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Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Sound of Silence

I haven't posted in a while, mostly because we spent the month of December ending what might be called a great experiment - living in the City of Milwaukee. Increasing violence, culminating in the murder of our 84 year old neighbor, drove us out.

I enjoyed living in an integrated neighborhood with its reminders of my own childhood - a place where kids still play on the street and ride bicycles, something our own children always thought was beneath them when they were younger. It was nostalgic to see children running between garages playing hide and seek, and it was tragic to know that at any moment gunshots could ring out and take one of their lives. In 2013 three people were murdered within three blocks of our home, which was not located in the most violent part of Milwaukee. Near the end, hardly a week went by that we didn't hear multiple shots fired close to our home. Guns weren't the only problem, however. When our neighbor was murdered he was killed with a knife. If you believe that guns are the only instruments of violence in the hood, you are wrong.

In many ways it's the great liberal mission, moving back to the city. I was foolish enough to believe that I could make a difference in the most segregated city in America. I don't want to sound too cynical, but I could not have been more mistaken. None of us can make a difference by ourselves, and when the potential to make a difference comes at the price of endangering our own children and grandchildren, honesty compels me to admit it just isn't worth it to me. While I understand that the reasons for violence in our cities are many and the largest reason is economic inequity, if the people living in our cities are really interested in change they simply have to decrease the violence. Our four years on the fringes of the hood taught me that while it was certainly wrong for industry to leave our cities I cannot imagine any sane person opening a business in the midst of the kind of violence we see in most major urban areas today until the violence abates.

The problem is really quite simple. The vast majority of Americans have bought into the idea that money brings happiness. It's that quest for cash and things that leaves our urban areas destitute and in need of the alternative economy of the drug trade, it's politicians' perceived need for more control and more cash that keeps them enabling the drug trade, and it's the greed of suburbanites that keeps them enslaved to the one percent that actually control the economy. In the midst of all this, our spiritual institutions have failed to provide a viable alternative - precisely because they, too, are after money and not souls.

Here in the suburbs I do not hear gunshots. Nor do I hear drunken arguments on the street at three in the morning. There is not a constant parade of intoxicated people to and from the corner store. Not once have I heard the word "motherfucker" shouted in anger, nor have I heard anyone called "bitch," "ho," or anyone threatening to "kick your ass." Often, all I hear is silence. Quite honestly, I like it that way - and it doesn't make me a racist. I am tired of hearing that white people who don't want to live in the violence of the hood are racist - that's a victim mentality if ever there was one. I am simply someone who has a chaos threshold that, over the last four years, has been constantly exceeded. If I can make a difference, and I am not sure that I can, it will be by challenging the corrupt value system that pervades our culture. We need to recognize that money won't make us happy, and we have all the evidence we need in people with money. We need to claim a viable spirituality for the 21st century, one rooted in the great religious traditions but which speaks to contemporary people. Most of all, we need to understand that it's not about any one of us - it's about all of us.

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