When you walk into a room that already has the lights on, it is not really customary to turn more on. Why? Well, it is fairly simple, a light is not needed because it is already there. When we can see, we do not customarily break out the flashlights and turn them on just because. We use lights where they are needed and light is generally only needed when there is darkness. As I was reading a blog post from my pastor about the issues in Baltimore and indeed in most large city urban areas, the only thing that I could continue to think about was light. (Incidentally, his blog can be found here and is worth a read http://www.trinityumchurch.com/heal-our-land/)
I hope to add some thoughts to his and maybe spur us even further forward than he would suggest.
The problems in our inner cities are nothing new. They have existed for generations and we can blame any and everyone for it. Go ahead…blame away….get political….hopefully that is done now. Here’s the thing, Matthew 5:14 tells us the we (followers of Christ) are the light of the world. That means all of it. While we are calling attention to the unfair and all to often deadly treatment of people by police, and decry the violence of looting and destruction of private property, where are we? If we believe that inner cities are places largely devoid of hope why aren’t we there?
Don’ get me wrong, many denominations including the UMC, have done a great job of ministries in the inner city providing food, warm clothes, etc, how good are we at providing the light they need? The inner city does not need more programs it needs more people…specifically people of salt and light. People who know what hope is and can not only share and preach it, but will live it as an example under the most dire of circumstances. Programs will only go so far unless there are people that live those programs out each and every day. I do believe that people will come to faith by hearing the word of God, but they are going to keep it and rely on it when they see others doing the same. The inner cities desperately need our prayers, but they need our people as well.
There are a few things that we need to keep in mind in situations like this. First, we need to remember that if we are not a part of that community day in and day out that we do not see and understand what the struggles are. If we don’t know how to fly a plane, we probably shouldn’t offer solutions for the difficulties of flying a plane. Second we need to understand that if someone does not claim and live Christ, then we shouldn’t expect them to behave and think like Christians. It just doesn’t make good sense. Third, we need to keep in mind that we are just as deeply flawed as the police, the looters, the people struggling to survive (and also the bankers, rich corporate owners etc, but that is a different post), etc. Finally, I think that while the rest of the country is debating the problems, we, as the people of God, should be dealing with solutions. Forget the blame and let’s deal with the healing. That was the way of Christ after all. He was not known as the great layer of blame, but rather the Great Physician.
The inner city is a dark place desperately in need of light and there are churches there and a lot of churches outside of “the bad part of town” that provide support, but there are not a lot of Christians who are consistently there just living a life of hope and joy among all the fear and desperation. There are calls to end violence and protest injustice peacefully, but not nearly enough examples of people actually doing it. Yes, I know that media coverage is often going to focus on the negative at the expense of the positives that occur, but there is a way to beat that…make sure that the negative is so rare as to not be noticed and the positive and Godly is so common as to be excepted as the natural order of things. This is not done through politics (though laws can help) or programming (though it can help as well), but it is done by Christians living each and every day as the best example they can be. By Christians being the light in a dark place…and that means we need to go where it is dark.
I honestly believe that the solution to the problems in the inner city has more to do with Christians being willing to go there and less to do with any program (political or religious) that comes from the outside. The inner city needs the increased presence of the Holy Spirit and the best and most effective way that can happen is by Christians carrying it there. We are the temple and where we go is holy ground, so why are we not in the inner city saying, like Christ did before us, this is my Father’s house and it will be a house of prayer? Not once or twice, but each and every day. Why is it so hard for us to see that we don’t need more soup kitchens, we need more Christians feeding people out of their kitchens. Why can’t we see that we need less homeless shelters and more homeless men, women and children sleeping on Christian couches finding the way to God and to Hope? Why can’t we see that while it is always good and right to pray that God changes situations, it is more effective to pray that God uses us to change situations? Why can’t we see that the problems in the inner cities are not the people that are there, but the people who are not?