Prescott Estates / Whispering Woods
Rev. Joe Cherry
Rev. Joe Cherry
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A liberal religious voice in the Central Valley since 1953.
[Ed. Note: On Thursday, April 12, 2012, a sheriff's deputy, Robert Paris, and a locksmith, Glendon David Engert, went to an apartment in the Whispering Woods development to evict the occupant, James Ferrario. He shot and killed both of them, which led to a two-day standoff. On Friday the 13th a fire broke out and James Ferrario died in the flames. Rev. Joe had spent the week working on a sermon with a happier theme, baseball.]
[Readings for this service.]
Whispering Woods is an apartment complex not far from here. In fact, when we were new in town, we looked at an apartment there.
As you may already know there was a stand-off and two deaths there on Thursday.
That there was trouble in Whispering Woods might not be shocking to you, if you've lived here longer than I have.
Whispering Woods has a history. The Modesto Bee used the unfortunate title "Neighborhood has a dark history," which I think borders on racism.
Here's the thing: at first blush this story has no relationship to Baseball and False Nostalgia, right?
Except it does.
Once, Whispering Woods was known as Prescott Estates. Prescott Estates was built to be a middle-class condo development. And with that goal in mind, the builders of Prescott Estates were engaging in the game of false nostalgia.
While obviously most developers develop properties to make money, while they are developing these developments, they are creating a narrative about this new place they are creating. They are imagining the families that will move in, and what they'll be like.
As I said, we looked at these apartments when we first arrived. The rooms are nicely sized, there is plenty of green space around each 4-unit building, each unit has a garage spot.
The developers of Prescott Estates were not looking to create a neighborhood where all the "poor, undesirables" would be ghettoized. I'm sure that the sales brochures produced in the 1970's for the place showed people smiling, laughing and talking with neighbors. Happy children, new cars and back yard barbeques.
But through a series of housing bubbles and bumps, the place was so bad that in 2000 there were 1,225 police calls there a year, that's about 4 times each day.
Nobody ... nobody develops housing hoping that the police will be there 4 times each day.
In about 2002, the name of the place was changed from Prescott Estates to Whispering Woods, in an attempt to wipe clean the slate, to erase the past, to offer a new start.
Now can you see the relationship between this story and false nostalgia?
The story of Prescott Estates/Whispering Woods was from its very beginning, based in part on a fiction.
There is another, important component to this story that took place on Thursday. The Prescott Evangelical Free Church, right across Prescott from Whispering Woods opened its doors to the community. Associate Pastor Russ Cantu was interviewed for the Modesto Bee.
He talked about the church's relationship with the neighborhood, and how this opening of their doors, and hosting a Red Cross Evacuation center, was a natural outgrowth of their relationship with their neighborhood.
And this got me thinking. Why did this story about the church opening its doors warm my heart so much?
Part of the reason, I think, is that this is how I see the church. This is part of my narrative about church. Church responds to the needs of the people in and around it.
Isn't church, too, though, victim of a history that isn't completely based on fact?
I will admit to you that I watch TV shows about ministers. Probably more than most do. Call it occupational hazard if you have to, but I enjoy them. I'm also on guard for shows that aren't about parish life specifically, but have the occasional clergy person in them.
While I was living in Canada, I became a giant fan of a TV show called Little Mosque on the Prairie. The title is obviously a play on the TV show from the 70's, Little House on the Prairie. The Little House show was based, somewhat loosely, on the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author who introduced five-year-old Joe Cherry to what would become his lifelong love of history.
The Little House show had a town pastor by the name of Rev. Robert Alden, portrayed by Dabs Greer. Rev. Alden often offers little bits of loving advice to the growing Laura Ingalls. He is a gentle presence to the town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota. He does however have a past. After the death of his family, Alden became a serious alcoholic until called by the Lord to be a good Christian.
Little Mosque on the Prairie chronicles a modern Imam, Amaar Rashid. Amaar is a Toronto attorney who hears God's call to become an Imam. His parents are not amused. He takes a job in the fictional town of Mercy, Saskatchewan, population 14,000. Among Amaar's difficulties is that he doesn't have a beard, so the conservatives don't trust him, and the mosque is located in the rented hall of the local Anglican Church. Oh, and they're a group of Muslims living in Saskatchewan, which is roughly the Canadian equivalent of Kansas.
And then there are the BBC clergy persons: the Vicar of Dibly, and the poor, long-suffering Vicar of the church that Hyacinth Bucket attends.
In each of these stories, at some point, the local House of Faith opens its doors to those in need.
The Prescott Evangelical Free Church opened its doors to an urgent need.
We make sure our doors are open for various recovery groups every week.
Fiction meets reality. Quite nice, isn't it?
As you may be able to tell I was quite saddened by the shootings at the Whispering Woods Thursday, and I was very heartened to hear about one way our neighbors in faith responded.
What are your personal ideas about what a church is? About how a faith community responds and engages with your own life?
Are your own ideas and ideals about how the part that this community plays in your life hindering or enriching your own experience here?
Just like Prescott Estates has both a fiction and a reality, so has baseball, and what baseball represents.
Baseball is America's game, right? Many of us grow up playing some version of it, whether poorly or well, in fields and streets of this country.
Baseball, Mom and Apple Pie.
When you say the word baseball, images pop into mind, don't they? You can almost smell the hot dogs from the stadium vendors.
Like the fiction of Whispering Woods, Baseball's story is not as simple as it first appears. There are nuances. And if we fail to look beyond the simple picture portrayed for us, we are doing a disservice to all involved.
Baseball, largely in its current form, has been around since ... well, it's hard to say. Here is an image from a book in 1744.
Both Abner Doubleday and Alexander Carthwright have been given credit for the "invention" of modern-day baseball, though the evidence is dubious at best.
Certainly no serious historian, myself included, can see enough evidence to credit either man.
But the story of baseball isn't always just about facts, is it?
Baseball has a romantic quality to it, doesn't it? We see images of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantel and Joe DiMaggio. But the truth is so much deeper than those images.
Yes, Jackie Robinson broke through the color lines in 1946 to play ball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but it was still 20 years before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's.
While America was trying to convince itself that our world looked like Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, the reality of many was vastly different.
The danger of this false nostalgia is people will speak about "The good old days." Blogger Ed Babinski had this to say:
[Here is] The Assertion of Religious Right: Society today is worse off than it used to be. Things were better in the "good old days."
The danger is when people really begin to believe that the past has some hold on perfection. This leads to all kinds of behaviors and laws which are antithetical to our modern lives.
Just as we know that we are better off today than we were 60 years ago, there are those who feel that the exact opposite is true.
They want to go back to a "simpler time."
Except a simpler time is a lie.
What they want to go back to is blissful ignorance of the suffering of the world around them.
And we can't allow that, can we?
As much as anyone, I can understand the desire for a time when my understanding of life and the universe was much less nuanced than it is now.
Do what is right, get rewarded. Do what is wrong, get sent to your room.
But we know that this is not how the world works.
In our efforts to heal the world around us, we too must let go of our older views of reality. Religious Conservatives are not evil. They are not all backward. They are people, like us.
They want what we want: a happy place to live, where they feel safe, where they can hit a good sale at their favorite store, and they can go to bed, secure in the knowledge that all is well.
Our response to the world around us is a different one than theirs. Where their response tends to be akin to circling the wagons for protection, ours tends to be a seeking of a place of inclusion.
Partly our job in this is more difficult than theirs. If are really going to practice what we preach, we have to include them in our worldview, too. Not just tolerate, but include. We have to make a place for them.
We are also called to make a place for the stories of the habitually oppressed.
The latter is more natural to us.
So what can we do about the story of Prescott Estates/Whispering Woods?
We can reach out to our neighbors.
We can make a plan, so that, may the heavens forbid, should a similar tragedy happen where we are the closest house of worship, we know exactly what we are going to do.
We will have a plan for reaching out to our neighbors, a plan for comforting and assisting the people we live near.
Tragedy will strike again. This is part of life.
But if we are prepared, if we know that the idea of the good old days when things like this just didn't happen is a lie, we can get right to the business of healing our neighbors, our city, our world.
[We have two readings from this service, on a separate page; Out of a troubled world, by Andrew M. Hill, and In the Midst of a World, by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker.]
April 15, 2012
Copyright by Rev. Joe Cherry. If you liked it or want to use parts of it, please contact him:
This is from a collection of sermons by Rev. Joe Cherry.
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