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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Locatedness: Loving Your Neighbor


Where you live has tremendous implications for how you love your neighbor.

I believe that where we live plays a significant role in how we engage issues of love and justice.

For example, today in suburban America, if you were to attend a local church or read a community newspaper you would find that priority numero uno is the family. The neighborhood that I grew up in was this way. Our church would do seri (the plural of series, obviously) on parenting, marriages, and the like. The events revolved around the two high schools. Every restaurant could seat groups of 18. In fact, many families would move into our area so that they could be apart of this family centered community. I am quite thankful for my years in Ahwatukee and would not trade them. My life is better because of the Ahwatukee Foothills Newspaper, banquets at Oscar's, and Mountain Park Community Church.

As addressed above, the suburban culture revolves around the family and upholding its values. Its culture fuels and is fueled by the family's participation. In these environments loving your neighbor looks like yard work for a single mother, promoting abstinence, baby sitting clubs, and dinner dates with your friend's whose marriage is in turmoil. These acts of kindness are fantastic charity.

Suburban environments generally focus on charity. They feed the hungry, clothe the cold, and care for the widow. However, loving your neighbor takes a different form in urban environments. What's the difference?

Ronald Rolheiser discusses this when he says, "Private charity responds to the homeless, wounded, and dead bodies, but it does not of itself try to get at the reasons why they are there...what lies at the root of each of these is not so much someones private sin or some individuals private inadequacy but rather a huge, blind system that is inherently unfair...Social justice is about acknowledging and engaging these systems."

In an urban environment you are more likely to participate in love through social justice. The presence of diversity, intense poverty, sex, and drugs are loud. You cannot turn from them. You are confronted with the systemic injustices of our many institutions as you exit the subway each morning.

It is in the city, New York specifically, that I have better identified my own privilege. Each day at work I witness racism. Each day on the subway I witness alcoholism. Each day I hear stories of children without adequate education. Each day I encounter (and participate in) systems that perpetuate these behaviors. After seeing such systems, I am compelled to participate in restoring them. I do not believe that I would know the magnitude of my privilege (I use this word with gratitude but more so with the weight of responsibility) without my time here. So then because of personal experience, I believe urban environments encourage social justice as opposed to charity.

I am not saying that one cannot attend to issues of social justice in a suburban setting. Nor am I saying that charity does not happen in urban settings. Using the suburban/urban binary may not be that helpful. I simply do so that I may illustrate the inherent differences that are found in our locatedness.

In New York loving your neighbor means participating in groups that would get the economic bailout passed or providing copay for those who are unable to take their children to the doctor. While in Chicago it looks like picketing for the equal wages of factory workers. Perhaps in Laveen, Arizona it looks like painting a friend's house or babysitting for young couples.

Of course none of these are better than another. But perhaps it is worth considering where we find our heart drawn. Is there a social injustice that would be easier to engage in Washington DC than in Denver? Do my skills position me to bring about justice through artistic presentations or legislation? Is there a charity that I enjoy participating in that is demographically present in Phoenix but not in Atlanta?

Just one of the things we are kicking around as we consider our locatedness.

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Jason Bowker said...

Great thoughts Jarrod. I had thought about the inverse a good deal-that we ought to let our specific locatedness naturraly affect how our faith plays out in the world-but hadn't thought about actually moving to a specific location where our passion for Kingdom work would be best suited. Thanks for the thoughts.

Jarrod said...

Jason, Great point.

I think that I would prefer beginning with where I am located (ie NYC, Seattle, in the Garden, in exile, etc) but am finding that we are considering the inverse as we think about where we will land next.

Do you think the inverse makes it selfish or indulgent?

It is just such a strange thing to be able to chose where you live.

Jason Bowker said...

I definitely don't think it makes you selfish. I think it is wise to think about where God would have you next. You are definitely in an interesting predicament-I would guess it is difficult to define a certain place as home at this point, so the idea of going "home" might be out of the question. I think your challenge will be to let your ministry organically arise out of the specific location you place yourself in...(i.e. not to move to Florida and attempt to do ministry and engage the people and culture the same way you did in Seattle and New York. The people of God have this tendency to want to clone what has worked somewhere else, thinking that it is some sort of "ideal" model for ministry and relational engagement.

I've really appreciated your thoughts on location because Mandy and I are having to wrestle with this stuff too and your thoughts have helped. When we moved to Seattle we wanted to live close to downtown, and did. But now we are moving to Northgate to live communally with 2 other couples (couldn't afford a big house closer to the city). While that's not my ideal location, we are struggling with what it looks like to redeem the suburbs for the Kingdom of God. What does it look like to live a life of simplicity, sacrifice, and surrender with a huge mall in your backyard?

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