The power of community, interdependence, and burden-bearing is so penetrating… It just busts through the pain of loss like grass through concrete. I live with tears in my eyes right now, every moment, mesmerized by this big family we have.
In Iraq some folks taught us a saying in Arabic that translates: “When all is well, it’s easy to forget who your friends are. But when things get hard, you will know exactly who your friends are.” I have learned once again the depth of their wisdom, a wisdom that comes from many tears.
Moments of crisis seem to bring out the best or worst in people. Tragedies can paralyze us in despair or they can be a catalyst for hope. This week we have seen hope shine. While it is very true that this fire did not have to happen like this (this was the third fire in this factory this year) … And while it is unmistakably clear that in any other neighborhood a hazardous factory would not have continued to lie vacant after multiple tragedies and deaths inside … While it is clear that there has been a deliberate economic bias and neglect toward families in one of Philly’s poorest districts, who have relentlessly voiced their concerns … Hope is thick in the air.
Since the 7-alarm fire that destroyed half our block, including our home and arts space, we have come to remember that the best things in life are free, and cannot be bought and sold, or stolen.
Within hours folks were eating together out of our 3234 house (we didn’t even have electricity). Everyone offered their gifts—Brooke was serving meals, Michael had launched a new Web site, Darin had established emergency relief funds, Jamie had created a video, Lee wrote a poem, Eastern University had organized a donations drive, Tim was fixing kids’ bikes, Amber was giving massages, lawyers were offering help, Ryan was calling together a board meeting, our EAPE friends were answering a couple dozen calls an hour. … Unbelievable.
One of the kids on the block told us: “That wasn’t just your house that burnt, that was my house. And I will help rebuild it.”
We have received literally hundreds of e-mails and calls from folks offering prayers and gifts. And the incredible power is that this sense of solidarity has not just been with us here at TSW, but behind our whole neighborhood in a tough but beautiful time. For this reason we have set up two Emergency Relief Funds to make sure we are good (and transparent) stewards of those gifts—one is for our home and community here at TSW, and the other is for the families of our Kensington who will also be rebuilding their lives. We are confident that God does work out all things for good. All things. And words cannot express how deeply moving it all is.
The point of this note is not to ask you for money, but to thank you for love. As many of you know, we not only lost the building of a non-profit, but we lost our home. A reporter asked me how it felt to lose everything, and I told her I wouldn’t know: I feel like one of the most blessed people in the world, even though most everything I owned just went up in flames.
So the simple way is still simple (and it just got a little simpler, ha ha ha). And may we never forget that we are people of resurrection—we resurrected this same old building from absolute ruins 6 years ago … We can do it again. That is what we mean when we talk about “practicing resurrection.” We will keep practicing.
Love wins. Always.
Want to do something, but just don’t know how to help? Call our mayor and councilmember to voice your support. We are starting a gentle phone-calling campaign to let city officials know that there are thousands of people watching and supporting as our neighborhood asks that the lot where the factory burned be restored into a park and recreation space. Please be nice, as we are hoping that this is an opportunity for them to use their power to honor the pain of families here—and we actually believe it is very likely that they will do what we are asking. Here are their numbers and a few talking points:
Mayor John Street
Councilman Daniel Savage
Some possible talking points:
• Thanks for your commitment to the 7th District, where the fire on H street occurred on June 20.
• We recognize that there is some confusion over who owns this property and who was responsible. We also know that this is an opportunity for you to honor the devastated community by listening to its residents who are asking that the lot be restored into a park and recreation space.
• Please arrange to meet with the Neighborhood Coalition being organized by The Simple Way – (215) 423-3598.
• Please check their Web site – thesimpleway.org and consider their petition.
Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian, author of The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.