As many of you know I like to observe this world of ours. Wherever I’ve traveled I’ve found people to be remarkably similar even though circumstances, economics and social environments are different. At our core we are made in the image and likeness of a good God. No culture is perfect. No group of people is without sin or potential.
My world is getting turned a little upside down and then up again. I’m working both in an under resourced community and in an abundantly resourced community. One in the city. The other in the suburbs. Here’s some initial observations. I offer them as someone learning the ropes in the city and certainly lacking the experience and insight of my more knowledgeable colleagues. And I offer observations as someone who has spent a fair amount of time in the burbs, enjoying the comforts, people, and advantages it provides.
At Breakthrough, in the city, there’s a deep, driving desire to empower people to break free from poverty, addiction, and isolation. At Christ Church, in the suburbs, we want to see people live lives of worship, growth and service. Both want to see people become disciples and live into their God given potential.
It doesn’t take long to realize that in under resourced neighborhoods poverty smacks you alongside the head every time you turn around. Living in a recessionary time only adds to the problem. Addictions to alcohol and drugs tear down lives and can block the development of badly needed hope and becomes an economic engine that actually stalls community development.. When you don’t have hope it’s hard to believe in the promise of a new day and when you see no visible signs of community improvement spirits can take a nosedive. Those who stay in isolation or keep on returning to it lag behind in their healing. And yet there is healing. There are many who look to God, love magnanimously, serve unselfishly and take every opportunity to grow and learn.
At Christ Church, in the suburbs, we don’t see much back breaking poverty although we see people who are being rudely treated by the recession. Coping is difficult for those who had much and now find themselves overextended and in striking distance of losing just about everything. It’s especially hard for anyone addicted to feeding an affluent lifestyle and expecting nothing but the best. It's hard to believe that less might be more and what's left might be more than enough.
For sure, many in the affluent suburbs turn to drugs and alcohol in the cruel belief that what they ingest will make them feel better. And because those in the suburbs are adept at hiding both faults and fears isolation is something that becomes the enemy of Christian community. And like the urban neighborhood there are many committed to the high road and striving to make a difference. Faith is real. Growth is apparent.
City and suburb. Poor and wealthy. Hopeful and hopeless. In each you will find people worshipping, growing in remarkable ways, and serving others. And in each you will see those struggling with issues related to money, addiction, and isolation. One big difference is that the people of the suburb have resources, access and clout. The suburbs have dreams aplenty and the ability to achieve them. For many in the city dreams are alive but resources are scant. Suburban communities expect success and excellence and can’t understand why others can’t achieve what they’ve achieved.
I think it was Mother Theresa who said that when she worked with the poor she saw Jesus in a most distressing disguise. If only I had the same eyes. I wonder if the poor, looking at me and you, also don't see a distressing disguise. And that we need them to point that disguise out to us, stripping it of its power over us?
Probably because I still carry residual idealism from the sixties but more importantly because I believe in this whole biblical notion of the Body of Christ I believe that we can learn from both worlds and from each other. Actually, if we don’t we’re in trouble. So then,
Can the poor teach the rich how to trust God in the midst of adversity?
Can an addict from the city sit down with the alcoholic from the suburb and be wounded healers each for the other?
Can the resource rich figure out ways to walk with the resource poor in ways that aren’t condescending?
Can city and suburbs find ways to worship, grow, and serve together?
Is it important to know each other’s story? If yes, how do we allow that to happen and give it permission to impact our lives?
Is our connection as ‘people of God’ stronger than our inclination to stay close to those who look like us?
How do those with clout and access use those things to better the lives of others?
How do we move beyond stereotype and preconception to really see the person?
My deep fear is that those things dividing us will determine our action and resolve. Maybe the better way is to see ourselves as God sees us. We are His children. All of us. If we really believed it, I wonder what kind of difference that could make?