Monday, November 14, 2011

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


One of my favorite scenes in a movie that I have found to be so relevant to matters of conflict and peace is from the Harrison Ford movie Witness. The premiss of the movie is that an Amish child has witnessed a murder and Harrison is assigned to go under cover and live with the Amish and protect the child from the murders who are after the witness.

The Amish are peaceful and choose to avoid violence. They don't have any physical training in fighting and they do not keep firearms in their community. Some would call them pacifists. For whatever reason that title has been given a negative connotation: Pacifists let the world pass them by and are to scared and weak to stand up to any one imposing violence. (something like that).

At the climax of the movie the "bad guys" have broke into the Amish community while most of the men are out in the fields doing manual labor. The boy is captured by the antagonist but just after he was able to ring the bell and single the men back from the fields. The scene is that the bad guy has the gun to the boys head while Harrison and a few others are standing there trying to talk him out of killing him. As the men appear over the hillside they approach the scene without a word, without force, and with really nothing other than their presence. They merely stand and witness the scene unfolding. The antagonist realizes that there is no way out of the situation. He has so many people watching him that he will easily be convicted for anyone he kills in an attempt to escape. Reality also strikes him that he only has a few bullets left in his gun, not nearly enough to kill all the witnesses. He lays down his gun and allows him self to be arrested, their presence was the power that disarmed him and brought about justice.

Yesterday, I was walking through the neighborhood with Josh Kupkee (neighborhood resident and also an intern at Broadway) and also Jeffery Perkins (neighborhood resident and staff member). On our way heading back to the church after a stroll through the neighborhood we heard screaming and yelling from the street over. We nearly walked on but it didn't stop and it became clear that a women was being hurt by someone else. I would have probably continued on minding my own business but Josh immediately turned and began to walk towards where the noise was coming from. As we walked by the scene it dissolved. We didn't say a word or act physically towards them in anyway, we merely were witnesses to the violence and our presence was enough to stop it.

Now is the conflict over? Is the women in this situation free of the physical abuse she may have received?
Heck no, but I do know that she knows that somebody cares enough to walk by and we dissolved the situation that was violent.

I was also reassured that peace is not only possible it is effective and a moral choice that has ten times better chance resulting in peace than using violence to resolve a situation does.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

20 Years From Now

20 years from now we pray, hope, and work that the neighborhood of Mapleton Fall Creek will be different. Often I do not know what that will look like. I think many of us have dreams and visions of what it will look like: maybe a community center for youth to play sports and do art, a post office, a walking and biking path, a grocery store in walking distance, for crime to be diminished, for poverty to disappear, for prostitution to be eradicated, we wish for neighbors to be their brothers and sisters keeper, etc etc.

We want it to be different, more of a community, and "better" (however you want to say it) but we also want the same people that are living here now to be present 20 years from now. I am seeing now that it is much more important to empower the community members to transform their own community, rather than creating programs, youth centers, and donating money so that the neighborhood can become more appealing.

Communities needs to be transformed indigenously, change needs to rise up. Not come from the outside by any sort of institution or person with power and influence.

What we must be weary of is what happened in this community and every other city in the United States, that the area will become appealing again because of the affordable rehabed homes, the new businesses, or the new art center that is erected to save the neighborhood, so appealing that the cost of living is to much for the current community members and more and more people move into this neighborhood displacing the neighbors of Mapleton Fall Creek.

Indeed, how to go about working within the confines on this neighborhood to create community, economy, opportunity, and mutual delight is hard, but even more so when there is a need go about it in away that we preserve what makes this community a real community. What makes this community what it is is not its location, streets, house, businesses, or community centers but the people who make a living here and raise their children here.

20 years from now I pray for a beautiful transformed neighborhood that has taken the good now brewing and allowed it to grab hold and contagiously go from neighbor to neighbor creating a new community, a new community not because of the new grocery store and schools for children to grow up in but because of the people that have transformed individually and all these individuals put together equal a new community.

If the members of this community are not willing to stand tall in the face of blight, institutions, the city, the church, developers, and everyone else trying to hussle for more, the cycle of gentrification will continue.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Been Green

The green movement carries a stigma that it belongs only to the wealthy and middle class that have enough money to buy hybrid cars, solar panels, wind turbines, and can afford to eat whole wheat organic. Community members of the Mapelton Fall Creek community have been "going green" long before it was the cool thing to do. Due to the conditions in Mapelton Fall Creek: lack of resources, lack of job opportunity, a lot of garbage/broken glass, vacant lots, and high energy/heating bills, people are reacting sustainable out of the need to survive. In many ways this community is a breading ground for green initiatives that most people talk about doing but never get around to implementing. Here the need for green is not about saving the trees (which is a worthy cause) but is about making the best of your situation and creating opportunity out of the mess surrounding them.
Here are some examples of people who have been practicing a sustainable life long before it was going green.
Avis is a cook who uses the empty lots to throw parties and barbecues for the community.

Tyson is a neiborhood resident who knows more about green building than most everyone and constults on green construction.

Joe King runs an unbelievable non- for profit that allows youth in the neighborhood to experience hunting, fishing, and environmental protection. His group is responsible for cleaning the section of the White River that runs through Mapelton Fall Creek.

Mike Reese is a man who pulls all kinds of materials out of the trash fixes them and sells them. He fixes and refirburshes desks and dressers and often repairs washes and driers.

Shane and Trisha are a young couple that do an unbelievable amount of garden

Boo is a gardener that plants his a garden in his own yard but also goes from neighbor to neighbor planting gardens for them.

Musa is also a gardener that has recently begun to sell his fruit/vegetables in the community. He is also implementing edible landscape.

Nancy Stenson recycles bikes.

Donald Walton is a muralist who beautifies the community and collects trash for scrap art.

and so much more...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Life as a House

William owns a home in Mapelton Fall Creek and a home in Tennessee. He has left his home here in Indianapolis unattended, vacant, and bordered up for months. When he returned from Tennessee he found his home literally falling in around him. He made a comment that he had no idea how deeply philosophical, intriguing, and cool it was. Basically he said something like this: "Houses need love to! Houses need life. They need people not only to clean and upkeep them, but to cook, sleep, talk, and walk around in them. Otherwise they will die, just like what would happen if you neglected a person." (definitely not a direct quote).

When he said this I instantly thought of the poppy flower a week earlier that in my eyes represented the resurrection of a space that was left to die. This flower allowed me to see that a vacant lot was meant to have life on it in some form: a garden, a house, a park, anything, but there has to be life for it to reach the potential it was meant for. William allowed me to see that a house is the same way and that it isn't even really the cleaning and upkeep that keeps a house from falling in but the laughing, sleeping, breathing, eating, talking, crying, and all the other aspects of life that people's presence brings to a house.

I don't really know what to make of these thoughts other than I am given hope that if God can take a person that is broken and make them whole then he can certainly transform a vacant lot or boarded up house into something beautiful.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Poppy Resurrection

I was walking through the neighborhood today glancing at the backdrop that the vacant lots and abandoned homes provide when something caught my eye. I made my way over to a vacant lot to witness these unbelievable flowers that had bloomed right in the empty lot. Anyone with a knowledge of flowers or gardens would know that it was a poppy flower (I had no idea). I was taken aback by its bright color redish orange color, large size, paper mache like pedals, and its location, a vacant lot, that most would say was a waste of space that was hopeless.

After a little research on the flower I found out that in Greco-Roman culture it symbolized eternal sleep and is often used as a symbol on tombstones. I thought about that for a little bit: The vacant lot has a lot in common with that flower, it seemed to be trapped in an eternal sleep that despite the efforts of many different forces it could not come out of its eternal sleep in other words was dead. These lots are not meant to be vacant, they are designed to have a house full of energy, laughs, tears, and every aspect of life living and breathing on top of it. Yet these empty lots our trapped in this eternal sleep without the life it desires to take root in its soil.
There is hope though. See when I saw in that flower I saw potential, opportunity, transformation, and ultimately resurrection in the midst of despair. The Greco-Roman culture also used the poppy flower as a symbol of resurrection.

We pass by these lots so quickly and without any hope that they never are able to become more than the wasteful space trapped in an eternal sleep waiting and desiring someone to build and resurrect it. We forget that if resurrected they have the potential to sprout beautiful poppy flowers or a beautiful home where a family is given a second chance, a place to laugh, love, cry, cook, and invite neighbors into.
Jesus' resurrection didn't end with his ascension to heaven and is not just to be celebrated around spring holidays but is the continuos workings of God transforming the messes we make out of the world into beauty.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Treasure in the Rough

Most of us would drive by the neighborhood of Mapelteon Fall Creek and never imagine that anyone noteworthy or famous would live there. Amongst all of the vaccant lots, deterating houses, overgrown grass, and not to mention thousands of preconvieved notions that swarm are minds, we do not leave much of a chance for much of anything to come out of the neighborhood.

Mari Evans, a world renown famous writer, poet, play write, and political activist lives in the heart of the neighborhood that has nothing to offer. (Check out her credentials: As I walked through the neighborhood attempting to make conversations with people that were wondering what this yuppie white kid was doing, she invited me into her home. She is 85 years of wisdom, experience, and intelligent, and I tried ltirellesy to soak up every word that she said.

What I took:
I asked her about peace and conflict in the neighborhood and where people go to resolve their conflicts. She said that people in this neighborhood are just trying to survive. This was not the answer I was looking for, I was hoping she would tell me about some person a block over that is known to be the peacemaker that people go to to resolve conflict. What she said, survival, complicates the matter that I was hoping would be black and white.

In the relationship between peace and conflict where does survival find its place?

The reality that she shared with me altered and complicated my perception of peace/conflict.

She also played us a wonderful song on the piano, and when she finished looked at me and asked what instrument I played? (as if playing an instrument was as essential as breathing).
I responded by saying that I didn't play anything.
Whyyyy, she pleaded.

Due to this encounter I think I will look into picking up the harmonica.