Food for thought

Ed Gilbreath writes an excellent blog, and his post today includes a collection of interesting links I would recommend. One is to an article discussing the gentrification that is happening in my old neighborhood in Portland. Our recent visits to our old neighborhood and church have surprised me by how very much the neighborhood there has changed since we left in 2002.

I realize that the same is true for my old neighborhood in Chicago, and it makes me wonder what the future holds for our little corner of South Central. Already there is a substantial population of “gentrifiers”, and that trend is on the rise both here and in urban centers throughout the nation. Bob Lupton, who has inspired many in our community through his years of ministry in Atlanta, speaks of “reweaving the fabric” of frayed communities by bringing people of resources (read money, education, and power) back into under-resourced communities. In this article, Lupton shares about being confronted with his own identity as a “gentrifier”.

But during prayer and sharing times at our neighborhood church we began to hear prayer requests for housing needs. “Please pray for us – our rents have just doubled.” “Please pray for us – we’ve just gotten an eviction notice.” It wasn’t until Opal, a church member who lived within sight of the church, came in weeping one morning that I first made a disturbing connection. She had just received an eviction notice from the home she had lived in for many years – the city told the landlord to fix it up or board it up and he had decided to board it up until property values made it attractive to sell. For the first time it dawned on me that as my property value was nicely increasing, so was the value of the surrounding affordable homes. As my wealth was accumulating, Opal’s poverty was deepening. It was my investment that was the catalyst for her displacement. I could no longer sit in the circle and pray with integrity. I was the problem!

1 comment

  1. More and more, it seems to me that folks who want to serve the poor may need to think ‘mobile and flexible’ and go where opportunities to serve present themselves.

    Most poor people around the world live on the edge and regularly move from place to place trying to survive. Maybe serious Christians who want to serve them have got to be migrants and immigrants too. Maybe the idea of long term and strong attachments to specific geographical communities–re the CCDA–needs some reworking.

    Gentrification happens when somebody with money recognizes an opportunity to make more money by investing in an undervalued potential asset. Aren’t all poor geographic neighborhoods undervalued potential assets?

    Forward thinking capitalists and cutting edge Christians both normally eventually see the opportunity. And I think in many cases both have the best of intentions.

    From my point of view, in European and American history the idealistic Christians usually get there slightly ahead of the financial investors though the latter arrive more decisively over the long haul. My wife Jan and I are in New Mexico right now and we’ve been struck by how the seemingly easy combination of Christian missionaries and raw capitalism mostly wrought havoc on the lives of the original folks from the hood in this part of the world. Opal’s story is a pretty old and familiar tale from a certain point of view.

    Well meaning folks that want to direct the ‘creative destruction’ of capitalism–i.e., investing money, education and power in the hopes of eventually providing a financial profit for investors–into specific geographical poor communities may–on the whole–end up creating more destruction than good for poor people.

    I think Bob’s post raises that question after years of doing his best to make real world capitalism and prophetic Christianity lay down together.

    From my point of view that lion won’t lay down with that lamb comfortably anytime soon.

    Maybe we need to rethink models of ministry to the poor that are strongly based on what may be naive ideas about the longevity of specific poor neighborhoods and on overly generous ideas about market capitalism. Perhaps less attachment to the first and more prophetic challenge to the second would make mission ‘fit the facts’ better than it seems to right now.

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