Monday, March 28, 2011

A Call for Justice

It is a sobering experience to walk through the streets of Camden. Though I walked these streets all last year during Mission Year, I almost had forgotten them in the 6 months I've had a car to drive. Today I decided to walk to Christus, the school I taught at last year, to play basketball with the students. I walked that path 4 times a week on average last year. I remember being frightened at first, not knowing the city well, not knowing what to expect from the faces I passed. But eventually, I became accustomed to the sounds, the sight, the feel, the smell, and the rhythms of the city. I had a love/hate relationship with that walk. Often it meant the start or end of a long day, but I loved the time it allowed my mind to reflect on what my eyes were seeing, ears were hearing, and heart was feeling. For the first 5 or 6 months I walked that way, I passed a house that always saddened my heart. Burned, gutted, boarded up and abandoned, a soul that had loved spray painted "Pepy was kill here 2/25/2009." I passed that house every day and thought about and prayed for Pepy and his family and friends left behind. I thought about the friend who had honored him in the only way they could, red spray paint over a plywood board. Around the anniversary of Pepy's death, the city began demolishing the house. Before long, it was nothing but an empty lot with a sign warning passerbys that it was off limits.

I have long since stopped noticing that empty lot, but I remember how I felt passing that house every day. It was the same way I felt today, as I walked the streets from my neighborhood to Christus. I walked down broken sidewalks strewn with trash, watching my feet as much as I was watching ahead of me to make sure I didn't trip, passing many other abandoned and boarded up houses, some of which I remember being occupied last year. One of which, lies directly across the street from where I live. A few blocks from my street, I passed a telephone pole decorated with long-since deflated mylar balloons and weather-worn stuffed animals marking the place where a friend/child/spouse/parent/sibling was murdered in late February or early March. He is one of 14 reported murders in Camden since January 1. Camden is one of the poorest and most violent cities in the nation, and it is definitely the most forgotten and oppressed.

I do not write these things to make anyone fearful for me or for admiration. I write them because they are true and because they are the mark of injustice. The injustice that has been done to Camden and its citizens is a stain on the flag of the United States of America and on Christians who claim to be the light of God in a dark world. It is injustice that children have to play on streets and sidewalks strewn with broken glass and needles and on which semi-trucks drive down 19 hours a day. It is injustice that over 50% of the houses in Camden are declared uninhabitable. It is injustice that over half the police and fire forces have been laid off this year. It is injustice that school systems have a 60% failure rate. The list goes on and on. And yet, here we are spending billions to keep our troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya fighting for our "National security" when my friends and neighbors aren't secure in their own neighborhoods.

Today, I joined a call to fast, pray, and act with many others connected to the Sojourner's community. The Sojourners are calling people to fast, pray, and act during the month of April because of proposed budget cuts in Congress that specifically target the poor and oppressed. Budget cuts of programs to help the poor and oppressed have directly affected my friends and neighbors in Camden. Over 160 police and fire men were laid off in January because of these cuts and we have felt the affect of their absence. If you are reading this, I encourage you to do the same. To sign up with the Sojourners and become a part of their call to act upon this issue of injustice and others, please visit the website below:

This is a call for all of us that speaks into the very depths of our humanity and a call for Christians to be who we say we are and obey God's call to defend the poor and the oppressed. Arise and take action now.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rent Free vs. Community

In January, I moved from a rent free living situation with a good pastor-friend in Pennsauken to a rent-paying living situation in Camden with two women my age I didn't know very well. I believed, in my heart, this was the right decision for me and I could not have been more right. In a world of shallow relationships and deep acquaintances, I feel truly blessed to be living with two women so dedicated to loving God, caring for others, and being intentional their community in relationships.

Something I have really come to hold onto recently in the face of many transitions, questions, and lack of easy answers, is that money isn't everything. So much of this world, corporate, even well-meaning friends and family members offer well-intentioned advice about stability and savings and investments...whatever. And I suppose, to a point, all of those things are important. But money comes and goes, flow into and out of our fingers like falling water. We are paid by someone so we can pay someone else for a need so they can pay others for their needs. My life does not have security because I have a consistent pay check. My life has security because I have people in it who love me and care for me well and a God who has shown up every time. I used to have a similar opinion about money coming and going easily and recognized last year that it had come out of my privilege. Now, though the theory is the same, it does not come from my experience with privilege, it comes from my experience with a caring and intentional community of people.

I had a really beautiful conversation covering a plethora of topics with my housemate, Janelle. I had only met her once before I moved in here, but she has become a fast and true friend. In being with her tonight, I felt safe, listened to, valued, and cared for. We ended our conversation with prayer (and tears on my part). My life is stable and secure because I have people like Janelle and Molly in it. And for the first time in a while I asked myself, "What is my sense of God in all of this?" I am so grateful to be in a place where God and life and relationships are talked about in real ways. I'm grateful to have been in a place last year to learn how to live authentically and vulnerably in community. And I am grateful for the awareness of my sense of God in the midst of my community now. This was absolutely the right move for me, even if I do have to pay rent.