The 14th Most Dangerous Neighborhood...

I spoke to my mother tonight. It turns out that we live right next door to the 14th most dangerous neighborhood in the United States. My sister alerted me to this when the info came out. The plan was to keep this from the folks to prevent unnecessary worry on our behalf. I hadn’t mentioned it on the blog before for that reason but we’ve been outed now so here it is. Turns out that (this year at least) we live adjacent to the 14th most dangerous neighborhood in the United States. Now in mother reckoning this is the same as living inside the neighborhood. To Mom’s credit we are less than ½ a block away from one of the bordering streets. And also to her credit is the fact that I can immediately think of at least two murders that have happened in our neighborhood this year. One of them was two weeks ago over $60 which I mentioned in Paying a Dealer’s Debt: Part II.

What Vic and I have witnessed from the violence in these neighborhoods is that they are almost always related to the drug culture prevalent here. If you participate in the culture you dabble in the danger. If you keep your nose clean, treat everyone with respect and compassion and watch your back you’re mostly fine. The 1 in 9 chance of being a victim of a violent crime in the neighborhood next door may be statistically accurate but the reality is that the crimes that are taking place are mostly between those involved in criminal activities on both sides.

But the reality is that these are desperately broken communities. Poverty, addiction and poor education have a choke hold on these inner city neighborhoods. In our neighborhood the first 30% of the population have a middle school education, the next 30% have a high school education but no diploma, the next 30% graduated high school with no college. That leaves 10% for some college experience but few graduates. .02% of that 10 have a master’s degree. That means that the choices available to many in our neighborhood are limited without the service of others who might open up new possibilities.

If we stay away because of fear those new possibilities are left unrealized. I believe that Christianity gives us powerful resources for dealing with fear. What are we the most afraid of? Stanley Hauerwas, a favorite theologian of mine (he’s the professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University) says that hospitals are the new cathedrals of our age in Western civilization. What he means is that our greatest fear is death and that we are willing to do anything to put it off. However, Christian discipleship, he suggests, is the art of learning to die young (not kill) for Christ and his Kingdom. The ability to do so well is rooted in how well we actually believe in Christ’s work on the cross and the promise of resurrection and the renewal of all things. If death does not have the final word what is there to fear? If God is for us who can be against us? Paul courageously mocked death proclaiming, “Oh death, where is your sting?” If death still has a sting for us as Christ followers then there is a very difficult question we have before us. But if death has no sting then where can’t we go and where shouldn’t we go as Christians? If the gates of Hell cannot prevail against the Church then why not plant one right in between them? I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen it happen in the bateys of the Dominican, in La Mosca, in the Hole and elsewhere. It opens up radically different possibilities. They’re opening in our neighborhood too.

The new possibilities start with courage, hope and faith. The courage is two sided, those with resources to offer hope and help need courage to do so. Those stuck in difficult life circumstances need courage to imagine a life that might be different from the only one they’ve ever known. I know this is true of “Al” who just recently made the first steps to turn his life around, imagining a life not driven by addiction. Al came to our community group the other night, not as one requesting aid but as a participant. As we read through a section of Hebrews he commented that he needed to read more of this and asked if Hebrews was in every Bible. I don’t know where this will go with Al. I do know that it is a beautiful picture of the beginnings of redemption and renewal, a picture that we would not have if it were not for other fellow Christians willing to choose to live in neighborhoods like the ones we’re in, living hopefully and faithfully, choosing to look upon tragedy through redemptive lenses and looking for opportunities to bring life and light to dead and dark places. The top 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States should be the kind of communities Christians in North America should be looking to for spiritual and material investment. Paul said to live is Christ to die is gain. What do we really have to fear, what do we really have to lose?