Violent Crime continues to rise in Montgomery. City leaders have decided to bring in the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office to form a panel with local law enforcement to try and figure out what is going on. While this is an admirable approach and I hope that they find some answers that they have not thought of, the main reason that crime is up is not really related to law enforcement. The main problem has to do with a societal and personal disregard of the law and respect for other people and a grasping after things, money, respect, and shortcuts to get what the individual willing to commit the crime wants. At some point, a significant portion of the population of the city – enough to do damage – has come to believe that human life is to be sacrificed at the altar of their own anger or greed. Law enforcement really cannot do a whole lot to restrain human depravity, selfishness, greed, and anger. It can prevent some things, of course, but primarily, it serves to punish crime, not to prevent it.
We also cannot just have goals of preventing crime. A violent crime is something that can be prevented or avoided 99.99% of the time with 99.99% of the people, but when it happens that one time, it obliterates all of the prevention and avoidance up to that point. Everything previously good and positive gets wiped out. We cannot just keep going around trying to prevent crime and talking about how it should not happen. We have to help reform our communities so that people naturally and internally live peaceful and peacemaking lives in relationship with others because they see THAT kind of life as the greater good, both for themselves and for others. The problem now is that acting violently or just taking what does not belong to you seems to be the most logical and beneficial approach for enough people to affect life here.
We are always going to have crime and violence. It is a part of the human race and it is impossible to prevent in all cases. Tribal warfare, corruption, greed, violence, etc. are all part of our human experience since Cain killed his brother Abel. The FBI and Attorney General’s office cannot constrain what is in the human heart that manifests violently at random times in relationships day and night. When family and cultural restraints have broken down and hopelessness sets in, then what is actually in the hearts of people can break out in some pretty horrific ways. Along with increased vigilance from the law enforcement community, we need spiritual, social, and economic renewal. We need a different perspective on our Vocation and our Location with a vision of Shalom in the city.
Vocation. Many in our community, especially among the young, do not know who they are, why they are here, where they come from, or where they are going in life. Rootlessness and alienation with little future vision beyond finding satisfaction in the moment has bred generations filled with contempt for others, society, and ultimately, themselves. Christian theology says that each person is made in the image of God and we are made for relationship with God and with others. Every person is valuable and has something to contribute. We all have gifts and talents and a purpose. Sin has marred the image of God within us and instead of using our lives for God’s glory and the good of others, we use what we have to advance ourselves and our own interests, which just increases problems. This is why we need a Savior and is why Jesus came – to reconcile us back to God and back to one another. An understanding of the doctrine of Vocation in this context (Voca-calling) plants our lives in the soil of productivity and contribution.
We do not just work to get a paycheck so we can buy stuff – our lives do not consist of what we own and how much pleasure we can experience. Rather, we are on this planet to give glory to God in all things and to benefit other people – and we do that in a myriad of ways from parenting to working in many different occupations and fields. When we lose sight of our Vocation, then we begin to wander aimlessly through life. Small things that should be overcome become large frustrations that can take us out. With a renewed sense of purpose and vocation that projects us beyond ourselves, minor frustrations and shortcuts that might provide temporary financial gain lose their power over us because we recognize that we are aligning our lives for bigger purposes.
Location. Acts 17:24-28 says that God has appointed our exact times and places to live so that we would seek Him and find Him. It says that He has determined our appointed “boundaries of habitation.” God puts us where He wants us and He gives us good works to do in a specific place and context so we can find Him there. Every community has its own identity and God puts people together in a community to give it weight and shape and beauty and diversity so that we can grope for Him in the midst of our relationship with others. When we do not understand how each of us contributes to the greater good, truth, and beauty of the city that we inhabit, then we do not think too long and hard about destroying it. When we have no real role in our community that we understand, or when that vision has been lost, we lose any sense of responsibility to it. We need a renewal of awareness of the location that we live in and how God has placed us all here together to learn from one another and to share life together (fellowship-koinonia). When this happens in the context of the local church, which is to be a colony of Heaven in a specific place and time, the we paint a picture for the world as to what God is like and what eternity can be. When we embrace where we live with the people that we live with in redemptive ways, we witness to our Creator. When we reject or forget this, then we are prone for violence against our community because everything loses value. We need to know that we belong.
Shalom. This is the Hebrew context of Peace, but it means more than a peaceful, easy feeling. It is the idea that things are right with the world, that we are right with God and with one another, and that prosperity, health, and right, creative, productive living abounds. Shalom is what it means to live under the blessing of God. As a people, Montgomery needs to reclaim its identity together. Much of what has driven Montgomery’s development over the years (including recent downtown renovation) has been an economic impulse. The idea is that if downtown develops from an economic and entertainment perspective, then money will flow in and everyone will benefit. The problem is that much of what drives what is seen as development is motivated by how developers can make the most money. I understand the profit motive and how it is needed, but when money drives development, then culture is sacrificed and gains are always shallow, plastic, and ultimately short term. How can development happen along cultural and social lines because people are freely creating and expressing their God-given identity and vocations together in a location that has a history and story to tell for the future? How can peace and justice reign in this city so that people become excited about creating and developing in ways that are beautiful and life-giving instead of just in ways that enable them to gain more money?
The reason that violent crime is up in Montgomery is because people lose hope. They are not living for anything beyond the moment. They have lost their sense of purpose and place and their passions and frustrations overtake any sense of the future and the value/dignity of the other person and even their own worth. It is a lie that they have believed. Montgomery has a lot to offer if we would tap into who we actually are together and what role each of us plays in God’s purpose for our own lives and our city.
Vocation. Location. Shalom. It is only when we all understand why we are here and what purpose we have that we can forgo the immediate option of violence and grab hold of more permanent, life-enhancing solutions for the good of others, the city, and for ourselves. I am not sure that the FBI and Attorney General’s office will have that perspective.