D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Re-Neighboring and Staying -- Guest Post by Deanna Martinez

It's been one of those weeks. Two people were killed in a drive-by close to us, and the mood at the park was somber yesterday. A semi-famous Christian political figure came to my neighborhood to buy barbeque sauce and told news reporters it was like stepping into a third world country. It's hot, and people are just trying to survive. But there are also the joys: people sharing food, neighbors telling me all their favorite state fair memories, the friendly pre-teens who splash with my daughter at the public pool. It's one of those weeks where the good and the bad are so intertwined, and I don't have the energy to untangle it all.

Which brings me to this guest post. Deanna is one of the reasons I stay in this blog-writing (and hosting gig). I just met her out of the blue internet, and here she is encouraging us all with her insight and obedience, her sorrows and her joy. I too have been encouraged by the gentle writings of Bob Lupton, and encourage you all to do the same (my favorite is this one--thanks John and Jill!). It is clear to me that Deanna views her neighborhood, with all it's mess and trauma and glory--with a sense of gratefulness. It is a gift to her, given to her by God. And that's exactly how I feel about my own little corner of the MidWest.

 

 

Re-neighboring and Staying: Some Thoughts Living and Teaching in the City

Guest post by Deanna Martinez

 

The idea of downward mobility has fascinated me since I first started to grapple with what Jesus meant when he said that in His Kingdom, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The meek shall inherit the earth, and the Kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit. The life and teachings of Jesus subvert power structures and confound the wise in such a way that I feel drawn to him. I understand a bit why Peter says "Not just my feet, Lord, but my hands and my head as well!"

 

Life in this upside-down kingdom brings freedom.  My security does not come from my savings account.  My authority is not based on having advanced degrees or a library of leather-bound books.  My value is not determined by my zip code.  I desire a life where bridges are built and barriers are taken down.  I am convinced that God’s heart is with the marginalized, and I want to find myself there.  My prayer is that my life would be an instrument of his peace and reconciliation.

So long story short, I live with my husband and son in Compton, California- a city made famous by the gangster rap of the 90's, stories of corruption by notorious city officials, tales of poverty, screwed up school districts, and all manner of dysfunction that comes with the "Inner City." I was not born here. I did not grow up here. Why do I live here?

 

Sometimes my response depends on the day, but we have been influenced by the writing of Bob Lupton and others in books such as Return Flight. Lupton talks about how healthy communities are diverse in every way- culturally, economically, and racially. As people flee urban centers because of crime, unemployment, and lack of housing, there is a drain of resources. The new enclaves that are established by the people that have left also suffer. These neighborhoods are often marked by a distinct lack of cultural, racial, and economic diversity. One of Lupton's solutions to this issue is that people begin to return to areas that have been largely abandoned by those with resources. He calls it "re-neighboring."  The goal is that all neighborhoods would be integrated and diverse.  I can contribute to my city’s development by paying property taxes, buying my groceries here, and sending my kid to a local school.

That's the idea anyway. If care is not given to ensuring that affordable housing options remain intact and mom and pop shops don't get pushed out by big box stores, criticism of gentrification and economic changes that don't bring benefit to all residents are legitimized. Sometimes I have to refocus my motives in all of this. What is the metric of "improvement?" Is it when people stop leaving their couches on the side of the road? When front lawns are nicely manicured and teenagers stop tagging up the ally around the corner from my house? When we get a frozen yogurt shop? When these things are my focus, I must acknowledge how entrenched I can be in my middle class values and culture. That is not why I live in Compton.

 

I also am also confronted with this in my profession.  I teach at a school not far from my home.  Education is often touted as the great hope for students in disadvantaged areas.  Get good grades!  Got to college! Get up!  Get out!  You can make it!

But what if my student sincerely loves working with their hands?  Is there not value and dignity in leading a quiet, honest life, working each day to support your loved ones?  As an educator,  I value learning.  But when I reflect on what I really want for my students, the narrative of upward mobility is not necessarily one I wish to promote.  Rather than climbing the ladder, I desire to plant the seed of another Way.  What if they excelled academically?  What if they become doctors, lawyers, and engineers?  And then what if they stay.  They don't have to, but they choose to.

 

My students know well the frustration of having a health care provider that doesn’t speak their language, or of social service providers who don’t understand their community or where they come from.  So my question to them is, “What if it was you? Why can’t it be you?” Development does not mean things get neat and tidy and clean and Compton simply turns into a place where people can hide their messiness with money.  Development means that people have access to opportunity.

 

My street is getting better and I will tell you how I know. I know that kids play in the front yard now. They ride their bikes up and down the street. Houses that once stood vacant for months, sometimes years are now inhabited by hard working families. There are birthday parties with plenty of pozole to go around.  And I find that I our lives slowly intertwine.  And my son is going to grow up like this.  And I would not trade this choice for anything.

 

 

 

deanna 004Deanna and her husband live with their son in Compton, CA.  She's not hard to make happy- a good cup of coffee, the neighborhood kids hanging out in her kitchen, or life shared over a meal is all it takes.  She is figuring out on a daily if not hourly basis what it means to love her neighbors well.  She sometimes writes about it at www.whatmakesitgreat.wordpress.com, and occasionally tweets much more superficial thoughts at (https://twitter.com/DeaBeEm)

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