This is Why We Live Here

“Don’t go to any of the local establishments,” the police woman told us who had come to file a report about our break-in. “Eat in Columbia City. [the gentrified section of South Seattle] This neighborhood around you has too much going on.”

She had just finished a discourse about how awful our neighborhood compares to North Seattle where she formerly worked, how crime is common and law enforcement under-staffed and over-extended…basically confirming all the things we had suspected.

“But this is why we chose to live here,” I told her. “We are involved with churches and part of a community development team down here.”

The cop was astounded.

“I thought you might be Jesus-lovers when I saw all the quotes and scripture on your walls,” she said.

By the time our conversation ended, we’d made a new friend. She wants to go to church with my housemates, and we want to go on ride-alongs with her. We’re learning more about our neighborhood, about perspectives towards law enforcement (many people here are scared of them), about ethnic tensions, about class divisions. We’re also experiencing what it is like to live in community, to support one another, to love and care about each other.

This desire extends from the example of Jesus.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

As a book I’ve been reading this weekend puts it:

“In the person of Jesus, the Word literally ‘tabernacle,’ or moved into the neighborhood” (Huckins, Thin Places, p.19).

So when the neighbors or our friends or even my own mother ask if we plan to move, our answer is a solid “No. This is why we live here.” We knew when we moved here that living in this context would bring challenges. We’ve already experienced some of them. We regularly heard about people getting burglarized from neighborhood reports and social networks. Yet it’s one thing to hear and read about crime, another thing to experience it firsthand. Through this experience we’ve formed stronger connections with neighbors who are helping us and solidarity neighbors who’ve been victimized as well (we are at least the third to have a break-in within the past couple of weeks). We’ve also felt solidarity with people in our churches who have experienced the same thing  (between our two churches, nearly a dozen households have been burglarized this past year).

“When we submerge, we move from being passive observers to active participants. We become residents who are engaged in the deeper realities of our cities and neighborhoods as we find ourselves in the places others may never have seen, experienced, or even known existed” (Huckins, Thin Places, p.49).

While those realities can be hard, we do not shy away from them. Sure we are taking precautions to prevent this from happening again. We are becoming more street-savvy. But we are staying, and growing, and meeting more neighbors (and even the police!), and eating at local establishments, and drinking chai at Somalian cafes, and shopping at the grocery that sells bulk spices next to toilet plunges, digestive biscuits across from prayer rugs. We’re listening, we’re observing, we’re taking in where we live.

“When we submerge, we resist the temptation to drive by the ugly or unglamorous realities of our local context”  (Huckins, Thin Places, p. 50).

We do not have all the answers or solutions for our community. We also are learning. We are being stretched.

“Submerging cannot be accompanied by thoughts that we are simply trying to go out and save everyone from their problems, but must be done in a posture of humility that acknowledges that we are as much in need of restoration as those we seek to serve” (Huckins, Thin Places, p. 59).

With the absence of my laptop, I’m re-evaluating my priorities (borrowing my housemate’s work one to write this post). Lent season is almost over, but I’ve asked myself: what if other than bringing my work laptop home for a specific task or project, I live without one for a month? How would I spend my time? Has my time spent surfing the web, watching YouTube and DVDs been an investment in anything substantial? Without it, maybe I’ll spend more time investing in REAL relationships, rather than giving a passing wave (like the ones I mentioned in my last post).

“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20)

Neighborhood Love

revitalized bus stop on other side of hill

revitalized bus stop on other side of hill

Every day on my commute to work, I walk past a group of people huddled near the base of the light rail and a bus stop. Growing up I would have learned to label as this group as “riff-raft.” Some days in the afternoon the bus stop smells like alcohol, the remains of broken wine bottles and smashed beer cans serving as self-evidence of the public consumption. People literally camp out there all day (sometimes even at night), play cards, drink, deal drugs and use the bushes as a urinal. Moving intentionally to South Seattle in order to be a part of community development initiatives, I had the glorious idea of hosting a BBQ or picnic with these folks in order to build relationships and get to know them as human beings. I knew in turn they would look out for me.

The BBQ has yet to happen, but from my daily commute we’ve grown accustomed to each other. At first I merely returned their greetings, making no eye contact. Eventually, I began to make small exchanges with some of the women. I think they appreciate being recognized as existing, as human beings who can communicate verbally. The man in the long trench coat who’s out at every hour was the first person to wish me “Happy Valentine’s” this year. That made my morning. As someone who’s love language is words of affirmation, the most priceless moment, though, was earlier this week when a woman called out, “You’re awesome!” Why, I have no idea. But it reinforced the reality that when we go somewhere expecting to give love, we receive it in greater doses back, often from surprising sources.