I would think that after years as a Pastor at St. Anna’s and after years of working with so many people and doing so many wonderful things to fulfill our Lord’s directions that we might be know as something other than “The Murder Board Church.” As we approach the Season of Advent we are asked to consider with expectancy the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets in the person of Jesus. I would also suggest that it is a time and a season to consider an oft forgotten piece of Christian theology and understanding that of “Corporate Sin.” It would seem to me that the incarnation was necessitated. Necessitated by what? By a loving, forgiving, tolerate and eternally patient God who would go to any length even humiliation on the cross to set things right. So, we are “The Murder Board” Church. I wish we were the Medical Mission Church or the Anna’s Arts Church or the Oportunidades Church or the Food Pantry Church or the Church of Hospitality and inclusion. But no, it seems that in the public eye we are “The Murder Board” Church.
It is in the public eye that we are seen as such because it is sometimes ‘newsworthy’ but not so much those things that tend to stand over and against violence but rather we are known as a stark symbol of urban violence. It is “The Murder Board.” The Murder Board neither sings nor dance, it does not travel, nor does it have activity as an attribute. It simply is and stands alone with flowers adorning its base, a desecrated angel standing vigil, and it silently and sadly holds bold and sad testimony to the loss of human life. It is not active in the sense of physical movement but it IS active saying so much by simply naming. It is a mute reminder of profound loss. You can lose yourself when standing before it and contemplating its mysteries. Yes, mysteries. The ‘why’ mysteries are layered and dense. For some it may ask, “Who is to blame or what is to blame?” For others, “They lived that life and reaped what they sowed.” For others “It is in my face can’t we celebrate life?” Even for some it is seen as an attempt to get “good press” and in some way as a tawdry attempt at notoriety. Believe when I say that when I die I do not want to be known as “The Murder Board Priest” nor in sacred history to we want to be known as “The Murder Board Church” but rather the little church that offered hope, honesty, hospitality, and humanity to all who came to her.
The question we sometimes ask our selves at St. Anna’s is how long will we do this and to what end? A priest once asked me, “Do you really think it does any good?” Yes it does. For some it is the only memorial in a public place that says this “This son of mine once lived.” For some passing by it causes them to stop and if only for a moment to consider – maybe the state of the City, maybe their own mortality, maybe simply the profound sadness of loss. But this memorial is more than a “Murder Board” it is a memorial to victims. Everyone on that memorial is a victim either passively or actively so. An innocent child shot in cross fire is certainly a victim. But consider, what name there came into this world born to kill or be killed? What name there, in infancy wanted anything more than to be loved, respected, and enjoy what so many of us enjoy – a chance to simply live an adequate life?
The title of this BLOG is “he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” and it is from the prophet Jeremiah as the first lesson of Advent. This lesson anticipates a bringing into our world a force a messiah who seeks both justice and compassion (righteousness). Justice coupled with compassion does not tolerate murder and make excuses for it. It does, however, disrupt, disturb, and interfere with the forces that propel a child or family or even a culture toward a life of violence, retribution, and vengeance. There is a great old gospel hymn that says:
Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water
God’s a-going to trouble the water
Those troubling waters purified and sanctified the ones who entered it. What troubled waters are we as a culture, city, society, and church willing to enter to be purified, sanctified, and cleansed? Perhaps its “The Murder Board.” I believe that we are all , in some way, culpable for our urban holocaust. It is more likely as question of corporate sins of omission now-a-days rather than commission but sin none the less. What do we do not do rather than what have we done. How do we break the back of multi-generational violence, of generations of dependent families, of hopelessness, of this present darkness? No single answer will do. But do not be overwhelmed, what has begun and is can be undone and does not necessarily have to be. That is the virtue of the rivers of life and rivers of time. If we do not hope and do not act there is no hope and there is no answer. But if we continually hope, continually act, continually build a fortress against bigotry, poverty, hopelessness, helplessness, dependance, dis-empowerment, and rage – then we have more than a chance. Such requires tenacity and thick skin. Such requires not a flirtatious moment of compassion for compassion as part of our very self definition. So, we are the “Murder Board Church”, that from such an understanding, like the crucifixion, we move toward and are compelled to resurrection. We “wade in the water” through Anna’s Arts to disrupt poverty of mind, body, and spirit for little ones, medical intervention to prevent illness for the uninsured, Oportunidades to enculturate not ghettoize. “Wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the waters.” The new Victims of Violence Memorial was installed on All Saints Day 2012 remembering over 1,200 human beings.