerful 1991 book, There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, a work named one of the 150 most important books of the 20th Century by the New York Pubic Library. There Are No Children Here chronicles the lives of two young brothers, ages 9 and 11, living and growing up in the violence and despair of the Henry Horner Homes housing project on Chicago’s west side. When Nannette and I met him, he was discussing his most recent book, An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, which chronicles one summer, the summer of 2013, in the city of Chicago. As Kotlowitz notes in his latest book, between 1990 and 2010, 14,033 people were killed, and approximately 60,000 were wounded by gunfire. Kotlowitz writes, “Let me put this in perspective, if perspective is possible:”
- It’s considerably more than the number of American soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Combined. And here’s the thing: Chicago is by no means the most dangerous city, not even close. Its homicide rate doesn’t even put it in the top ten. But the city has become a symbol for the personal and collective wreckage—a kind of protracted cry of distress—in the streets of the nation’s most impoverished and segregated neighborhoods. Citizens killing citizens, children killing children, police killing young black men.
And, as Kotlowitz writes later in his book:
- “The numbers don’t begin to capture the havoc wreaked on the soul of individuals and on neighborhoods…. What to make of all this? I don’t know that I fully know myself, but what I’ve come to realize is that if you’re black or Hispanic in our cities, it’s virtually impossible not to have been touched by the smell and sight of sudden, violent death.”
If you live in Lawndale or Austin or Englewood or any of the neighborhoods where gun violence, death, and trauma are part of everyday existence, or, in the wake of the ICE raids in Mississippi, you have a family member or friend or colleague who is undocumented, how is it possible not to be afraid? Just as Alex Kotlowitz acknowledged that he had no policy solutions, no happy endings in either of his books, I don’t have an answer to the question I pose above. But maybe, just maybe, it is our responsibility, those of us who live in relative safety and privilege, to find ways to be fearless in support of those who live so much of their lives in fear and to be fearless in seeking solutions. And, maybe, in order to focus our love on others, we need to ignore the constant barrage of fear-mongering media, the tweets, and the hate-filled speeches of despots and dictators that, together, seek to instill fear in us.
Over the course of my vacation, each day I’d get up, grab a cup of coffee, and look out at the mountains from our little balcony, often with the Today Show providing a little background noise and just enough information to confirm the world was still turning. One day, as I leaned on the railing marveling at the fact there was still snow on many of the mountain tops, my moment of oneness with God’s creation was broken the breathless voice of Al Roker: “65 MILLION PEOPLE AT RISK TODAY WITH STORMS FROM TEXAS TO NEW YORK!”
Now, I don’t mean to be dismissive of appropriate caution in the face of bad weather. (Some of you will recall that I had a 100-year old oak tree fall on my car as it sat quietly in my driveway during an early morning storm about a month ago.) That said, is it really necessary to think of large swaths of the country being “at risk” of whatever weather might be coming their way on any given day? Immediately on the heels of this meteorological melodrama, the anchors turned to a story about what happens to kids on a school bus that doesn’t have seat belts—“A story every parent needs to hear,” and showed a “teaser” clip of a school bus full of miniature crash dummies crashing head on into a concrete wall which, of course, sent the crash dummies flying in every direction. Again, I’m a big advocate for seat belts on school buses, but must every story, every bit of news—even the weather and side stories—be presented in such a way to make us think we shouldn’t let our kids out of the house today?
If we are told to be afraid of the weather or a bus ride, how are we supposed to ignore fears of nuclear war, climate change, economic recession, foreign and domestic terrorism?
We have leaders who prey upon this fear and many days it feels like fear is winning. So perhaps we should remind ourselves everyday: There is no fear in love.
I understand that the context of John’s words are to describe a specific sense of fear for our future in the next life, that our love for one another, for our brothers and sisters, is the insurance policy that allows us to live without fear. It seems to me, however, that it has bearing on fears related to the here and now, as well. If we love one another, if we love our neighbors, if our love can overpower fear, we can begin to address the real and present fears faced by too many of our neighbors here in Chicago and around the country.
Step 3. Write.
Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction so that we could have hope through endurance and through the scriptures. Romans 15:4 CEB
Write something. Start by writing a paragraph, a page, a poem about what this violence and hate means to you—does to you, your loved ones, your neighbors. Writing is hard sometimes, but when you share your written words, it says that what you have written about matters deeply to you and, hopefully, others. Writing can be art, as much as music, or sculpting, acting, or painting. It can also pave the way for reform, change, and real progress.
Nearly 49 years ago, Leonard Bernstein’s Mass premiered at opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The work was commissioned former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and has generated much debate since its premiere in 1971.
My wife, Elizabeth, and I recently joined McCormick trustee and former McCormick and Ravinia Festival board chair, John Anderson and his wife, Megan to see what many regard as Bernstein’s “magnum opus” performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a wonderful cast, the Chicago Children’s Choir, and members of the Highland Park High School Marching Band. It was the second consecutive year that Ravinia presented the work under the brilliant baton of Marin Alsop, a protégé of Bernstein. As Alsop and music critics like Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune have noted, the work remains timely and meaningful exploring issues of faith, modern culture, and the Church in a time of war, violence, racism, and hate.
I have been trying to put the pieces of Mass together nearly every day since we saw it performed. I have tried to find the words to describe it to several friends, and until this past weekend, could not quite find ways to convey to others how important and meaningful it was.
In what is perhaps the most compelling scene in Bernstein’s Mass, individuals from the “Street Chorus” came to the front of the stage and read letters. Over the years, the letters are rewritten for the specific production. The Ravinia productions were no exception. Words have impact across time and generation. They can soothe, and they can stir us to action.
As Howard Reich notes, the letters read in these performances “were as devastating as they were topical.” “Dearly beloved,” said actor Alexander Birch Elliott, delivering text he penned with director Kevin Newbury:
“We have people in power who are using hate, fear and lies to separate us from each other and from the ideals for which our country has come to stand. As a person in a position of privilege and opportunity, I now realize that we have the power – and more importantly – the responsibility to act as both a sword and a shield for those persons facing oppression from their own government.”
The audience response was thunderous, as it was for another letter:
“Dear brothers and sisters,” said actor Isabel Santiago, reciting a text inspired by those suffering at our border with Mexico.
“Please help us. We are desperate parents. We are not criminals. We were not prepared for this nightmare we face here. It’s been more than a month without our children. They are living in places with strangers, and each day it’s more painful than the last. They no longer recognize our voices. They cry and feel abandoned and unloved.”
The letters were, indeed, devastating. But the response from the largely white, affluent, suburban capacity crowd was equally impactful. We must, as the actors in Bernstein’s Mass exhort us, “realize that we have the power– and more importantly – the responsibility to act as both a sword and a shield for those persons facing oppression from their [I would say “our”] own government.”
We, the people, do have power—political and moral--and I believe we’ve forgotten that.
Step 4. Organize and Register Voters in Critical (neighboring) States; and Support Local Candidates Who Work for Reform
When the righteous become numerous, the people rejoice, but when the wicked dominate, the people moan. Proverbs 29:2
Last week, I received a note from Professor Ken Sawyer. Ken and his wife, Patty, took a drive just over the state line to Racine, Wisconsin to register voters. This kind of grassroots, door-to-door action makes a difference. Turning out the vote in key states like Wisconsin is critical in the 2020 election. Ken and Patty did it. I can do it. And you can do it, too.
Locally, there will be a need to ensure that we do not allow those who oppose police and criminal justice reform to turn back the clock on the progress that Cook County States Attorney Kim Foxx has made. As I have said before, irrespective of any errors in judgment involving the Jussie Smollett case, Kim Foxx has done far more good than any of her predecessors. Progress made is not progress guaranteed. We cannot be complacent or satisfied.
Who is ready to go to work?
Step 5. Support Neighbors Living in Fear.
Any immigrant that lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt. Leviticus 19:34 CEB
Recently, I was invited to join our good friend, Rev. Will Hall, and a group from Operation PUSH to visit the immigrant detention center in El Paso, Texas. It was Will’s second trip. I was not able to go but am so grateful to Will and all those who continue to raise up the heartbreaking and unacceptable conditions in these U.S. government facilities.
For those of us unable to travel to El Paso or other detention facilities out of state, there is much we can do right here to serve and support neighbors living in fear.
While on vacation, I saw a news story reported on the national news about Pilsen. Pilsen, for those of you who may not know, is one of the great neighborhoods of Chicago, and one that my family and I visit often.
As described in the Chicago Sun-Times:
- The Pilsen neighborhood is 4.5 miles from downtown Chicago on the city’s [near south] west side. Nestled along the busy railroad lines that run along 16th Street, Pilsen has long been a first-stop neighborhood for many immigrants. First, Bohemians were drawn to the neighborhood in the 1800s in part by a construction project to build what is now Ogden Avenue. Mexican immigrants began to settle there starting in the 1950s. Today those working class roots are still a big part of this busy neighborhood that now also includes a very vibrant cultural scene focused on Mexican-American art, food, traditions, and more.
Pilsen, and neighboring Little Village, are home to many Mexican immigrants and Latinx families, shops, and businesses. And, sadly, these days, many of our neighbors in these vibrant, tight-knit communities, live in fear. Thankfully, numerous human and legal rights organizations, along with neighborhood churches, are embracing “the responsibility to act as both a sword and a shield for those persons facing oppression” from our government.
On August 10, one of those organizations, La Familia Latina Unida, organized the “Rudy Lozano Asamblea” at the Lincoln United Methodist Church on Damen Avenue. One of the organizers, a “student pastor” named Sara Walker told a reporter that the assembly, named for a late, local community organizer and activist, was convened “to create a response team and find volunteers to accompany undocumented” residents of the neighborhood when they need to leave their homes to go shopping or any of the routine activities so many of us take for granted. She added that volunteers will be “taught to try and diffuse the situation, arming themselves not with weapons but knowledge as rumors of ICE activity in the area continue.”
“Honestly, [ICE activity] that’s something that never escapes my mind,” said Izaithell Aguirre, a 17-year-old community member who attended the assembly.
Izaithell’s mother, Doris, is a longtime Chicago-area resident, and, as the story reported, undocumented. “We must learn to lose fear because while we live in fear, we will make easy prey,” said Doris.
God bless you, Doris. I hope all of you will repeat and remember Doris’s words: “We must learn to lose fear because while we live in fear, we will make easy prey.”
We have friends and colleagues working in organizations and churches everyday that serve immigrant communities and their families. Will you volunteer? Will you find that bit of precious time (and I know it is indeed precious) to volunteer, to serve our neighbors who face oppression from our government?
Sisters, brothers, siblings, let us begin here. These are small steps in a long journey.
As our brother Claudio Carvalhaes says (and I quote often): We are blessed. We are blessed and I pray as we begin a new year that here in this place we will love one another, resist fear, be fearless for those who cannot be, that we will work and we will organize, and, together, serve God and God’s people with strength, wisdom, and courage.