This American Life on Gun Violence in Chicago

“Is this a safe neighborhood?”  It’s a question Maggie and I can expect to hear when friends from out of town visit our home in Hyde Park, a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.  In fact, our neighborhood is quite safe.  The nearby presence of the University of Chicago ensures the streets in our neighborhood are regularly and obviously policed.  Our son plays in the park across the street and we walk for groceries and other errands at all hours of the day or night.

Hadiya Pendleton Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times, January 31.

Despite the safety of our specific neighborhood, the question is not surprising.  Gun violence and murder is well-known in our city; the news from the south and west sides of Chicago is grimly portrayed on a nightly basis.  Last month the young Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in a park one block from where our church gathers for Sunday worship.

Talking about this violence can seem futile: conversation does little to honor the dead and wounded nor are most of us interested in the long, complicated discussion about the systemic and historic causes for the bloodshed.  It’s easier to turn away or propose simplistic solutions.

It was refreshing then, to listen to This American Life’s two-part series (part 1 & part 2) on gun violence in Chicago.  For five months reporters – including the legendary Alex Kotlowitz – spent time in one high school that has experienced far more than its share of death.  The perspectives from administrators, students, parents, teachers, and support staff go a long way toward a more nuanced and humble conversation.  Their stories invite the rest of us to pay close attention.

Weekend Reading

Three longish articles for your enjoyment.  Have a great weekend.

The Huffington Post republished an interview by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush with the host of of my favorite Public Radio program, This American Life“Ira Glass, Religion and the Empathic Power of Storytelling” contains a few especially interesting observations, including this one about the structure of a good story. There is a kind of structure for a story that was peculiarly compelling for the radio. I thought I had invented it atom-by-atom sitting in an editing booth in Washington on M Street when I was in my 20s. Then I found out that it is one of the oldest forms of telling a story — it was the structure of a sermon.

An interesting perspective from Sofía Quintero on Night Catches Us, a film that got far too little attention last year.  For those of us actively engaged in social justice movements, Night Catches Us challenges us to examine the personal impact of our political actions. To what extent such actions and their consequences are the inevitable sacrifice we make in the fight against oppression? Is it possible that some of the actions we justify as political resistance are actually rooted in personal wounds, some of which cannot be attributed neatly or wholly to social injustice?

Kevin Roose spent some time with Ted Haggard recently and has written a rather sympathetic profile in GQI’ve seen Ted move himself to tears more than once, but this time it seems less melodramatic, more like he’s plucking at some deeper internal tension. He’s admitted that he went through a period of spiritual disillusionment after his scandal, and maybe this is how he’s resolving it—with a church that’s more like group therapy and with a gospel centered on a new golden rule: Do unto others as nobody did unto me.

Rage: The Ultimate Conversation Killer

There is little I find as satisfying as an hour or two of good conversation.  Of course both talking and listening must be present for conversation to take place.  One without the other may be necessary at times but certainly doesn’t qualify as conversation.  I’m lucky enough to have friends who value ideas, thoughts and relationship highly and whom I can always count on for a fascinating conversation.

The art of conversation- both talking and listening-  seems like a lost art on the larger cultural stage. We don’t have cable at home, but on the rare occasion when I watch one of the news networks I’m discouraged by the lack of actual conversation.  The way pundits and experts talk at each other borders on irresponsible.

Time Magazine, September 2009

There are surely many reasons for our poor conversational skills, but I heard a story on NPR’s All Things Considered on Saturday that suggested one possibility: rage.

I think that what’s happening is that each cycle, people are getting angrier, and so you’re seeing an overlap now of economic anger and this sense that our best days are behind us, which I guess you could call cultural rage.

We could enter a period where whoever’s in charge can’t solve our problems, and no matter what kind of policies are put forward, millions of people still feel that their basic economic needs aren’t getting met. And it’s in that sense of failure, it’s in that sense of expectations shattered that the risk of a very uncivil, brutal politics exists.

The story suggests that anger in and of itself has become an ideology.  Whether or not one’s rage is based in fact or actual experience is less important than the anger itself.  Yikes!  The entire story, including an interview with a Republican senator who has recently experienced this populist rage, is well worth the listen.

Two thoughts surfaced for me after listening to this story.  First, by our very nature Christians should be among the best conversationalists.  As those marked by humility and witness to Christ’s activity, we have intrinsic motivation to converse well.  Rage, or anything else for that matter, can never be an excuse or ideology that keeps us from listening to friend and enemy alike.  Second, while the cultures at large may find conversing across lines of ideology and politics impossible, the church doesn’t have this option.  Those who make up the church are identified as a new family only through our adoption in Jesus.  Divergent opinions and perspectives are still held, but none can be placed over our identity as God’s children, citizens of a new kingdom.  In other words, conversations among Christians ought to be incredibly interesting, compelling and gracious.

But is this actually the case? I’m curious about your experience.  Are Christians good conversationalists, willing to listen well to those with whom they may not agree?

happy saturday: 2008’s best albums

There are too many “best of” music lists to keep track of this time of year.  Steve McCoy pointed out a number of these lists earlier in the week, so there is no need to duplicate his efforts here.


On Monday NPR’s All Songs Considered broadcast the year’s 25 best albums as voted by the show’s listeners.  May I suggest that you download this almost two hours worth of music for your holiday traveling needs?

A number of the artists on the All Songs list have been noted on this blog, including The Fleet Foxes, Death Cab for Cutie, Sigur Ros, and Coldplay.  A few others on the list have been on regular rotation on my mp3 player: The Hold Steady, Kimya Dawson, and Girl Talk.

It’s no surprise that Bon Iver is my personal choice for album of the year, so it was gratifying to see Justin Vernon and company at number 3 on the NPR list.  Even more satisfying was the fact that All Songs host Bob Boilon picked Bon Iver’s album, For Emma, Forever Ago, as his top record of the year.  Seeing Bon Iver in concert on Thursday only confirmed the wisdom of Boilon’s (and my) choice.

Should have mentioned this earlier, but Vernon drops a couple of f-bombs during the intro to this song.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

signs of (political) life

On Saturdays I typically post some newish music, but none has stood out recently.  Any suggestions?

Is anyone else feeling politically worn out these days?  In addition to the economic blame game being played by both parties, the destructive language surrounding the upcoming election is downright depressing.  When it comes to recent politics, looking for signs of life is increasingly challenging.

Which is why last week’s episode of Speaking of Faith was particularly refreshing.  I’ve recommended Krista Tippet’s radio broadcast (and podcast) to you before and am glad to do so again.  In a two-part series, The Life of the Party, Tippet examines how the Republican and Democratic parties understand the role of religion in politics.  Part one features Time Magazine’s Amy Sullivan, an left-leaning evangelical Christian.  Sullivan is a helpful guide in understanding Democrats’ often wary relationship with religion in America.  Her perspective as an evangelical adds significant insight.  I hope to listen to part two, in which Tippet interviews conservative columnist Rod Dreher, this weekend.

If you listen to either or both of these broadcasts I’d enjoy hearing your response.  It’s my view that we need to hear more of this type of nuanced and historical perspective in an era of sound byte news.  Do either of these observers of religion and politics change how you think about the upcoming election?