A Violation of the Sanctuary

While on my bike ride yesterday I stopped at this spot to take this picture.

12112316_10208108269368840_2161302172920816986_nEverybody in Dallas will know why. For those who do not, here’s a summary…

Just five days ago, on Monday morning, our whole city was rocked by the news that a jogger, David Stevens, had been murdered on the trail. Surreally, his murder was at the hands of a former Aggie football star, who was clearly mentally ill, and who gruesomely hacked him to death with a machete. It was a totally random attack. No provocation. No reason at all for David Stevens to have been chosen.

Just down from the bridge, the  little makeshift shrine pictured here has popped up. So, I stopped for a moment, to pray and honor a senseless loss of life, and to write the initial thoughts that have now become this blog.

The murder of David Stevens shocks me to the core. Until I took this ride yesterday, I haven’t even been able to talk about it all week. As you might imagine, I pass by this very spot a lot.

All. The. Time.

Even more, I’m usually by myself.

Even more, many times as I pass this spot, it’s dark.

My very favorite rides at the lake are sunset rides so by the time I get to this point, the Sun is long gone and it’s pitch black, ringed in by the trees on either side. And I’m riding with just my little bike light to guide me.

From time to time, friends will ask “But is that safe?”

And I always say, “Of course it safe! Why wouldn’t it be?!”

What could possibly happen on the bike trail…..right?

I think that’s the thing that’s got me most spooked about it. White Rock Lake, for so many of us in Dallas, is our place of refuge. In the midst of the vast concrete wasteland that is most of the city, it’s a place of genuine wildness.

We come here to get away from our troubles and worries. We come here to get spiritually centered. We come here to encounter foxes, coyotes, rabbits, egrets, hawks, and dozens of other creatures that we get to share the space with. We come to commune with the holy to the beauty of God’s creation.

It’s a sanctuary.

And, sure, there’s violence in nature. Coyotes eat rabbits out here all the time. Snakes wander across the trail after a rainstorm. You see egrets in the creek, stalking small fish.

But a jogger hacked to death by a machete?! Here?!

It boggles the mind.

So, it’s that-much-more shocking because this place is such a spiritual center. It’s going take a long time for people to get over this. I am sure I will never pass by this place again and see it in exactly the same way.

A sanctuary has been violated. And all of us who love this place, and respect both nature and humanity, are feeling the violation.

“Violence” and “violation” have the same root word. And its clear, in a situation like this, how related these concepts really are. Violence like this is a violation of the order of things. The order of the way things “should be.”

Even though I will absolutely continue my rides —even though I don’t personally feel one bit less safe than I ever have— the whole thing gives you pause.

You can’t help but say, “That could have been me.”
David was almost my age. Did I ever see him here? His attacker?

But it wasn’t me. And it was random. It was unlikely to happen then and it’s probably even more unlikely to ever happen again.

Like a lightning strike. I know this. So, in this, and in God, I will trust.

Yesterday, when I got back to my car, just after snapping these pictures, The Ticket was doing a story on the murder and had some comments from the first man to come upon it. He was a cyclist, coming North on trail, and so as I heard him describe the scene, I could picture it exactly.

Keep in mind, he’s probably going 15-20 mph, so what you see at that moment, you see quickly. I’m not going to describe everything he says he say. But I will note this…

As Brandon sped past on his bike, he saw the perpetrator get up and run toward him. As you might imagine, he pedaled North even quicker. He managed to turn several other jogger/cyclists around before they got to the assailant. They all ran away North, from the attacker. And they called 911.

Brandon probably saved a woman jogger’s life.

And how many times have I seen that on the trail too? Not literal life-saving. But looking out for each other. Warning people….

“Hey…there’s tree down, just ahead…”


“Hey…there’s a low water spot, around the corner…”

How many times have I stopped just to check out my gear, and had somebody else stop to say, “Everything OK?”

Everybody looks out for each other on the trail. It’s a beautiful thing.

Again, another part of the “violation” of it all. Not just a violation of a natural, peaceful place. But a violation of the code of “‘looking out for each other.”

One final note about this very stretch of the trail. This part of the trail looking south toward Fair Oaks Park in this picture.

12087994_10208108269608846_3129832776541699935_nWhat I’m about to say is absolutely true, although some of you will no doubt think it sensationalist or made up. But on more than one occasion, while I’m riding along this very stretch of trail late at night by myself, I have burst into tears.

Maybe it’s that it’s late and that I’m by myself and that I’m too much my own thoughts…

Maybe it’s that I occasionally hear some lone coyote calling out right at the spot. (It’s happened several times…) And it’s beautiful and sad…

Maybe it’s that I’m tired. I’m near the end of my ride generally at this point I’m letting down my guard, and whatever lonely, hopeless, or sad thought that happens to be in me comes pouring out…

Maybe, just maybe, in addition to all this, it’s the actual place itself. As news reports have said, it’s especially dark right here when it’s night. As I’ve said, it’s usually very very quiet. Walkers who come down from the Royal/Greenville intersection often turn back right here, so there’s suddenly fewer people around. Right here, you can’t see the creek. It’s not terribly “beautiful” right here. The trees crowd in, and you wonder what is lurking back behind them.

I mean, in the past day, as I’ve meditated on these issues, I’ve recalled several of these times of tears…

The first time was soon after I had started riding my bike again, maybe four or five years now. I was probably 55 pounds heavier than I am today. I was just about done with one of my first rides. But it was dark, and I wasn’t yet used to riding at night. I was so tired and exhausted. I remember feeling so sad that I’d let myself get in such bad shape. I wondered if I’d ever lose any weight, or feel any better. I simply burst out crying.

Another time, the song “Breathe Me” by Sia came on, right at this spot. And I remembered the powerful closing scene of the show “Six Feet Under” which uses that song. And it was so dark and lonely on that stretch of road, that death and life felt very close in that moment….as it does in that show….and I started crying.

A third time, was very very recently.. My friend Tom Prasada-Rao’s song “Maria,” came on…which for me has always reminded me of my daughter.

“Take one last look, before you you leap…miles to go, before you sleep…”

And I thought of how she’s about to graduate and move away…

More tears.

I’ve cried in this very spot, over the death of Bill McElvaney…over the sickness of loved ones in my family…over arguments I’ve had with Dennise…over other feelings of helplessness and loneliness with things happening at Northaven or in the general UMC.

But it’s the God’s honest truth that maybe ten times over the past five or six years, while riding this very same lonesome stretch of the trail —I’m talking about a half mile stretch, on bike rides of anywhere from 16-50 miles—I have found myself in tears. And! Very rarely anywhere else along the trail, ever.

There is something about the spot, I kid you not, that has always struck me as terribly sad and lonely.

Maybe there are just lonely places like this. I mean, places where, spiritually, the loneliness and sadness just bubbles up from the ground itself?

I’m remembering, for example, how the New Testament talks about Jesus going to “a lonely place apart,” when he hears about the death of John the Baptist. Not a far place. A lonely one.

Maybe some places simply are lonely and sad.

This little spot is going to be that way for a long time, for me, I feel certain. I burst into tears yesterday, when I came upon this spot, because I saw the flowers that people have been leaving. I’m more sure than ever that this won’t be the last time I cry as I move past this spot.

Before I pedaled back to the car, I said a little prayer. I’m prayed for David and his family. I prayed for his attacker. And I prayed for all those who feel the violation of this sanctuary, and for all anywhere who walk through a “lonely place apart.”

Join me, won’t you?

Prayers, vibes, moments of silence?

Whatever you can do.

In life, as on the trail, it can sometimes get very lonely and sad. And whether we stop to check on a cyclist by the side of the path, or just say a prayer for a friend far away, it’s important to keep taking care of each other however we can.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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