Urban Tragedy & the Suburban Dilemma

Mpls. woman championed peace but died a homicide victim

Peace activist apparently beaten to death


This past Friday, between articles in the Minneapolis newspaper, Facebook updates from folks I know who live and work in North Minneapolis, and a phonecall from a friend, I’m still left wondering why.

Why was a 76-year old woman, who dedicated her life to living out her faith and conviction, attempting to make the world a little better place, in her eyes, so brutally and violently killed? Anger isn’t the appropriate word here; numbness is. I’m completely numb, to fathom anyone who might view her as a threat in any way, whether she was killed for her conviction, or maybe because she trusted the wrong people a little too much. It’s just another one of the dark realities of urban neighborhoods like North Minneapolis – gang violence, poverty, low income people, etc. Maybe she was a bit too pushy; pushed the wrong buttons…I’m sure there’s enough speculation as to why she was murdered. That’s not the issue in my head; that’s not why I’m asking “why?”

I’m trying to grasp my head a world where such darkness exists, and for the most part, why it seems to be background noise in our life today. I know lots of people, good people, die violent deaths everyday. But this one is sticking with me for some reason. Perhaps it’s because I live in North Minneapolis now, and know this is a serious and horrible reality in what is a neighborhood that has good, honest people in it. Perhaps a “lightbulb” has come on in my head, and this has randomly sparked something in me. I simply don’t know. But for some reason, I’m asking “why?” for me – why such darkness seems to move through our worlds, generally unnoticed, and not affecting us in any way.

Here’s the truth: I’m just like most of you reading this. I never knew Lois. I never even met her. All I know is from these articles, and tidbits I’ve heard from stories. I also serve a very suburban congregation in the Twin Cities Metro area. So Lois’ violent death – her murder – is something very distant from me. It should be background noise. But I don’t want it to be. And I don’t want it to be for a lot of the people who live in my very suburban congregation. I don’t want them to see this as just another story of what happens in North Minneapolis. But yet, I’m not sure “why” this matters for those so disconnected from a place like North Minneapolis – in culture, way of life, economic status, and so on.

I do know this: Lois’ story isn’t to highlight and push people to the cause of justice. Kneejerk reactions, and action that comes out of those reactions, won’t help people in North Minneapolis. Criticisms won’t help either. Solutions are tough and complex, just like the issues and problems.

But I want to know “why” – why should this matter to people in the suburbs at all? Is it simply “background noise” or is there something in sharing this dark, dark tragedy that needs to be raised in suburban communities? I want to know from those of you, especially those who live and serve in surburban contexts: Why does this matter? Should we raise tragedies like Lois’ in our communities at all?

God’s presence be with you in your wrestling around this…I’m still struggling on whether this is something that needs to be brought into my suburban community at all. I know I hope and pray for God’s presence in this….my struggle, and in the darkness surrounding Lois’ murder.



Filed under Missional Thinking & The Church

8 responses to “Urban Tragedy & the Suburban Dilemma

  1. I’m not sure this is a suburban vs. urban issue. Both are very different contexts dealing with very different issues and violence is unfortunately one of those differences, a very serious difference. However, does this idea of “background noise” have a context? As a born and raised suburb kid, does an urban violent crime affect me less than a violent crime that happens in my neighboring suburb? And is rate of frequency a factor in all of this?

    I think it’s important to bring these kinds of things up in any church setting but do not do it because you think that the privileged people in the suburbs need to hear about the horrible things going on in North Minneapolis. I fear what may happen is that we shame people for growing up where they grow up as if somehow this is their fault. It is not the fault of anyone in the suburbs that violent crime happens at a more frequent rate in an urban context. Like you alluded to, Aaron, we must be clear in our purpose of bringing this to any congregation, wherever it might be.

    So, why does it matter? It matters because humanity matters. It matters because what we believe about God creating everyone in God’s image applies to Lois as much as it applies to any other person. It matters because no matter where we live we must be willing to know and love “the others.” Suburban to urban and vice versa. If we aren’t willing to do that then everything becomes “background noise.”

    • Thanks for highlighting some great points about the sensitivity of presenting the matter. I agree…if it’s to hammer folks, then something greater gets missed. Your comments about humanity….well said. It gives me something to ponder, about the nature of what commonality we hold in our humanity…..and how God speaks a Word into that, for all.

  2. Eric

    I don’t know how I can follow up Adam’s comment — the last paragraph was just spot on (the others too, but particularly that last one).

    Here’s a backwards way of getting at what I want to say. Have you seen the movie Hotel Rwanda? In it, Joaquin Phoenix plays Jack a guy who walks around doing interviews and filming a lot of the atrocities in Rwanda. He’s talking to Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) one night and there’s an exchange that goes something like this (paraphrased, but still)

    Paul: I’m glad you’ve shot this footage and that the whole world will see it. It is the only way that people might intervene.
    Jack: Yeah, and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?
    Paul: How can people not intervene when they witness such atrocities?
    Jack: I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.

    It seems to me that your post/dilemma is surrounding some of these questions. “If no [suburban] person intervenes, is it still a good thing to show [or discuss, bring up etc.]”

    I think the real question is, do we want suburban people to intervene in urban contexts? A lot of times it can bring up the savior complex of suburban people coming in to “fix” the urban problems. What if, instead, we looked at it like this:

    “violence is to the urban community as x is to the suburban community.”

    In other words, what are the justice issues in the suburban community? And how can we build energy around that? If we work with something literally in our own back yard, it’s a lot harder for people to say “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.

    Just some thoughts, scattered though they may be.

    • Thanks for the insight Eric. I find this is a highly sensitive and complex thing I’ve brought up, but like I mentioned in responding to Kendall, why can’t we simply be more open about discussing the darkness that does reside in our humanity, in all the ways it affects us? I don’t think it’s background noise….God has to be there. I wish people of God were more open and honest about it.

  3. Kendall

    I totally agree with Adam’s final paragraph. Recognizing the humanity and God-created-ness of those around us is wildly important, particularly for those of us that are looked to as leaders in ministry.

    Urban violence scares me, yes, but there are also glimpses of the Kingdom of God in urban environments. I didn’t know anything of Lois’ story before her tragic death, but now I can see that God was at work through this woman and the circles in which she operated.

    Suburban violence scares me too. A violent crime was committed just a few weeks ago in our suburban context as well. While I didn’t know Lois’ story, I am closely familiar with the story surrounding the violent death of one of my young people four weeks ago today. His humanity was destroyed, his life ended, but his story told over and over again.

    I guess in response to your question, don’t always highlight the tragedy of this violence, but as time goes on lift up the life of Godliness that Lois lived. While we cannot ignore the sin of her murder, tell her story of justice and righteousness in North. Challenge our suburbanites to pursue justice and righteousness, to glimpse the Kingdom of God at work where we might not expect or hear of it, and recognize the humanity and the image of God in all people they may encounter (whether in suburbia or not).

    I don’t mean to tell you how to pastor your flock. I’m glad you’re asking questions like this. Peace be with you.

    • I don’t see it as telling me how to “pastor.” I just feel, the story is worth telling, but in what way? I think Adam is spot-on about the issues it raises about our attitude towards humanity. I don’t think the specific act itself is the point. But rather, is the darkness of this world, and how it affects us and our humanity, open and fair game for dialogue? It doesn’t always seem that way….and for some reason, I really want it to be.

  4. Pingback: humanity matters. | simple.faithful.thinking

  5. Pingback: The Problem of Fear | wrestlinginspiredfaith

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