Friday, December 29, 2006

On moving into an "up and coming" area

We bought a house.

This is a first in the life of the she-guerilla and me. A friend of mine remarked that we'd be switching over to the Republicans any day now.

Lots of people have asked us, "So where did you move? What part of the city?" When we tell them, they often look a little surprised at first, but then quickly recover and say, "Oh, that's an up and coming area." At first, I felt a little twinge of pride when people said this (how smart we were to buy a house in an "up and coming" area! That kind of bear!). But after the third or fourth time, I started to get suspicious and began wondering what this phrase really meant.

We bought a house in a minority neighborhood. Our new home is in a part of town traditionally associated with African-Americans. We are right next door to a predominantly African-American church, shared by a Latino congregation that meets on Saturday nights. One of our neighbors is from Ghana, a woman who lives with her daughter and at least one other tenant, also from Ghana. Another neighbor from across the street, Brian, is African American; he has a big, beautiful son named Rasheed, with deep ebony skin. We chose this neighborhood because we weren't comfortable in the lily-white upper-middle class part of town where we were renting, and wanted a place where there was diversity and a sense of community.

It's an up and coming neighborhood.

I suppose "up and coming" is probably the nicest possible way of saying "down and out with possibilities." You can't exactly call it a nice (read "white") neighborhood, but maybe in time it will get nicer (i.e., more nice white people will move there and drive the housing prices up so the minority and low-income people will have to leave and find someplace else to live). In saying this, I'm acutely aware that I am a part of this process of gentrification. I think I'd feel differently about being here if we had bought the house from an African-American family, but we did not. Our coming didn't change the demographic.

Today I was reflecting on Jesus' teaching in the Gospel of Mark with regard to the Son of David. Jesus asks the question, "If the Messiah is the son of David, how can David call him Lord?" The traditional exegesis is that Jesus is speaking about his own divine status as the Son of God. But perhaps there is something more to this passage.

David was the perfect example of an "up and coming" ruler, a man of deep-seated ambition. David was a winner. He never lost a battle. He successfully engineered the downfall of Saul, after marrying Saul's daughter so as to have a clear claim to the throne. He successfully united the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel under his rule, and began a dynastic succession of kings that spanned some twenty generations.

Jesus' point was that the Messiah would be something more, something greater than David, David's own Lord. But he would do so not by winning, but rather by losing, by an act of voluntary sacrifice. There is a kind of deep irony in the statement "Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies beneath your feet;" Jesus' enemies are placed beneath his feet only when he is lifted up on the cross.

Jesus was a down and out Messiah.

The scribes expected a Messiah like David. And who could blame them? Everybody loves a winner. Isn't that what we expect at the Second Coming: the Heavenly Winner? I wonder why are we so hard on the Scribes and Pharisees for seeking that which we ourselves so eagerly desire?

We made a conscious decision to move to this neighborhood. So please don't pity us, and spare us the whole "up and coming" thing. We didn't choose this place in spite of the diversity, but because of it. We came seeking a sense of connection to a wondrously diverse human community.

We're glad to be here.

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