On St. Patrick's Day amidst a sea of green revelers, four representatives of South Street Ministries entered Tangiers, one of Akron's more celebrated and ornamented halls. We strayed into the hall seeking our place with some degree of confusion. We hadn't worn enough green, rather we were wearing ties (a rarity in our line of work/service).
A woman redirected us to our correct room, a small hall reserved for the reNEWal Realty group. A group of Christian realtors that meets monthly to discuss, network, and share in the struggle to mix faith and business in the housing market. Duane was their speaker for the luncheon.
Duane spoke of his story, of moving into Summit Lake 14 years ago and the start of South Street Ministries, noting the stupidity of his move from a realtor's perspective. After some abstract talk about culture, poverty, and psychology, Duane hit home with the insight that realtors persuade and control some of the forces (for better or worse) of the housing market. Moreover, with this controlling power comes a necessary call to Christian social justice.
And it is to this call my writing now turns, I moved onto Bachtel Ave. approximately a year and a half ago to live life with the people there and to serve with them. I was then a single bachelor capable of such a move without much consideration for a wife or family, and I wasn't the only one. However now our group of urban-renewal peers has come to a dynamic crossing: is this the place, the community, the neighborhood, where we set up shop?
Do the schools, broken as they may be, become our kids schools? Do the streets, and backyards, and alleyways, and cuts become the paths that we travel daily? Because the presumed answer in the realty market is a "Hell No!" That is if the question is even asked. That is if we even pause to wonder if where we choose to live (let alone that we have the luxury of choosing) is a deep spiritual choice. It is a question that I think we would often rather avoid.
Because the alternative, choosing a life that contradicts the normative (and possibly idolatrous) values of our day gets complicated. As Shane Claiborne puts it, it gets messy:
And that's when things get messy. When people begin moving beyond charity and toward justice and solidarity with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did, they get in trouble. Once we are actually friends with the folks in struggle, we start to ask why people are poor, which is never as popular as giving to charity. One of my friends has a shirt marked with the words of late Catholic bishop Dom Helder Camara: "When I fed the hungry, they called me a saint. When I asked why people are hungry, they called me a communist." Charity wins awards and applause but joining the poor gets you killed. People do not get crucified for living out of love that disrupts the social order that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them. -Claiborne: Irresistible Revolution-
And I can't help but ask those same questions as I walk around Summit Lake. When abandoned homes, vacant lots, and broken down properties are discouragingly commonplace, when the school building is closed down so the kids can be bussed to other schools, when young men know more about prison and child support than algebra or history, I can't help but ask why.
And I know some of the answers: generational poverty, poor life choices, unfair (and dare-I-say racist) punitive policies, and many others 'reasons'. But I can't help but seek the depths of the question, to examine my own motivations for serving, my own hidden bias, prejudice, and pride.
And it is this same question that we posited to a group of concerned realtors on St. Patrick's Day. Will we continue to encourage upward mobility, when our departure cripples the neighborhood we leave? Will we champion security over community? For those of us who are lucky enough (or rather privileged enough, for luck has clearly little to do with it) to choose where we live, will we choose with the Spirit-led discernment that calls us to lay down our lives, love our neighbors, and guard the rights of the oppressed?
I don't know.
I hope so, though.
-Grace and Peace, amidst the wrestle-
Post Script â€“Let me be clear that I am NOT advocating for all Christians to move into the poorer parts of town, nor am I condemning those who live in nicer parts of town (or out of town). But I will be clear on this: wherever we live, we ought to live differently. If the culture of the world says bigger is better, than the culture of Christ says 'small is beautiful' (serendipitously the title of one of my favorite economics books). If the culture amongst us says 'show some skin,' we ought to remind ourselves and live in the truth that God looks at the heart. If we are pressured to make much of ourselves, then we ought to follow the Spirit's leading in making much of Christ instead (and practice making less of ourselves for that matter…)