When we started doing inner-city work nearly nine years ago, we had no idea where we would end up. In fact, it's possible we might have run in the opposite direction if you had told us we would find ourselves living in the heart of Atlanta and taking in teenage boys, because terrifying. But the Lord has been gracious to lead us step-by-step on this journey. He has been gentle in revealing hard truths, and persistent in pulling us towards Himself. Four years ago when we bought this house, the neighborhood looked very different than it does today. These days, we don't get asked nearly as often if we're afraid, or why we would ever choose to live here. Gentrification creeps in, and we cannot help but wrestle through our own role in that. As the landscape of the city changes, and more and more Christians find themselves willing to move in and desiring to be good neighbors, we wanted to help facilitate a space to talk about what in the world that even means. By no means are we experts, or do we even consider ourselves "teachers" of this class (which is really not even a class, more like a supper club for which Adam cooks food and tells jokes).
I have had a few requests to see some of our notes from the first month's dinner, in which we talked about intentional neighboring and what it means to be a good neighbor. Our next dinner is coming up this Sunday evening (the 22nd), if anyone is interested in attending (even if you missed the first one), feel free to shoot me an email and let me know (and I'll pass along details such as addresses and times).
We started our time out by talking a little bit about what we mean by "intentional neighboring," because sometimes strange Christian-y language/buzz-words make things far more complicated than they really need to be. Basically when we talk about intentional neighboring, we mean living your life with purpose and consideration towards taking seriously Jesus' command to "love your neighbor as yourself." This, of course, leans far more complex and simple and crazy than it sounds. Because then we need to figure out what that actually looks like, what makes a good neighbor, how to live that out etc.
|via Dignity Serves|
The assistant city manager also told them "from the city's perspective, there's not a lot of difference between the way Christians and non-Christians neighbor."
This, of course, seems like a problem. We should be identified by our love, and if not for our neighbors, then who?
If we're being totally honest, a lot of the work of "being intentional" in knowing and caring for our neighbors is actually easier in our neighborhood than it was in the suburbs. There are always people outside, and no one is afraid to stop by or ask questions or show up unannounced. We know our neighbors simply by virtue of the fact that we see them often and cross paths easily. Loving them, of course, carries some complexity because of differing cultures and backgrounds and an increased need for intentionality in serving and truly befriending. I say this to point out that I dont think loving our neighbors intentionally is relegated to the inner-city. So if you live in the suburbs or a quiet farmhouse (lucky), then maybe spend some time praying about how you can love and serve your neighbors the way Christ intends.
Information on the 3 R's (from CCDA - Christian Community Development Association)
Relocation: The importance of relocating to communities in need. Like Jesus who traveled from one community to the next to spread the gospel and lay the seeds of community in new lands, “Living the gospel means desiring for your neighbor and your neighbor’s family that which you desire for yourself and your family” (Perkins). Only by joining a community do a community’s needs become one’s own. Living the gospel means sharing the suffering and pain of others, and relocation transforms “you, them, and theirs,” to “we, us, and ours.” “Effective ministries plant and build communities of believers that have a personal stake in the development of their neighbors” (Perkins).
“If programs and services are done for a community, rather than with and by the people of the community,” argues Perkins, “these programs do not help the people of the community develop. They simply continue the mentality of dependency that the welfare state has created in so many of our urban centers and that suppresses the dignity of the people there. In Christian community development, we want to empower people to take responsibility for their lives and to have the consciousness of their own dignity and worth that comes from being able to have such control. In order to do so, we need to give responsibility for programs at least in part to them.”
Reconciliation: The reconciliation of people to God, and the reconciliation of neighbor to neighbor. Through the gospel this process requires breaking down every racial, ethnic, or economic barrier to opportunity, such that as Christians people can come together to solve the problems of their shared community.
Redistribution: The importance of economic development and the redistribution of resources. But this commitment does not mean the heavy hand of government taking from one member of a community to give to another. It requires, rather, “bringing our lives, our skills, our educations, and our resources and putting them to work to empower people in a community of need. [This] is redistribution and it helps people to break out of the cycle of poverty.”
*Most of the practical literature we have read (or could find) from CCDA regarding the 3R's was a good-many-years-old. Some of it felt a little bit outdated, in that they talk a lot about how hard it can be to get people to move into "at-risk" neighborhoods (the relocation piece). I think that there has been, more recently, a bit of a shift back to the cities. And more of a willingness, for young Christians in particular, to live in neighborhoods that perhaps might have been seen as less-desirable some years ago. Although perhaps that viewpoint on my part is skewed by the circles we are now a part of. Our church is for the city and encourages people to move into the city, and they are responding eagerly. Which is wonderful, but raises different (and maybe more complex) questions about what that actually looks like. How to first, do no harm. How to honor your existing neighbors while perhaps dreaming of "improvements" for the neighborhood. How to love like Christ, for real. And how to avoid simply clustering (as is easiest) with the other people moving into these neighborhoods who look a whole lot like yourself. None of this is easy, and I sure wish CCDA folks would write some more stuff about this so I can figure out best practices, though Adam keeps telling me to do it myself!
What questions do you still have? What should we explore further together (or avoid, perhaps)?
Books for further reading and study (if you're like me and always want extra credit)
Restoring At-Risk Communities (edited by John Perkins)
Theirs Is the Kingdom - Bob Lupton