Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Light in the Asphault Jungle

Posted by Tim

Someone asked me why I decided to live here the other day, which is a question that always seems more difficult to answer than it should be. As I was thinking through the best way to describe what I feel is a calling, my mind recalled a poem that was read to me over five years ago. When I looked it up, I discovered it moves me as much now as it did then. Let me share it with you:

A Light in the Asphault Jungle

by Vincent Harding


I had a dream.
And I saw a city,
A city that rose up out of the crust of the earth.
And it’s streets were paved with asphalt,
And a river of dirty water ran down along it’s curbs.
It was a city
And its people knew no hope.
They were chased and herded from place to place by the churning jaws of bulldozers.
They were closed up in the anonymous cubicles of great brick prisons called housing projects.
They were forced out of work by the fearsome machines and computers,
And by the sparseness of their learning.
They were torn into many pieces by the hostile angers of racial fears and guilt and prejudice.
Their workers were exploited.
Their children and teen-agers had no parks to play in.
No pools to swim in,
No space in crowded rooms to learn in,
No hopes to dream in,
And the people knew no hope.

Their bosses underpaid them.
Their landlords overcharged them.
Their churches deserted them.
And all of life in the city seemed dark and wild, like a jungle,
A jungle lined with asphalt.
And the people sat in darkness


I had a dream,
And I saw a city,
A city clothed in neon-lighted darkness.
And I heard people talking.
And I looked at them.
Across their chests in large, golden letters-written by their own hands-
Across their chests were written the words:
“I am a Christian.”
And the Christians looked at the city and said;
“How terrible…How terrible…How terrible.”
And the Christians looked at the city and said:
“That is no place to live,
But some of our people have wandered there,
And we must go and rescue them.
And we must go and gather them, like huddled sheep into a fold;
And we will call it a City Church.”
So they built their church.
And the people came,
And they walked past all the weary, broken, exploited, dying men who lined the city’s streets.
Year after year they walked past,
Wearing their signs: “I am a Christian.”

Then one day the people in the church said:
“This neighborhood is too bad for good Christians.
Let us go to the suburbs where God dwells, and build a church there.
And one by one they walked away, past all the weary, broken, exploited, dying people.
They walked fast.
And did not hear a voice that said:
“…the least of these…the least of these…”
And they walked by, and they went out, and they built a church.
The church was high and lifted up, and it even had a cross.
But the church was hollow,
And the people were hollow,
And their hearts were hard as the asphalt streets of the jungle.


I had a dream.
And I saw a city,
A city clothed in bright and gaudy darkness.
And I saw more people with signs across their chest.
And they were Christians too.
And I heard them say:
“How terrible…how terrible…how terrible.
The city is filled with sinners:
To save sinners,
To save sinners.
But they are so unlike us,
So bad,
So dark,
So poor,
So strange,
But we are supposed to save them…
To save them,
To save them.”
And one person said:
“Can’t we save them without going where they are?”
And they worked to find a way to save and be safe at the same time.
Meanwhile, I saw them build a church,
And they called it a Mission,
A City Mission:
And all the children came by to see what this was.
And the city missionaries who had been sent to save them gathered them in.
So easy to work with children, they said,
And they are so safe, so safe.
And week after week they saved the children
(Saved them from getting in their parent’s way on Sunday morning).
And in the dream the City Missionaries looked like Pied Pipers, with their long row of children stretched out behind them,
And the parents wondered in Christianity was only for children.
And when the missionaries finally came to see them, and refused to sit in their broken chair, and kept looking at the plaster falling, and used a thousand words that had no meaning, and talked about rescuing them from hell while they were freezing in the apartment, and asked them if they were saved, and walked out into their shiny care, and drove off to their nice, safe neighborhood-
When that happened, the parents knew;
This version of Christianity had no light for their jungle.
Then, soon, the children saw too; it was all a children’s game;
And when they became old enough they got horns of their own,
And blew them high and loud,
And marched off sneering, swearing, into the darkness.


I had a dream,
And I saw the Christians in the dark city,
And I heard them say:
“We need a revival to save these kinds of people.”
And they rented the auditorium,
And they called in the expert revivalist,
And every night all the Christians came, and heard all the old, unintelligible, comfortable words, and sang all the old assuring songs, and went through all the old motions when the call was made.
Meanwhile, on the outside,
All the other people waited impatiently in the darkness for the Christians to come out, and let the basketball game begin.


I had a dream.
And I saw Christians with guilty consciences,
And I heard them say:
“What shall we do?
What shall we do?
What shall we do?
These people want to come to OUR church,
To OUR church.”
And someone said:
“Let’s build a church for THEM,
They like to be with each other anyway.”
And they started the church,
And the people walked in.
And for a while, as heads were bowed in prayer, they did not know.
But then, the prayers ended,
And they people looked up, and looked around,
And saw that every face was THEIR face,
THEIR face,
And every color was THEIR color,
THEIR color.
And they stood up, and shouted loudly within themselves:
“Let me out of this ghetto, this pious, guilt-built ghetto.”
And they walked out into the darkness,
And the darkness seemed darker than ever before,
And the good Christians looked, and said,
“These people just don’t appreciate what WE do for THEM.”


And just as the night seemed darkest, I had another dream.
I dreamed that I saw young people walking,
Walking into the heart of the city, into the depths of the darkness.
They had no signs, except their lives.
And they walked into the heart of the darkness and said:
“Let us live here, and work for light.”
They said, “Let us live here and help the rootless find a root for their lives.
Let us live here, and help the nameless find their names.”
They said, “Let us live here and walk with the jobless until they find work.
Let us live here, and sit in the landlord’s office until he gives more heat and charges less rent.”
They said, “Let us live here, and throw open the doors of this deserted church to all the people of every race and class;
Let us work with them to find the reconciliation God has brought.”
And they said, “Let us walk the asphalt streets with the young people, sharing their lives, learning their language, playing their sidewalk, backyard games, knowing the agonies of their isolation.”
And they said, “Let us live here, and minister to as many men as God gives us grace,
Let us live here,
And die here, with out brothers of the jungle,
Sharing their apartments and their plans.”
And the people saw them,
And someone asked who they were,
A few really knew-
They had no signs-
But someone said he thought they might be Christians,
And this was hard to believe, but the people smiled;
And a little light began to shine in the heart of the asphalt jungle.


Then in my dream I saw young people,
And I saw the young men and women
Those who worked in the city called Chicago,
Cleveland [Melbourne],
Washington [Bangkok],
Atlanta [Sydney],
And they were weary,
And the job was more than they could bear alone,
And I saw them turn, turn and look for help,
And I heard them call:
“Come and help us,
Come and share this joyful agony, joyful agony,
Come as brothers in the task,
Come and live and work with us,
Teachers for the crowded schools,
Doctors for the overflowing clinics,
Social workers for the fragmented families,
Nurses for the bulging wards,
Pastors for the yearning flocks,
Workers for the fighting gangs,
Christians who will come and live here,
Here in the heart of the darkness,
Who will live here and love here that a light might shine for all.

I heard them call,
And I saw the good Christians across the country,
And their answers tore out my heart.
Some said, “There isn’t enough money there.”
Some said, “It’s too bad there. I couldn’t raise children.”
Some said, “I’m going into foreign missions, where things don’t seem so dark.”
Some said, “The suburbs are so nice.”
Some said, “But I like it here on the farm.”
Some said,
Some said…
And one by one they turned their backs and began to walk away.
At this moment my dream was shattered by the sound of a great and mighty whisper, almost a pleading sound;
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am hungry in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am thirsty in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am a stranger in this asphalt jungle.”
And a voice said, “Come, help me, for I have been stripped naked, naked of all legal rights and protection of the law, simply because I am black in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for my heart is sick with hopelessness and fear in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, live with me in the prison of my segregated community, and we will break down the walls together.”
And the voices were many,
And the voice was one,
And the Christians knew whose Voice it was.
And they turned,
And their faces were etched with the agonies of decisions.
And the dream ended.
But the voice remains,
And the choice remain,
And the city still yearns for light.
And the King who lives with the least of his brothers and sisters in the asphalt jungle…
Yearns for us.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On Fixing Things

Posted by Tim

One particularly cold night during my time at Cedarville University, I walked towards the exit of the student center and saw a girl on the other side of the glass doors sitting on the ground holding her head. When the temperature drops below freezing, the brick surface just outside the building gets extremely slippery. It didn't take much effort on my part to recognize what had happened, and since she wasn't getting up very quickly I was worried she might be seriously hurt. Embracing my moment to be her knight in shining armor, I pushed through the double set of doors quickly and jogged over to her. But before I could get a word out of my mouth, my feet went out from under me, and I landed on my back. The force of the landing whipped my head back and cracked it on the brick...right next to my damsel in distress. As I rubbed the back of my head, I sheepishly asked her if she was alright. She looked confused, but I wasn't sure if that was because of a concussion or that I had the audacity to ask her about her well-being while I laid there in the same predicament. An instant later, another girl walked by, slipped, and dumped her coffee all over herself. Now there were three of us laying on the bricks.

I remember very vividly staring at my boots above my head the moment before I hit the ground and thinking to myself, oh...that's why she fell. Looking back, the most astonishing part to the whole story is that it never even occurred to me that I could end up next to her. Not only did I fail to help her, but I got myself hurt, and failed to prevent someone else from falling. Moreover, it could have been a lot worse. I was fortunate I didn't exacerbate the issue by kicking the poor girl in the head or landing on her when I slipped. I walked back to my dorm with a slight chuckle, minor whiplash, and a bruised ego...

We live in a neighborhood in which the majority of the residents grew up in generational poverty, which displays itself in symptoms like substance abuse, domestic violence, broken homes, neglected children, run down properties, and so on. While these issues exist elsewhere, they are often kept out of sight and thus out of mind. Here, they are evident the moment we walk out our door. As a result, when we have visitors or I describe my community to people outside of the neighborhood, I often get asked one of these two questions: "So what's the solution?" or "How do you fix it?"

Christians feel a sense of responsibility to respond to the brokenness of our world because of the good news of Jesus' Gospel. Centuries of social reform (establishing hospitals, education reform, and abolishing slavery come to mind) spearheaded by His followers stand as evidence to this calling. So it's only natural (or supernatural) that believers want to know how they can have a positive impact on the society in which they live. However, compassion and exuberance alone leave the Church severley under equipped to address the ills that plague our world.

We often identify a problem and rush in with the truth of Jesus without having the mind of Jesus. The King of Creation and the answer to all of our brokenness set aside all of His rights and privileges to become like us. Before He solved our problems Jesus made them His own. So God put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. And for 30 years He experienced humanity before He began to "minister." For 30 years He witnessed the best and worst of people. He participated in our victories and our failures, our laughter and our mourning. Jesus immersed Himself in our culture to the point that He not only knew our problems, but He knew us, and He knew us well. He knows us well.

How often can we say this about ourselves? When we want to help someone, are we willing to do what it takes to enter into their pain? Do we know the source of their joy and their sorrow? Or do we believe our words, or our money, or our wisdom are enough to fix them? Our Savior, who had infinite knowledge and resources at His disposal, gave us a model that was clothed in humility. Before we start solving everyone's problems, we ought to begin there.

...Otherwise we might find ourselves laying on the ice, holding the back of our heads, and wondering how we got there.