In 2011 God blessed our family with the opportunity to buy a lovely three-bedroom home across the street from a beautiful park with a world class conservatory. We have wonderful neighbors and a yard of our own just a block from the green line with convenient service to downtown.
Now the rest of the story. Our dream home happens to be in Garfield Park on Chicago’s west side. We’re just off what is known as the heroin highway, which beings troubled youth from the suburbs into the city looking to buy drugs. Our block is pretty good, but you don’t have to go very far to see young men hanging out on street corners ready to meet demand for temporary relief from life’s problems.
And it has got me to thinking about how our society deals with the drug problem. There are two sides to it, supply and demand. If either one went away the war on drugs would be over.
Supply involves the young men who hang out on the corner waving at cars to advertise their wares. They are often held responsible. We judge them for the devastation their products bring. Every time a suburban athlete, honor roll student, or prom queen dies of an overdose the cops plan another bust to get dealers off the street. They are trouble makers who have no one to blame but themselves. There is no excuse to break the law. We lock them up in prisons which often turn them into hardened criminals.
Then there is demand. All the athletes, honor roll students, and prom queens who drive the heroin highway to Garfield Park, stop at the corner and fund the devastation in my neighborhood. When they get caught we see them as troubled youth. We consider how a broken or dysfunctional family may have driven them to seek relief in illicit substances. We don’t want the mistakes they have made to ruin their lives. They often get probation, community service, or a stint in a rehab clinic.
Trouble makers or troubled youth? There’s a big difference. We blame trouble makers for causing trouble, while we blame trouble for hurting troubled youth. We fear trouble makers and what they might do to us. We pity troubled youth for what has been done to them.
But the truth is. Both urban sellers and suburban buyers are trouble youth. Both have endured troubled lives which have led them to meet up on a street corner for a business transaction. But neither are innocent. Both are responsible for trouble they inflict on themselves and others.
My desire is not to debate how race plays a role in the way we fight the drug war, though that is a legitimate question, nor is it to suggest we should judge suburban drug buyers more harshly or let urban drug sellers off easy. Those are law enforcement issues to be debated by law enforcement officials.
I’ve just been thinking about the gospel. The gospel that Christ died for trouble makers because he knew they were troubled souls. He knew we were all broken by the trauma of living in a broken sinful world and as a result had caused trouble and earned judgment. He took our judgment on Him so He could lavish His grace on us.
The gospel that God so loved the world that He sent His Only Begotten Son. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. Now God so loves the world that He sends me (and you), not to condemn, but to save.
I hope I stop noticing all the trouble makers on the corner, so I can see the troubled youth. I need to stop judging black sheep and extend grace to lost sheep. — by John Shirk
(Editor’s Note: John Shirk is a Chicago church planter and veteran slam poet of 10 years. He has a passion for promoting faith conversations through the art of spoken word poetry without inflicting egotistical carnage on unsuspecting poets in the name of truth. You can find him in Chicago at the In One Ear open mic, Mental Graffiti, and Weeds.)