Reflections from Baltimore

This article by Dan Passerelli originally appeared Monday, May 4 on OutsideTheDoor

This time last week I was writing at my dining room table in north Baltimore, oblivious to the violence that was unfolding a few miles away in the area around Mondawmin Mall. It wasn’t until a friend texted and asked if we wanted to come stay with them that I knew something was up. We turned on the TV, and, like many in our region, watched as the ugly scenes unfolded under the watchful eye of the news helicopters. Family started calling to make sure we were safe. My kids wanted to know how long it would take the police to arrest the looters. My wife wondered how she would get to work the next day. I had more questions than answers myself: Why is this happening? What do they hope to accomplish? When will order be restored? Will anything change? Why the CVS?

That last question may seem a bit small given the scope of all that was happening, but I just couldn’t understand why CVS stores seemed to be a prime target for looters. I’ve had a week to reflect on all this, and I don’t have answers for all the questions. But I offer the following to possibly spur further discussion:

TV Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story

Not all of Baltimore is violent, and not all hope is lost. This may seem obvious, but watching the news coverage on the night of April 27 it was hard to tell. The morning after the violence, another pastor and I went to Sandtown to help a sister church with cleanup. We arrived about 10am, but by that time most of the neighborhood was already done. The residents had come out early in the morning to clear their streets, pick up trash, and restore a bit of beauty. They expressed a love for their neighbors and a care for each other. In the face of the despair and frustration that was being expressed the night before, the community came out and showed that all is not lost – there is still hope, there are resources available and people who care enough to use them, and their neighborhoods and streets are worth cleaning.

Relationships Are Key

It’s a confusing, complicated situation, with many factors that no one person fully understands. This means that relationships are key – we have to be in relationship with people and listen to them and their story if we want to respond well. This is where my question about CVS becomes relevant. I had a guess about why those stores were targeted, but when I asked 3 people from Sandtown why their CVS was attacked, I got three different answers. None of them were the reason I had thought of. I still don’t know the real reason – maybe there are many different reasons that motivated the various looters. But the whole quest for an answer reminded me that it’s more important to know people, to hear their stories, and to listen to them, than it is to get ‘The Answer’.

It also reminded me that the confusion is fueled by the lines that separate us: lines of race, lines of economics, of where we grew up, of our experience of the police (the people you call when you need help vs. people you avoid for your own safety). We have to be willing to cross those lines and engage with each other and listen. It’s not helpful to say “I’m glad I don’t live in the city.” or “You wouldn’t understand, you’ve never lived in this neighborhood and experienced what I’ve experienced.” We may in fact be glad we don’t live in the affected neighborhoods, but we can’t simply leave it at that, because that creates lines of separation. And it may be true that you can’t fully understand the situation if you’ve never lived in a rough neighborhood, but dismissing those who have only experienced privilege also draws a line and doesn’t help them understand.

Jesus didn’t look at earth and say “You guys have really messed that place up, I’m glad I don’t live there.” He crossed the line, lived with us, ate with us, shared stories with us. He shared our pain and sorrow in order to redeem it. We need to follow Him in crossing the lines that separate us.

Everyone Involved Is Made in God’s Image:

That’s true for the police who patrol the streets, the boys doing the looting, the store owner who was attacked, and the grandmother worrying at home about her grandchildren. It’s also true for Freddie Gray, the young man who’s death is at the center of all this. Freddie was a man in the image of God – and so his life had infinite value. Whatever he had done or not done, whatever or whoever it was that caused his death, his life mattered and to die at 25 is a tragedy. People are carrying signs in the streets that say ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘All lives matter’ – and this is true, because all lives are made in God’s image. Jesus died and rose to restore us into God’s image and bring us together, so that one day before God’s throne there will be police and rioters and gang members and politicians and pastors all standing to worship God.  This is the ultimate hope for our city. In the meantime, sharing a meal together, or picking up some broken glass – these are small steps that point to the reality that will one day be.

Posted on May 7, 2015 .