Called or Drawn to 'The Abandoned Places of Empire'?
The very first mark of the New Monastic movement is to relocate to the abandoned places of the empire. However, after quick research, most of the social justice-geared intentional communities I found were either directly inside or in very close proximity to major cities. While there are enclaves within major metropolises that have seen the scourge of the empire, most of the American landscape is drenched in suburban and rural locales set far and away from the residual financial welfare the empire produces. And if that is the case, then the rationale for the privileged suburban dweller to relocate to urban hubs needs reexamination.
I believe there is a contingent of people that the Most High will call to relocate from suburban and rural places to preach, teach, and serve neighborhoods in urban areas. I would like to believe that these people are willing to fulfill the call of the Lord, counting the cost of their decision -- perhaps reluctantly but with open minds and open hearts. These individuals are to be revered for their desire to be about God's business.
Conversely, there is a growing population that relocates to the so-called "abandoned places of the empire" because of the proximity to all of the amenities and economic promise the empire seems to trickle down. The draw of experiencing the "big city" cannot be ignored, no matter what the overarching humanitarian desire might be.
Indeed, there is quite a difference between the called and the drawn. When we as followers of Christ truly submit to the calling of God to preach good news to the poor, our first inclination should be to find the poor already in our midst, and deliver the message to them -- allowing them the opportunity to take that message home to their families and other neighbors, ensuring salvation for themselves and their households. The statistics are very clear: There are 1 million more impoverished Americans in the suburbs than in urban centers. Rural poverty among single mothers is at astronomical levels. Food stability is most scarce in rural areas. The further a community is from metropolitan areas, the more difficult it becomes to secure steady income, adequate wages, and affordable housing. In fact, the majority of affordable housing is created in urban areas. Moreover, the infrastructure of social services is more readily available to urban dwellers. However, in suburban and rural areas, social services and affordable housing are somewhat of an afterthought. Looking at the composite of my own community, statistically many of us might actually reach more poor people if we lived in our hometowns than in our assembled New York City home.
The fact remains, the poor are all around us. If we are diligent in our search for the poor to preach to, to teach and serve, we need only look to our neighbors. We should realize that urban areas are not synonymous with poverty, nor are suburbs synonymous with privilege. When we get honest before the Lord with our preconceived notions about the people we believe are the poor and the least of these, we may find that the least of these are our next-door neighbors -- and not the urban ethnic enclave dwellers we so readily flock to.
We must be transparent with God and honest with ourselves when considering service to the poor. Being drawn to an area doesn't justify relocating to it. And being called to a place doesn't make you drawn to it. Throughout history, many people have been called to service, but were reluctant to go. Their reticence did not stop them from accomplishing revolutionary things for the kingdom of God. We must be diligent in seeking out the will of the Lord, and not be persuaded by the people, places, and things we are drawn to. If we are not diligent, we will lose our credibility and risk alienating, offending, and further marginalizing the very people we sent ourselves to enlighten and enfold in God's flock. We must make every effort to be led by the Spirit in all that we say and do to ensure our households experience the power of God through salvation in Christ.
Sharaya Tindal is a member of Radical Living, an intentional community in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Learn more about their community in this article in the New York Press.