Last week I had the opportunity to speak at a “Mission Fest” in rural South Dakota. It was a fun weekend of reconnecting with my traditional Mennonite roots. Hymns in four part harmony, potlucks and popcorn for Sunday supper were an enjoyable trip down memory lane. After one of the services we had a question and answer time. During one of the services I had shared about my family’s journey from the suburbs to the city. Before long I was fielding questions about safety and fear. What kind of schools did your children attend?
Have you ever been mugged?
How do you respond after your house has been broken into?
Is it safe?
There was a time when questions like this frustrated me. I tended to assume that the motive behind such questions was a subtle form of racism or classism. I no longer make these assumptions. For the most part people are genuinely curious about people who have made different life choices.
I like to use these occasions to talk about differences. We live in a culture that teaches us to fear or be suspicious of that which is different. This fear is reflected in many of the little and big decisions we make. For example, people like to worship with others who hold similar faith perspectives and worship style preferences. As a culture we like to live in neighborhoods with others who share our values (and skin color).
Choosing to live and worship outside the norm can be scary. I like to challenge people to confront their fear of the different. More often than not different is simply different.
That is my typical response to my family’s move from the suburb to the city.
Since returning from South Dakota two people that I am acquainted with have been mugged. One was pistol whipped. Both of these people live in “different” neighborhoods. It is not a stretch to say that they were targeted, at least partially, because of their skin color.
To be honest I have no easy response to this. Fear of the “different” goes in every direction and that fear can and does play itself out in unpleasant ways. Personal violation is not easy to just get past. Events like this raise some difficult faith questions. Does God call us to safety? When does personal well-being demand that one move or leave the situation? What does it mean to be salt and light? How far do we take this call? What does it mean to be a reconciling presence in a dangerous neighborhood?