Last week, I picked up a copy of the New York Times. I was looking for a copy of this article, which is about how physicians make end of life decisions, since it connects with what we’ve been talking about in Sunday School at North City Church of Christ. For the last couple of months we’ve been reading through Brian Volck and Joel Shuman’s Reclaiming the Bodywhich has provoked some very important conversations.

When I looked at the newspaper, I was greeted by the headline “In Places Like North St. Louis, Gunfire Still Rules the Night.” The article, about the part of the city where we live, vividly describes scenes of violence and drug use. It’s not every day that your neighborhood is on the front page of a national newspaper, so I began to share it around. The consensus around the house and our friends was that the article relied on a caricature that did not square with our experience with our neighborhood. It seems like pretty poor journalism since it mostly used a single anecdote to describe a whole portion of a city. The article didn’t mention the complex reasons for the struggles of people in the north city, nor did it bring up the many places where goodness is found in just businesses, vibrant churches, and caring neighbors. In general it seems like a piece of cheap journalism that entertains by depicting the grotesque.

When I was teaching the teenagers at tutoring the next day, we talked about the article. We discussed what it was like when people assumed they knew about you because of an imagined story about your place, your age, or your race. We talked about how God’s story of the world is different than these kinds of stories. We talked about how Jesus shows us that those whom the world thinks are bad or of little importance are actually loved, accepted, and set in the highest place.

All of this has caused me to think about the north city. It is true that the north city can be a physically dangerous place. After I read the story I went for about a two and a half mile walk around my neighborhood well after dark. I wanted to counter the narrative that would have me cowering in fear of my neighbors. While on the walk I was greeted by strangers who showed kindness to me. I saw a mother carrying her toddler down the street playing peek-a-boo completely oblivious to anything else on the street but each other. It was beautiful to see such love. But it’s also true that there was a couple of times when I did feel concerned for my safety. There were a few blocks when I felt that it was wise to be extra aware of my surroundings.

While I feel that the New York Times article was unhelpful and uninformative, I am under no illusions about the real problems that are present in the north city. In our rule it says, “We joyously accept the risks of living and laboring in North Saint Louis, for Jesus’ sake.”

What I’m curious about is where we consider a dangerous place to be and why we consider it to be so. While I wouldn’t advise a young girl to walk through certain parts of the north city alone at night, I wonder if there are not far more dangerous places to walk in the suburbs. As Christians, we recognize that our virtue, our adherence to the way of Jesus, is far more important than our physical safety. In fact, if we take Jesus seriously then we have to recognize that places where faithfulness is difficult are far more dangerous than places where we might be injured or killed.

The world might indeed see the north city as a very dangerous place to be, but the church should see things differently. We should look at the sprawling suburbs, inundated with consumption and isolation, as far more dangerous. For there we can be enticed to chase after more and more, always buying something new, and miss the presence of Christ in our neighbors and in the poor.

We in the church are often so formed by the surrounding culture that we don’t recognize the ways that it has shaped us. We allow it to infiltrate our imaginations in small ways that seem inconsequential at first, but that can result in a life where we are isolated and alone, where the corrupt way the world sees things makes more sense to us than the Kingdom vision we see in Jesus’s life.

I still have a very long way to go before I root out the ways that this world has formed my imagination and the way I see the people around me, but I know that living among the brothers and sisters of the Lotus House is a good place to learn how to see.

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