Friday, May 13, 2005

These kids are so cute...

I wish I had a digital camera. Actually, I wish I had the money for a digital camera. Furthermore, I wish I knew how to use one. They didn't teach us that trick in art school (actually, digitals were just starting in their popularity) . But I wish I could show y'all how cute these kids are.

On Thursday nights I volunteer with Starfish Studios (the site needs to be updated; it's a year old). Starfish runs a movie class every year mostly consisting of students from a local elementary school in an "bad" neighborhood on the far north side of Chicago, just south of Evanston. I think the neighborhood is called North of Howard or something like that. The class itself takes place, this year, at Uptown Baptist Church, which is a Baptist church in Uptown... of course. Uptown itself I know a bit more about. Back in the '50s it was one of the poorest communities in America. It's a port of entry for a lot of people groups, and back then, those people groups were almost exclusively poor and White. More recently, the area - much as the neighborhood that I grew up in, Lincoln Square - became a sort of Ellis Island for all sorts of immigrants as well as for many life-long residents (Black & White) who established roots in the area. The difference is, Lincoln Square had a largely blue-collar, lower-middle-class pathos. Uptown never really did. However, younger people who work downtown and / or go to a college dowtown or near-by are moving in. Slowly. And why not? The area is served by a train line with several stops in the neighborhood. The housing is beyond affordable. The beach beckons at the border.

So, why not? I wish I had an easy answer. I'm not fully convinced that gentrification is a great evil.

Don't get me wrong. It's very roots are the wicked mechinations of the evil empire of the fast buck. But then again, are property developers really that evil? My landlord, who has buildings throughout and manages his own property, doesn't seem so. (Then again, we are in the middle of re-signing our lease. I may change my opinion tomorrow. He may have three horns, one for each hole.) And they tend to exploit fears and create rifts - if not exploit already existent ones, of course - in communities. Only to send the parts of the communities elsewhere, like free-floating debris never sure of the shore.

Maybe it's a sign that I'm growing up, maybe it's a sign that I'm mellowing, or that I was never into justice in the first place, that I'm just a poser. But I'm not thinking of people in terms of the language of good & evil, black & white (Quite a different thing than those who, God-bless 'em, consider themselves as color-blind. Godspeed ya. May you be fruitful.) so much any more.

In studying Jesus, I'm constantly confronted and confounded by the Pharisees, the religious ruling body - well, the conservative ones - of Jesus' era. I don't know as much of the history of that time as I'd like. I don't know when they came into power, I don't know how long - if they, say, had any voice or what became of their voice within the Jewish community after its violent dispersal circa 70 AD - or the circumstances surrounding their power struggles with the other members of the Sanhedrin (the whole of the Jewish religious ruling class), the local governing bodies, the empire, their puppets, etc. There's just so much I don't know. I think that's because, until recently, the Pharisees didn't register with me as real people in a real place in a real time with real concerns. They were the villains, the foils, the set-ups. And, in a sense, that's their operation in the Gospels. They were almost a combination of the straw-men from philosophical discourses and the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.

Almost. A few years ago I discovered how like myself Jesus' funny disciples were. And how like a microcosm (a much loved and blessed microcosm) the stubborn and faithless Israelites of the Old Testament - of Moses and the Judges and Samuel and Daniel and Hosea - were. In lights of these alone (never mind the fact that the Hebrew were always God's chosen, that God became incarnate in the form of a Jew, from a Jewish woman and in a Jewish family where he grew as a Jewish man learning Jewish things, such as the Jewish canon of revealed scripture, that salvation is the power of God to all who believe, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile, that salvation is from the Jews, that it was my sins that put Christ on the cross), anti-Semitism never made any sense to me, at least not from a Christian perspective. But I wonder...

Luther was a true Christian. He understood the Scriptures, deeply. He also understood the need for constant grace in his life. He understood his own wickedness and need. Yet, late in his life he started a sort of pogrom. I merely say "a sort of" because I don't know exactly what he was thinking or doing or allowing or, most likely, spewing from the pulpit. I know it was violently anti-Jewish. Which is sad. I wonder if, at the end of his life, after being worn down by constant fighting within and without and writing and thinking and fighting even within those spheres, Martin Luther simply saw the Pharisees as simply symptomatic of the Jewish people, and not humanity as a whole.

Merely trying to hold on to their tenuous grasp of power, of self-identity, of the rightness of their cause and lives. The Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat not because he was a good person, but because they couldn't see what they didn't want to believe. He didn't match their qualifications for what the Messiah would look like. He was unsightly, born of lowly means, raised on lowly means, followed by sinners and uneducated rebel-rousers, rumored to be a bastard, fat and drunk. And this "Kingdom" he was speaking of was founded on foolishness. Turning the other cheek when someone struck you. The earth will belong to the intentionally weak. Divorce being a condemnable act forced by the wickedness of our hearts.

Sure Jesus performed many miracles. But they were performed all wrong. He was doing them on the Holy Day. And his recipients were sick and lazy, welfare mothers and beggars. He even destroyed property when he did it, plunging someone's literal pig futures down the river. Not to mention the ruckus he created at that anti-capitalist stir in the Temple during the busy season. It'd be like throwing the coffee down the drain at a church cafe and breaking the espresso machine. Or tossing the entire Family Bookstores clientele out while rampaging on a Sunday afternoon. "Hey, we're providing a service. A good, pleasant thing to do for the convenience of our congregants," we would argue. "Jesus, church people and seekers alike are supposed to come here and fellowship. Otherwise, they might have to leave the site or meet or consume on another day."

I'm not anti-Capitalism. Not anti-Communism. Not a moralist. I'm not much of anything. Not even a good follower of Jesus. But I see a bit of Pharisee in me. A bit of those dreadful property buyers and sellers who pretend that what they're doing is beneficial to the area even as they're just trying to do what they can to put food on the table, with the possibility looming in the back of their minds that maybe they really are doing good for the community in driving out the 'bad seed.' A bit of that mentality of the inevitable.

The scary thing is, the Pharisee and Developer mindset is epidemic of the Church as a whole. Because it's symptomatic of humanity.

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