Tuesday, May 01, 2007

High School Flashback

On Friday and Saturday, I was up at Mars Hill Church with a bunch of CCDA folks who were giving a seminar there in conjunction with Mars' XYZ initiative. I was basically a groupie, hanging out with Noel Castellanos, his assistant, Erin, Bob Lupton and Phil Jackson, while they spoke to the very white folks of Mars Hill Church. The trip was an ideal one for me because I learn lots of new things every time I get to experience these "big dogs" of Christian community development plus I've been wanting to get a sense for Mars Hill since I've been listening to the sermons since the new year began. I've read a couple of magazine articles about the church and their descriptions were dead-on, describing the physical church property as unassuming but bright and welcoming. The fact that the stall door popped open on me at a delicate moment is highly illustrative of the fact that their core values lie in people, not property. They could have invested money in high-end bathroom stalls of heavy plastic or some shiny stone that swung smoothly-balanced on brass hinges but instead they bought stalls that any public school or shopping mall would have. I like that choice.

I have lots of other thoughts from the seminar that I will hopefully be able to post throughout the week. However, for this post, the purpose of telling you about the seminar was simply background.

At the conclusion of the seminar, Noel, Bob and Phil sat down on a panel discussion with the international development guy and one of the pastors, Denise Van Something. Almost the entire population of Mars Hill is suburban and they asked several questions about how suburbans can do community development work. It was interesting to hear the responses of the men because one of the three "R's" of CCDA is relocation. Without moving into the community, you are the Great White Hope and that's not good for anyone. The belief is that without being in real relationship with people, you can only change the type of control that is held over their lives. And, it's very hard to be in real relationships with people if you can't see them in all of their different faces, which is hard to accomplish if you don't live in the same conditions that they do. So, in this time as the seminar closed, I heard several people refer to N, B and P's urban experience with repeated references to the "sacrifices" they've made. I scoffed a little because I was feeling particularly enlightened, having left the suburbs behind. I looked at the obvious joy that these three men are wrapped in and thought, "There's no sacrifice involved in living in the ghetto! There is only the gift God gives us of freedom from greed and selfishness and the blessing we receive by engaging in relationships that go deeper than the superficial ones we have when we are self-sufficient, like the suburbans are."

On one level, most of the Christian community development literature and interviews and conversations will uphold this judgmental thought bubble of mine. Some might even agree with the first sentence.

But that's wrong. There IS sacrifice involved in living in the ghetto. Living in community is hard. Giving up control sucks. This point was driven home on Saturday night, when I was preparing to go to another match of Ring of Honor wrestling.

I did not make a successful decision all last week. I didn't make bad decisions, but nothing felt quite right. Lots of awkward interactions and slightly inconvenient consequences for small mistakes. I think I lost my center when I got knocked down by the taxi cab and it was keeping me from operating at peak performance levels like I usually do. (By the way, weeks like that make me all the more aware of people who are so busy surviving that they do not have time to find their center for years. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that I mourn more for those folks than for any other type of sufferers because it is the experience I can relate most to. I know in my head that other things are worse, like hunger and death of close relatives, but I've never really experienced that so I can only imagine it, whereas I can extrapolate from the lost feeling I have when I lose my center for a couple of weeks to what years must feel like.)

One of these flawed decisions involved the timing of getting up to Grand Rapids, MI. Somehow, I f***ed up the schedule something royal and got the time change all reversed in my head. So, I was late showing up and early getting back.

I rejoiced in getting back early because in my original plan I was going to have to drive directly to the fieldhouse in the southwest suburbs on my way back from Grand Rapids and I had forgotten to leave room in the equation to take Erin, my passenger back to her house, which was going to make me late. Getting back early meant not only that I wouldn't be late but also that I could catch a ride with the rest of the group that was going.

I called my brother to tell him this good news to find that he was riding his motorcycle and that he was dropping his girlfriend off at her mom's house on the way so I couldn't sit on the back. He told me to call JB, the other coordinator of the trip. So, I did and asked JB if I could get a ride. He said I could. I asked if I should meet him at his house (directly south 1 mile on a beautiful day) or if it was easy for him to pick me up. The show started at 7:30. He didn't even address the idea of me walking down to him and immediately said that he had to pick up his friend Dante at 6:30 and would pick me up on the way there.

At this point, what would you assume about what would happen after we picked up Dante? I didn't even consider that we would do anything other than head from Dante's house to the fieldhouse in the southwest suburbs. I knew it wouldn't take less than 45 minutes to get there. I just assumed. Obviously.

So, I got home at 6:08 and raced around the house, changing clothes and trying to put some food in my body that wasn't pure junk. I hustled down the stairs and got in JB's truck at 6:17, hitting my head hard on the door on my way in and nearly dropping the toast, orange juice and avocado that I brought out with me. So, in this somewhat flustered and painful state, we head over to Dante's house and it turns out that he is a 9-year-old boy with a cape (later, he corrected me that it was a cloak) and a fancy vest. I hate 9-year-old boys. It's not their fault. Developmentally, they have to be entirely self-centered and believe that everyone wants to hear what they have to say. However, developmentally, I'm thoroughly disgusted by the ignorance that is evident every time they open their mouths. Maybe it embarrasses me because it reminds me of my own childhood precociousness. Who knows. The fact remains that kids from age 3 to age 12 drive me crazy. I try my hardest not to engage them (without being rude) beyond feeding them when they ask for it and reading them books or putting my arm around them when they're tired. So, I tried to put on a good face to Dante because I do actually like that he's retained enough creativity and innocence to still be wearing a costume in public. Very island style, to me. We stop and get coffee and cookies and then . . . head to the fieldhouse?

Nope, we head back to JB's house. JB actually lives in a garage that he keeps construction supplies in along with an RV, his dog and a bunny. It's kind of gross. Normally, though, I find it charming and very honestly reflective of JB's personality. He opens up the big garage door and pulls out some lawn chairs. The dog goes on a leash and is handed to Dante. Neighbors converge with their dogs. Another woman shows up and doesn't really say anything, even when I speak to her and stays in that sort of crouching dynamic all evening. At 7:11, I catch JB's eye and look him dead in the face and say quietly, slowly and firmly, "Let's. Go." He's says, "We're waiting for Alex to get gas." A few minutes earlier, Alex, his partner Stephanie, and two 6-year-old girls had joined the fray. I hadn't realized that Alex had left again immediately afterwards.

Finally, at 7:16, the crowd dispersed; the people that we were waiting for (Alex and company) got back into their vehicle; JB, Dante, Trish (I found out that was her name) and I all got into JB's truck; and we left for the southwest suburbs. Let me just point out at this moment that we had apparently been waiting for someone so that we could drive in a caravan, not so we could give them a ride. We did not get to the fieldhouse until after 8:00. I was not pleased. JB and I had civil but terse words in the car. I expressed that if I had been made aware of several salient details about the plans, I would have made different choices. He was defensive and slightly sarcastic.

This is community. This is the sacrifice that gets talked about. For those of us that are more comfortable when plans go according to plan, we must give up that pleasure. This is a much larger sacrifice than green lawns and close shopping malls. Like a diabetic giving up sugar, those of us that like to be on time to events must find substitute satisfaction. I can and possibly will drive separately next time. But that won't be living in community. That won't be seeing the different levels of JB and letting him and his friends see the different faces I have. Without that kind of relationship with other people, we cannot fulfill God's commandment to love one another. I believe that ultimately I will be able to live in the joy that Noel, Bob and Phil are wrapped in because they are known by people. Until then, I'm stuck in this mess of living in community, frustrated as I try to dive into this mess without feeling like I'm back in high school, powerless to affect my own situation, which is how I felt, sitting in that lawn chair.

Of course, as I type those words, I realize that I am powerless to affect my own situation. Any control I think I have is a delusion I've made up to explain the mystery that is God's omnipotence. I suppose that if I let go and simply enjoy the chaos, which I am often able to do, I will be happier. That just wasn't possible when I wasn't centered. The acknowledgement of helplessness did not give me strength when I was viewing myself askance. I want to get back to my center because I know that there, I will remember the comfort of a child being held by her mother that is only possible when one is weak and runs for the protection of God, who is strong.

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