CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE – Article by Abidan Shah

A CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE – Article by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on August 22, 2015)

Old Picture of HendersonAfter my last article – “Why we love our community?” – many of the readers thanked me for refuting a report floating on Facebook that we are one of the worst places to live in North Carolina. I explained that such town rankings do not factor “population dynamics, high crime areas, and latest annual crime reports” in their raw data analyses. Some of the readers asked me to clarify further, so here goes–

Neither the SBI nor the FBI ranks geographical areas (town, city, county) based on crime reports. In fact, the FBI webpage for Uniform Crime Reporting cautions that such “incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographical entities and their residents.” It also warns against using the report to evaluate the effectiveness of any law agency. There are numerous factors – clearance rates, part II offenses, arrest rates, etc. – which are not included in the report that should be taken into account.

So who comes up with these rankings? A quick search on Google reveals that it is online marketing sites promising to give objective analysis of places, products, and services. Here you will find articles such as, “Best Places to Live,” “Ten Cheapest Cities,” and “Most Dangerous Towns.” Their analysis is anything but objective. One actually declares, “We try to paint a picture of what’s happening in a region based on ‘FridayNight Science’ – how’d you argue at a bar.” And where do they get their information? From the latest FBI crime reports! By statistical gymnastics they create an “aggregated crime score,” weighting the violent crimes at 90% and property crimes at 10%, even though the property crimes are far more prevalent. Factors such as high crime zones, relationship of the assailant to the victim, and motive for the crime are never considered.

Recently, one such site ranked Elon as 1st among the top 100 safest cities in North Carolina while Henderson trailed in at 98. I’ve visited Elon and it’s a wonderful place but before you rent a U-Haul, here’s what a similar site reported: When Elon is compared to Henderson – Household income in Elon is 61% less than it is in Henderson and 67% below National Average; Elon had 39.6% fewer High School graduates than Henderson; Elon spends 10.4% less per student than Henderson. Furthermore, Elon is 33% more densely populated and 9.7% more expensive than Henderson. How about crime? Of course, by their pseudo-math, we appear to be a war zone! Bottom line: All such ranking is faulty and haphazard at best. Even the most ideal places have their share of problems. According to the SBI Crime Index, a safe community like Cary saw a 9% rise in overall crime in recent years.

I am by no means trying to gloss over our problems. All I am suggesting is that we are not as unredeemable as we are made out to be. What we need is a change in perspective. Instead of looking back with nostalgia or looking around with condemnation, we need to look inward with soul searching. What have we done to improve our community? Are we being the Salt and Light in our world? Ultimately, it’s not the courthouse or the jailhouse but the church house that has the answer. By the way, here’s one ranking that caught my eye – “People living in Henderson are 6.88% more likely to have a religious affiliation than people living in Elon.”

WHY WE LOVE OUR COMMUNITY? Newspaper Article by Abidan Paul Shah

WHY WE LOVE OUR COMMUNITY? Newspaper Article by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on June 6, 2015)

Why we love our community“Embarrassed of my hometown…” “Not what it used to be…” “Not surprised…” “Wish I could move…” These were some of the reactions to a recent crime report analysis circulating on Facebook. Actually, these were some of the nicer comments. Others were too crude to be mentioned here. Why are some people so quick to trash their community? It seems that they get some strange pleasure in mocking it and talking down about it. Instead of coming to her aid, they join the assailants. They’re like that person who sees an arsonist dousing his home with kerosene and offers him a match! Such people live somewhere at the intersection of Nostalgia Avenue and Bad Experience.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not naïve or oblivious to our problems. Nicole and I have raised our four children in this community for over 17 years and we have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. But, as the adage goes, “All that glitters is not gold,” we have come to realize that there is no perfect world. What are ranked as the ideal places to live have their fair share of problems as well. Unfortunately, the average person only looks for their town ranking. They don’t stop to consider population dynamics, high crime areas, and latest annual crime reports, which are not properly factored in many of the raw data analyses.

Our community definitely has its problems but it desperately needs our love. Here are some reasons why we love our community:

  1. Our children call it their home. They’ve had a positive experience growing up with wonderful friends and neighbors. At the same time, they haven’t been sheltered from the problems plaguing our sin-sick world. Our community has given them a balanced view of life and reality. No matter where God takes them, they will neither be shocked nor disappointed but will become productive and contributing members of their community.
  2. We have a wonderful unity in diversity. I’m sure there are plenty of stories of crime and bad experiences but I dare say that there are plenty more stories of friendships and positive experiences. When we make the effort to go beyond skin pigmentation and get to know one another, we find that we have the same needs and pains, hopes and dreams. As Americans we also have a common biblical culture and values. Our community can be a good model of living in true harmony.
  3. Our community has plenty of opportunities to show compassion. Like the parable of the Good Samaritan, we daily come across people in physical and moral suffering. We can either skirt around them like the self-righteous priest and Levite or we can bandage their wounds and demonstrate the selfless love of Christ. Could it be that God has placed hurting people in our community because He knows that we will do something to help them?
  4. We have some wonderful law enforcement officials. Daily they put themselves in harm’s way to ensure our security. To dis our community is to dishonor their sacrifice and dedication. When we acknowledge the positive difference they are making, we empower them to be God’s minster for good. Recently a friend shared with me that some of our men and women in uniform have the words “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God” etched somewhere on their belonging.
  5. God has His hand on our community. It has faced incredible odds (Yes – I have read the book and even have a copy of it) but it is still standing. It goes to show that if God is for our community, then no amount of ranking will be against us. Our best days are ahead!

RECLAIMING OUR COMMUNITY – RESPONDING TO THE RECENT CRIME SPREE

RECLAIMING OUR COMMUNITY: RESPONDING TO THE RECENT CRIME SPREE

The recent string of crime in our community has left many in shock and fear. People are looking over their shoulders, women are afraid to step out after dark, and those from outside the area are even reluctant to drive through. This is truly shameful and heartbreaking, not to mention devastating for the economy and progress of our community.

What is the root of our problem? Some blame the society; others blame the system; and still others call it “the signs of the times.” While they all have a point, the real answer was given over a hundred years ago by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He remarked “When God dies, cultures become weightless.” God’s glory brings radiance and substance to a culture. When God is asked to leave the premises, everything becomes dark and hollow. What we are seeing in our community is just the natural outcome of the godlessness in our culture. The only real answer to our problem today is for God’s glory to return to our culture as oxygen to our lungs.

The place to begin is not by withdrawing and hating our community but by seeing it from a biblical perspective. Social critic Os Guiness wisely noted, “Always and everywhere at once, society is two things: God’s gift to us, and the devil’s gauntlet thrown down before us.” Of the two, the second is much easier to see than the first. No one will argue that our community is under the control of the enemy. With every crime he is trying to bring fear, suspicion, and hate into our community. Every negative remark and every hate-filled post on Facebook plays right into his hands.

But can we see our community as “God’s gift to us”? This will require a radical change in the way we see people. Thanks to the teachings of evolution we tend to see people as hopeless and worthless. Instead, we should see every boy, girl, man, and woman as made in the image of God with a God-shaped vacuum in their heart. Sixteen centuries ago, Augustine the great African pastor wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” Restless people do reckless things. They need Christ, who promised, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

This will also require a radical change in our local churches. Do you find it ironic that we have a church on every street corner and yet we have failed to change the community?! Churches have become holy hideouts rather than rescue stations. We have become a relic of the past, trying to keep the lights on and reminiscing over days gone by. It is time we return to our King’s command to be the “salt and light” to our community. Furthermore, we need male leadership in our churches. Thank God for the women who have carried the burden of spiritual leadership but the church will never be appealing to men (young and old) until they see men worth following. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17) Let men take their rightful roles and they will be an incredible threat to the moral and spiritual darkness around us.

Remember – “No man is an island entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for you.” – John Donne

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