Even Urban Kids …

In an interview of Vincent Harding done by Krista Tippet, Harding talked about his commitment to young people, speaking to their hope and their desire to effect change. He recounted a story of youth from Philadelphia who visited him in Colorado. They were greeted with love and respect and one young man asked Harding, “Uncle Vincent,” (they had begun calling him that), “how can you love us so much?”

The question was a powerful one for Harding because it spoke to these young people who still had hope untapped within them. They were clearly “urban” youth in appearance, Harding said; they dressed, spoke and behaved as the stereotypical urban young person is wont to do. But the question from the young man belied a part of urban youth that is typically ignored or even thought to exist: souls that yearn to be loved, appreciated, respected…and serve.

Harding’s story reminded me of an encounter I had some years ago. I was speaking to an unruly crowd in a high school in Columbus, Ohio. To say they were unruly is an understatement, actually. They were rude and loud …and were not the least bit interested in hearing my little presentation on Black History. It was important to me…but I am afraid I failed in communicating my love for black history to them.

After the presentation, I had the audacity to ask them if there were any questions. I was quite ready and prepared to just exit the stage and the auditorium… to my surprise, a young woman, very pretty, raised her hand. I asked her if she would stand, and she ignored me. I asked her again…standing would help me and others hear her question, but, egged on by her peers, she refused and made a rude comment. I had to hold myself back; I am “old school,” and was taught that youth are to respect their “elders.”  I wanted to remind her who the elder was in this moment.

But I was silent. I listened to her question and answered as best I could. Not a moment too soon, my time with this assembly was done. I was on the front row, gathering my things, when to my surprise, standing in front of me was the young woman who had asked the question.

I looked up …and was surprised. In her eyes were giant crocodile tears. She said, “I am sorry I was rude. I thought you were good…I just want to know, how do I know God loves me?”

I had to choke back my own tears.  This girl, who could not have been much more than 16, was pleading for help. I supposed that among her peers, it would have seemed “uncool” to appear interested or to come off “polite.” Yet, there she stood, the tears in her eyes telling the story of the pain in her spirit. She wanted love. She had something to give but without love, it was never going to come out.

I hugged her and answered her as best I could. I gave her some books she could read. And I told her she could contact me at the church whenever she wanted. I never heard from her again. I hope she graduated and went to college and is in the process of loving this society of which she is a part.

The story of the young man who questioned Dr. Harding, and the young woman who questioned me, tells me that instead of complaining that urban kids are unruly, bad and impossible to deal with, there ought to be more of us looking for ways to reach their spirits and souls. They are human beings, not urban objects. They have songs to sing, the songs of talent and gifts they were meant to share with the world. I am almost sure there would be fewer gangs if more of us could find a way to reach these kids, too many of whom feel unloved and unneeded.

Just this weekend, Hadiya Pendleton was buried, an innocent victim of yet another shooting in Chicago. She made a plea for there to be fewer gangs, but that will never happen if kids keep growing up feeling worthless. It seems that the gang activity, the behavior that causes so many shootings in urban areas, is more a function of kids failing to thrive because of lack of positive attention and pouring into their young minds and spirits. It would not be surprising if the person who shot young Hadiya was performing some sort of initiation ritual for a group of young boys who have banded and bonded together in order to feel respected, loved and needed. Left with far too much time on their own, they devise ways to find that which every human being needs.

I read a story shared by Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. It wasn’t until she left the safe confines of her all-black community and went out into the world that she felt the alienation that so many urban kids feel within their own communities. She was looking for a job to earn money for college, but she had cut job postings out of the white section of the newspaper, and was rebuffed again and again by incredulous white employers who told her over and over that they “didn’t hire colored.”

She was getting used to that, but came to watershed moment when, one day in her native Memphis, a thunderstorm began while she was out looking for a job. Her grandmother, “old school,” had taught her that one remains inside, quiet and if at all possible, hidden while the storm was on. The storm was to be respected, her grandmother would say, because “God was doing his work.” Being in the midst of such a storm, outside in it, for goodness’ sake, went against everything she had been taught. Yet, when she looked at building to which she might have run for cover, she saw white faces looking at her, with the unspoken sentence, “not in here you won’t come.”

She didn’t try. She walked to the “black side” of town to try to find shelter, but ended up getting on the bus. She was angry. She felt the lack of love and concern and respect for her being just because she was black. She defiantly sat in the “white” section of the bus, on the front side seat. Nobody bothered her.

The difference between Gwendolyn and our kids is that Gwendolyn had a movement into which to pour her anger, creativity and dreams. She was enveloped by people, black and white, who loved her and showed her respect. Any possibility of failure to thrive was cut short by the people who stood in the breach.

There seem to be too few people standing in the breach, and so young innocent children, like Hadiya, are cut down before they get to give to the world their unique gifts. The children who are rude and defiant now were not born that way. They were created and shaped by all sorts of factors.

There are a lot of young urban girls and boys with “crocodile tears” in their eyes and spirits. We just have to take the time to look for them.

A candid observation…

Sweating Joy in Spite of Suffering

Photograph of the building used by 16th Street...
Photograph of the building used by 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama from 1884 to 1908. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I heard today that some people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy are still without power, without electricity, without heat.

I heard that as I shivered in my car which was warming up. It was 11 degrees outside in Columbus, Ohio, and at least that cold in the Rockaway section of Queens. Some businesses in lower Manhattan are still without heat and power as well; some businesses are boarded up.  A museum which housed American history artifacts is struggling to survive. A wine store in Lower Manhattan lost many of their precious wines.

I feel for the businesses; their not operating means that some families’ income is suffering. Many businesses are still closed.  But is the families without heat and power that I an stuck on, that I can’t stop thinking about. One family was reported to be sleeping on the floor in the kitchen of their damaged home, and living in that kitchen all day long,  because that was the only room in the house where they could get some heat – from the stove. Those crammed in the kitchen included a woman, her children and grandchildren, and three dogs. (http://www.npr.org/2013/01/24/170198110/thousands-still-cold-and-struggling-months-after-superstorm-sandy)

But it’s winter. How will the people survive?

We don’t think much about the victims of horrendous storms or events once the cameras go away.  Bad events tend to be like the labor endured during childbirth; we see the pain portrayed on television and then, like the release of even the memory of labor after a baby is born, we forget. Some might say that we needn’t worry because federal dollars are either there or are coming; the people will be all right.

Maybe. But there’s a good chance many people who are suffering will not be all right, not any time soon. Chances are some of them are angry at the government for not doing more for them, quicker. Some are probably struggling with anger towards God. wondering why God let this bad thing happen to them, good people. Some are probably wondering why, in general, help is so slow in coming. Some probably feel like they are being ignored.

Sarah Collins Rudolph, the sister of Addie Collins, one of the four little girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, is suffering, and feels ignored.  She survived the bombing incident which killed her sister, but was left scarred, emotionally as well as physically. Even though her life as she knew it was blown to bits that fateful day, she had to go on…but she suffers, still. (http://www.npr.org/2013/01/25/170279226/long-forgotten-16th-street-baptist-church-bombing-survivor-speaks-out) To feel ignored is to suffer…

The families of those who were killed in the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings are still suffering, as are the families of the young people who have been gunned down on the streets of big cities all over this nation. But if we are not near suffering, or have not been touched by it, we tend to minimize its impact, power and resistance to be pushed away. In fact, we forget about it, or worse, refuse to believe it is as deep as it really is.

But back to the families on the East Coast who are enduring this frigid cold spell without heat, I wonder what we who have heat can and should be doing. Something, surely. Do we need to be sending tons of blankets and, what, hats, gloves, coats…? What? The report on National Public Radio (NPR) said that some who are without electricity are waiting for a permit of some kind to restore or repair the electric systems in their houses. ( http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=170267851&m=170267838) We can’t do anything about the permit, but isn’t there something we  can do?

The suffering has so many tentacles. Many homes on the East Coast that are still standing are being devoured by mold. Some houses had standing water for weeks, some for months…and mold started growing like mad, eating the insides of the already damaged homes. Many of their homes will have to be destroyed. Then what?

I have heard and have been taught that when one is suffering the best way to feel better is to serve others. I would bet that some reading this are suffering for one reason or another; suffering is a part of living. The suffering we all go through is bad sometimes, but it can be a catalyst for us to feel better. Some who have endured horrible loss on the East Coast are busy helping to minimize the suffering of others. That is moving.

It is also inspiring. It made me think about ways to serve. There are so many people who need help, who need to benefit from the gifts and blessings that we all have. Perhaps in one’s dark night of the soul, a way to feel better, to see some light, it so help someone else. If we ask what is needed by those suffering, an answer will come.

I thought about President Kennedy‘s famous words this week as I listened to President Obama’s inaugural address. President Obama was stressing the need for us as human beings to make the right and gift of freedom accessible to all. Prior to the festivities of the inauguration, the Obama White House sponsored and pushed a National Day of Service. We, as citizens with certain freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution, were urged to help someone else.  President Kennedy gave a formula for us all to use, in suffering and out of suffering  which gave the same message: serve, when he said,  “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  If we ask what we can do for those worse off than we are, we will get an answer.

In his sermon at the National Cathedral Prayer Service this week, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of  the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, talked about the vision his congregation has to focus and guide their service. They wanted to deal with the root causes of poverty, and decided to concentrate on early childhood education.  They got involved and studied what was going on in those schools. They saw what the children needed. They got involved, as a congregation, donating books, clothing, meals(bagged meals)  for children who seemingly had no food at home.

With our country as polarized as it is, it’s a sure thing and more and more people are feeling marginalized and left out. There are people all over the place who need helping hands and helping hearts. We who have more …just need to give more. If we extend ourselves, our own suffering will recede and will be replaced by deep joy.  It’s a big surprise, what happens when we serve and give. It is as surprising as I was surprised when I began training for a marathon and found out that when one works one’s body, even in the frigid cold, one’s body will react …and will sweat in spite of the temperature.

We can sweat joy even when we are surrounded by our own pain and suffering.

A candid observation …

 

White Men and Mass Murder

In the aftermath of the horrible shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I find myself asking what it is that compels people to want to commit mass murder.

And…I wonder why so many of these mass murders are done by white men.

I know people don’t like to talk about race, and I know it’s easier to talk about black on black crime.  While black on black crime raises hardly more than a whimper or cause for concern, when a black kills someone white, there is a fair amount of outrage.

But this mass murder thing: why is it that white men seem to be the primary perpetrators in crimes like these? Why is there still a sense of shock when it happens? How come there aren’t some studies being done to find out why this happens? Black on black crime has been said by some to be caused by the deep levels of self-hatred African-Americans have. Black on white crime is said to be caused by long-held anger on the part of blacks. White on black crime is credited to racism in many cases…but mass murder, perpetrated by white men on crowds of people, most of the time predominantly white, has no reason given, or at least I haven’t heard the reason. Have I missed something?

The latest alleged murderer, James Holmes, has murdered at least 12 people as of this writing, including a three-month old baby. He came into a crowded theater, released tear gas, and then opened fire. He apparently carried an arsenal of weapons, and he told police he had booby-trapped  his apartment to explode. He came dressed all in black, and he apparently shot with abandon, aiming at nobody, yet aiming at everyone. This young man, 24, is, or was, a PhD candidate. I would assume he came from a fairly nice family, as “nice” is defined. So, what happened?

I think about the young men, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who shot and killed and wounded students at Columbine High School; the young men, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who blew up the Murrah Federal Office building in Oklahoma City, the young man, , T.J. Lane,  who is accused of shooting students at Chardon High School in Ohio earlier this year; and of course, there was the horrific shooting in Arizona where Jared Loughner shot Representative Gabby Giffords and 18 other people in 2011…all white men, and I don’t get it. Why does this keep happening, again and again?

Could it be that white men harbor some degree of self-hatred too? Or is it they carry a lot of anger about …well, about what?  If white men are angry, and especially so angry that they feel compelled to shoot whomever is in their way, why are they that angry?

Isn’t it a topic or subject or situation that somebody ought to at least look into?

My heart is so heavy for the people who were shot in Colorado. All they were doing was watching a movie, and now, some are dead, some are wounded, and all who survived or who will survive are forever changed. It seems like a fair amount of Americans are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, all due to domestic violence, and much of due to these mass killings.

It just seems that the tendency of white men to express their anger and rage through mass murder ought to be a subject for study. It’s proper to be horrified when these atrocities happen, but horror isn’t worth a dime if it cannot and does not lead to serious study so that the problem can be alleviated or reduced.

There are just way too many mass murders in America, too many white men who punish a slew of people for something they are upset about. It’s time for it to stop. Past time, actually.

A candid observation …

Mass Murders and White Men

 

 

Seal of the City of Aurora, Colorado
Seal of the City of Aurora, Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

In the aftermath of the horrible shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I find myself asking what it is that compels people to want to commit mass murder.

 

And…I wonder why so many of these mass murders are done by white men.

 

I know people don’t like to talk about race, and I know it’s easier to talk about black on black crime.  While black on black crime raises hardly more than a whimper or cause for concern, when a black kills someone white, there is a fair amount of outrage.

 

But this mass murder thing: why is it that white men seem to be the primary perpetrators in crimes like these? Why is there still a sense of shock when it happens? How come there aren’t some studies being done to find out why this happens? Black on black crime has been said by some to be caused by the deep levels of self-hatred African-Americans have. Black on white crime is said to be caused by long-held anger on the part of blacks. White on black crime is credited to racism in many cases…but mass murder, perpetrated by white men on crowds of people, most of the time predominantly white, has no reason given, or at least I haven’t heard the reason. Have I missed something?

 

The latest alleged murderer, James Holmes, has murdered at least 12 people as of this writing, including a three-month old baby. He came into a crowded theater, released tear gas, and then opened fire. He apparently carried an arsenal of weapons, and he told police he had wired his apartment to explode. He came dressed all in black, and he apparently shot with abandon, aiming at nobody, yet aiming at everyone. This young man, 24, is, or was, a PhD candidate. I would assume he came from a fairly nice family, as “nice” is defined. So, what happened?

 

I think about the young me, Klebold, who shot and killed and wounded students at Columbine High School; the young men, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who blew up the Murrah State Office building in Oklahoma City, the young man, , T.J. Lane,  who is accused of shooting students at Chardon High School in Ohio earlier this year; and of course, there was the horrific shooting in Colorado where Jared Loughner shot Representative Gabby Giffords and 18 other people in 2011…all white men, and I don’t get it. Why does this keep happening, again and again?

 

Could it be that white men harbor some degree of self-hatred too? Or is it they carry a lot of anger about …well, about what?  If white men are angry, and especially so angry that they feel compelled to shoot whomever is in their way, why are they that angry?

 

Isn’t it a topic or subject or situation that somebody ought to at least look into?

 

My heart is so heavy for the people who were shot in Colorado. All they were doing was watching a movie, and now, some are dead, some are wounded, and all who survived or who will survive are forever changed. It seems like a fair amount of Americans are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, all due to domestic violence, and much of due to these mass killings.

 

It just seems that the tendency of white men to express their anger and rage through mass murder ought to be a subject for study. It’s proper to be horrified when these atrocities happen, but horror isn’t worth a dime if it cannot and does not lead to serious study so that the problem can be alleviated or reduced.

 

There are just way too many mass murders in America, too many white men who punish a slew of people for something they are upset about. It’s time for it to stop. Past time, actually.

 

A candid observation …