Today I watched my youngest child graduate from a teacher residency program in Chicago (AUSL) and, I hate to admit it, but I had mixed emotions. I have no doubt that she is being led by God in this direction and I’m thankful that at 23 years old she has such drive and purpose. On the other hand, this direction involves teaching at schools in some of the most violent neighborhoods in Chicago. In case you have been hibernating for the last few years, Chicago has a violence problem. And the school my daughter will report to is in a far south side neighborhood that has contributed to the moniker “Chi-raq”. Of course, I pray and believe that God will keep her safe. But what about the impact of such an environment on the students she will touch every day? What about the emotional toll that working in such an environment will take on my baby girl? I feel like the man in Mark chapter 9 who brought his troubled child to Jesus. After Jesus says, “…all things are possible to him who believes,” the exasperated father cries out, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!!”
With these mixed emotions and the questions rolling around in my head, I caught a FaceBook post by a friend that included an insightful Scripture. Proverbs 4:7 says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” With that in mind, I turned to the Scripture to help me understand this violence that has caused me to entertain fear for my child. What is the cause of this violence? Here is what Scripture says – flat out!
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1-2)
Based on James’ answer, poverty is a major factor in the causes of violence. (For you scholars, I know he doesn’t say it’s the only cause or even the root – that’s lust – but bear with me here.). I have to admit that I’ve heard people in disadvantaged communities say similar things and I kind of glossed over it. I’ve heard the colloquial phrase, “nothing stops a bullet like a job”, and my logical mind said, “but, people with jobs get shot too!” But upon reading James’ words in Scripture I had to consider it more deeply. Having re-discovered this Biblical truth, I sought some outside sources to help confirm it in my mind. I ran across an article that contained the following quote, “Poverty overwhelms the internal (psychological) and external (sociological) experiences of its sufferers, leading to rage, despair, and fatalism, especially when it is unrelenting and deeply embedded in the streets of Chicago’s neighborhoods and the psyche of its residents.” – Crain’s Chicago Business Article 5/24/17 entitled “When it comes to battling gun violence, these little things can make a big difference”. It is part 2 of a 3 part series on the problem of youth gun violence in Chicago. These penetrating articles are based on a long term study by psychologists working directly with perpetrators of violence in Chicago.
This enlightenment helps me in a couple of ways. First, I realize now more than ever that my daughter, and so many others like her, have dedicated themselves to addressing the thing that I fear. By heeding God’s direction and going to teach some of the most vulnerable children in our society, my daughter’s passion and presence WILL help some of them escape poverty and go on to lead productive lives in a society where an education is even more critical to making a decent living. God protects those who are doing His work. Second, I realize that if I want to address the violence that is causing so much heart-ache in our community, I must put forth effort to address poverty. Let me alter that last point with some emphasis; if WE want to address violence…WE must put forth effort to address poverty.
There are already some organizations dedicated to assisting those in poverty. Some of the best of them focus directly on education and skills training. Of course our schools, both public and private, are exercising their mandate to help students and families. These organizations desperately need our help – and they need finances. I’m sure we’ve all heard that the government at every level is cutting back on funds for education and poor relief. After-school programs, schools, education enrichment programs, and scholarship funds – they are doing God’s work. I WILL help them do it. I encourage you to do the same.