Category Archives: Cities

Free Sleezy D

Last Saturday, Crystal and I took one of the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood. As we rounded University and Main–well, more or less, because of construction–I consulted my iPhone to get the correct address. That way, as we passed the unassuming green house, I could point at it and say, “That’s the house that was raided because of the Twitter thing.”

Yep. It’s making national news, and it happened just a few blocks away from where I live, just a few doors down from a vacant lot where once Youlandice Simmons lived.

It’s an ill-omened block, apparently.

If you’re not up on the news, here are some relevant links:

Fake Peoria mayor Twitter account prompts real raid of West Bluff house

THE POLICE RAIDED MY FRIEND’S HOUSE OVER A PARODY TWITTER ACCOUNT

Luciano: Controversy snowballs around Mayor Ardis’ response to Twitter parody

The search warrant, plus an inventory of what was seized in the raid

In particular, pay attention to the Luciano column, because he was actually able to get Mayor Ardis to comment on the record. And, from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look very good. Mayor Ardis talked a lot about how the content of this Twitter account–with 50 followers at its height, remember!–was “vile” and unprintable in the local news. He talked about the effect on his family. He called out the perpetrator to reveal his name. But he failed to speak to the one thing that is actually on everyone’s mind:

By what right can you do this?

Put yourself in the shoes of the occupants of 1220 N. University (aka the “Stately Wayne Manor”). You answer a knock at the door to find police yelling at you, forcing themselves into your home, searching through your private spaces, and taking some of your most expensive stuff. But that’s not all. For some, police showed up at their workplaces to arrest them. For Jake Elliott, one result of this mayhem is that the job he’s had for twelve years is now in jeopardy. (Source)

Lives have been shattered over this. The sanctity of someone’s home has been violated. Peace of mind has been exploded. Or, to put it another way, their right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects was violated.

And essentially, the only defense Mayor Ardis makes is that he didn’t like what they were saying.

That’s not good enough. As a public official, Mayor Ardis is limited in how he is allowed to respond to such issues. That’s pretty much the point of the First Amendment. Admittedly, most Americans appeal to the First Amendment to argue that they can say whatever they want without repercussion, a belief that XKCD recently skewered. But the First Amendment does mean that citizens are free to engage in speech about their government without repercussion.

You know, like saying that the mayor does drugs.

So, why does this matter?

As I type, I’m just a few blocks from where this happened. The victims of this raid all live in University East. This means that police raided my neighbors. These are my people. And that’s reason enough.

But let’s go a step further.

There’s a famous poem about the Holocaust, written by Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Whenever force is used to suppress political dissent–even juvenile dissent–it harms the entire community and creates a chilling effect on other forms of political speech. Because we all received the message: say something the mayor doesn’t like, and you too could be raided.

There’s a public meeting on Wednesday about the traffic diverted in my neighborhood. Is it safe for me to air my opinion? What if my opinion is that I don’t trust the City to actually finish a project well and that they need to sequence any updates to make sure that my neighborhood doesn’t get screwed by a half-assed job? Can I say that safely?

Some of you might brush that away as hypothetical. Of course that sort of speech is protected. But how am I supposed to know that?

Or, to put it another way, a couple days ago, I mentioned to my wife that I was going to blog about this. And she was afraid, because I was going to criticize the mayor, and I have more reach than this silly Twitter account that we’re talking about. She got the message from the mayor, loud and clear.

But here I am anyways, asserting my First Amendment right to engage in political speech.

Mayor Ardis, you need to fix this. You have overstepped your bounds. I don’t care what was being said about you. You are the public servant holding a sacred public trust. A trust that you have violated. You need to apologize to the inhabitants of 1220 N. University. You need to drop all related charges. You need to return all items seized, plus restitution. You need to go public and admit that you were wrong and acted improperly.

You can still fix this.

Because, if not, I know that I’m not alone in thinking that this incident is reason enough to try to get you run out of office. If we can’t trust you to safeguard our basic rights, can we trust you with anything else?

The city awaits your reply.

The title for this post comes from comments by Jon Daniels, the author of the fake Twitter account.

“Tell them my name. Tell them I did it,” he said, acknowledging the cops have him cornered. “But when they lock me up, tell them to tweet using the hashtag #freesleezyd.”


Words are failing me

(So, I’m typing on my iPhone. Apologies for typos.)

I’m sitting in front of the PeoriaNEXT Center, which is about a block from my house. I’m coming from Blue, our neighborhood bar, after spending time with some guys from church. I should be home. It’s getting late, and I’m tired.

But there are these benches in front of the NEXT Center, and I’ve always thought that someone should stage some really cool and artistic event right here, and so I stopped to take a picture, and then I got caught up in the play of light on the building and in the trees, and I snooped in the window of the coffee shop that should be opening soon nearby and I love where I live and somehow I’d forgotten how beautiful all this was. And that doesn’t really convey what I’m feeling and maybe I can’t and really that should be okay, because it feels like maybe finally coming home again to the place I live and finding it patiently waiting for me wondering where I’ve been, and I don’t really want to talk about that and it’s all okay as I sit here caressed by streetlights as I sit by the stream of traffic that rushes by.

I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you so much.


They moved the prayer service

Tonight we gathered for a meal and then a prayer service at Imago Dei Church.[1] The meal was a typical potluck meal, which worked out quite well. And then, we all headed off to the chapel for prayer. We were all a little late, but whatever, right? We were going to have our prayer service.

Except we couldn’t. Because it was occupied.

Looking in the windows in the doors, we could see two members of the Imago prayer team praying with someone.

So they moved the prayer service. You know, because the chapel was being used to pray.

It turns out that the man they were praying with lives across the street from the church. In fact, Crystal actually saw him this morning when she was at the church for Bible study and prayed for him. Apparently his need drove him to come seek help. And he found love and care, and he was ushered into the presence of the Father in prayer.

That’s tremendous. That’s wonderful. That’s a worthy reason to move the prayer service.

And it made me glad to be part of a church that has been positioned to be able to be available to the lost and needy, like our neighbor.

[1]Hi, SEO guys! How’s it going?


A quick thought on hip-hop culture

This is one of those thoughts that has been kicking around in my head for a while that hopefully won’t get me in trouble.

So, since I was exposed to Christian hip-hop recently, I’ve been thinking about hip-hop culture. Folks like Lecrae, Trip Lee, or Thi’sl are always decrying the state of the black community, especially the glorification of sin that is a part of hip-hop culture. Just think about the stereotypical rap video: barely-dressed women draped over some rapper who is dripping with gold chains and giant jewelry, maybe driving down the street in a car with shiny rims, maybe smoking a joint or drinking from a champagne bottle. (Now, perhaps I’m a bit out of touch with the current scene, though, honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to go poking around too much for music videos to illustrate my point.)

And so, we look at this sort of thing and shake our heads in disgust. The filth! The depravity! The degradation of women! And, yeah, it’s all true.

Ah yes, the hip-hop dream: money, sex, and power, all on display. But then I ask myself, “How is this really different than rest of America?” Look at the mainstream culture. Think about the movies, the music, the magazines. Maybe the skin color is lighter, but aren’t there the same trends? Barely-dressed women, offering themselves? Fast cars? Pompous displays of wealth and power?

When you stop and think about it, we’re all chasing the same paper and lusting after the same things. Hip-hop culture is just more honest about it. (Well, it’s also gaudier in its pursuit, but that’s not really relevant.)

So, once again, the problem isn’t race or class or wealth. The problem is sin. And the answer, for both black and white, rich or poor, is repentance and faith in Jesus.


A quick, kinda snarky post

I’ve heard the sentiment from various quarters that living in the city is bad for Christians, because of all the corruption.

My reply: Christians are supposed to be the salt of the earth, right? That’s salt as a preservative, which prevents rotting. In other words, we’re supposed to be around corruption. It’s part of our job.


Quote of the moment

“Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.” (Augustine of Hippo)


Why I Live Here

I wrote this for the Spring 2009 issue of our neighborhood newsletter, but I wanted to share it with those of you who are outside the circulating area of that newsletter.

I remember being poor. I remember trying to provide for a growing family on a meager income. I remember going over our budget with a man from our church who stared at us incredulously, amazed that we were getting by on so little.

I remember being on food stamps. I remember how my wife dreaded going to the assistance office for the next dole. She would make sure that her wedding band was prominent, like a talisman against the disapproving glares. She wished that she could just yell, “I was married before I had these children!” But it wouldn’t matter. The steady stream of supplicants were despised by the case-workers. And so, each month, Crystal would swallow her pride and endure their scorn and condescension so that we could afford to eat another month.

And I remember one night when Crystal came home from the grocery store with a tale to tell. The Hispanic couple in front of her in the checkout line were struggling with their food stamp card. Their PIN wasn’t working, so they couldn’t buy their food. Eventually, they had to leave their shopping order and walk away. It broke my wife’s heart. She wished that she could have just stepped up and bought them those groceries. But we were sinking into financial morass ourselves, and all she could do was watch.

Much time has passed since those days. A friend rescued us from the tyranny of the assistance office and helped us dig ourselves out of the debt that we racked up trying to climb out of poverty ourselves. Now I have a good job, making decent money. We’re out of debt and feeding our family, which has continued to grow.

But I remember being poor.

In our society, it seems that the poor are treated either as a plague that must be eradicated or a social ill that must be addressed by some philosophical position or government program. But all these responses hold the poor at arm’s length. Everyone talks about the poor as a group, but few talk about specific people. Everyone talks about helping the poor, but few talk about loving the poor.

I want to love the poor. I want to help provide for their needs as best I can. I want to be the warm embrace, the stern word given in love, the shoulder to cry on when it’s just too hard. And I want to be
the protest and outcry, the public conscience that speaks for those who are powerless and will not be heard.

But it is not enough to live in some upscale neighborhood and occasionally descend from the mountaintop, deigning to bless the underclass with my presence. That would be condescending and
insulting. Instead, I look to the example that Jesus set. The Apostle Paul talks about the love of Jesus in these terms: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) If Jesus loved me like this, shouldn’t I love those around me in the same way?

And that is why I live here.


A thought on neighborhood associations

Billy is correct:

And frankly, I think it’s time for the city council to reconsider what exactly qualifies a neighborhood organization as the go-to people[] to speak for a neighborhood. For example, the RRRI allows renters to sit in on meetings, but doesn’t allow them to join and vote.I’m pretty sure that the many-long time renters who live in my building and in neighboring buildings have rights and are affected by the Methodist expansion too. Renters pay property taxes — it’s part of their rent.

But I was really surprised to see this from the comments:

But yeah… do any neighborhood associations really represent their neighborhoods? The utter lack of participation in support of these organizations is alarming. It’s a classic little red hen story… the poor hen making her bread and no one helps her. But they sure as hell complain when it something affects them in a way that matters to them. Here in the uplands only about a couple dozen people (out of 375 or so households) are involved in any tangible way with the neighborhood association. It is frustrating.

Emphasis mine.

That was really surprising to me. I’ve always had the impression that Uplands really had their act together in terms of organization and participation. If a solid association like Uplands only has a “couple dozen people” participating, then what about the less organized ones?

In light of all this, I have to ask: is the neighborhood association concept really the best way for the city to reach its citizens?


On being a crime victim

Hey, Barb! I still owe you a response to your question about Traffic and Crash and The Wire. Been a bit busy. However, I think that I have additional experience now to tack on to whatever answer I finally develop.

For those of you who don’t know, last Saturday, while Crystal and I were driving home from Erie (you know, after her mother died and all that particular joy), we were robbed. We stopped in Indianapolis at a Cracker Barrel and, while we were eating inside, parties unknown smashed one of the car windows and stole a bunch of stuff from the back seat.

So, I’m heading out to the car, while Crystal is, uh, attending to some business inside. I see a police car parked near our car. I’m thinking, “Oh no. What’s going on? We haven’t done anything wrong. It’s a rental car….” And so on and so forth. But I continue to walk the car.

Then I see the woman sitting in the passenger seat of the police car. This is a bit unusual. Normally, if you’re busted, you’re in the back of the car. Then I see her car and the shattered glass. Now I understand! She’s filing a report, and the police officer let her sit in the car, where it’s not quite so cold.

My heart goes out to the poor woman. “That’s terrible,” I think. “I can only imagine what that would feel like.”

And then I see our car, window similarly smashed.

Even then, it takes me a moment to realize that stuff is missing from the back seat.

I’m really surprised at how matter-of-fact I felt about it all. At least right then.

The rest of the scenario played out about how you’d expect. We talked to the police officer and filed a report of our own. The other woman, who actually works at the restaurant, ran back inside to check the security camera tapes. No dice; our cars were both conveniently in a dead zone of coverage. We canvassed the area a bit, hoping that the thieves had stashed our stuff somewhere to come back for it. Nope.

All of it was gone.

My laptop was gone. Among other things, it held my gaming archive, including various playtest versions of games, hard-to-find character sheets (like the sheets for The Mountain Witch). It also included notes for various games-in-progress, as well as my manuscript for Showdown.

Gone.

My backups were on external hard drives, in case of hardware failure. They were in the laptop bag.

Gone.

Those of you who have met me know that I carry a large black bag. I’ve done this ever since college. My bag is my toolkit for life. If I think that I might need something, I carry it in there. So, on our trip, my bag contained the following:

–my brand-new ESV Study Bible
–copies of each of my games (including my personal copy of Junk)
–my copies of Breaking the Ice and Shooting the Moon, each autographed by Emily Care Boss
–the game Hive, including the Mosquito expansion
–the book I was currently reading (Homicide by David Simon)
–the book I had finished reading (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
–my PDA charger
–my phone charger
–several decks of cards
–several pens
–a digital recorder
–a green plastic alien who dangled from one of the zippers, which had been a present from my sister Elizabeth

And more, of course.

My bag is an extension of myself, almost a portable sanctum.

Gone.

The list goes on. Crystal’s dad had given her a couple pieces of jewelry that her mom had bought before she died. They were in another bag in the back seat, which was taken.

Crystal’s slippers.

Several of my CDs, including one on loan from Raquel.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

They didn’t take everything, thank God. But they made out…well, they made out like bandits.

And somewhere in there, my emotions caught up with me. And, besides the anger and the sadness, there was this feeling of being offended. What had I done to these people that they treat me like this?

And then I felt violated. This was more than just my sense of security being shattered, though that’s certainly true. Rather, I felt attacked. These are things that I carry close to me, and they had been suddenly stripped from me. Violence had touched me, leaving me feeling exposed to the cold dark world.

I really needed that laptop to do work this week. Instead, I’m trying to do time-sensitive work while configuring a new computer. That’s frustrating.

I’m so used to carrying my bag everywhere that the lack of it is a constant reminder of what happened and what I lost. Crystal encouraged me to start putting together another bag, which I’ve done. But, it’s not really ready yet. And I’ll never be able to replace that green dangly alien.

And here I am, writing this, and I’m actually starting to cry over a silly plastic alien.

But it was special. It meant something to me. It was mine.

And someone stole it away from me. Just like that. Stole it and probably threw it away, because it wasn’t actually worth any money. Or worse, dangling from someone’s key ring as a trophy of that amazing smash-and-grab where they scored big.

If you have to be a victim of a crime, I guess this is the best kind. Neither Crystal or I were hurt. In fact, neither of us were physically threatened in any way. I mean, I’ve been reading Homicide, right? Those victims don’t get to walk away. So, I’m thankful to God for that.

And yet, we both are still feeling violated and hurt. And, honestly, there’s nothing to do except try to move on from here and say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” And, by God’s grace, that’s what we shall do.

But, I suppose, I have also gained something. I have gained an immediate understanding of what it feels like to be a victim of crime. And, if nothing else, I will be better able to empathize with others who have been similarly victimized. And, perhaps, I will be better equipped to help stop others from being victimized, too.

And, lest anyone is concerned, yes, I still plan on making and playing crime games. I mean, after an experience like this, how could I stop?


A little story about redemption

Hello, my loyal readers. Today I will tell you a small tale about the glory of God.

This afternoon, I went out to the alley to collect my trash cans. As I normally do, I looked into the trash cans to see what was sloshing around in them. Given that we’ve just had a fairly intense ice storm, it seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

In one of the trash cans was a purse.

I looked at it for a moment. It seemed like an odd thing to be in my trash can. But maybe we were throwing away a purse that had been a toy. But I’ve been trying to train myself to pay attention to small things. So I fished it out of the trash can. It was so soaked with water that it was dripping everywhere. I poked around at the contents.

It was someone’s purse.

Among other things, the purse included photo ID and a piece of official correspondence. So, I had a name and address. Patty (not her real name) from a South Side address.

We couldn’t find a phone number, so we drove down to the place indicated on the ID. It was actually just on the edge of where Downtown and South Side meet.

She wasn’t there. The address was a group home where her mother lived. But one of the women on staff said that she was normally through several times a week. We were all concerned, because no one had seen Patty for a few days. Eventually, I left the purse and my phone number.

And that would be that, I figured.

Except it wasn’t.

This evening, Patty called. She was overjoyed that her purse had found its way back to her. She said that she had been shopping at Campustown and someone stole it from the car. She thought that she’d never see it again.

I know that this might look like a story about a virtuous citizen helping another person. But that’s not what I see.

I see the glory of God. I see my amazing Father bringing healing to my hurting city. Sure, it was a small thing. But, to Patty, it was a big thing. Tonight, she experienced a little of the rescue and redemption of the Father of lights.

And I was there to see it.

I didn’t think that I’d get to see the end of this story. But I did. It was encouraging. I got to see the hand of God at work.

It was good.