Little House in the Ghetto

Every day at 4:00pm, during my elementary years, my family crowded around our black and white TV (you know, the one with dark wood paneling on the outside and the tall antennas) to watch Little House on the Prairie.  I can vividly remember all the details of what made that little house a homey place.  I remember the log exterior, the A-frame, the ladder that climbed to the loft-ish upstairs, the chimney…  It was so cozy.

My husband and I live a far cry from prairie life.  We have made our home in an up and coming (ish) neighborhood in Nashville.  And I love our little house in the ghetto.  It’s homey and cozy to me.  In spite of sirens blaring through the dark hours, and trains blasting their horns every few hours, and roosters crowing next door, and graffiti with colorful language across the street, and stray cats inhabiting our front porch, and trash that daily finds its way into our yard, and a robbery; I still love it.

Last week, we were doing more yardwork (some of the weeds came back – but that’s probably for another blog post), and we met a new neighbor who thanked us for how much work we were doing to make the block look good again.  She began to share with me about the previous tenants of our home.  They sold drugs, had wild parties, and shared the home with roaches.  The police knew that home well.  She apologized for our recent break in and introduced me to her kids.  She thanked me again for making the block look pretty.  And then I went back to yardwork.

After I shuttered for awhile about the roaches (we haven’t seen any since we’ve lived there), a smile appeared on my face.  We are bringing light to the street just by moving in and being present. 

When we moved into the home, we had suspicions about the previous tenants.  There were clues (bullet holes in windows, a dead roach or two, and dime bags littering the yard) that there had been darkness in the home before us.  But with each stroke of a paint brush, each picture hung, each bleach application, and each weed pulling, I feel like we’re pushing back a little more darkness.

Even more, with every interaction with a neighbor, every greeting to the junior high bike gang, every conversation in Spanish, I feel like we’re pushing back the darkness.  We’re pushing back on the darkness of hopelessness, racism, poverty, crime, and isolation just by being present, and moving into the neighborhood.

I love the imagery from the message translation of John 1 about Jesus moving into the darkness.

14The Word became flesh and blood,
      and moved into the neighborhood.
   We saw the glory with our own eyes,
      the one-of-a-kind glory,
      like Father, like Son,
   Generous inside and out,
      true from start to finish.

God is all about moving into the neighborhood and being a generous light.  I want to do that.  There’s something about city life that draws me.  I should clarify, there’s something about city life in a “risky neigborhood” that appeals to me.  And that’s why, for Adam and I, moving into our little house in the ghetto was the right move.

I want to be the kind of light that Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:

4-16“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

We certainly don’t have it all down.  We’re learning how to be good neighbors. We’re learning how to be a light in a dark place.  We’re learning how to be generous.  But we’re loving the process.

So what about you?  What kind of neighborhood appeals to you?  How have you moved into the neighborhood and been a source of hope, light, and peace?

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8 thoughts on “Little House in the Ghetto

  1. It is a bit troubling that you seem to be associating the ghetto (and thus, its inhabitants as The Darkness) and yourself as the light. Though I understand the sentiment you’re trying to convey, I think there is an element missing. You’re privileged to have not come from “the ghetto” and I’m wondering I you’re not making a direct or indirect relation between poverty and darkness and between privilege and light.

    I struggle to understand and reconcile my privilege living in Harlem, which has and continues to gentrify significantly. I don’t want to believe I am contributing to “the problem” simply because I am a white male with comparable economic privileges. However, I think acknowledging such realities is half the battle — something my spouse reminds me of enough 🙂

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Tommy. (Or have you upgraded to Tomis as a grown up name? :))

      I appreciate you letting me know that my language came across as superior. I hate that it came out that way. I most definitely don’t associate those people living in poorer neighborhoods as dark. In fact, I have seen more light and love and acceptance from my current neighbors than I have in any neighborhood in the past. There were dark things taking place in our home (crime, violence, drugs, even unsanitary conditions), but I didn’t mean to convey that the people that resided there were dark.

      I know about my priveledge. I have studied about my priveledge, I have discussed my priveledge, and some days, I despise my priveledge. I hate that my priveledged language seeps out still (like it must have in this post). And while I can’t change the fact that I am white and was raised wealthier than most of the world, I want to do something to level the playing field now.

      That’s why I got into the helping profession and that’s partly why I chose the neighborhood I did.

      I DO see poverty as darkness. I DO see racism as darkness. I DO see financial disparity as darkness. I DO see crappy housing conditions as darkness. I DO see crime as darkness.

      And I guess what I meant to talk about was that I’m willing to live amidst darkness (not people, but those above mentioned systemic ills) in order to bring about hope, which I consider light.

      I don’t know if we agree on this, but my belief is that real hope comes from God. And since I believe in God, I feel like I have an opportunity to share that hope in everyday life. For me, hope looks like sharing meals with my neighbors who don’t look like me and letting them know me and me know them, and maybe even distilling some of our preconceived notions of one another. Hope looks like getting rid of all the weeds in my yard that make our street look more run down so that all my neighbors who keep up their yard can feel pride about our street again. Hope looks like not pressing charges against a neighbor who stole my stuff because I want him to have a second chance. Hope takes lots of forms, but hope doesn’t shy away from hopelessness. I don’t think I have anything more to offer someone else because I’m white, or educated or grew up with two parents or… but because of the hope I’ve found in God.

      And, regarding gentrification, we could probably talk about that for hours. I’m pro-liveable, fair, and just housing conditions, but I hate the white flight back into cities that means displacement for many natives of neighborhoods. (When I talked about painting away darkness, I meant putting a coat of bright paint over the roaches that had been painted onto our walls not making our house so nice our neighbors will eventually have to move) 🙂

      Again, I really appreciate you letting me know that I was off in my language and I appreciate the dialogue. I love the hope and light you’re bringing to NYC.

  2. Love that you and A are being salt and light in your neighborhood! I love the imagery of Christians pushing back the darkness and making our earth ready for the King who will come back one day. And I don’t think your language is superior, just truthful (and Biblical).

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