Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sidewalk Cracks

Ok, so, one minute I'm on the phone with a mission developer (i.e. a pastor who is starting a new faith community/congregation/ministry) who is looking for a coach and she's dreaming out loud about a church that a) addresses the lonliness and isolation that deadens people in suburbia and b) wakes them up to a life that means something by inviting them to work for justice and serve their neighbors and give themselves away for the sake of the world...and I'm totally psyched. I'm like, "Yeah! That's right! Preach it, sister!" And I'm thinking this is exactly the kind of "church" we need to be growing. And I think I even said, "The whole 'me and Jesus' church that invites you in so we can 'make you successful and make your life better' is so over. People today want their lives to matter." And the very next minute - I'm not kidding, as soon as I hung up the phone - I'm facing this headline in today's Chicago Tribune: Sidewalks crack suburb tranquillity By Courtney Flynn Tribune staff reporter Published May 9, 2007 Here's the story: While new housing developments in suburbia these days almost always include sidewalks, because we've discovered that sidewalks help connect people to each other and create community, the older developments didn't. And, to the surprise of town planners, efforts to bring sidewalks to these neighborhoods are causing a firestorm. Petitions, protests, angry town council meetings. We don't need them, people are saying. We walk our dogs in the street! Our kids get on the bus right in front of their houses. Everybody drives everywhere, anyway. It'll cost too much money. And, above all, you never know who those sidewalks will be inviting into your neighborhood.
[Hubert] Frank, 68, who organized a petition for Whitehall Drive, said sidewalks could also pose a safety risk by welcoming strangers into the neighborhood. "There's strange things happening in the world today, so why would we want to open up that possibility?" he said...The concern is, who knows what you'd be encouraging to come through."
"Who knows WHAT you'd be encouraging to come through...," Mr. Frank said. Not even WHO. This is sin, right? I mean SIN. In other words, this is people turning in on themselves, away from God...away from neighbor. And wherever there are people, there is sin. So, I'm not going to blame the sidewalk wars on anybody or any institution in particular. But I'm feeling a little cranky right at the moment. And here is what I'm thinking: Not only have all of our "me and Jesus" churches failed to address this sin in our suburban neighborhoods, we have contributed to the problem! We have allowed people to huddle up in the safety of our beautiful buildings and put them to sleep with assurances of personal salvation (given "FOR YOU!") and numbed them with our 3-point sermons on how to build happy families (as though there is some kind of reward - rather than a cross - for following God's 12 step program). We have given them the illusion that they are part of a real community because we smile at them when they come through the door on Sunday morning and, if they wear the nametag we ask them to, treat them like family...instead of like the strangers they really are...sending the message that strangers are BAD and difference is unacceptable. Aaargghhhh! This is SO not "over!!" Dear new friend of mine, working the mission field of American suburbia: You can't get that new church up and running soon enough. [Read the whole story at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0705090110may09,1,6246343.story?page=1&coll=chi-news-hed.]

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The Bottom Line

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love becomes slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:13-14