On Thanksgiving day, Shawnee Park is known to be a place of celebration. The Juice Bowl is an event that has a long history of the community coming together to watch some football and to have a good, family friendly time. It’s always been a place of fun and excitement that your family would go to prior to having thanksgiving dinner.
November 24th 2016, the Juice Bowl brought national attention because of an incident that really had nothing to do with the Juice Bowl. An incident escalated that resulted in 7 people being shot, and 2 of those being murdered within the park. The incident though unrelated to the Juice Bowl tainted the name of the Juice Bowl on a national stage.
I love the outdoors. Living right near Shawnee Park is amazing for me because the park is huge and absolutely beautiful. Living outside of the west end for most of my life, taught me a false perception of Shawnee Park. I always assumed it to be a place of murder, violence and hate. Since living in west Louisville, I have come to know it as a beautiful, tranquil place within the city of Louisville. Amazing open fields, Baseball fields, basketball courts and an amazing loop that can be driven or ran to see some of the beauty that the park has to offer.
On this day though, Shawnee Park became known once againto be a place of violence. And with all of the murder and violence our city has seen this year, the church needs to ask ourselves what can we do?
I am writing an appeal to Christians, churches and specifically pastors.
Our community needs us.
They don’t need us to be on the television making our names known. They don’t need us to hijack the deaths of others to build our own platforms and legacies. They need to know that we are here to seek to see REAL change. They want to know that the gospel we preach on Sundays from the pulpits brings real change. They want to know that this Jesus who preached radical teachings about selling all we have and giving to the poor, turning the other cheek and loving our neighbors as ourselves, is not something isolated to the other neighborhoods in the city, but applies in all neighborhoods.
They want to know that the church can fill the void that is seen by seeking to belong. So many people are seeking to belong. They are seeking to find that belonging through membership in gangs, masons, social clubs and biker gangs. But they don’t know if joining a church will fill that void of belonging. They don’t know if they are seeing that from the church. People joining churches and finding true family. Finding real community.
The question we have to ask ourselves though is, do we really believe that? Do we believe that the church is what people are searching for when they seek to belong to something? When we watch movies like Goodfellas and see the closeness that these guys had for each other and for the family, do we believe that the church can be that close? We should. The Bible says that we have been given the keys to the kingdom. We have Jesus who prays on our behalf. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling all believers. We have angels, God’s warriors working on God’s behalf. The Church is well equipped. And we are a part of something as great as anyone can imagine. Being on the front lines of the work of the Kingdom of God.
Our city needs to see the love that the Bible says that we have for one another. The city needs to see the amount of heart ache and compassion that we have on others. Living in communities that live and die by the bullet, we need to show that we are willing to turn the other cheek. The city needs us badly. And our prayer must be that in the moments that people turn to us for answers, that they will see the active Gospel that we preach. They will feel the love that the bible says we have for one another. They will realize that all of the searching for community in gangs, clubs and other avenues is found better and more real in the church, then any where else.
I am devastated by the violence that our city continues to act on. I am crushed to think of the bodies of teenage brothers who were dumped down the street from me. I am torn up to think of the baby girl shot dead a block from me. And once again, I am hurt to see the lives taken at my favorite park in the world.
I do believe though with all of the violence that there is a groaning that is going on inside of our community. A groaning for more. And I believe that the church has what our community is crying out for.