The city of Chicago continues to make headlines worldwide due to the violence that is plaguing neighborhoods that are poor and gang infested. The flow of guns is saturating these areas, making it impossible to stem the violence and murder of so many lives. The lives lost to gun violence is double that of New York and Los Angeles combined! Just mention the name of our city…Chicago… and people immediately think of gun violence and murdered lives. What can we do to change this?
The areas of violence are poor and primarily African American, lacking in strong schools, jobs and stable families. The cause is extremely complex, but deeply rooted racism and the history and impact of institutional slavery, are certainly at the heart of this tragedy. Historically, Chicago has been defined by racial segregation, with clear borders of demarcation: railroad tracks, acknowledged highways, expressways, forest preserves and rivers. These defined, bordered areas create “bubbles” of desperate humanity. Throughout the city are other “bubbles” of neighborhoods that have as many as four or five large grocery stores, good private and public schools, easy access to public services, streets and parks maintained, better opportunities for employment.
What do we do? The problem is so huge and entrenched that we can only respond as individuals in the best way that we can. I try and read to learn the history that helps to explain how we got where we got. Education opens the eyes and hearts to unpleasant and disturbing realities: we are all a part of the problem. The situation in which we are born largely determines the kind of human being we become. I was deeply fortunate by my birth into a strong family with parents that were always present in a neighborhood that was safe and grounded in community. The public schools were the best, giving me a phenomenal education, creating so many possibilities and career pathways. But my upbringing was very middle class and very White. Cultural diversity wasn’t even thought of or discussed and the races were separate and NOT equal.
In reading, learning, praying and connecting we can simply try to create human bridges between individuals and between small communities, allowing for ALL to learn from the other. Hearts can only be changed when minds are changed. Hearts that are hardened need to be cracked open through dialogue, learning the history of the “other” through sources not tainted with defensive positions that want to maintain the status quo, volunteering together, and most important: sharing a wonderful meal with lots of unheard of food! Yes, a meal can change a heart but only when the way we think changes. We have to let go of certain ways of thinking and ideologies rooted in prejudice. Each one of us has to become a new human being.
Changing minds and hearts, becoming a new person…where have we heard this before? Through our baptism, when we were immersed in those waters of death and rebirth those words of new life we prayed and spoken. The Spirit of our baptism is always waiting to surface, deepening our conversion and furthering the transformation of our characters. Liturgy, seasons, rituals and prayer are given to us for the sole purpose of transforming our identities into that of Christ. The solution to all the problems of our world: each one of us must keep the internal journey moving forward, allowing God and Grace to chisel away our darknesses, which allow our own small humanity to shine a bit of light into the small dark corners of world we inhabit.
Peace. Fr. Frank