July 27, 2010

Camden, NJ (aka "The Most Dangerous City in the US")

I live in a row house. In "the thick" of it. I paint buildings. I fall asleep to screeching tires, pounding bass, shouting voices and barking dogs. I pick dirty needles, syringes, and empty drug bags off the streets and out of the parks. I am told by the cops that we're wasting our time; that park we cleaned up on the corner? It will be trashed by next week.
"You're in a warzone."
Yes. Yes I am.
But I'm planting flowers in this warzone. I'm playing in open fire-hydrants with kids and painting buildings bright colors in this warzone. I'm sitting on my third story roof talking to my neighbor across the ally about this city, the one he has grown up and lived in for 30 years, about respect, about purpose and hope.
We're a bunch of white, middle-class kids naive enough to look Camden in the eyes and say "You know what? Say what you like, we're going to believe in this city. Whether you want help or not, we're here to help."

As for what's happening within me right now..
I feel what I felt in Ghana. At home.
I am shaken but at peace.
I am dumbfounded, shocked, but resting in this place of certainty. For the first time in months I know I'm where I need to be. I need to be in Camden, NJ. I need to live here. To live in a suburb and drive in to "fix" this place would be hypocritical. What I've learned of Camden and what I've fallen in love with here is from what I've experienced by living here. It's the things I see from the roof, the eyes I make contact with on the streets, the bodies I see wrapped on benches as I run the streets early in the morning. Once again I am having one of the richest experiences of my life amongst the poorest people in the most oppressed places I've ever been. This is what I want to do - to live amongst the poor and the needy.. to devote myself to making small differences in places no one else cares(or dares) to go.
I have yet to feel "in danger".
There's so much more I could/should write, but my Internet time is coming to a close and really, it would take a long time to write out everything I'm experiencing here. Every day I'm learning and realizing something new, from the state of my heart to the state of the world... and even some about how this heart fits into this world.

recent read:
"The Irrisistable Revolution" by Shane Claiborne. Read it.


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