Thursday, April 4, 2013

Smaller buildings, nets, and other bandaids

Near where I live there's viaduct
Where people jump when they're out of luck
Raining down on the cars and trucks below.
They've put a net there to catch their fall
Like that'll stop anyone at all
What they don't know is when nature calls, you go.
- War on Drugs, Steven Page/Ed Robertson, 2003

These forms form the heart of a very powerful song, one that moved me the first time I hear BNL perform it. It is a ballad packed with meaning, calling attention to the despair, hopelessness, and desperation of so many in our society. Feelings that we all experience from time to time, but seems to overwhelm some...even to the point of suicide. The song is, in my opinion, essentially dedicated to those people.

I thought of the song, and this verse in particular, as I was reading again today from When Helping Hurts, a book on poverty alleviation by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I already had been struck by the importance of motives, and just a couple of days later this book cut me to the quick again. In this case, it was through a story:

There was an incident in the housing projects of Chicago where two boys about 10 years old killed a five-year-old by dropping him out of a 14th floor window. Apparently the kid has refused to steal candy for them. There are all sorts of influences that led to this tragedy, all borne of the brokenness of our world since The Fall. Distorted worldviews, shame, hopelessness - broken people and broken systems. But the thing that struck me - and reminded me of the song - were the comments of a pair of teenagers from that neighborhood: 
Now they're talking about tearing down all the high-rises and putting everyone in low-rise buildings as the solution [to children dropping other children out of high-rise windows]. True, it's a start. But "Tyrone" and "Johnny" could have thrown Eric out of a vacant apartment in the low-rises and he could have fallen and broken his neck. So what are you going to do - make the low-rise homes lower? It's more than just the buildings. You don't know how it is to take a life until you value life itself. Those boys didn't value life. Those boys didn't have too much reason to value life. Now they killed someone and part of them is dead too. (LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman with David Isay, Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago)
See why I thought of the song? It's the same mentality. Let's stop all these suicides by building a net to catch their fall.  In the meantime, the lyrics cry out about the brokenness that make the size of buildings or the height of viaducts irrelevant. Listen to the whole song:

We are all so broken. Poverty - material, emotional, and spiritual - is the manifestation of that brokenness. Page and Robertson write of how it will be "dull" when we rid ourselves of those demons. But those words radiate longing and an almost sarcastic use of the word "dull." Dull, sure - but in a marvelous way. A world where despair is a thing of the past.

This - whether they realize it or not - is what the kingdom of God is all about. We are to work every day to rid ourselves and our neighbors of " all these demons haunting us," driving them away with love  and a mutual effort to make our relationships right. And then one day, the longed-for dullness will be complete, when Jesus comes again to make everything right.

What a marvelously "dull" day that will be! But in the meantime, let's not be about building smaller buildings and nets to stop people from jumping. Let's be about healing, restoration and reconciliation. Not because some of us have all the answers, but because all of us need each other and need the creative power of the resurrection.

"Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

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