Father of the orphan, defender of the widow,
such is God in his holy place.
God gives the lonely a home to live in;
he leads the prisoners forth into freedom:
but rebels must dwell in a parched land. – Vigils, Psalm 68
I spent my solitude time this morning at the Eastlynn Society House. No one was there. The sunlight shone brightly through the windows and openings, illuminating the gaping hole that was the dining room until we removed the rotten floor joists. The house was stone silent. As I drove west on Linwood Boulevard off of I-70 I soon smelled rotting flesh – a dog or whatever. The smell went on for five or six blocks. Something big died. The neighborhood. Long ago. Empty houses and overgrown vacant lots are the headstones.
Eastlynn is our attempt to build over the unmarked mass grave, and bring new life. Right now the house is gutted and down to its bones. We are doing serious reconstruction of the first floor.
My wife asked me why I seem so sleepless and anxious these days. I think about Eastlynn House all the time. The Eastlynn Board named security of the house as top priority. So, I went down to check on it, add another padlock and add some more support to the flimsy front door. Truth is, we are running out of money and volunteerism is down. It might be the summer slump. It might be that the work requires more skills now – measuring, sawing and strategy. Carpentry strategy takes ownership of the problem, something volunteers have little time for. But I can obsess over it. I want the house done, and a staffer living there. I want our inner city to have homeowners.
I prayed the 68th Psalm this morning – it fits, don’t you think? Also, I am listening to Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy. The book fits too. It is a very R-rated journalism work about the demised of the city of Detroit, how beyond broken it is. The book is full of murder, sex, political scandals with a hip-hop felony mayor, cigarettes, four-letter words, drugs, prostitution, more murder, ice, snow, blood, guns, dead forgotten bodies – on and on goes LeDuff’s real-life dystopia. The narrator reads the book like some Gen-X deconstructionist and Mickey Spellane film noir. Detroit is so bad off by comparison to KC that it makes Linwood and Benton looks marginally suburban. Detroit sounds like a war-torn middle eastern dysfunctional country. But it is right here in America.
I wanted to listen to the book for two reasons: one, Kansas City has been in an infamous competition with Detroit these last several years over who can produce the most abandoned vacant houses and lots; second, I wanted to find out if LeDuff has an answer. So far, Charlie LeDuff is just heaping bad on bad on bad on really bad. The story is predictable though: the whites moved to the suburbs and the auto and machine jobs failed. They left the core of the city to the colorful, criminal and crazy.
Somehow I have come to carry the burden of Eastlynn. My unguarded opinion: I not sure any one else is loosing sleep over it. The grand idea was that Lakeland Community Church would own property in the inner city and thus, own some of the problems and solutions for our inner city. This is so we can stand before a holy g-d and give a respectable Psalm 68 answer – “I did something about the widow and orphan; I gave the lonely a home to live in; I helped lead the prisoners of poverty to freedom, and I chased away the rebels.”
The house was sound and secure – and silent. Months of hard smart work lay ahead. Tens of thousands of dollars are needed. It will be a beautiful boulevard home once again, a showcase for the neighborhood. “As goes Linwood, so goes the neighborhood” they say down there.
I believe we will get the Eastlynn House operational. Something good will come of it. We are smart about “toxic charity.” We know what we are doing. My dream is see home ownership come back. I dream of children playing in front yards. I dream of not having to look around before I get out of my car.