Settling into place

Our family has been living in our house for about three months now (My first month at CMC, you may remember, was homeless and wife-and-kids-less).  The moving in process is slow but rewarding.  In the last week we have hung curtains, organized our dining rooms shelves, found the just-right color/design/size rug for the living room, and even hung a few things up on the walls.  It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t have a child in the hospital. 

Clintonville is a beautiful neighborhood.  Our neighbors are fantastic, Oakland Park Ave is gorgeous in the fall, our kids are in a good public elementary school, and the church is a short walk from home.  The neighborhood has many other perks.  It’s a very good life. 

In my adult life I have more and more come to acknowledge and be conscious of the role of place in shaping us – where we live and who our neighbors are.  Condo or farm, city or suburb, buy or rent, any place presents both opportunities and limitations.  As we have been settling in, I’ve been thinking again about place.    

A few weeks ago I was at a luncheon of community leaders and was asked by a person at my table where I lived.  After my answer, he replied, “Oh, that’s where the yuppies live.”  I’m a person who hardly ever gets offended by what other people say, but I had a visceral reaction to the comment, which I tried not to show in my facial expression.  I wanted to tell him that I actually feel a lot more comfortable in dirty jeans than the button down shirt and slacks I was wearing that day; that I value living close to work wherever that work may be; that I aspire to be more downwardly mobile than upwardly mobile and that my rusting ’94 Civic gets 40 miles to the gallon if I do need to drive.  I wanted to tell him how much I miss homeless folks who I know by name and who consider me their pastor knocking on our door because they need a few extra candles to warm the tent they have set up by the railroad tracks just a few blocks away.  I wanted to tell him, an African American man, how much my girls miss being in a school where 85% of the kids are black and brown.  I also wanted to say that, if we are going to use labels, that Clintonville seems more crunchy than yuppy to me.  In short, I wanted to defend myself as not being who he thought I might be.  Instead I said calmly, “Oh, is that so?”

I think part of my defensive thoughts come out of a realization that being comfortably middle class in America – or anywhere, for that matter – can be spiritually dangerous.  It’s not wrong, sinful, or to be avoided, but it’s a responsibility not to be approached lightly.  While some people may see living in a wealthy predominantly white neighborhood as a marker of success, I approach it with caution.  I need poor people, immigrants, people of color, queer people in my life because I need them to mess with my mind.  Because this is a messy world.

As we settle into life in this place – this beautiful place, where we are glad to be, I might emphasize – I’m coming to terms with these things. 

I’m sharing this because I’m guessing that we all live with these questions to some degree or another, and we’re a faith community that believes questions of how we live are just as if not more important than questions of what we believe.  Or better, how we live is what we really believe.