Thursday, June 12, 2014

it's a beautiful day in the 'hood...

Oh man, I'm loving the reactions I get from locals when I tell them we've moved downtown.

"Oh...?" they seem confused. Like, Why would you do THAT?  "What street?" they ask.

Maybe they're expecting me to call out one of the presidential street names where there are million dollar homes and plenty of gentrification.  Maybe then it might help to justify such a stupid decision to move our family there.

Half-anticipating and half-dreading their response, I tell them.  I know it's not going to gain me any popularity, so I'm already trying to smooth over the awkwardness that I know I'm often creating.

"Mmmm," they respond, usually keeping their thoughts to themselves.  They're probably thinking what a good friend of mine was bold enough to say:  "Oh wow, yeah, that's really the hood!"

Yep, that's the stereotype of my neighborhood.  But here's what's funny-- people will call it the "hood" all day long, and yet, when asked, it's almost like no one has ever been there!

It seems like there's quite a gap between people's perceptions verses the reality of an actual place.

Everyone that's come to our house (oooo, that's even dared to drive in.... ha ha!) is pleasantly surprised at what they see.  A beautiful, quiet historic neighborhood.  It's great!  We love it.  I feel completely safe.

It raises the question: what is it specifically that makes a place "the hood"?

Is it drugs?  Outright fighting on the streets?

Statistically, there are no more drugs in my current neighborhood than there were in my predominantly white one.  I heard fights through the open windows of my white neighborhood, too.  For crying out loud, I'm sure my family of four contributed our own arguing into the mix... ha!

So far, in just a week or so of this "hood" I live in, we've met all of our neighbors, which didn't happen in six years at our former one.

Is it the presence of black people or black culture that makes a place a "hood"?  Is it the presence of the poor?  Yes, my neighborhood has all of that, too.  When you visit, you will likely see someone walking home on the side of the road or a group of guys playing basketball at the park across the street.

What makes a place a "hood"?  Might the term "the hood" reveal something more about our hearts, about our fears, about our prejudices than that which we're describing?

Might it say less about the actual place itself than it does about US?

Might it reveal our own false perceptions and inabilities to see beauty and the glory of God on display in environments different from our own?

As with most of cities in this country, our downtown had its hay-day decades ago.  Businesses were thriving, and huge, beautiful homes were occupied around this cultural hub of the city.  But you know the story- when the wealthy white people began retreating to the suburbs, businesses quickly followed them, largely abandoning our downtowns, leaving many of the poor and elderly still there.  Large, beautiful historic buildings sat empty for years waiting for someone to invest in them again.

And in recent years, we are seeing downtown revitalizations happening all across the country.  People are coming BACK to the city. (though I'm not sure I'm a complete fan of gentrification because of how it pushes out the poor)

Around our little city of Lynchburg, many of the locals hardly see downtown as desirable.

They can't see what a treasure they have!

But there is new life.  Things are happening and the city is pouring in money.  Southern Living recently featured downtown Lynchburg in an article, calling it your "next great neighborhood."

This won't be the same place ten years from now.

For a small city, it's a real downtown, with beautiful old colonial brick buildings and churches with steeples that soar into the sky.   It's got dining and shopping, and a city market as its hub.

It sits along the beautiful James river.

It's a place where trains blow their horns and go clackety clack down the tracks.

It is home to an amazing system of walking/biking trails.

Eight miles of paved trails!

I can't believe my children get to grow up with all of this practically in their backyard.  Our home is a short 3 blocks away from accessing the trails.

Like all places, downtown is also a place filled with real brokenness, too.  A place screaming with potential, but a one in need nevertheless.

I still deeply love our house in the suburbs, but there's something so beautiful about returning to the city.

About believing in a place that others in the past have abandoned.

About finding beauty in the old and broken, and working to restore, transform, and revitalize.

Afterall, that's what Christ did to our hearts... he brought life to what was once dead.

That's what Christ does in our lives... he is always working in us, investing in very needy people, transforming us to be more like Him.

And that's what Christ will do in the future... as all of creation groans for redemption, one day He will bring a new heaven and a new earth to this very place.  Every square inch of this earth belongs to Him, and one day, even the most dusty, uninhabitated, abandoned building will be revitalized unlike anything we have ever seen.  (Doesn't that add a measure of excitement to all the current downtown renovations, my fellow Lynchburgers?  It's a small picture of future glory!)

In the Bible, heaven is spoken of as a CITY.  A new Jerusalem.  With rivers of wine.

Here's another important aspect we moved to the city FOR that sadly, caused most others to move AWAY:

It's a place that looks more like God himself.

Collectively, we are made in God's image. God created us in many shades and skin tones to reflect HIM.

We lose this beauty when we primarily live life with only those that look like us.

To see color, to embrace color, is to see and embrace the image of God himself.

It's important for Christians to do the difficult work of realigning our hearts to love what God himself loves.  We've got to reevaluate our stereotypes and fears to bring them in line with the Gospel.  Because of Christ, believers can see beauty in things, in places, and in people that the world around us simply cannot.

That doesn't mean everyone is called to pack up and leave the suburbs.  But some, like our family, are.

There's so much to love about our city.  There's so much to love about your city, too.

Call it the "hood."  I don't care.

I'm so excited to call it home.

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