Yesterday was a blustery autumn day in my hometown of Monrovia, California. “Fall-like” weather comes late to Southern California. But it comes! I had gone down to our town library to do some research for my next column. I nestled in to a quiet corner of the already hushed world of library life and peered out from my window on the world and happily gazed on the rites of autumn unfolding before me.
Colorful and dashing leaves were marching back and forth on the surrounding grounds of Library Park and the town folk were bustling and cheerful with the gleeful feel of the approaching American Thanksgiving holiday. Parents and grandparents with their young ones were running around the adjacent park enjoying every moment. No one seemed to have a care in the world. The ever-present mountains, which hover over my town, were so crystal clear that you could count every pine tree to the top of each peak. It was just simply one of those days when you say, “Life is good.”
In the midst of all of this autumnal splendor, my mind drifted back to the job at hand. I poured over various periodicals that spotlighted the recent big headline issues of Afghanistan, the war on terror, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the recent hostage-taking assault in Moscow, the oil tanker spill off the coast of Spain and on and on. The various covers of the national and international magazines had all the familiar faces on them: President Bush, Saddam Hussein, Hans Blix or a sea gull mired in oil.
Yes, there was much I could write about. More than enough to consider in the light of biblical directives for understanding the principle of “this is the way.” But my head and heart were somewhere else. While my need to write seemingly was drawing me to issues with global impact, my heart’s prompting came back to something much closer at hand. I simply couldn’t get it out of my head.
Just 30 miles away
Just 30 miles from me is a world drastically different from “my corner” of the megalopolis known as Los Angeles. Los Angeles has often been described as 80 cities looking for a center. In Los Angeles, we merge together on the freeways and huddle together to cheer our hometown teams, but then return to our residential enclaves. Los Angeles is not really a homogeneous environment. Television often gives you this one-dimensional view of “L.A.,” as if whatever happens is occurring to all of us out here at once—be it mudslides, canyon fires, earthquakes, breathing smog or drive-by shootings. Not so.
Just 30 miles away from me a war is going on. No, not the war on terror, though terror is involved. No, not the war that is to come on Iraq. No, not the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
You see, there is a killing spree going on in South-Central L.A. In the last 10 days over 21 people have been gunned down. Most of them were innocent bystanders or local residents minding their own business who got caught in the cross fire of thugs with guns out to guard their turf.
Los Angeles, after a lull, is once again soaring to the dubious title of “Murder Capital of the World.” This year 612 people have been murdered. If the trend continues, Los Angeles will have almost twice as many homicides as New York City though it has half the population.
Jeff Gottlieb and Anthony McCartney, Los Angeles Times staff writers, offer a somber depiction of this urban war zone in an article titled, “As Killings Ebb and Flow, Fear Keeps Its Grip on South L.A.,” which appeared in the Los Angeles Times of Nov. 25, 2002.
Unlike the residents of my town, the reporters depict a far different scenario of a citizenry who must be cognizant of “where they go, what they wear, what they say, how loudly they play their car stereo; all are infused with—and circumscribed by—fear of an unexpected bullet. On peaceful looking, palm-lined streets, residents hurry inside when the light fades. They try not to draw attention. This is the way it is and has been for years.”
The first commandment of day-by-day living
They quote a lady who only gives her name as Cheryl B. She describes the first commandment of day-by-day living as, “Don’t leave the house at night unless mandatory, unless you just can’t prevent it.” She then added, “I like to just stay planted or stationary.” She goes on to say, “It’s a way of life—paranoia, fear! I was here before the gang violence, the red and the blue. This used to be a good town. Now it’s like a lot of people who came from the South or back East, they’re going back home.”
Gottlieb and McCartney caught a feel of the environment in the experience of Sofia Giza as she shared how she had recently gone to a market at night to buy bottled water. The reporters tell how gunfire crackled and she did what South Central residents do when they hear such sounds. She dropped to the floor! When she began to get up, her brother asked her in an incredulous tone, “What are you doing? When the shooting stops, they are reloading!” Interestingly, Sofia is now considering moving to West Africa. Why? It’s part of a dream, but also for her, it’s safety.
Gottlieb and McCartney interviewed Timothy Watkins, Sr., a local community youth coordinator, who expressed the abiding sentiment of “every day someone down here—a child, a child’s parent, a child’s sibling—is losing their life. We should be besides ourselves over it.” He agrees with newly appointed Police Chief William J. Bratton that the people of Los Angeles should get angry about the killings. “But,” Watkins continues, “the propensity and frequency of killings is numbing to the collective psyche of Los Angeles. It’s like it is something that we have just decided to live with.”
The greatest care, simply not enough
So how are people living? How do you cope in this urban battleground? Gottlieb and McCartney interviewed a couple of teenagers named Michael Pye and John Wilson.
The teens recommend a rigid dress code—not to be cool, but to avoid being shot. Pye’s recommendations are “don’t wear blue or red [differing gang colors], but rather wear black, gray or neutral colors that won’t attract attention. If you wear loud yellow, you had better be going to someplace very secure or with lots of people.”
Wilson added some street smarts, stating, “Jewelry or attention-grabbing sneakers are also no-nos.”
They both instructed that “once out the door, know where you are going, avoid side streets, stick to main thoroughfares and don’t look tough. You can’t look too hard at anyone.” As each person interviewed pointed out, if you are to survive in such an environment, your steps must be detailed to the letter. But even the greatest care simply is not enough sometimes, as the daily headlines show.
Why? Perhaps Cheryl B. placed the right diagnosis on the general malady by stating, “You got so many kids out here acting crazy, wanting to flex some muscle. They don’t have respect for life.” What we have here is the sad reality of kids killing kids, and killing those who get in between their wild abandonment and intended victims. The sociologists and politicians all have their angles, “fixes,” sure cures and ready answers. More police, more schools, more jobs, more investment into the area by every level of government and private enterprise, and the list goes on. Could it help? Sure. Will it help? Time will tell.
The reality for the moment is a tremendous disconnect between social and moral responsibility for others and the law of the streets. This disconnect comes after generations of discrimination and institutionalized segregation of people, failed government social-engineering policies of the welfare state, a wretched historic pattern of separated family structure, and the wholesale removal of religious moral training from the fabric of our schools and society. Here gangs have replaced failed or seemingly irrelevant social institutions like family, country and church.
For them—the other shoe has dropped
Since 9/11 Americans have been walking on a tightrope of emotional unease regarding terrorism. Many people, in truthful moments, wonder and ask one another, “When will the other shoe drop?” Recently, the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area was virtually held hostage for several weeks as two snipers went on a killing spree.
People in the suburban world of Virginia and Maryland began to have a “South-Central state of mind.” Their every move became deliberate and calculated, not knowing what the next moment might bring. But, just like in South-Central L.A., at times being careful was simply not enough.
But now the alleged snipers have been apprehended, and life in those suburbs has gone back to normal—streets buzzing with people, children running in parks and lovers strolling hand in hand down cozy lanes.
But not “30 miles away.” Because for South-Central L.A., the other shoe isn’t about to drop. It has dropped. They continue living under the horrendous and dizzying weight of terror every day.
But you and I don’t think about it. It’s not a part of our experience. If it isn’t a shocking or horrific “Kodak moment” of the mind—like viewing jets ramming into skyscrapers or nighttime air raids over Baghdad or an Israeli bus looking like so much scrap metal—our minds tend to gently ease it away to the far margins of our memory banks. In today’s world, seemingly if it isn’t on the nightly news, these heart-wrenching and wretched scenarios must not be happening or are not deemed bad enough to merit our attention. But it is happening, just 30 miles away.
Perhaps a morning ago, as I was transfixed with the beautiful smallness and ever-so-neat-and-clean packaging of my windowpane suburban Americana, God was trying to tell me something. It’s not what is happening three continents away or three time zones away or even three states away. It’s what’s happening right where you live, and it may not be even 30 miles away. And it should stimulate us to offer the prayer of “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Perhaps I needed to realize more than ever that God is not coming back simply to solve the great and looming problems of the prophetic “beast power” of the king of the North, or the king of the South, or the false prophet, or the next-in-line current run of self-exalted military dictators like Saddam Hussein, or the lunatic fringe of Islam that is wreaking such havoc. All of these are big events that so easily capture our time and imagination, yet can blind us to today’s reality only “30 miles away.”
Shaping your heart
The staff of World News and Prophecy is not here simply to share times, places, events and scriptures to shape your outlook of world events, but hopefully to shape your heart towards the utter need for the literal return of Jesus Christ. His return will not only deal with the great cities of the earth, but ultimately every town, neighborhood, block, home and back alley.
Ezekiel 9:4 Ezekiel 9:4And the LORD said to him, Go through the middle of the city, through the middle of Jerusalem, and set a mark on the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the middle thereof.
American King James Version×speaks of God separating to Himself a people “who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.” Christ picks up this thought during His earthly ministry when He comments in Matthew 5:4 Matthew 5:4Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
American King James Version×, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
How much do we sigh? How much do we care? How much do we grieve for those outside our own comfort zone? Coming to grips with what lies 30 miles away is of no value unless we turn those cares into prayers for God’s Kingdom to come. God’s Kingdom is not going to offer only urban renewal; it will also offer a renewal of the heart.
Ezekiel 36:26 Ezekiel 36:26A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
American King James Version×speaks of a time in which God says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Remember how Cheryl B. said the hoodlums in her neighborhood “don’t have a respect for life”? That essential respect for life is going to be renewed.
Just a morning ago, I was searching in all the wrong places for what I needed to think and write about. I thought in writing the next article I needed to apply the analytical side of my brain, but God was telling me I needed to use more of the emotional side—my heart. I had three interesting articles in my hands, but I had one article I couldn’t get out of my head or my heart.
It is when God led me to switch to my heart—to sigh and to mourn—that I was able to walk that walk mentioned in Isaiah 30:21 Isaiah 30:21And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk you in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left.
American King James Version×: “This is the way, walk you in it.” I hope you won’t be able to get this article out of your head, because that’s a good way to reach your heart.
—Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.