I’ve seen a few rough nights and days here in what we call “North City”. Crime seems to be a part of the culture here in this part of St. Louis. It is nothing to hear someone scream during the day, or hear a shot (actually a series of shots; or semi-automatic weapons) go off during the night. Sirens can be heard every hour in our neighborhood. Occasionally it seems that the sirens run through one hour into the next. I have often thought of just sitting my recorder up in the window of my upstairs living room in the rectory and letting it record the sounds of the neighborhood. All at the same time you can hear children playing, hip-hop music, a woman screaming, someone starting the engine of their automobile, the sound of cars passing by on interstate 70 (oblivious to what is going on down here), while a sweet and gentle wind blows a dog barks, and then suddenly in the midst of it all, the all too familiar sound “pop, pop, pop!” Some times I tell my self it is a car backfiring, but deep down inside I know it is not. Someone has just unloaded a few rounds from a revolver and for a moment, everything stops, but not for long. For most part, I don’t think anyone gets shot, but far too often someone does.
The other day when a number of children came over to play in the yard (as they do nearly every day) we stopped for a few moments and talked about all the shootings. There were about seven young people from the neighborhood in that day; and every one of them shared with me how someone close to them had been shot or killed. They had lost a father, an uncle, or someone close to the family. Often times they talk to one another as they go up and down the streets about how they are going to “pop” someone. On one occasion after I ran three boys out of a parked car, one of them turned and repeatedly shouted how he was going to “pop” me. Just hold that thought now, as I am trying to set the stage for something I thought was remarkable (I know, I will get to it in a minute).
On top of all this, as I understand things; nearly 60 percent of the boys and 50 percent of the girls will not graduate high school. A great many of the girls will end up pregnant (some more than once), and without a man to lead and provide for the family. As far as the men are concerned, many of them will not even make it to old age because for one reason or another the streets will have claimed their lives. And then, there is the stealing. I know about the stealing because I was only here a few days and some young people had stolen two of my little girls’ bike and scooter.
But, when I got up the other morning, something strange (at least for what I was witnessing) had happened. Or, maybe it is strange that it did not happen. I saw something, and realized something, that I thought was almost a miracle! With all the murders, shootings, rapes, stealing, and all sorts of other things going on, the ball was still there! It was still there, tucked nicely between two pieces of cement under the (of all things) portable basketball goal! The ball was still there. How many times I have seen or heard of them stealing the bikes, scooters, other toys, computers, or whatever. But basketball is always there, all night long, all day long, and into the next day, and so on, and so on. Anything and everything is up for grabs, but not the basketball!
Everyone knows that you can steal the bike, the scooter, the television, the car and have some measure of fun for some time to come by yourself with these things. But, the basketball brings by far, the greatest amount of pleasure only in the context of community! If you steal the basketball, you steal community, you steal your own pleasure, you steal from yourself life! Somehow, without anyone preaching, without anyone teaching, everyone knows, you can’t steal the basketball.
It is quiet under the goal at the moment, but in a few hours, there will be young boys and a few men under the goal playing basketball, just like they do everyday. In the midst of a broken world, a broken city, with broken lives I have witnessed countless times healing take place and community restored (at least for a moment) while young men played a game called basketball. And just before darkness falls on the city, before I once again hear a shots in the night, the young men will without reservation, regardless of the stealing and shooting, they will faithfully place the basketball between two pieces of broken cement under the goal knowing that in the morning, the ball will still be there!
In the Christian community we often experience a different kind of violence. The violence in the family of God, in the church is no so overt, is more difficult to see; but for the one’s who have felt the pain of broken promises and violated confidences and betrayed trusts in the middle of the night, will we allow the ball to still be there in the morning. Just as a broken city with broken lives finds a little bit of healing and a little bit of community under the goal when they gather to pick the ball up once again and laugh and smile and play and occasionally give a high five and a hoot-hoot for well aimed shot that was nothin’ but net! We who are in Christ must learn to leave some things behind at the cross, and when we return in the morning after a long nights rest find our faith is still there at the feet of a resurrected Jesus, and we can once again laugh (even with those dear one’s that may have offended us); we can live (even though our hearts had once been broken; and we can in love give a spiritual high-five to the one who yesterday seemed as an enemy, but today in Christ is our brother or sister. And when the night begins to settle in, we can once again, together lay our burdens down, knowing in the morning our faith will still be there (just like the ball)!
I will see you in the morning under the goal,