By Donna Claycomb Sokol*
Reposted with permission from her blog at Words from Washington
It was three weeks ago this morning when I settled into my favorite chair with a cup of hot coffee on the table next to me and opened the pages of the Washington Post. It’s my favorite routine for a Saturday morning, one that normally encourages the calmness we seek for our only day off together. But Saturday, February 20 was different because rather than reading about another homicide in our city on the front page of the Metro section, I was actually reading about someone who was once part of my community.
I know Clifton as someone who came to our church’s shower ministry a few years ago and then to our Tuesday morning Hope 4 All group. Our church paid for a bus ticket so he could go home and be with his mother in Atlanta. Along with another church member, I took him to lunch on his birthday. I served communion to him on Christmas Eve. And I not only knew Clifton, but I also knew one of Clifton’s roommates – the person who was not home on that day. He, too, had been a Shower Ministry guest and then a Hope 4 All guest. He came to the church to see me in mid-December immediately after signing his lease to the same house where Clifton lived. He wanted to not only show me his keys but actually show me the place where he had signed that he had access to a room of his own. It was a celebratory moment filled with
But I’d never known anyone who was murdered. I’ve never read about a homicide that includes the name of someone whose story I know well. How could this be?
The waves of pain and anger came crushing in again on Monday night when I got a message saying, “Ivy died.” Ivy? How could Ivy
Since our change in policy, a group of individuals
Two of them are now dead.
First Clifton and now Ivy. While it would not have surprised me to learn that Ivy had died several months ago – her body was so frail – Ivy was doing incredibly well. She’d put on at least 20 pounds, looked healthy, and had returned to our group a few weeks ago to start offering encouragement to others. She had a housing voucher. She was housed – but she came to tell others they could do it. Just two weeks ago she sat next to me. I can still hear her saying, “You came!” to another participant. “I’m so glad! You can do this.” When it came time for her to share, she joyfully talked about her relationship with her son, describing how big he is and how much she’s enjoying him. She shared how her longtime partner was finally in treatment and that they were committed to
So, how could Ivy be dead? That was the question that kept going through my mind last Monday night only to later see this article being shared by another person from our church. Ivy had been shot in broad daylight. The one who was rebuilding her life one painful step at a time had everything robbed from her in the blink of a bullet.
I’ve never felt this kind of pain when it comes to knowing someone has died. The tears of grief started to overflow on Wednesday morning after I successfully kept them tucked inside on Tuesday. How could someone who finally had so much going for them be killed on a Sunday afternoon? Good God Almighty, can you help us? Can you hear us? Can you prevent this from happening again?
I soon started to ask how we begin to move forward. How long will we wait before reading about someone else we have grown to love? Who else from our community will have their life robbed from them in an instant? Where are you
My mind then turned to an anonymous note left for me at our Ash Wednesday worship service. The individual was taken back by signs that say, “No Sleeping. No Storage. No Loitering.” They were bright orange and quite loud. Our practice was to always take them down before worship begins but we forgot to take them down for a midweek service. The signs have since been redesigned with information on how we are trying to be in
I’d love to have a dialogue about how our understandings of mercy and justice have been transformed. Opening a church’s porches for people to come and sleep outside is not hospitality. There is nothing merciful about thinking your church is doing someone a favor by letting them sleep outside. Have you ever invited someone to come and visit you and then given them a pad on your porch?
We are so quick to judge one another.
Our church and I were judged harshly on Ash Wednesday.
But I’ve also been so quick to judge people.
“Can’t these people get a job? Can’t these people get a home?” These questions have gone through my mind dozens of times when I have found myself cleaning our front porch or picking up someone’s belongings.
I’ve learned that the answer is sometimes “no” and often “yes.” Many people can get a job, and many people can get housing. But it takes a village. It takes people who are willing to not do the easy thing, like saying, “Well, at least we’re giving them a place to sleep where they don’t get wet by rain.” But rather it takes people who are willing to do the hard work of showing up, of providing people with some basic resources, of letting folks know we are together on this journey, and of holding people accountable. I was reminded this week that it also takes people who are willing to allow their heart to be broken.
My heart may always be shattered a bit – not like the bus stop where Ivy was killed – but by the weekly reminders of how broken our community is and how much healing can occur when people who have so much start to share a little, when individuals can muster the capacity to give a second chance even when they see the words “convicted felon,” and when we wrestle together to figure out what would Jesus really do.
Our nation is also deeply broken by our addiction to guns. Lives and families and communities are being shattered. The madness needs to stop. Changes in policy are needed.
Will you pray for us, please?
* Donna Claycomb Sokol is pastor of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C.