In Ezra 3 we read the account of the people of Israel moving back to their land and home to rebuild their homes and lives. This scene though different in many ways to the experience of many moving into urban centers has some things to teach us about
As the Israelites move into the land, their hearts and minds go towards thinking about rebuilding a life for themselves and their families. Plans go in motion as homes and a wall are built to help bring a stable community in this place that was in disrepair. But as they build, we read that the older folks fall sad to the way it is playing out because what is being build is not what they remembered their old community being like.
Many young families and singles move into urban centers and have an initial though maybe ill-informed view of making what might initially be a rough and up-and-coming neighborhood into a safe and thriving place for themselves and their family. The problem is that in these plans, without being careful, can lead to sadness and worse displacement for the people that have lived in the neighborhood for generations. We want it be be a better place but without thinking and prayer can end up altering the very social fabric of a place that was thriving long before we moved in. Our efforts at improvement can lead to families and friends being displaced and separated, family run stores closing to accommodate to new stores catering to new tastes, people that have called this place home for generations can now find themselves feeling like strangers and outcasts in their own neighborhood.
Some of this is inevitable and unintentional but as Christians moving into the city and seeking to make a life for ourselves in urban centers, God is inviting us into a bigger plan that just our own personal happiness and safety.
This means learning to see that we are not just seeking the good and flourishing of a neighborhood for my own benefit but also for the benefit of those who already live there. Thinking carefully not just about what would make my block better for me, but better for everyone This means understanding that we don't just want safer and better schools for our kids but for all the kids. This is messy but it will mean thinking more broadly and carefully that just about my own betterment.
This is learning to recognize that our motives are always mixed and never pure but this is learning to see that we aren't just living somewhere because of what I can get out of it [cheap rent, great restaurants and stores] but we have been invited by God to join Him in what He is doing in that neighborhood, it its renewal again aiming to make it a better place for everyone.
How do we get there? Well, consider...
- Moving into our neighborhood with a heart to learn from those already there
- Finding ways to get to know, listen to and learn from long-term residents [block parties, communal gathering place, libraries]
- Joining a community board or check out a local precinct meeting. You will learn and hear about the cares and concerns of long term residents
- Not always defaulingt to what's new. Find older restaurants and stores, deli's and meeting spaces
- Volunteering at a local public school in before and after school programs
- Becoming an active member of the PTA of your child's school
- Shop local - the below study concluded in another city that if residents of the region were to shift 10 percent of their spending from chains to locally owned businesses, it would generate $127 million in additional local economic activity and 874 new jobs. - http://www.mecep.org/going-local-quantifying-the-economic-impacts-of-buying-from-locally-owned-businesses-in-portland-maine/
- Gentrification and Justice - Randy Nabors
Thoughts? Questions? email me email@example.com