Forsaken

This morning I woke up to the sound of my neighbor screaming at his son. This happens kind of a lot. Happy Good Friday.

This Lent, my church did a sermon series entitled “What Lies Beneath: Recovering the Lost Language of Sin,” which was really great and which you should all binge-listen-to right now. The idea behind the title was that many of us work really hard to look like we have it all together. When something goes wrong, we ignore it, or write it off, or pass the blame. But beneath our metaphorical floorboards, we are a fallen, broken, frail people.

However, something I’ve learned about living in a dense neighborhood of a big city is that not everyone is as interested in keeping up appearances as suburban transplants like me are. A lot of people just put it all out there for the rest of us to see or overhear. Addiction, poverty, failed relationships, and violence happen everywhere, but I’m constantly surprised  – maybe even impressed – by how many people around here don’t work too hard to hide it. Continue reading →

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Flourishing on Two Wheels

It’s almost fall, and I’m especially excited about that because the change in temperature should mean that I won’t break out in a disgusting sweat on my way to work everyday. Was that too much information? Whatever – it’s true. Biking to and from the office is a consistently pleasant experience – something I look forward to twice a day – but it’s taken a toll on my general appearance these past few months. So I’m excited to resume looking like a normal/clean person after my commute.

Now is a great time to be a biker in Philly. To be sure, it’s always been a pretty good time – Philly is naturally a bike-friendly city. It’s flat, compact, and since the downtown was laid out before cars were invented, many of the roads are too narrow for cars to go too fast. But it’s getting even better. Next spring, Philly will be joining the rest of the modern cities by getting its own bike share program (and it’s rumored to be a good one). Bike racks and lanes are always being added, and there’s even talk of car-free streets. Also, the city’s laws are pretty bike-friendly: bikes are recognized as legitimate vehicles, and are allowed to be ridden in the middle of the road. When Philly was recently named the 6th best biking city in America, I wasn’t too surprised. Continue reading →

Petty Justice

As much as I love living in a city, I still can’t shake that heightened awareness of vulnerability that accompanies city-dwelling. Philly is my home, but I still feel safer when I’m in the suburbs or at the shore.

In the year since I moved here, I’ve had no less than three encounters with petty thievery: my car has been broken into twice, and my bike was stolen. These are not heinous crimes; I do not consider myself a victim. In these instances, I was hardly violated, and the only loss I suffered was a few hundred dollars and some hours of my time. Nothing lasting, nothing irreplaceable.

But still, I can’t quite get over my annoyance with petty crime like this, and the fact that in this place where I’m so comfortable, I still need to be much more careful with my belongings and person than I am elsewhere. I also wonder why, in middle class, relatively safe neighborhoods, useless crimes like these happen so regularly (people who’ve lived here long enough come to expect them). Perhaps it’s because in cities, unlike anywhere else, everyone’s stuff is out there in the open, all the time, for all to see, not tucked away in backyards and garages. And in cities, there is a much higher volume of people – broken, fundamentally skewed, people. The same kinds of people who live in suburbs (and everywhere else), but more of them.

And people hold incorrect attitudes. More serious crimes – murder, rape, etc. – are inspired by attitudes that we’re all capable of, but to a degree that most people never experience (thank God). The attitude behind petty theft, however, is much more simple, sneaky, and prevalent. I don’t know much about the people that have taken my various belongings over this past year, except this: they all believed that they had a right to something that simply was not theirs, that they did not work for, that they did not earn. I fundamentally disagree with this. But I fear (no, I know) that I also succumb to this temptation.

Justice – in its most basic, brutal form – is rendering each his due, and getting what you deserve. Stealing someone else’s bike, or helping yourself to the contents of their parked car is unjust. But so is squandering someone else’s resources, cutting off the car behind you, and being rude to strangers. In many ways, I hold and act upon the unjust attitudes that led to my things being taken, and I hate that. I am not a petty thief, but I’m not perfectly just either.

There is nothing I can do to undo the injustices that have been done to me – I realize and accept that. But I can try to change how I feel about the things I have, the things I don’t have yet, and the work I do to earn them. Hopefully this is one minuscule step toward making this city better for everyone.