Posts Tagged ‘urban’

Over the summer, both our cars were stolen from right in front of our house. First our Scion xB was stolen. Great little car. Gets great mileage. It was stolen on the first day of my summer intensive class and I ended up getting to my own class very late. We ended up finding the car parked a few blocks away from our home. Since we had already filed a police report, I had to wait by my car for the police to come and release my own car back to me.

If you have ever had a car stolen or your home burglarized, you are familiar with the sinking feeling you get when you realize that something has been stolen. It is not merely the sense of losing property, but more the deep sense of being violated. Someone has invaded your personal space and property. We were, however, very thankful that we got our car back without any major damage to our Scion.

So I went and got Clubs for both our cars, changed the locks on our house and added an alarm system for the house (ridiculously overpriced for what you’re getting and they don’t fulfill their incentive offer. Never trust ADT, but that’s another blog entry). The need for the home security came from my wife’s bike being stolen from our backyard about a week after the car was stolen. The second year in a row we have had a bike stolen in Chicago on Father’s Day.

About a week and a half later, I’m at a conference in California when my wife texts me that our minivan has been stolen. Again, our car was directly in front of our house. I rush home (paying exorbitant fees to change my flight by one lousy day). The car was recovered with some minor interior damage. So now, our family is on edge. We have had two cars stolen as well as a bike – our sense of security was shattered. We became a bit more suspicious of our neighbors and began to discuss what it meant for us to live in an urban context. Other questions came up as well. Why do we pay such high taxes and get ridiculously inferior public education? Why is there only one beat cop for an area covering about one square mile? We began to cast suspicious glances at the youth in our neighborhood. We were facing the reality of life in the city.

A few weeks later, I found myself in an inner city church on the West Side of Chicago. This was really da hood. Not the urban oasis that my family lives in. Sure, we live in the city, but despite the rash of thefts we still live in a fairly safe part of the city. The church had just wrapped up their worship time and opened up the floor for prayer requests from the congregation. I seriously considered asking prayer for my family as we were worried about having our two cars and a bike stolen from our house.

The first person to share was a fortyish woman who asked prayers for the children of her community as they returned to school. She talked about how this past year, in her neighborhood, they had seen a high number of youth who had been shot and killed. Another parent stood up and asked prayers for his neighbor who had lost a teenage son to a shooting during the summer. Person after person stood up to ask prayers for family members lost to violence and testified to violence that occurred right in front of their home. This is real life in the city. There is nothing romantic or exotic about it. It’s just real life. In my self-absorbed concern over an inconvenience, I forgot that there is genuine pain and suffering in the real life of the city.  I join with the prayers of many families and individuals who seek the peace of the city.

To learn more about efforts to bring peace to our city, see: Chicago Peace Campaign

gran-torino-poster

In the past year, I’ve presented on the topic of the Next Evangelicalism and the changing face of Christianity and of American society in various settings. In almost every setting, I’ve been asked whether I’ve seen the movie, Gran Torino. Either this was the greatest movie ever made or there was something in this movie that applied directly to The Next Evangelicalism. So about a month ago I finally capitulated and watched the movie on DVD. I’m assuming that most have already seen this movie, so if I reveal major plot points, you’ve had more than enough time to see this movie.

The story takes place in Detroit, but it could be extrapolated to any Midwestern city or any post-industrial city in the United States: Detroit, Buffalo, Paterson, NJ, or Minneapolis-St. Paul (particularly with its prominent Hmong population). One of the people who strongly recommended the movie to me stated in no uncertain terms that the movie took place in Minneapolis, MN. The story focuses on Clint Eastwood as a curmudgeon war veteran (is there any other kind?) and retired auto worker (hence, the Detroit locale and the movie title) who is adjusting to life in a rapidly changing neighborhood. His neighborhood is being overrun with street gangs and immigrants, like his immediate neighbors (a Hmong family), who practice strange customs like having lots of friends and family over for dinner parties. Eastwood, of course, doesn’t like what’s happening to his old neighborhood and tries to keep his distance from the Hmong family next door – particularly the teenage brother and sister in the family.

Because this is a Hollywood movie, the Hmong teenage boy and his sister gradually win over the crusty old man. He develops a nice rapport with the kids and eventually when the dangers of the neighborhood threaten his new friends, he intervenes. The climax of the movie comes when Eastwood’s character decides to take matters into his own hands. It appears that Eastwood is ready for a shoot ‘em up with the local gang. However, it turns out that he is unarmed when he confronts the gang and he is gunned down on the street, dying with his arms in an outstretched position as if he were on a cross.

The movie had some interesting and unexpected moments; namely, the acknowledgement of an increasingly multi-cultural and diverse urban dynamic. It is interesting how the cross-cultural relationship is with a Hmong family, not a Mexican family or an African-American family. The movie recognizes the complex cultural mosaic that is now America. The relationship that develops between the Eastwood character and the Hmong family was certainly a feel good aspect of the movie — showing that cultural barriers could be overcome when the white person opens his heart to the strangers living next door. And it is genuinely moving that the Eastwood character gives up his life for his newfound friends.

Which actually provides the most problematic element of the movie as well. As Eastwood dies, he stretches out his arms as if on a cross in what was a pretty obvious attempt at portraying the Eastwood character as a Christ figure. He sacrifices his life in order to save the Hmong teenagers. So what’s the problem?

Hmong Eastwood

I try to interpret this movie from the lens of my experience in urban ministry. I greatly appreciate the concept of relocation that is espoused by many who move to urban neighborhoods from places of privilege and affluence. I think a great sacrifice is being made by those who are urban relocaters. However, I worry a bit that this idea of relocation is misunderstood by whites (and others of privilege and wealth) who may have the best of intentions, but end up ultimately harming the community they hope to reach. I found it uncomfortable, that once again, the white male is portrayed as the Savior in Gran Torino — that the immigrant community needs a white Messiah to rescue them. Our Savior is a Jewish Messiah, who ultimately empties himself of the heavenly places in order to save us. However, no human can play that role nor should one aspire to that role. Is Gran Torino glorifying a white Messiah to save those needing help? Instead, could a downtrodden, marginalized community rise up from within? Could the Hmong teenagers figure out a way to work within the community to bring about transformation and renewal? Maybe Eastwood’s character could have worked with them towards that goal rather than doing all the work for them (again, a Messianic reference)? Would it be more powerful if instead of Eastwood being a Christ figure / Messiah for the immigrant community, Eastwood walked Hmong them (okay, now I’m pushing it). But that wouldn’t make for a good Hollywood movie.

My friend Ed Gilbreath (author of Reconciliation Blues) and now editor at UMI and at the UrbanFaith.com website has done a long write up about the book. Ed and I go back many years, including his years at Christianity Today, Inc., through his book (where he did a nice write up about the Rickshaw Rally controversy), to his current stint at UMI and UrbanFaith.com. Good stuff on the site that you should check out.

Review and interview can be found at: http://www.urbanfaith.com/2009/07/culture-clasher.html

http://www.profrah.com is now live.

This website is dedicated to exploring, understanding, discussing, and strategizing the next evangelicalism. Many of these ideas and concepts can be found in my book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (IVP Books, 2009).

One of the central tenets of the book is the recognition that Christianity throughout the world and in the United States is changing dramatically. However, the effectiveness of the Church is limited by the inability to see our cultural captivity, which leads to both a stagnation of vibrant faith and a repeating of bad ecclesiological patterns. This website hopes to provide a space for an authentic conversation about the next evangelicalism.

A few commitments of this website:

* we will strive to provide high quality content that focuses on the role of the church and the Christian community in the areas of urban ministry, multi-ethnic ministry, and justice ministry.

* our unique content can be used by local churches and Christian communities to begin to engage in a dialogue in your particular location.

* we will strive to be the gathering place for prophetic challenges, academic content, practical ideas, and reflective dialogue for those engaged in urban ministry, multi-ethnic ministry, and justice ministry.

Those who have worked to put this website together are dedicated to the ministry of the church and its place in an ever-changing social-cultural context. This space has been created to help churches start the conversation and engage in a way that furthers the dialogue. We want to provide an interactive online community that will encourage Christians all over the world to be effective servants in the areas of urban ministry, multi-ethnic ministry, and justice ministry.