Its been a crazy week in my home town,
a crazy, bloody, scary, dangerous week.
Depending on when you ask me,
I might say I grew up in Iowa, which I did,
from just a bit after birth to around age 12
but more likely I’ll say Saint Louis,
where my family moved just before I started 7th grade.
My father, also a Presbyterian Pastor,
was called to a small, diverse, inner-city church in the Central West End
which once was a church of thousands
before the interstates came in the 50s and 60s
and what was left
was Westminster, and its 150 or so members
drawn from all over town.
It was one of the few churches with a Manse,
that’s a fancy word for a house that the church owns
so that the pastor can live there
as part of their salary.
They didn’t have a whole lot to pay my father,
but the manse was a nice trade off.
I’m not sure why, but the Manse wasn’t anywhere near the church,
the church being on the corner of Union and Delmar
itself on a somewhat bizarre intersection of town
on one side mansions, slightly deteriorating
from no longer being the wealthy part of town
but still with gated streets and carriage houses
still worth big money, comparatively,
and on the other side section 8 housing and apartments
and community health clinics with free tests and all that.
That’s Saint Louis, the Central West End part,
near the park and the major hospital district and, just a mile or two East,
the nice shops and attractions.
The manse was seven miles away, in the suburbs.
My home was in University City,
an inner-ring suburb of some 35,000 people
a short distance from Washington University and the U City Loop,
delightfully diverse and safe and warm, again, comparatively.
It was a town of churches and synagogues,
not the enclave of the rich or of the poor,
claiming Tennessee Williams, you know, cat on a hot tin roof,
and Bob Gale, who wrote the Back to the Future movies,
as notable people who called it home.
The move to University City was eye-opening to me.
To relocate from monochromatic, rural Iowa to diverse Saint Louis
at a pivotal age, no less,
meant a demand that I recognize
that the world that I thought I knew…maybe I didn’t know so well.
It has always been from this move that I learned to catch myself from thinking
that I have everything figured out.
Who knows the next time God is going to pick me up from where I am
and plop me down somewhere completely different
and ask me to make sense of the new environment the best I can.
I attended University City public schools, first Brittany Woods Middle
then U City High.
Its important to note that I found these to be excellent schools,
good preparation for what would be a demanding liberal arts college
and later Graduate School. They did something right.
But not everyone saw them that way.
In fact, even though University City had a majority white population,
many affluent parents, most of the white kids and some of the others
were sent to private schools.
U City High, by contrast, was about 75 percent African American,
maybe 19 percent white, and a few others there too.
And while I entered a freshman class in High School of around 400 kids
less than 200 graduated with me four years later.
So many of the families that remained had great challenges, my peers.
And while I tended to hang out with many of the other white kids at school
I made many African American friends
and lived with many many more on a daily basis.
I walked with them down city streets, and experienced how they were treated
by shopkeepers, or police-officers, or bystanders,
not all of them, not all the time, but enough to get it
that their life was not the same as mine
not as free, not as fair.
I mention all this to say
that what has been happening this week in Ferguson, Missouri, has hit me hard.
I have classmates who live there, and in neighboring Florescent.
I see them tweeting and facebooking.
They’re helping organize clean ups or yearning for the end to the chaos.
They’re broadcasting a desire for the whole mess to end
for the danger to end, for the power dynamics to end
but also for justice, blended with peace.
It breaks my heart.
I struggle to find something to make sense of it all.
One of my closest friends, with children a bit older than mine,
not from Saint Louis at all but watching from afar like everyone else,
described watching the news with his older boys
and being at a loss for explaining what was happening
not in Iraq, not in Ukraine, not in Palestine,
on the other side of our state.
And while it started with a shooting of an unarmed black teen
by a white police officer last week
the ensuing protests and heavy-handed police response
have re-opened a lingering wound
of centuries old inequities and power dynamics
that many of us, in this room,
are fortunate enough not to have to think much about on a daily basis.
I know I’ll never go to bed at night
worrying about how my daughters will be treated
if they ever get stopped by the police. Others worry constantly.
Ferguson is today’s hotspot, but the issues raised are not isolated there.
We’ve made some great strides as a country.
Incredible change, for sure.
And I’m deeply grateful for those who stand in the gaps
of a chaotic world:
community police officers, firefighters and paramedics
aldermen and journalists and peacemakers
and those who are working for both order and for justice.
Suffice it to say that there remain deep, systemic challenges,
that remain before, say, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream
that I referenced last week becomes our reality.
This has been on my mind all week
as I’ve pondered this concluding tale from the Book of Genesis. [Read more...]