Do You Feel Safe Here?

Our church is in a tough neighborhood, and every once in awhile I get asked whether I am concerned for my safety at Holy Trinity. I usually respond with some combination of the following:

  1. We know our neighbors, and they know us. When I walk around the neighborhood during the day, I exchange greetings with people I know. I make a point of acknowledging people I don’t know with a nod and smile so that they know I mean them well (without suspecting that I want something from them!). No, I don’t feel unsafe.
  2. After dark, N. Olive is both well-traveled and brightly lighted, so I’m unlikely to be mugged on the way to the car that I park under a street light. I park there, by the way, because that’s the furthest point from either of the two main doors, and I want to leave the closer parking spaces open for those with less mobility. No, I don’t feel unsafe.
  3. Yes, we have had car mirrors knocked off by speeding cars and windows shot out by BB guns, same as folks in many different types of neighborhhod. Looks like there are reckless people everywhere. No, I don’t feel unsafe.

I should note at this point that I’m not quite as stupid as I look. I do keep the doors locked when I’m at the church alone. If I need to meet with one other individual, I arrange to do so in a public space or at the diocesan office where there will be other people around. I do not allow children into the building when I am the only adult present—even when this means having mass on the front sidewalk! I should note, however, that these are steps I would advise any parish priest to follow, as much for the safety of others as for the safety of the priest.

Last Thursday was unusual, though. It was Maundy Thursday, and earlier in the day I was making pastoral visits. One of the elderly gentlemen I was visiting asked me whether I was concerned for my personal safety at Holy Trinity. I responded as I have indicated above.

That night, as everyone else left after the service, I stayed around to set some things in order and then to pray at the Altar of Repose. As I was going around turning out the lights afterwards, I remembered the earlier conversation and smiled to myself. There I was, alone in the building late at night, and I did not feel unsafe.

I walked to my car, got in, and started to drive home. I needed to turn left onto Prast, but someone on Prast was pulled over too far into the middle of the street. I swung wide to get around the other car, misjudged the location of the curb, and blew out my tire. I sighed deeply, pulled over at the corner of Prast and Elmer, and pulled out my AAA card.

Are you in a safe location? The voice on the other end of my phone call asked me? They always ask that. I thought about it. I was in my in my car at a lighted street corner. I could walk back to the church if I needed to. I had just called my husband to let him know I would be late. He was coming to sit with me. “Yes, I’m in a safe location,” I replied.

When the roadside assistance guy arrived around 9:45pm to change my tire, he remarked, “you sure picked an uncomfortable spot to have a flat tire!” I noted that I was the priest of a church a block away, that I knew my neighbors, and that I did not feel unsafe. He just shrugged and said he had moved out of the neighborhood because “I know what goes down here.” I didn’t argue with him—it had been a long day.

Then, this morning, I was driving to the church to pick up something I needed. It was broad daylight, and I was driving down Lincoln Way West. The pavement was wet, and I’m still driving on my spare tire, so I was careful to drive the speed limit. The white guy in the late model SUV behind me did not appreciate that. He tailgated me for several blocks, and when I slowed to a stop at a yellow light rather than speed up to go through, he screeched to a stop behind me and was waving his hands at me. When I gestured to the light, he started shouting and kept waving his hands.

At that point I did something stupid. Wanting to shame him with the knowledge that it was a priest he was harassing, I got out of my car and went to his window. He rolled it down so he could shout in my face. I said to him, “I was driving the speed limit and stopping for a red light. Get the F— off my tail!” I then turned around and returned to my car. Probably not one of my more pastoral moments.

The light had turned green, so I started my car and continued down the street. The guy sped up close behind me, then swerved around me to pass me on the left—where there was no lane. I slowed down, to put some distance between us, then realized I should get his license plate number. I took out my phone to take a picture. I’m assuming he saw me, because when the traffic light at Olive turned red, he pulled over into a parking spot on the right side of the road so that I did not pull up behind him. I assumed we were done.

I pulled into the left turn lane to go to the church.  Suddenly he crossed into the left lane behind me. At this point, I did not feel safe. I started to weigh the options of parking where I normally park or of pulling up to the convenience store across from the church. At the church I might hope for a neighbor passing by. At the store, I am known to the Muslim owner and manager, and there are video cameras, so I figured I’d be safe if this guy decided to menace me. As it was, he did not follow me through the turn but instead swerved back into the main line of traffic. I was safe once more.

How ironic that the one time I felt unsafe in the neighborhood around Holy Trinity, the cause of my anxiety was a white guy who had followed me into the neighborhood from a “better” part of town! Thanks be to God for neighbors around the church upon whom I could rely in a moment of danger! And next, time, may God give me the wisdom to stay in my car and keep my mouth shut.

Reading Our Palms

At 10am on March 25 (Palm Sunday this year, and therefore not the Feast of the Annunciation), we will gather in the parish hall rather than in the church. After reading the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem, we will bless palm fronds and distribute them to the congregation. Singing “All glory, laud, and honor” and then reciting Psalm 118:19-29, we will process outside, down the sidewalk around the church and then into the church.

Once we have entered the church, however, our song of triumph quickly turns into a groan of remorse as we begin our week-long contemplation of Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of his friends and suffering at the hands of those who considered themselves defenders of the faith. If you are afraid to take a good hard look at yourself, Palm Sunday is a good day to stay home in bed, for even as we wave our palms, we know that our cries of “hosanna!” will soon turn to cries of “crucify him!” There’s a reason we burn our palms to make ashes for Ash Wednesday—we are only human, and to dust we will inevitably return.

I am particularly mindful of the mortality of our intentions this year as many of us make plans to attend rallies against gun violence on March 24th. These March(es) for our Lives in Washington DC, Indianapolis and South Bend are a response most recently to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th that left 17 dead and 17 wounded. More broadly speaking, they are also a response to the stream of shootings that has plagued this country in recent decades, a response that demands an end to gun violence.

In our own neighborhood, gun violence has taken the lives of Tysiona Crawford, D’Angelo Jennings, Tyshawn Taylor, and  Daekwon Tobar. This is just to name the deaths of teenagers in the first months of 2018 in South Bend. Draw the circle wider, and the numbers climb. A 13 year-old was shot (but blessedly not killed) just a few blocks from us a couple of days ago. These are our children  To say that we who march are mindful of our own mortality and that of our children is a gross understatement.

Let us also be mindful, however, of our own inconstancy. If there is anything we learn from “reading” our palms throughout Holy Week, it’s that we humans are easily distracted from our firm intentions, by fear, by fatigue and even by boredom. We rally when it means a road trip with our friends on a Spring Day, but we sometimes pass on the chance to share our views with hostile family members and friends or to go to the polls on a rainy day. Or we may vote, but base our votes (at the polls and in the legislature) on other values that seem more important (or more efficacious) at the time.

The fact that not everyone who marches in March will vote in May and November might incline us towards cynicism and despair. Before we give up on humanity, however, let us remember the most important lesson of Holy Week—that God has embraced us in all of our inconstancy, taking on all the implications of our mortality. Knowing ourselves to have come within the reach of that saving embrace, let us act in hope for our common humanity.

Field of Greens

The essay below was posted the other day on Facebook by our master gardener, Will Campbell. I’m reprinting it here with his permission. Will has dozens more stories like this, as does anyone who’s spent much time around the Garden of St. Therese. What a joy it is to watch the Holy Spirit’s plans unfold around us!
One of the awesome things about doing things inside of the community is that you get the opportunity to meet some awesome people with awesome stories to tell. One of my garden favorites is Tanika Trotter. I first met Tanika last year when I first got involved with the St. Therese Unity Garden. She was one of the first people to approach me to see what I was up to. From that moment on we forged a friendship that is still growing to this day.

Tanika has been a huge inspiration to my life and many others. Her life is one of faith and perseverance. Being born 3 months premature and barely weighing over a pound. She fought through that only to be diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 17. This is something that she still endures to this day. But not without a genuine smile painted on her face.

Last year, towards the middle of the garden’s growing season, she approached me and asked if I could plant her some spinach and some other types of greens. She then explained that juicing the spinach and other greens helped eased her pain from the disease. I instantly stopped what I was doing, looked her dead in the eyes, and told her that if greens helped helped her pain I was going to plant her a “field of greens.” And so the seed was planted and the idea began to grow. Before planting the garden this year I went and found every green seed I could find and this is the manifestation. I am happy to report that she is a garden regular. Smiling away. She is really big on the spinach, kale, swiss chard, and arugula. She also claims that not only is it easing the pain of the disease but it is also helping with her digestion due to the side effects of her prescription medications.

Field of Greens

Field of Greens—Will Campbell and Tanika Trotter, standing in front of the greens Will planted in the Garden of St. Therese for the smoothies that help relieve the symptoms of Tanika’s MS and the medications she takes for it.

I can’t begin to explain how much Tanika has inspired my life and my drive to give. She is a amazing Gal with a beautiful heart. So when you stop out at the garden don’t hesitate to give a shout out to Tanika Trotter. Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this post. I hope all of you have a great weekend.

— with Tanika Trotter.

Purslane in the Garden

During our Neighborhood Summerfest yesterday evening, I took a few minutes to wander through the garden and pull some weeds.  I had just pulled some volunteer purslane (see inset photo) and had straightened up to look for my next victim, when a neighbor stopped me:

“Are you pulling weeds?”

Purslane

Purslane

“Yes.”

“But that’s purslane. My family eats that. If you leave it, we will come and harvest it.”

“Marvelous!”

My initial reaction was to be happy that one of our neighbors had motivation to pull what I was still thinking of as a weed from our garden. But once I was home, after the party was over, I got to wondering about how one went about eating purslane, ’cause there’s plenty to go around!

A quick survey of the web brought up the following recipes:

Purslane and Basil Pesto

Purslane and Basil Pesto

Purslane and Basil Pesto

 


Shirazi Style Purslane Salad

 

Pickled Purslane (try saying that 5 times fast!)

and

Stir-Fried Purslane, Chinese Style

So, the next time you pull out some Purslane, you might not want to throw it away!