Monday, May 16, 2011

Reflections: Two Years on Mulberry Street

Posted by Tim

Saturday marked 2 years since the day I moved into the Mulberry House. I had intended to write an essay on community living or chronicle a paradigm shift in this post, but my sense at the moment is to forgo what I think I've learned and reflect on how God has blessed me to be here. And maybe in expressing my gratitude, some wisdom I've gained will manifest itself. So here are a few ways my life has been radically graced since May 14th, 2009:

1. Home Is Where My Heart Is.

At the age of 19 I was confident I wanted to work with the urban poor in America. As a result I spent a week in Brooklyn teaching ESL and computer skills; began eating and staying in inner-city gospel missions; joined and eventually led a poverty awareness organization; attended community development conferences; and I even spent a summer assessing a low-income neighborhood for a church so they could figure out how to allocate their resources there. While these experiences were educational and affirming for myself, they had little to zero sustainable impact on poverty. I was a frustrated commuter who watched the same faces receive the same services from the same organizations.

It occurred to me fairly quickly that everyone else was commuting too, and there was a substantial difference in income, background, and lifestyle between the people who were served and those serving. In fact, the interaction occurring during that service proved to be the only thing in common between the two parties. My interactions with low-income folks were well-intentioned but mostly awkward because I couldn't identify with them. I had time, food, and sometimes money to give, but no relationship and no real way of establishing one. At the end of the day I left and they stayed. And that was really all that mattered.

In the past two years God has graciously allowed me to move from service provider to neighbor. No longer am I the one with the answers to all the problems and the money to put those answers into action. I don't sit across a table or require a form be filled out before we spend time together. I am not payed or volunteering as a part of an organization to be in anyone's life. I'm simply here. I live next door. I see the same drug dealers. I know the same struggling school district. I walk on the same sidewalks with the same shattered bottles. God's greatest gift to me has been the honest conversations that come out of this. No one has to swallow their pride to talk to me about their problems. They're my problems too, now. So we can do this together.

A few months ago I was changing a headlight on my car when I noticed a couple walking towards me down the street. They aren't from around here, I thought. And that was the first time I realized that I was identifying myself more with my neighbors than the world I diverged from. That moment is precious to me. This isn't just a passion; this is my home.

2. I Live with People Who Choose to Love Me.

Intentional community is an odd thing. Some people live together because of a common interest. College students or scientists at a research compound share a home as they try to achieve the same goal at the same place. Some live together out of an attraction for one another and a desire to build a life around the other. And some people live together out of necessity. They simply do not produce enough financially to meet their daily needs, and so they find roommates.

Our community is none of those things and all of them. The common interest we share is not simply an outward goal but an inward one as well. We know we cannot love our neighbor if we cannot love one another. And it wasn't an attraction that brought us together in life, but certainly life together was attractive. And while our need for one another is not financial, we desperately need the encouragement, admonition, and talents of one another to build Jesus' kingdom on Mulberry Street. We are a complicated mess and a beautiful disaster. But we are committed to our community.

Each and every day my roommates choose to be in my life. They don't simply put up with me because I'm a financial contributor or because we were assigned to the same dorm or post. They choose to be here because they know I need them (and they need me). I need Jack's vision and sense of humor when I can't figure it out. I need Mikal's encouragement and laughter on hard days. And I need Carlos' perspective and difficult questions when I think I've finally arrived. And somehow I give each of them something they need even when I don't believe that. And the community created here is something for which I am unimaginably grateful.

3. The Kingdom of Heaven is Alive and Well in Springfield.

It has taken some time for me to figure this out (and I'm still working on it), but I am gradually realizing that God's plans are bigger than I am. Two years ago, I was sure that the Mulberry House was the change agent God was going to use to bring hope to a desperate and downtrodden Southside neighborhood in Springfield. It turns out Jesus is the only one who brings hope, and we are simply witnesses to the process. And we're not alone. On a regular basis I meet people who are finding a God of whom they had only heard whispers. And His Love is casting out their fear. And when they eat in our home or share in our Bible study or watch us plant our garden it does nothing more than affirm the truth that has been known here long before I arrived: Jesus Lives.

He lives in the churches that stayed when their members left for the suburbs.

He lives in the homes remodeled to host former addicts and prostitutes in our neighborhood.

He lives in the buildings that open their doors to provide a safe place for children after school.

He lives in the hearts of His children, who believe He has blessed them to call this place home.

He lives on Mulberry Street. Act accordingly.


Alyssa said...

What a faith boost to hear about this work of the Spirit taking place around the country! A friend of mine forwarded your post to me this afternoon after visiting me last month in my similar home and community in Denver. :o) I am thoroughly encouraged at the reminder that we here in Denver, also seeking kingdom community , are a part of a much bigger picture. Bigger even than Springfield. It's not our kingdom but God's! The church! Thanks for sharing! Whoever you are. :o)

Briana said...

love this!

Jordan said...

Tim, you and your roommates really embrace the idea of community. Keep doing what you're doing, it's contagious!

Jackie Wallen said...

Tim, reading this blog was such an encouragement to us...I particularly reasonated with the "beautiful disaster"...because frankly, that what I feel like living in community is often like. There's nothing like community (and marriage) to make you realize how selfish and often rude you can be. But there is also nothing that makes you want to be a better and more Godly person.
Praying for you guys!
Lots of love,