Since the summer of 2015 I (Brian) have lived in neighborhoods of Los Angeles that are “gang infested”. While this label simplifies the array of qualities in a neighborhood into a “problem area”, it does highlight the reality of gang violence in LA. 6 weeks ago I moved from the neighborhood of Historic South Central, 80 blocks south to the community of Westmont. Within the past few weeks of living here, 6 people have died as a result of gang violence or officer involved shootings within a mile of my house. It seems that everyday news breaks of another shooting.
I must confess – while I know the proper “love your neighbor” response looks like praying for the community, seeking to know and care for affected families, etc.– my default posture is to focus on myself, my world, and my plans; unaffected by the grief, trauma, and fear that weighs on my neighbors. The news of the trauma becomes background noise to the foreground of my life.
While the priorities of my life are not solely “me focused”, the gap between Christ’s call to “love our neighbors/city as ourselves” and my functional lack of compassion towards these neighbors and city gives me pause. Why does this default come so easily? What is the Biblical call here? How can I faithfully pursue loving the community in these tragedies? What would it look like to turn up the volume on the background noise and, like our Savior, hear people and be moved to compassion by their pain?
What Brian shares here is helpful and revealing for most of us. He gives a snapshot into his community where violence is so common it starts becoming “background noise”. People feel numb and even disengaged because of the normalcy of violence in these areas. But Brian’s story isn’t just unique to South L.A. It’s affecting many other communities as well.
Recent news stories report on the uptick in violence throughout Los Angeles. Shootings and homicide numbers are up this year — many people are getting shot and killed. Two weeks ago an LA news station covered a 3-4 day span where 50 people were shot, with more than a dozen of these murdered. Teenagers, 20-somethings, and random victims have been shot and killed. These past few weeks and months have been overwhelmingly crazy and hard, but as Brian brought up – where does compassion and intentionality fit in when all this doesn’t have to affect you personally? Is our city’s pain and trauma just background noise?
When we hear about these stories and what’s taking place throughout L.A., there are two directions we can go. One, is to see/hear all this and be disengaged, to the point where it is out of sight and out of mind . Actually, we might be so disengaged that we don’t even know this is going on in our city! We talk about elections, we talk sports, we know all those topics of conversations yet have zero knowledge of how much trauma parts of our city are dealing with.
A second response is to pray, lament, and go to God on behalf of our city. He is the source of hope even when it seems like violence will never stop. He is the source of comfort even when it seems the pain of losing someone is too much. God is who we go to on behalf of Los Angeles. We don’t have to live in these areas to know what’s going on and seek to be engaged. We can develop compassion and love for our city. Engagement can look like praying or being intentional to know neighbors more, especially if you do live in communities being affected by violence. Maybe there are opportunities to bless families during tragedies. Maybe engagement involves simply being more intentional to see what’s taking place throughout the city. You may not be able to wrap your arms around someone as they cry over losing a loved one but you can care enough to know and pray for them and their community.
I (Danny) often hear the phrase “we/I love our city”. It’s even kind of a Christian buzzword “to love the city we’re in”. While we absolutely should love Los Angeles, really think about what that means to you. Does that mean only loving the cool neighborhood you live in? Does it mean loving the comfort that perhaps your community might bring with it? Does it mean just loving local sports teams or your favorite restaurants? Growing up in L.A., I didn’t stay in a part of town like Brian’s current residence. But I knew a lot of people affected by violence and trauma. And it wasn’t just in the South LA’s or East LA’s. It was places like The Valley, The Westside, The South Bay. I knew that what affected some of the toughest parts of our city also affected other communities too. We can say we love our city but do we love it enough to at least know what’s taking place throughout and praying for it.
I appreciate Brian’s thoughts and questions. His vulnerability to share that even as a resident of one of these traumatized communities, it’s difficult for him to turn up the volume on the background noise. But I think the call here is to know, to care, to love, to be intentional; to not turn down the switch but perhaps make that noise more loud and clear. Loving our city, loving our neighbors means we should try to learn what’s affecting the communities and city we love. We can continue to pray for things around the country and around the world but don’t forget to offer prayers up for what is happening locally. God is pushing us towards intentional engagement and it might look different across the board depending where you live. It might be knowing and praying, it might be coming alongside and connecting with a neighbor when the violence and pain touches down in your area. Love Los Angeles beyond the convenience you find in it. Love Los Angeles because God knows, loves and cares about it.