Rich & Poor
It has been nearly nine years since I took the plunge to relocate into a disadvantaged neighborhood. In that time, I have noticed a common refrain. It comes both from outsiders looking in and from within myself. It is a small voice that says, "You can save these people." And it is a total lie. That is simply not my job, spiritually or professionally. If being an intentional relocator has taught me anything, it's to never for a moment entertain the thought that I am better than the neighbors around me. During the recent dedication ceremony at the new Friendship House on Orange Street, I mentioned that several well-intentioned folks have tried to encourage Arielle and me by saying things like, "I know you will do so much good in this neighborhood." I took the opportunity of that ceremony to challenge that idea and put a different focus on it. My goal here is not so much to do good but to find it. To discover and join in on an attitude of neighborliness. I need my neighbors. Without them, I tend to isolate myself in a bubble of self-interest. I need them to call me out of that bubble as much as I need them to remind me that today is trash day. In this way, my well-being is wrapped up in theirs. Despite my illusions of independence, we need each other.
When that little voice comes back to whisper, "You can save these people," I remind myself of the truth: I'm not here to bring Jesus. I'm here to find him. These people can save me. They save me from my isolation, from my assumptions, from my racism, from screens, from arrogance, from my unchecked privilege.
CitySquare President and CEO Larry James says it this way, "We are all rich and we are all poor, just in different ways...In short, we discover Jesus today among our poor neighbors." Now, not everyone in College Heights is poor in the monetary sense, though the majority certainly are. As for us "relocators," listen to the words of L'Arche* founder Jean Vanier: "People may come to our communities to serve the poor; they will only stay once they have discovered that they themselves are the poor."
*L'Arche is a growing network of communities in which people with intellectual disabilities are welcomed as full participant members. L’Arche seeks to respond to the distress of those who are too often rejected, and to give them a valid place in society.