Like I was saying last night, relationships in the community, whether it is the church community or the city community take trust if they are to flourish. The proverb says:
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (18:24 NIV)
On the one hand, there is wickedness and superficial gunk that is messing up the togetherness we’d like to experience. There are friends who pretend to be friends. There are companions who do nothing but chatter; they fill up time but not your heart. There are acquaintances who remain superficial; they never attempt mutuality or sacrificially give. There are a lot of people who are fine for sharing a drink in a noisy bar, but they don’t bind themselves.
On the other hand, there is a friend who is worthy of the title — it is possible! There are people who will go deep, who will connect, who are real, who can be relied upon. Those are the kindred souls with whom we feel bound our whole lives. We want that.
Jesus is that kind of friend who sticks “closer than a brother.” And Jesus is moving into the world to make friends and make more friends like himself. We’re moving with him when we dare to look at what the world is really like (and ourselves!) and try to figure out how to be like brothers and sisters in the world.
I think the Inquirer did an OK job of lamenting the state of relationships in the Philadelphia region last week. They made a graphic that served to highlight the level of mistrust in Philadelphia and Camden. It is at the left. Since 2003 in Philadelphia and Camden, the number of murders almost equaled the number of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq during the course of the war. That is a shocking comparison.
It is worth being shocked about, but I have to point out that it is a false comparison. We have enough self-esteem issues without the Inquirer making it worse with misleading graphics! The highest number of soldiers in Iraq was in 2008 when there were about 158,000. That is less than one-tenth the number of people in Philly/Camden. What’s more, the comparison is grossly misleading because upwards to 127,000 Iraqi civilians have been documented casualties of the war. In case you are bad at math, that’s nearly thirty-seven times the number of U.S. soldiers killed, and it is also just the number of documented casualties. So it was actually much, much safer to live in Philly during the Iraq war.
Nevertheless, such violence from your neighbor: a teenager or mentally unglued person with a gun no one will regulate, a drug dealer with an automatic weapon, a soldier or insurgent with bombs and weapons in your neighborhood, a super-rich country flying drones overhead, none of it makes for trusting relationships. The proverbs note this.
A violent person entices their neighbor
and leads them down a path that is not good. (16:29)
The Inquirer made us feel like we are terrible (again). I think it was important for them to tell the truth. They tried. They also pointed out the valiant people who have been trying to undo the violence every year since 2003 and beyond. Someone in the organization either procured or made a map of every homicide in the city. Here are the murders in the immediate area of our building at Broad and Washington since Circle of Hope began in 1997.
Many people have been “lead down a path that is not good.” We are called to be the antidote, along with good people who would painstakingly make a murder map so we can see what is going on. The proverbs invite us to trust those who can be seen to deserve it, because they are the cement of society. Jesus invites us to be the cement of society. We can start by being trustworthy and daring to trust another. We can build cells, teams, congregations, and a network that is devoted to building a trust system. The Circle of Hope proverb in the title says we are convicted to do just that.