Is Your Neighbor a Terrorist?

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Los Angeles is my home. Its Hollywood and hipster, immigrant and homeless, risky and gritty. I love every facet of our city. Recently, I attended a LAPD Captain’s Roundtable with Captain Eric Davis. The Roundtable is an opportunity for stakeholders in the community to hear from the Captain and various government officials in LA.

The guest speaker was Errol Southers, the Associate Director of National Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE). He is a former police officer, SWAT and FBI agent, with an impressive resume. While clearly brilliant, he did not assume a heady intellectual position and was able to explain simply the dangers we face in major cities concerning terrorism.

He shared shocking statistics, horrifying photographs of gang bangers, white supremacists, self-radicalized terrorists and worse. I even learned that evangelical Christians are on the FBI and Homeland Security extremists list thanks to the amount of “Christians” who blow up abortion clinics and spew hatred on various people groups. For the record, this is not the work of Christ. I believe this is the work of the enemy who subtly ushers in the anti-Christ spirit and perpetuates the persecution of believers who are actually living the gospel.

Mr. Southers stated that cities like Los Angeles are the “breeding ground for terrorists”. Next time you walk down the street, sit in a classroom or conference room meeting at work, visit a museum, mall or park, you will understand why. The majority of people will have their phone out texting, talking or perusing through a social media site. There is limited human interaction or connection.

Do you know your neighbor?

I mean, know their actual name? The fact that we don’t know each other anymore, or even care to know our neighbor, works in favor of terrorists. Mr. Southers also imparted that online self-radicalization of violent extremists has vastly increased. A budding terrorist can live next door to us, without socializing, for months learning to build pressure cooker bombs (like the ones used in the Boston tragedy), and converting himself to a radical belief system that is oppressive and deadly.

Adding to our disconnected communities is our unwillingness to see and speak. We may notice something off about a neighbor or citizen of our neighborhood, but its a rare individual willing to actually see the obvious and speak out, directly to the person when its safe or to law enforcement anonymously when its not.

Are you aware that communities determine what the honor code is? Mr. Southers shared that terrorists need an enabled environment to work and when we establish a higher honor code in our neighborhoods, we disable evil to live, ferment and grow. In spite of his sobering presentation, I am encouraged because this was God’s plan from the very beginning – that we love our neighbor. In the NIV version of the Bible, there are 141 mentions of the word “neighbor”, the majority of them instructing us how to treat each other with honor and respect.

Some scholars attribute “neighborliness” to justice. (Walter Brueggemann, Miraslav Volf and Timothy Keller are my personal favorites.) To love our neighbor, to respect and honor our neighbor, to care for and love our neighbor is to execute justice the way God intended.

At my Grandfather Dodson’s funeral many people came. I heard story after story from his neighbors and the people in his hometown of Madison, NC. “Your grandfather mowed my lawn… He brought me groceries… He fixed our plumbing… He visited me when I was sick… He helped me when I was in need.” I want to be like him. I have a long way to go.

Is your neighbor a terrorist?

Who knows? We do know that we are responsible for the state of our communities and cities, and I hope you will join me in returning to neighborliness again.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Jesus to a debating religious person (John 12:30-31 NIV)

Tips to Knowing Your Neighbors:

Help them.

  • My husband is great at this – He’s always carrying someone’s groceries, helping them move something, opening doors and leaving grocery cards for mom’s in our building.

Say hi.

  • Sometimes when I am in a rush, I forget to do this and my driven personality is usually “on to the next”, but warmth makes an apartment environment feel a little more like home.

Remember names.

  • Our friend Harmony asks names and types them into a note on her phone. Brilliant idea.

Get involved.

  • We’ve had some wild incidents in our building that would have been more comfortable for us to ignore, but God does not seem to interested in our comfort, so we make the choice to get involved… most of the time. We’re still working to grow as a couple in this area.

Use city resources. Here are some for LA:

  • Call 911 in an emergency. For example, screaming from an apartment, suspicious person or activity, hit & run, etc.
  • Call 311 for graffiti or furniture removal. Neighborhoods that look junky and tatted up statistically have higher levels of crime. LAPD has told us repeatedly the first thing to do in a dangerous neighborhood is “fix broken windows”. In other words, clean it up.
  • Call 211 for homeless families, men, women and teens. 211 is a 24/7 city service, like 911, that will give a list of all available transition homes in LA based on the issue at hand. For example, “I am with a single mom running from a domestic violence situation, with 2 children age 2 and 6.” 211 will give you a list of DV shelters that may be available to help her.

Got any additional tips? Share what you’ve learned and happy neighboring! 🙂

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