It’s possible to live in the city….but not really live in the city at all.
I’m not talking about the ritzy downtown restaurants, the sidewalk cafes with twinkle lights, or the winning games at the stadium aspect of the city. I don’t mean the chic boutique shopping, local coffee bars, farmers markets, or hip night-life kind of city, because everyone wants to be a part of that.
I’m referring to the city dental clinics that accept Medicaid and walk-ins from the street, where city kids raised on sippy cups of purple juice get their cavity-ridden teeth pulled for free. Where quiet waiting rooms are filled with sleep-deprived mothers of multiples who, though exhausted, somehow manage a toothless smile at the other patrons while they try to contain their biting toddler.
I mean the city libraries where the clan of potty-mouthed high schoolers gather after school. The ones with a metal detector and police officer posted at the door. The libraries where shootings happen in the daytime, where those same metal detectors won’t protect you in the parking lot. Or the street. The libraries that pass out free lunches during the summer to fill the hungry bellies of kids who only ever get to eat when they’re at school.
I’m talking about the city schools with locked doors and passcodes. The ones where students are struggling to pass the reading tests and would rather be seen as “bad” than dumb. The ones where teachers spend more time managing behaviors than actually teaching. The schools filled with kids who have to fend for themselves at home and who have seen and experienced more than any adult ever should, but kids who are still expected to show up every day and do their best. To succeed. But at graduation, only two-thirds of them do.
I mean the city grocery stores where government assistance spends the same as cash. The ones with a police officer at the door to catch people who didn’t pay for the bag of shrimp they shoved in their pants. The ones where people only buy what fits into their rolling cart because they have to drag it a mile back home. The stores where you can smell the disheveled man with a small, crumpled list unloading his groceries from a couple aisles away.
I’m talking about city churches that manage to keep the lights lit and the doors open on a tithed 10% of poverty, if that. Simple, small, old stone buildings with colored glass, reminiscent of a time before churches got caught up in the latest designer trends, before they touted gourmet coffee bars and showcased youth group rooms embellished to the point that the space itself potentially becomes more attractive than Jesus. Churches that don’t have the staff or resources to offer anything but the basics: shelter from the cold, a cup of weak coffee, and a humble message. But more importantly, when they say, “come as you are,” they actually mean it; a place where you’re just as welcome in a pair of pink, monkey pajama pants as you would be in a pressed, three-piece suit. Churches where the homeless, addicts, prostitutes, felons, and LGBT community don’t just come for handouts during the week, but, rather, line the pews on Sundays.
It’s easy to live in the city but never walk its sidewalks to get anywhere, sidewalks littered with broken beer bottles and Burger King bags full of needles. Sidewalks where teenagers are gang-raped at bus stops and little girls are abducted and held hostage for a week. Past the sides of buildings and patches of overgrowth and piles of garbage where women work and homeless men sleep and addicts pass out and die.
Because it costs too much to be a part of that city.
Or at least that’s what I thought for a long time.
This post is part of a series I’m writing for the month of October called, 31 Ways God Paved the Road to Urban Missions. If you’re interested in the reading the rest of the series, you can find it here. To receive these posts directly in your inbox every week, subscribe below!