Saturday, August 22, 2015

How Well Do You Know The Ugly Side Of Your City?

I shocked a new acquaintance recently.  Throughout our conversation, in context, I said the following things…

Not that many years ago, 15th street was the place to find a prostitute.

If you see a girl dressed pretty normally but walking down the middle of the street, that’s probably what’s going on.

The theater that Mission Waco now runs for plays and films was once a porno theater.  There has been a whole lot of redemption take place in that area.

“Lordy Anna, I never expected to hear all those words come out of your mouth. How do you know such foul things?

Well…Trent used to build houses for Habitat For Humanity, whose shop and office were on 15th street at the time.  He has worked for or been involved with Mission Waco for several years now, also on 15th street.  I drove a church van all around the hood once or twice a week for a long time to pick up some of our youth for church.  Our daycare is right next to a lot of government housing. We’ve been around the block, including the bad ones.

“Ok, so where do you go to live around here where you won’t get shot?”

You can live in Section 8 housing and not get shot.  There’s not really violent crime in our city.  Sure, it happens in any city, but the bad stuff here is mostly drugs, poverty and hopelessness.

“Ok, so how do you know that too??”

When you live your life in a ministry mindset, you just know things.  You view people as people, even if they are different from you, down and out, live in the ghetto or walk down the center of the street.  Your eyes are opened to rough stuff.  You learn things.  You just do.

Our conversation got cut short and I was left with a weird feeling in my gut. The person I was talking to is new to this city and shouldn’t be expected to know the things we were talking about, not at all. But as I sat in my car shortly after, I was saddened when I realized…I wonder how many people who truly live here do not know about the ugly side of our city.  Either from a conscious decision to overlook it and put it out of sight and out of mind, or a total state of ignorance and not even thinking to think about it.

Every city has an ugly side.  Whether it’s the ghetto that’s buried in a sprawling urban city or rural poverty outside a cute country town…it’s there. 

How much do you know about the ugly side of your city? 

Do you even know where it is?  Could you point out Section 8 housing?  Do you know what Section 8 housing is?  Where do the pockets of homeless folks congregate for shelter or hand outs?  What organizations or nonprofits are available in your city to help them and how? What is the history of the hurt and the source of the struggle in your town?

Do you know anybody from the ugly side of your city?

Shane Claiborne said in his book, The Irresistible Revolution“The great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor, but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”

For a lot of us, our life is carefully crafted to avoid the ugly side of our city.  That area.  Those people.  We situate our life trajectory in a direction completely opposite, towards known comfort, privacy, safety, seclusion, success.  We elevate ourselves, while only a few miles away others are sliding down a vicious slope of struggle.  And we ignore them.  Maybe we step outside of our hemmed in existence sometimes for a service project, but even then, we view ourselves as the upper helping the lower, descending almost to their level, but not quite, spending a few hours contributing to an isolated pocket of need, then retreating to our comfy life to take a shower and wash off the ugly.  

I've got a phrase I tend to say when people give me a typical "oh my gosh" or "how icky" or "how dangerous" type reaction to how much our life crosses paths with the ugly parts of our city.  

People are just people.

When folks look at us from their government housing porch while we pick up our baby from daycare across the street.  When we wave at a homeless dude across the park where we often go play.  When my husband gives a lady on the roadside a ride home from CPS court and listens to her story of trying to get her kids back...

People are just people.  They may be caught up in the ugly side of our city, they may be down and out, they may be dirty, they may be poor. But they're just people, deserving of kindness and respect, wishing for common ground, worthy of more than ignorance.