*** A few days ago I came across a podcast that discusses the challenges facing the church in the west. If you’re interested, the speaker is Mark Sayers (senior leader of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia) at a meeting hosted by Bridgetown Church in Portland. The podcast really has my brain going…and I thought maybe it’d get yours going, too. So, let’s have a conversation, shall we? These thoughts were spurred by the second installment.
Anyway, Wikipedia defines “gentrification” this way: “Gentrification is a process of renovating deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents. This is a common and controversial topic in politics and in urban planning.”
I’m seeing this first-hand as my little neighborhood here in Dallas, Deep Ellum, has been gentrifying. It had bad reputation (drugs and crime) a little over a decade ago. Artists have always called this area home and it’s always had a bohemian vibe, but in the early aughts, well, you didn’t come here unless that band you HAD to see played here…and it was a 50/50 shot that your car would be vandalized or broken in to.
A few years back, just before we moved here, it was on the turnaround…cheap rents brought serious business owners, a school moved in, and a church, and warehouses became higher-end lofts. It’s the way of things, right? And, yes, I realize Tracy and I are part of that–moving from the ‘burbs to a loft almost four years ago. And, yes, the rent on our current place is pushing us down the street later this summer. That view can garner more than we’re willing to pay.
Now, that turnaround has longtime residents, mostly artists, talking about being priced out and having to move out. I do have to say it’s pretty strange to see families standing in long lines for ice cream, or pre-school princesses in tiaras getting a fix of unicorn themed treats, or dude-bros paying $15 for a smoke infused drink but you can actually enjoy a night out at some really good restaurants and enjoy walking around. Wins. Losses. It’s the way of things.
And I was thinking about the gentrification today on my walk home from church…I mean, I had to take the long way around the building because construction cranes for the three new loft complexes going in had closed a sidewalk. This thought hit me: My faith has undergone a gentrification of sorts.
Long-time readers (and, hey, there’s over 15 years of entries here, people) are well aware of that journey. 23 years of full-time ministry had caused me to see a couple of things. Mostly where my own faith was creating a yearning for “more” even though I couldn’t really describe what that meant. The other part was where the Christian Industrial Complex–of which I admit I was a part of (more on that in a second)–had some role to play in creating what Mark Sayers talks about here:
Corporate renewal begins with personal renewal…the first task is not to descularize society. It’s not ours to set up some giant program movement where we desecularize the West. This actually begins as every renewal begins with the desecularizing of yourself. How have we tried to live without the presence of God? How have we tried to live without God? And this changes thing, you know? We’ve got our teams and our structures and our hierarchies. None of that’s gonna work. None of it will work unless this process begins in us…
…There are cultural Christians in a 21st century garb. And the cultural Christian in the 21st century garb may not affirm or believe the explicit prosperity gospel, but they live out an implicit prosperity gospel. That they can have the goodies of consumerism with a Christian veneer painted over the top. They are creating a new kind of faith where it’s pick-and-choose and this is termites and white ants underneath the foundations of the Church…
…And a lot of the Church models we have now are just churn and burn, 90% turnover every year…the Big Show…I can get a lot of people in the room but it’s really hard to get them to completely give their lives to Christ.
So, I was seeing a lot of what my dissertation will refer to as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and others call “cultural Christianity”…which really isn’t anything new. Pastors have long been aware that oftentimes we weren’t seeing those things that Jesus says should be an abundant life in our own experience and we weren’t seeing them in those we served.
And I started asking questions. Lots of them. They started with “why?” I followed them up with “what if…?”
People get real uncomfortable when you start deconstructing the Sunday service. Or the small group ministry. Or the way we do mission. Sure. It starts simple enough. “Why do we have to have the guitar player play music while we pray?” Eventually they get bigger, like “How is our worship service formative for our people? What if we de-centralized the Sunday service in the spiritual life?”
People got real uncomfortable.
But even I knew that renovating–gentrifying, if you will–started with me. I had to go back and evaluate what I was doing and who I was becoming and if that lined up with the things I saw were supposed to be true about my life and faith. Suffice to say there was dissonance.
And–pardon me if I make a four-year journey one sentence–it took a while, but the better things moved in and made my “neighborhood” better. Sure, there were some costs. Ones that are a bit too raw to put on the table here…and nearly caused me to chuck it all, gripe about the price to pay to stay and just move out. But now I see it’s okay for the ice-cream place and the princess party and the $15 smoke infused drink and the dive bar and the cookie place and the cool punk club to live next door.
What I came to realize was that you can’t gentrify the neighborhood without taking care of your own business first. And gutting a building can be difficult and hard work and painful and create discomfort and others might not like the new look when you’re done.
But that’s okay, man.
The neighborhood will eventually be different anyway. It’s the way of things. But today I’ve realized that there was a time those questions listed above would’ve–and should’ve–created discomfort by how I’d have to answer them.
And the chance to be a part of the revitalization of things has me amped…even if it’ll take a while and the construction makes me take the long way around.