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2023 and things seem only to be getting worse
I actually tend to be an optimist. But over the past few days a number of things have caused me sadness as to the current state of affairs. While I still hope things will get better, they appear to be getting worse.
Here are some recent cases in point. An opinion piece by David Brooks of the New York Times concerning the toxicity of our culture the impact of that on Gen Z. Another piece by Roxanne Gay describes instances where there has been violence for seemingly innocent mistakes.
“In Kansas City, Mo., Ralph Yarl, a Black 16-year-old, rang the wrong doorbell. He was trying to pick up his younger brothers and was simply on the wrong street, Northeast 115th Street instead of Northeast 115th Terrace, a harmless mistake.”
“In upstate New York, a 20-year-old woman, Kaylin Gillis, was looking for a friend’s house in a rural area. The driver of the car she was in turned into a driveway and the homeowner, Kevin Monahan, 65, is accused of firing twice at the car and killing Ms. Gillis.”
“In Illinois, William Martys was using a leaf blower in his yard. A neighbor, Ettore Lacchei, allegedly started an argument with Mr. Martys and, the police say, killed him.”
Add to this stories about a cheerleader who was shot getting into the wrong car, the man in Cleveland, Texas, who allegedly shot a family after the family asked the alleged shooter to stop shooting his gun, a woman shot in Nashville, Tennessee at a Walgreens, and a homeless man killed on a subway in New York.
In the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch there is a piece on the recent CDC data on girls, anxiety and depression, among other things. Springtide Research reports that 47% of young people say they are moderately or extremely depressed, 55% are moderately or extremely anxious, 57% of young people say they are moderately or extremely stressed, and 45% are moderately or extremely lonely.
And consider the current state of our politics. We are seemingly incapable of discussing any issue of consequence. We reduce those who disagree with us to the most ridiculous extreme, which often bears little resemblance to the truth. Some call the January 6 events at the capital simply a “tourist event”, a woman can kill her unborn child and also sue for wrongful death should a drunk driver, for instance, cause an accident which kills her unborn child.
We have people who argue vehemently against abortion but with equal fervor argue against the types of services that help the most desperate woman avoid abortion. We have billions and even trillions for weapons of war but cannot find the will to pass any substantial mental health treatment and funding. We speak about the primacy of the family, but cannot pass paid family and medical leave, for examples, so that parents can bond with their newborn.
Division in the Church
And sadly, the state of affairs in the Church on issues are not much better. Rather than reflecting the counter cultural stance of the gospel, imitating Jesus who spoke with tax collectors and sinners, we choose to hang out with only those who see the Church in the way I do.
All of these things, are, I think, connected. If our basic stance when encountering another person is to view them as a threat, then who can we possible summon the will to listen to their story. When increasingly we do not know our neighbors, and our first instinct is to shoot first and ask questions later, the bonds and health community can provide go away.
Which brings me back to the start about mental health. While it is not as glitzy to talk about how adults are coping, it is the case that mental health issues are more and more prevalent. And the power of community as a mitigating factor to improve mental health issues is really not rarely acted upon.
The power of community
Certainly it is possible that Church communities can provide this type of community. Look at the positive benefit community centers have in their local town. Our inner cities are filled with very poor Catholic elementary schools that are closing for lack of resources.
Consider Dr. Tim Wu’s article. “Guardian Angel occupies a vanishing niche in today’s America: the genuine middle — neither outlandishly rich nor economically desperate. It is a school that primarily serves middle-class and poorer families looking for a better alternative to public schools. Research has shown that, especially for Black and Hispanic students, these schools can do a better job than some public schools when it comes to graduation rates, college attendance and future earnings.”
And it is not just education where there are organizations that strengthen our communities. In my community of Saint Louis, consider the Saint Joseph Housing Initiative. There website articulates the challenges discovered.
“Those of us who make St. Louis City our home know what a special place it is, and take pride in the joy of living here. It is also clear that our city needs our attention. The Ferguson Commission confirmed alarming statistics about poverty and systemic racial injustices in our St. Louis Area.
For example, in St. Louis City, 32% of black residents own their homes compared to 56% of white residents, according to a 2015 study cited by “Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity.” The median value of a black-owned home here is $82,000, as opposed to $145,000 for a white-owned home. Additionally, the report points out that by some estimates black St. Louisans are denied home loans at more than twice the rate as white St. Louisans.”
Or also in Saint Louis, there is the Saint Patrick Center which “provides opportunities for self-sufficiency and dignity to our unhoused neighbors and those at risk of becoming houseless.” Through their Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), they provide services in seven other counties in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.
There are programs run by Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese that help with mental health counseling (available with certified mental health counselors with a sliding scale for fees), mobile health and dental clinics that travel to serve those who do not have insurance or have inadequate insurance for care, Saint Martha’s is a St. Louis-based nonprofit that provides emergency shelter and support services to women and children experiencing domestic violence.
What can one person do?
What if we took one opportunity each day to stretch our thinking on an issue? What if we read something from a person we very much disagree with to hear another perspective? What if we promised ourselves not to make things worse, but rather committed to finding solutions?
This does not mean that we give up our values, but rather that in forming our values, we take the time to think best about the way our values can be focused more on how to help others, rather than simply shouting and yelling at each other.
Our role is to think about the simple and not so simple ways we can keep things from getting worse, and working to help make things better. To present religion as the power of a deep relationship that with the help of the Holy Spirit brings people together. To recognize that issues are complex, and do not lead to simple solutions.
But perhaps most of all to remember the great insight of Saint Theresa of Kolkata (Mother Theresa). If we do not have peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.
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