29 October 2009

shameful defecation: a reminder of why i live in the inner city

When Stef and I went house-shopping last April, we went out with a distinct bias. We wanted an integrated neighborhood with character, walkability, and access to public transportation. We wanted to be in the city and in the midst of its people.

We settled just outside of downtown in the Deco District, on the fringes of the Monticello Park Historic District. The area is beautiful to the right set of eyes, home to modest century-old homes and plenty of inner-city culture.

We never did mind the run-down houses, graffiti, or crime statistics. In truth, we looked right past it. Having lived in South Africa, those things are part of the given life of urbanites and those who dwell among the poor. In a sense, I see those things as a badge of honor. It is a privilege to live amongst it all and it does wonderful things for my perspective.

After we moved in, other folks we know started coming over too. Eventually, we had a mini-takeover of 78201 going. Stef knew bus-drivers by name. Other neighbors bicycled to work and school. Still others were pooling resources and sharing all that they had. I laugh when I wonder what my neighbors must think as I walk down the street 0.8 miles to collect a borrowed lawnmower or to fetch a shovel. I smile when I consider the way that a shared garden utensil unites us, though. Just one more reason to say hello.

Strangely, life in the inner city is just like life on the outer edges. Same moving parts. Just different scenery out the window.

Strangely,I think I began to take the neighborhood for granted. I began to imagine that everyone lived about like I did. I began to assume that we’re all about the same, that we all have jobs and cars and high-speed internet. Then I took a walk, one that I take multiple times a week.

Bella and I often go grocery shopping while Stef teaches piano lessons. I plop her in her stroller and we make the short walk to the neighborhood grocery store. We pass through a nice part of the neighborhood, quiet and well-kept. We then pass an apartment building for men with mild mental disabilities and one of the busiest bus stops in the city. Fun trip for Bella as there is a lot to see. Fun for me as I can just leave the car at home and enjoy the world on foot, pretending that I am more urbane than I really am…

Recently, we made the trip and I was reminded that we are not the same, me and my neighbors. And it hit me again that I moved here in part to be close to the poor, to live among the desperate, and to love and serve them in community. It occurred to me that I just don’t do it very well sometimes.

On this latest walk with Bella, besides the regular stray dogs and wandering weirdoes, we saw some things that brought me back to reality.

There was a young couple having a shouting match that I feared would soon turn violent. What must they need? Can I give it?

There was an elderly man in the grocery store, stealing fruit. Taking simple things and dropping them quickly into his pockets. How hungry must this frail man be? What must he need? Is it mine to provide?

There was a young girl defecating behind a building while her mother kept watch for her. She could not have been more than 4 years old, crouching in the overgrown weeds behind a shuttered building that was a storefront for insurance or tarot readings in a former life. That little girl shocked me back into reality. What conditions must these people live in that they are forced to crouch in the grass in shame and release the waste of life? What must they need? Do I have it to give?

In the midst of these people, what does my life say about what I value? How does my time show them Christ’s love? How does my response to these scenes represent a beautiful God? And how did I get so busy and distracted that I forgot these people – these people I was called to live among and love? How is it that I forgot, even for a moment, that they existed?

There is work to be done…

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