The month that my wife and I moved to Chicago, there was a fatal shooting at the end of our block. The shots woke us up.
A few weeks later, there was a fatal shooting across the street from the apartment that hosted our Bible study.
After that, things seemed to quiet down in our little corner of the city. And I got caught up in the stress of life, and for the most part forgot about our early experiences.
But a couple weeks ago, as we rounded the corner heading to Bible study, we were bombarded with blue flashing lights. Half a dozen cop cars, a fire truck, an ambulance, and police tape. When we made it inside our friends’ place, they looked relieved. Multiple gunshots just minutes before. It explained the weird text message they sent: “Be safe.”
In that moment, I experienced some serious nostalgia for my old life of automobile-slavery, settled in the shadow of Los Angeles. And then I had some visceral urges for cul de sacs and SUVs.
I mean, we moved across the country to join a church, not have our life shaken up.
So why a church in Chicago? What’s so wrong with cul de sacs and sunshine? Everything? Nothing? Honestly, I don’t know anymore and I don’t think any of the reasons matter. What matters is we are here; Chicago is our home.
And violence matters to us now, in a way it never really did before.
To be honest it’s still the same numb detachment when I see the numbers on Twitter from a different part of the city: 5 dead in Southside neighborhood over the weekend.
But it’s different when it happens in the neighborhood my kid plays in. It’s different when I look up and see the blue light of a Chicago PD CCTV surveillance camera, and all I can think sometimes is “Jesus.” In the swear sense, and the prayer sense.
And I don’t really know what to do other than pray. And the praying is so hard, because prayer always connects my reality to the reality of others. And my experience is just a small piece of the bigger violence that our world is enduring right now: Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq and Syria. The woman just hung in Iran. And last I read, we’re over 10,000 confirmed cases of Ebola.
While the prayer is painful, it’s what helps me stay rooted.
When I was looking at pictures from the early days of Euromaidan in Ukraine, I remember this Eastern Orthodox priest, in full vestment (plus winter gloves) standing in the gap between angry protesters and riot police, praying for peace.
Standing in the gap between life as it exists and future hope, well that takes faith and belief and grit and a small dose of incurable insanity.
It took me a long time to learn this, but the discipline of prayer isn’t about twisting the arm of a reluctant deity to fix all our problems. It connects us to a bigger reality, even broader than the reality of suffering — the groaning of humans for peace.
I can’t say this for sure, but my hunch is that crazy priest in Ukraine didn’t step out between the fighting because he assumed he could fix everything. He just stepped into a higher truth of human reality, in that moment. In the midst of conflict, he was in the midst of peace.
Peace is bigger and truer than violence, but we need eyes to see it. And we need the solid footing to stand for it.
I’m awake, thanks to a shooting that finally mattered to me. My eyes are open, because now I live outside the numbness of numbers and the coddling of cul de sacs. Now i’m learning how to stand.