One of the realities that we deal with in STL is the fear of the city. Many people who live in the greater St Louis metropolitan area are afraid of going into certain parts of the city. For some, the line is north of Delmar Ave. For others, it’s east of Skinker. One person I met in St Charles, once told me that they never cross “the bridge” into St Louis COUNTY!
There are several reasons for this fear being perpetuated in the community. Some of it is racism – this place that people fear is predominantly black (our neighborhood is 98% black). Some of it is class-ism – there’s not a lot of money in our part of town. Some of the fear comes from the myth of a violent and chaotic inner city perpetuated by the media – all the news stories that come from our community are about violence. Sometimes people read statistics about our neighborhood. Statics are not always truth, and they can be used to created fear combined with the false impression that these fears are ground in scientific facts. Its a mess and it breaks my heart to think that these fears are probably not going to go away for a long time.
Honestly, I’m a musician and so I can’t speak with authority on any of the causes of the fear of the city. However, I can tell you about my life in one of the most dangerous cities in America these past 4 years. Basically, it’s been kind of boring. Not that it hasn’t been fun; it’s just that there hasn’t been a lot of action. We’ve had some possessions stolen (pretty typical to living in close proximity to humans). We have some drugs and other illegal stuff on the block – just like I had back at my Christian high school. I haven’t been violently attacked (like I was during my freshman year at the University of Tennessee, on campus, by a white dude in a North Face vest – but that’s another story).
There are some fears that I still have. I’m not that thrilled about walking alone in my neighborhood. I don’t like to let my kids play outside of our fence without parental supervision (we have a lot of pedestrian traffic.) Sometimes, we call the police because of hearing or seeing strange activity (gun shots, loitering, trespassing, drunkenness). Some fears are no longer an issue for me. I have met my neighbors so that I see a lot less “suspicious strangers” and see more friendly smiles. Trust in our neighbors also means that we feel like there are people who are looking out for us and who would stand up to defend us if we were in a dangerous situation. We matter to our neighbors and so the city is no longer a mysterious place of crime and violence, but a home where we belong and we feel accepted.
My blog is called “Worship in the City”. For us, life in the city is an expression of worship just as much as the songs that I prepare every week. The kingdom of God is something that takes our whole lives into service as we live our resurrection life in Jesus. There is no fear of anything when we have the love of Christ who is our peace. I want to emphasize that our life in the city is not some kind of holy martyrdom as if we are making some kind of grand sacrifice to “survive” in the big bad city. Rather, we get to live the abundant life of the NEW CITY expressed in the love and community we share in simply living together as an expression of the gospel. This passage from Romans 12: 9-21 sums up a lot of what I’m thinking and it’s been for Sarah and me a kind of mission statement for our family:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.