graffiti on broken hearts

It was a quiet Saturday afternoon last year when I took these photos in Portland’s lower Central Eastside. Home to industry, railroads, and graffiti  painted on broken hearts, the area isn’t much different from other industrial zones in Portland, but it is more readily accessible and offers interesting subjects for photography.

Photograph by Glen Alan Woods

This road is SE Holgate near SE 26th as it passes over the railroad tracks. Not much to see in this view, although the discerning eye can barely make out Oregon Health Sciences University in the West Hills beneath the ominous clouds which threatened to dump heavy rainfall on me (a threat they soon executed with relentless force). The photos below depict various sights as I looked over the bridge railing down to the railroad yard. See the engine in the distance? There is  a certain kind of beauty I perceive in industrial environments. Wierd, I know. But then, as shown in the bottom photo, I noticed something else…and I wondered…

I wondered about the lives of those who tagged this wall. Gang members marking their territory? Kids wanting to express themselves? Creatives seeking alternative art installations? Most likely, the first two options are closest to the truth insofar as they go. I suspect it is graffiti on broken hearts. Who knows what plotlines drove them to this point? What are they expressing? Anger? Rage, even? Lust? Jealousy? Gang colors? Threats of vengeance? Brokenness in the midst of despair? Portland’s urban neighborhoods reveal much beauty, industry (as in these photos), creativity, colorful history, wierdness, and cultural diversity. Beneath the surface, however, there is revealed a pervasive brokenness in us all. The graffiti is merely a symptom, not the root problem. 

We paint over walls incessently, but ignore the call of people like Donald Miller and his Mentoring Project to mentor the fatherless. We attend committee meetings to complain about the homeless, but refuse to follow the lead of people like Steve Kimes  who pastors Anawim Christian Community (a community church for the homeless and the mentally ill and interested middle class folks in Portland, OR) or Ken Lloyd  who ministers and does life with the homeless downtown, and countless others who labor in obscurity by engaging the homeless intentionally and compassionately. We whisper about problematic neighborhoods which have pervasive crime, such as North Portland, Lents neighborhood in SE Portland, and Rockwood in Gresham, but we are content to watch tacitly as a few (e.g. Compassion Connect in Rockwood or The Bridge Church in North PDX) engage the culture in the way of Jesus’ love. 

We may even write blog posts like this one and then log off, thinking we somehow have made a difference while going on with our day, doing things which prevent us (intentionally, I suspect) from actually doing life with real people in the margins. You know, the people Jesus misses most. Whether they are homeless or forgotten in their homes; poor, middle-class, or wealthy, yet still marginalized from authentic community.  Shame on us. No, correct that. Shame on me for my selfishness. I’m far better at writing a good plot than living it. And that isn’t saying much. Time for me to go get real with God and do life with him even as I learn to do life with others. Pray for me. I will pray for you, too.

Don’t tarry. The clock is ticking…


2 thoughts on “graffiti on broken hearts

  1. Just a clarification – Lents does not have pervasive crime. The per capita / per acre crime rate is the same or lower than most Portland neighborhoods. Lents is a big neighborhood – about the size of 6-7 inner NE/SE neighborhoods combined. So, if you’re just counting incidents, yes, there are more crimes in Lents, there are also a lot more people, more businesses and a lot more space.

    The only reason there are “whispers” about pervasive crime in Lents is because people continue to repeat them, rather than taking a look at the reality.

  2. Hi Cora,

    Thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate your feedback. Perhaps pervasive is too strong of a word to use for the neighborhood as a whole. I agree that many parts of Lents do not experience the degree of crime which other sections do. For my part, I have been a victim of crime twice at my former home in Lents. One month after I moved out, a murder occurred in that same apartment community. The area where I minister to local families also has its issues, particularly a gang presence. I realize this is anecdotal and such things occur all over the city. However, they seem more common in certain parts of Lents, as well as in Rockwood and North Portland.

    The point of my post is not to say whose neighborhood is the worst or best. The point is to do something tangible and meaningful to make a difference for the better. I am glad to see that you seem to be one of those who care enough to make a difference!

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