Monday, February 12, 2007

Incarnational Nostalgia

I have had a little spare time at work lately, waiting for phone calls and such, and I have spent some of it reading the blogs of some folks that are engaged in urban community development. One of the reasons that I have made the decision to get a degree in Public Policy is that I have a genuine interest and curiosity in the stories of people who are trying to change the world by moving into inner-city neighborhoods or, lately, are engaged in the messy work of racial reconciliation. This curiosity is the culmination of a lifetime of interests. I don’t know how to explain this, but I have spent so much of my life pretending to be interested in something because of the image of myself that it would create for others, that I’m often somewhat awed to discover that I actually have interests that I would pursue even if no one knew that I liked them.

These are the blogs that I have been reading and participating in:

Arloa Sutter’s Blog
Reconciliation Blues
Urban Onramps
Do You C What I C?
Our Family of Ten
The Margins

I have also been listening Rob Bell’s sermons that I download from his church’s website as I do my busy-work, filing and such.

I just found The Margins, today and I like it particularly because of the candor with which she writes about living in the middle of a crime-filled neighborhood. She does not necessarily attempt to find meaning in every experience right away, but simply presents them to the readers.

Sometimes at the CCDA conferences and when I am reading the memoirs of CCDA folks, I feel a little dissatisfied because folks aren't invited to speak at conference or to write books until they have actually shown some persistence with their incarnational ministry. (Incarnational ministry is when people move into neighborhoods that are broken so that they can follow Christ by actually being like Christ, who surrounded himself with the poor and the sick.) By the time they have been there awhile, their speeches and their books have to be written with a historical tone. Hindsight is 20/20 and as they look back on their experiences, they can see that every struggle worked out for the best. The stories are told as illustrations to a broader moral rather than told for their independent value. After Mom and I went to hear Anne and Wayne Gordon talk about raising a family in the hood, we left the room and she said to me fiercely, "Those people think each of those choices about where to send the kids to school and other decisions they had to make were inevitable conclusions. I wanted to stand up and say, 'Each of those choices was so hard and they had no idea whether or not it would turn out OK.'" Those of you that know my mother know that she is protective like that of only 3 or 4 people in the world outside of her family.

John Steinbeck writes a beautiful essay about “Why Soldiers Don’t Talk,” where he explains how men who go to war and women who give birth have a biological mechanism that causes them to be totally unable to re-live the pain and fear of those events because they will be required to repeat them in order for society to progress. All they can remember is that they were afraid and that is was painful. They cannot actually call up that pain and fear, the way most of us can do with tastes and music, they can only call up the memory. I believe that this is the other reason most memoirs and speeches of community development practitioners are a little blah. The immediacy is missing.

With the nostalgic tone that most people tell their stories with and the details that elapsed time and the need to summarize leave out, as an audience, we must use our imaginations to empathize with how hard it must be to live in under-resourced communities. Our imaginations aren't enough, though, because we are limited by our own lack of experience. We imagine an extension of our suburban, middle-class experience and that does not do their lives justice. This is why I was glad to find The Margins. Because the story is being told while it happens, there is no over-arching thesis to be proven. Her brain has not had time to protect her from the memory of being scared for herself and her children. Because of this, her faith in the midst of all she is going through shines all the brighter. Read especially Erika’s post A Walk in the Park to see what I’m talking about. She doesn't know yet that it will all turn out to be OK. But she does it anyway. That's pretty cool.


Scooter said...

You've got extra quotes after your last link, PM (the walk in the park one). It's messing up the hyperlink.

PrincessMax said...

You're a good man, Scooter. Thanks.