Blog – Another Police Officer Killed 2.23.11

This morning I woke up to the headline “The Hunt Ends.” The pensive face of a young man, perhaps too young to shave, eyed me from the above-the-fold picture on the front page. My heart was heavy as I read that a 16 year old child, so close in age to our own 15 year old son, has shot and killed a police officer.

Several weeks ago in church, Adrien Helm offered a prayer of gratitude for an insight she received at a workshop related to helping young people who are at risk: Instead of asking, “What is wrong with you?” workshop participants were encouraged to ask, “What happened to you?”

I find myself wondering what happened to this young person, Nicholas Lemmon Lindsey, that he shot and killed a police officer, effectively ending his own life as well? What happened in such a short life to lead to such a devastating result? The actions of this one young person have traumatized not only a family, but friends, the police force, public officials, and the city as a whole. What happened to the teenaged Gibbs student?

In the aftermath of the shooting outside the grocery store in Tucson, where Representative Gabrielle Giffords was wounded and others killed, Congressman C. W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, FL, reflected on the tragedy concluding, “It’s not American.” (St. Petersburg Times, 1/9/11, 4A) I completely agree with Young. The Tucson shootings, the killing of three St. Petersburg Police officers in a month, and countless recent acts of fatal gun violence, are “not American.”

So, I am wondering, instead of asking, “What is wrong with us?” posing the question, “What has happened to us?” What has happened to us as a nation, a society, a culture, that we have come to this point? The headline today declares, “The Hunt Ends.” I think that we need to continue the hunt for what has happened to us that has caused our society to degenerate into such violence. We need to honestly explore our collective history without judgment or blame, seeking insight from our past experiences. This hunt needs to be pursued so that we can discover ways to heal from the devastating violence that is traumatizing our society.

While the hunt for the person who shot and killed St. Petersburg Police Officer David Crawford has ended, may our hunt continue, not for what is wrong with us, but for what has happened to us that we have become so consumed by violence.

“Stuff”

I recently finished reading the book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things. The book was standing up on the new book shelf in the library. Since I am in the middle of “the big clean” at our house, going through years of accumulation and debris, the title appealed to me. I think I was expecting something of a how-to, self-help book on clearing out clutter. A little more inspiration and motivation for my sorting and pitching.

The book was not at all what I expected. Written by Randy O. Frost, a psychology professor at Smith College, and Gail Steketee, the dean of the school of social work at Brown University, the book is about the disorder of hoarding. It tells of people whose homes are filled with stacks of papers and boxes, sometimes up to the ceiling, with only small pathways around the rooms. In some cases, the front door cannot even be opened to enter the house. The stove is piled high preventing the possibility of cooking. The hoarding disorder is way beyond the clutter of the Wells household. Whew!

Surprisingly, I found the book fascinating. It was an expose of people and their stuff. The writers not only describe the physical circumstances that they encounter working with hoarders, but they also share the feelings of the hoarders as they seek to deal with their accumulation and the impact it has on their lives. I think what really struck me about the book was the lack of judgment shown by the authors. They described and explained, but did not criticize or condemn. Frost and Steketee tell about what they see. They talk about the people they meet. They describe efforts to de-clutter. They share the feelings of the people they are working with as they try to throw out a used take-out food container or an old newspaper. But they never berate or judge the people. That really impressed me.

The authors could easily have slipped in a condemnatory comment here and there. What’s wrong with these people? How did they let themselves get like this? Why don’t they know better? But there is none of that kind of judging in the book.

While we may not be hoarders, I chance to hazard that we carry around our share of “stuff.” I am thinking about baggage relating to past experiences, upbringing, challenges we have faced, family issues, personality traits, etc. I know I have my accumulation of this kind. And it impacts the choices I make each and every day. It effects my behavior and relationships.

Maybe part of the reason for the accumulation is that we are so judgmental of ourselves. If I look at my stuff honestly, I will think I am a bad person for doing this or not doing that. I will look at some of my past behaviors with shame. So, I leave them accumulating and unexamined; cluttering my psyche and clouding my clarity about the present. I miss the opportunity to learn from the past. And perhaps doom myself to repeat it! More stuff!

Maybe if I could look at things without judgment, with an eye and a heart for understanding and describing rather than judging, I could deal with more of my stuff. Examine it. Treat it with compassion and sympathy. Learn from it. Unload some of it. How can I treat others with compassion and understanding if I can’t show myself the same consideration?

I think the lack of judging and condemnation was what I found most compelling about the book Stuff. That was the real beauty of the book for me. Maybe it was more of a self-help, how-to book than I first thought! Here’s to tackling our “stuff” without criticism or condemnation.

Gun Bounty

When we were in Scotland this summer we wanted to take a tour of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh to learn more about Scottish history and culture. The tour guide was a volunteer. As we waited for the tour to begin, he made several negative comments about the United States. These were followed in short order by his declaration that creationism, not evolution, was taught in the schools in the United States. And then the statement that, “In America, everyone carries a gun,” complete with a hand gesture, index finger pointing out and thumb up, signifying a gun. At this point we left the tour. Sue Sherwood, my traveling companion, told the guide that we had come on the tour to learn more about the history and culture of Scotland, not to hear his negative opinions about the United States. We reported the inappropriate conduct of the tour guide to the proper authorities at the museum. (Apparently, we were not the first.) Aside from this negative experience, we found Scotland to be a warm, friendly, hospitable country. Extremely delightful in every way!

This past month I sat down to pay our bills. I had read that the City of St. Petersburg had instituted curbside recycling for a nominal fee. I was looking forward to receiving the information about how to sign up in our monthly water bill. But I did not find an insert about recycling. I did not even find an insert about a civic event like the Festival of States, or the Blues Festival, or the Grand Prix, or the Santa Parade. What I found in my monthly water bill was an insert declaring, “Gun Bounty $1,500 Reward for an assault weapon $1,000 of all other firearms” complete with photos of an assault weapon and a revolver. This was in the city water bill that goes out to every household in St. Petersburg. And I was hoping for information about curbside recycling. I guess I’m naive and the statement of the tour guide in Scotland is closer to the truth than I had ever suspected.

Dusty Bibles

A church sign that I pass each day offers the following thought: “A dusty Bible can lead to a dirty life.” A dirty life? What is a dirty life? Does someone who works in the sanitation department lead a dirty life? Or does a yard maintenance person lead a dirty life? Does changing a diaper for someone young or old constitute a dirty life? Or are we talking about someone like a prostitute leading a dirty life? Or pedophile? The church has been great for sex being “dirty”! Well, I’m not sure about defining a dirty life, but I think there are plenty of people who read the Bible who should clean up their act!

If I were putting a saying like this on our church sign (which I wouldn’t), I would amend it. I would say, “A dusty Bible can lead to a dull life.” As far as I am concerned, when you devote yourself to biblical teachings about justice and poverty and compassion, when you take seriously the teachings of Jesus like Love your neighbor and Love your enemy, what you are going to get is a very interesting life. You will likely find yourself involved in all kinds of activities and relationships that are stimulating and enriching. Nothing dull or boring. And you might even find yourself getting dirty!

A Walk in the Park

I have been to 2 or 3 ball games since the Rays came to St. Petersburg. Obviously, I am not much of a sports fan. I would rather spend my entertainment dollar on a museum, concert, or play.

I follow the drama about the stadium, but really don’t have much interest in this issue. Aside from the traffic problems I have experienced in association with Rays’ games, I do not feel that I am personally effected by the presence of major league baseball in St. Petersburg.

What I do feel strongly about is that no public money go to a new stadium. There are so many services needed by the residents of the city and things that the city needs, I do not want tax money going into a baseball stadium: a new home for the Rays when there are thousands of homeless people here in St. Pete.

I recently began a routine of walking around the park in my neighborhood each morning. On these walks, I have noticed that the grass is well cut. The bushes and trees are trimmed. There is no trash on the ground to speak of. The garbage containers are emptied regularly. The park is very well kept and tended. And this is a park with heavy usage: a neighborhood pool, a dog park, extensive soccer fields, a little league ball field, a daily youth program, a recreation center, picnic tables, a playground, basketball courts, a small lake with a walking path, and tennis courts. There are extensive facilities and the park is well used, making it all the more impressive that it is so well kept.

To get to the park, I walk past a school and the school grounds pale in comparison to the park. On the school property there is trash and the grounds are not well mowed and maintained. Year round, it looks somewhat neglected. I realize that the school system is experiencing a financial crunch and has had to cut back in many ways. But so has the city. Yet the park looks pristine.

One day as I walked around the park, once again noticing how well maintained it is, I realized that there another facility that is in this park: The training field for the Rays. Ah, so that’s why this park is so well kept. I guess I am benefitting from major league baseball in St. Pete, after all. Maybe I’ll have a little more patience the next time I am stuck in Rays’ game traffic!