Today I was in Lake Forest, IL. I wasn’t far from Halas Hall, home of the Bears. Our church staff was visiting another church staff on their turf. Lake Forest is a beautiful place, the church warm and inviting. The staff we visited with was smart and informative. A good day.
Yesterday, I was in East Garfield Park, a west side Chicago neighborhood. It’s about as far away from Lake Forest as you can get. I spent an hour in a bible study with homeless men. I wasn’t leading, just watching. The conversation was smooth, the observations were poignant. A good day.
I write this from my home in Villa Park, IL. It’s not the inner city. It’s also not an upscale suburb. The town I live is filled with smaller homes and blue collar people. It’s comfortable but not pretentious. I’m blessed to live here.
Lake Forest is pristine. Nestled against Lake Michigan it just smells of both new and old, old money. It’s got the best of education. The best shoppes. The best of everything that money can buy. And it’s clean. Really clean.
On the west side of Chicago one of the first things you notice is the litter. The schools aren’t good. The best restaurant is called Subway. There is no smell of new or old money. This is a neighborhood living on the margins.
In Villa Park, there is a growing Muslim community. The high school finally passed a referendum to beef up its campus. There’s major strip malls on the main thoroughfares that border the community.
In each community good people live. In each there are families in desperate straits. There’s an addiction problem in East Garfield Park as there is in both Lake Forest and in Villa Park. In rough times people cling to their faith. In East Garfield Park it’s always a rough time.
In each community people live in isolation, not knowing the meaning or experience of community. In many respects, each community needs each other. But time and distance and economics and skin color separate them.
I struggle this week to make sense of these different worlds. As I stood, standing in line in a store on the west side, I realized that I was the only white man in the building. I’m not very conscious of race when I walk through a Lake Forest and only mildly so in my own home community. When I drive through East Garfield Park I am struck by the enormous monetary poverty. And when I drive through Lake Forest I see what the super rich do with their excess.
In each, there are people. Smart people. Hurting people. People who lack faith. Some who are discovering faith for the first time. And in each there are people who are far from God.
I’m struck by our tendency (those of us who have more) to use our mobility to spend our time with people who think, act and look like us. We choose to congregate with those who don’t disturb our comfort level.
I’ve lived in places where rich and poor, black,white, brown and yellow live in closer proximity. It’s both easy and hard to live in such places. It's easy because there are so many people to like and so many interesting cultures to rub against. It's hard because no issue is easy to resolve because everything is discussed against the backdrop of race, privilege and class. It can be nerve-wracking.
In all honesty, I often wonder how I can get the different worlds I experience to collide so that God can do wondrous things. Listening to the homeless guys discuss the bible has me yearning to invite the well-to-do to participate in the learning. I want my Christian friends to dialogue with the men and women at the mosque down the street from me. I want the people of Lake Forest to walk the streets of the west side of Chicago to discover the heart beat of the people who live there. And for those who carry negative stereotypes of rich suburbanites I want them to meet and know suburban folk who walk their talk, using both power and position for good not for personal gain.
And so, this week was a learning experience for me. Nothing new really. But I had a heightened awareness about a whole lot of things. One realization is that I’m in a position, working in both in an upscale suburb and an underresourced urban community, to bring worlds and people together with some degree of intentionality. And I’m realizing that this is, indeed, a good and needed thing. In all my worlds there are good people, with God-given giftedness, who need each other. They just don’t realize it. Yet.