Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Moving on Purpose - what a privilege

Erin, the kids, and I are moving.

We are moving into some apartments in Thermalito that have always had a bad reputation while I was growing up. We are doing this on purpose in an attempt to live with and in the community we are hoping to minister to.

Our approach to church and ministry (service) is that we follow this incarnational model. In short, and in our limited understanding of theology, we want to follow Jesus and do what he did. The Gospel of John, chapter 1, tells us that Jesus, the Word of God revealed in a person, "The Word became flesh and made his home among us." Incarnation = Jesus became the flesh presence of God on Earth. Incarnational = to be the flesh presence God in a community. To be a real person living with and in the place. To experience what the people experience. To be in solidarity with the purpose of redemption. Usually when people talk about incarnational ministry they assume that the place is underserved, underprivileged, and marginalized.

That's what we're trying to do. 

And this is all coupled with John Perkins' "3 R's of community development" coming from his book With Justice for All. (1) Relocation, which for him often looks like someone moving away from home for education and then moving back. This is absolutely key. If World System's theory tells us anything about a capitalistic society it is that the core centers draw all the talent and resources, usually depleting the peripheral, satellite communities. Relocation is vital to communities of poverty. (2) Reconciliation - which breaks down barriers between neighbors with an emphasis on race, class, gender, and economic status. You know, the "Love your neighbor as yourself" stuff Jesus emphasized as the fulfillment of God's action in the world. I could go on, but this post isn't about community development. It is about moving in our privilege.

You see, that I have a "reason" for moving to the "wrong side" of the tracks and get to tell you or anyone about my reasons is privilege. Sure, there are some people in my family and friends who don't get it. They don't have the same theological convictions we do and that makes for awkward conversations about our "reasons." It is easier to tell people that we are moving because the apartments are cheaper - which they are - but that is not the reason we are moving. And that is privilege. I have choice. And there is dignity in that.

We are moving from a house in the more established neighborhood in Thermalito. We were able to have overlap between our last day in our house and the first day in our apartment. That is money. Money is choice. There is dignity in choice.

We had to pay a $200 deposit on the apartment without knowing we got the apartment while our credit was verified. We knew our credit was fine. We didn't give 30-day notice on our current place right away because we were unsure our application would be accepted. But what about folks struggling paycheck to paycheck? How do they move, giving 30-day notice, without a guaranteed place to live because applications are processing? How do they have money to pay first and last month's rent and deposit without getting their deposit back from their other house until 20 days after they move out?

Erin is on maternity leave and we have enough savings for me to take time off work so we can move. That is privilege. Let alone a community of loving people to help us move with multiple offers to borrow trucks and lend a hand and bring meals (for which I am eternally thankful). But how do people struggling to make ends meet balance work, children, and moving?

And with a growing housing market and economy, our rent in our current place and the apartments we are moving to is increasing by close to a $100 in each location. what do people do? What do people do who are working as hard as they can in a community that doesn't value education, has broken generations of cyclical poverty, few avenues for careers and living wages, and decades behind the times for equal rights?

So, it all seems nearly impossible to me. 

It seems possible for Erin and I because of our privilege. Yes we worked hard for what we have. We have sacrificed much and invested lots of time and energy, but we had LOTS of wonderful, gifted, capable, and talented people behind us encouraging us and expecting success from us. They served as a safety net for us to take risks and still do. Because I know that if everything we are trying to do blows up in our faces we will not go hungry. Our safety net is strong enough that we will always have a roof and a meal. And that is my privilege. That is how we have choice. And there is dignity in that. There is release in that.

I can't tell you the times I have wanted to assert myself as a "normal" person not on drugs, not creepy, well-educated. Riding my bike for exercise in my exercise clothes and people yell stuff at me or the 7-11 clerks get suspicious and unfriendly as I walk in profusely sweating to buy something for my pregnant wife (and me). It is during those times I want a shirt that says, "I have a masters degree." Or when people see me walking and I can feel the weight and stares I want a sign that says, "Just walking for exercise and reducing my carbon footprint - I swear I am not creepy." (Note: walking in my community is a statement about class - only those who have to do). But these are the things I cling to in trying to alleviate the awkwardness and social pressures. There are people who don't have that. They slowly get ground down. They often resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms. And the cycle continues.

For a lot of people they don't have the luxuries above. They don't have the loving community or the means to feel secure in their housing. They don't have the ability to take time off or know that their child can be watched by another trusted adult. They don't have the choice to live where they want to, and that deprives people of dignity.

So, we're moving in an attempt to be incarnational in our approach to this new church. But I know full well that our situation is not the same. We might live in the same place but we are not in the same place. You know what I mean? And these are some of the questions we have. This is the place we hope to serve. To see it transformed by the Gospel we seek to embody. And through it all we will be changed. We will encounter new depths of Gospel and God that we have never known. Henri Nouwen gives insight into this incarnational God when he writes, "The paradox of the ministry indeed is that we will find the God we want to give in the lives of the people to whom we want to give Him."

"God, we're here. We don't know what to do. It all seems a bit overwhelming and impossible. But we know that with you nothing is impossible. And we know that you are here. You have been here. We are not bringing you here, you have been here from the beginning. Help us to have eyes to see what you have been doing. Help us to live out what we already know of you and from you. Help us not to be overcome by the extremes - that we are here to save everyone or that we can't do anything. Ultimately, help us intertwine our stories with the stories of this place. That ours is a shared experience of seeking love and truth and peace for this place at this time."

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