It was a question asked by our 2 1/2 year old grandson when we told him we were getting off the highway and were almost to our house. This came approximately 6 hours after we’d left his neighborhood in suburban Indianapolis. No, we’re not quite to our neighborhood, Walt — as we drove past Beachwood Mall and Legacy Village. But as the paved parking lots and retail shops faded in our rear view mirror, a neighborhood began to take shape before his eyes. Big trees. People walking dogs. Modest but well-kept updated inner-ring suburbs housing circa the 1940’s. Yes, Walt, this is our neighborhood.
It was not his first visit to Cleveland, but it was his first without his Mommy and Daddy. Though he’s a veteran of in-town grandparent sleepovers, we were a little nervous that being 330 miles away from home would be different. But as his wise Mommy said, he has no idea how far away he is! True enough.
Walt’s visit was a huge success. He ate well. Slept well. Got along well with our dog Indy. Had fun in new places and thoroughly enjoyed how raptly attentive Grandpa David and Grandma Kris were to any and all conversation. No matter the topic. Hummingbirds. Cicadas. 18-Wheelers. Teeth brushing. Dinosaurs. The Peace Sign that hangs on the side of our house.
If you asked Walt how far away Cleveland is from his neighborhood, he might say that it’s a car ride that takes a BIG stack of library books to read multiple times, a stop for lunch, and a Netflix video of Land Before Time. If you asked him what people do in Cleveland, he might answer that we eat outside every meal (we did), there’s a great playground, and we walk to the library. He’ll be in for a surprise when he visits at Thanksgiving!
Now that he’s safely reunited with Mommy, Daddy, and his little brother Cal, he’s got me thinking more and more about my neighborhood. I love the mature trees and walkability. My house is my favorite of any I’ve lived in. It suits us. But I’m also thinking neighborhood in a larger context. Northeast Ohio. Cuyahoga County. Cleveland’s Eastside where last night a 2 year old little girl was shot in the head and arm in a drive-by. After hours of surgery, she remains in the ICU and in unstable condition. Downtown Cleveland where we are just a day away from playing host to the Republican National Convention. Hate groups are arriving. Open Carry gun activists are openly carrying. Media is everywhere. The Hope Memorial Bridge where tomorrow we will stand with hundreds (could there even be thousands?) of Clevelanders holding hands and keeping silence for 30 minutes as we Circle the City with Love. Old Stone Church on Public Square that will have its doors open wide in welcome as a witness to God’s love for all people. They do, however, have an emergency plan to close those doors if necessary in the event of violence.
There is that threat of course. From the NY Times to the Washington Post to Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC and bloggers everywhere, much is being made of the craziness of this particular RNC, the instability of Trump supporters and the candidate himself, the anger of protestors, and questions about the readiness of the Cleveland Police Department. We were already somewhat on edge and then … Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. 5 Dallas Police Officers. Nice, France.
We’d talked about being out of town this week to avoid the chaos but we never got around to making plans. Rather than procrastination, I think now the delay was prophetic. I don’t
want to be anywhere else this week other than right here. I’m praying for Cleveland to shine — many have worked hard to be ready and welcoming. I’m praying for peaceful to be the word of the hour — every hour, all week long. I’m praying that delegates and demonstrators keep their guns at home — though Ohio law says they can openly carry if they want to. I’m praying that the writers of the 2016 Republican Platform will have a change of heart or that delegates will demand it — especially where it denies the rights of LGBTQ persons. Lord, bend your ear. Please!
2 1/2 year old Walt wouldn’t understand, but all of the above is in my neighborhood. One day — but not yet — I’ll tell him that it’s because of him and his little brother and the little girl who fights for her life in ICU and all the children I’ve served in my years of ministry — all children — that my neighborhood is large. Soon it will expand to include Washington DC on August 13 when we Rally in Washington to Disarm Hate. I cannot and will not cocoon in my comfortable little house when there is so much work to do in our neighborhoods.
I’ve chosen to focus my work on ending gun violence. There’s not a neighborhood in America that has not been affected. If you want to join me in that work, just let me know. But there are plenty of other issues affecting neighborhoods and I urge you to pick one. Expand your concept of neighborhood and get busy. Somewhere. Soon. Today.
Walt’s Mommy says neighborhood is Walt’s newest favorite word. He lives in a lovely new one with lots of children. We sent him home after his visit to our much older neighborhood knowing a new thing. He already knew how to high-five and fist-bump — now he knows the Peace Sign.
Pastor. (Grand) Parent. Activist.