Monthly Archives: July 2008

Shooting Hoops, Not Guns

Gang violence is a huge problem in my neighborhood. Every summer, I steel myself for the reports of kids shooting one another in the fray between the various warring factions. For a city that has one of the densest concentrations of non-profit organizations in CT, it’s nuts that New Haven has almost nothing for teens. But this summer, a local church gave them something great to do with their free time… and mine.

St. Andrews is a small congregation that’s located right at the heart of “The Ville,” one of the tougher parts of town. 2005 was a terrible year for gang violence here, and the church deeply felt the weight of the grief. With their pastor, who also works full-time as a teacher in one of the public schools, they started a support group for kids affected by violence. And they started praying. Your Place, the name of the teen center they started this summer, grew out of these years of prayer.

My church (Elm City Vineyard) had been praying about teens and the violence in town too. When St. Andrews asked us to partner with them, something resonated with us; it seemed like a God-given match. So that’s how I got hooked up.

Here’s the basketball group. (I think my brother fell off his chair laughing when I told him that I helped to start this.) No, thank God, I don’t play… but the teens are incredible! S, the guy in the baseball cap, moves like quicksilver and handles the ball as if it’s as easy as breathing. Our ECV guys aren’t too shabby either. Ethan (the guy on the far right) can really shoot!

Someone snapped a picture of me and my mentee, a gal with a wry sense of humor beneath her quiet exterior and a passion for writing and music.

As we found out more about one another, we were both surprised at the instant connection. Who knew two people from such different worlds could have so much in common?

By the way, if you’re local and are interested in getting involved, feel free to contact me!

Remembering Doris

A couple of weeks ago, a woman I knew passed away after a difficult fight with cancer. I’d gotten to know Doris through a friend, who met her in his work as a chaplain at the hospital where she was receiving treatment.

I don’t think I’ll forget the night of my first visit: driving semi-lost through her tired old neighborhood, fighting past the rickety-stuck screen door into a battered front porch, knocking uncertainly on the door, a long wait in the dark, then the door opening and my friend being engulfed in a long hug. We walked through a narrow hallway, past an ancient upright piano and two deliriously barking dogs, into a cramped room heavy with yellowish lamplight and the smell of old cigarettes. We sat and talked awhile, me feeling somewhat shy, and wanting to be helpful; Doris responding wearily, but gently to the conversation. From the beginning, something about her heartfelt, melancholic affection endeared her to me. She clearly felt loved that night and I was glad.

Sadly, I had only known her for a few months before she left us. I’ve seen a lot of friends in the end stages of cancer, and she’d looked relatively healthy. So I was completely unprepared for the news the night that my friend called to say that she was gone. While she was still alive, we had discovered that she loved music when, on a whim, I brought my guitar along to celebrate her birthday one evening. For weeks afterwards, my friend would say that she kept talking about me and the music. I often feel that I fail to love in ways that are meaningful to the people who are dear to me, so I was happily surprised by the simplicity of it all. It made me glad that my parents gave me music lessons as a kid. Anyhow, I was touched and grateful when my friend asked if I’d consider doing some music for her memorial service.

It was a tiny service, held in a prayer chapel kindly lent to us by a local church. There were only a handful of folk, mostly people who worked with Doris’ husband. My friend gave a simple, moving tribute to her in giving the words of remembrance. The whole time, I kept thinking how I only had the smallest picture of how beautifully God had made Doris. Do we ever get close to knowing these things while we live?

I suppose that you could have said that she died in obscurity. Having no money, there was no place to bury her. She had suffered terribly in her life before the cancer came, and in her illness, there had been agonizing times when she wondered if God had abandoned her. But ever since then, lines from this Hopkins poem have been hanging around the edges of my thoughts:

The Lantern out of Doors
Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
..That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
..I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?
Men go by me whom either beauty bright
..In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
..They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.
Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
..What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.
Christ minds; Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend
..There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

Perhaps now Doris knows that she wasn’t forgotten, that she has a Friend who minds deeply about all her heart wants, and followed her into all the places she’d go – either in her mind or with her feet – when she was weary with care. As for me, I’m grateful for the rich beams of her life, and that I got a glimpse of some of them, even just for a little while.