Suddenly it seems there's a full-scale war going on in our neighborhood, and we and our neighbors here are in a new kind of danger.
On their way back to college after helping out at our weekly dinner party, our friends Jenny and Alyssa stopped at an intersection and noticed a group of guys milling around in the early evening, less than a block from our church. A moment later, guns started firing on both sides of them, and, before they could pull away, four bullets entered their car. They weren't hurt, but they could have been killed.
The next night, a few blocks away, four men carrying automatic weapons walked by our friend Helen as she was sitting on her front steps watching her grandchildren play. As she hustled the kids inside, those men shot up her block.
Two days later, back on our church's corner, an older kid I know named Wu took a bullet in the foot just after midnight. When I asked him about it yesterday he brushed me off, but I know he's scared, and well he should be. You see, unlike our college girls or Miss Helen, Wu knows exactly what's going on around here. He's part of it.
The bottom line is that earlier this year a local guy named Turtle was murdered in a bar. There were plenty of witnesses, but none of them would testify against the killer. Evidently, as friends of the victim, they wanted him to be released so they could take care of him in their own way. Of course, the killer has friends too. However, nobody on either side seems to be able to shoot straight-or is willing to hold their fire until after the rest of us are safely tucked in.
Marty and I are genuinely afraid - for our neighbors, for the folks in our little community, and especially for our precious Miranda and Roman. And, of course, we are doing all we can to keep them safe in the midst of this trouble.
Then again, we are not doing the one thing that would keep them safest of all right now: We are not putting them out of harm's way. We are not moving. On the contrary, every day we are quite intentionally rooting ourselves more deeply in this neighborhood, in spite of our frequent inclinations to cut and run.
Miss Helen has no choice in the matter. She must live here, or someplace like here. Likewise with Wu (though he could at least choose to be part of the solution from now on, instead of part of the problem). But Marty and I, Ric and Karen, Donna and Jeff - we all could go if we chose to, which is probably the most important thing that sets us apart in this neighborhood, for better and for worse. We're educated and connected in ways that mean we can never really be poor, no matter how little we may make or live on. Poverty, after all, is not so much the absence of money as it is the absence of choices.
Right now, though, it is those choices that keep Marty and I up at night, even more than the gunfire. We wonder what it means to say we love our neighbors if we aren't willing to stay with them here. We wonder what it means to say we love our children if we aren't willing to take them away. And we wonder what it means to say we love God if we still can't always tell the difference between God's will and our own desires and insecurities.
Bart Campolo is a veteran urban minister and activist who speaks, writes, and blogs www.bartcampolo.com about grace, faith, loving relationships and social justice. Bart is the leader of The Walnut Hills Fellowship www.thewalnuthillsfellowship.org in inner-city Cincinnati. He is also founder of Mission Year www.missionyear.org, which recruits committed young adults to live and work among the poor in inner-city neighborhoods across the USA, and executive director of EAPE, which develops and supports innovative, cost-effective mission projects around the world.