The City of God & The City of Cain

MY FIRST GUIDED tour of Indianapolis was with a real estate agent, crisscrossing the city in his gleaming black Lexus. He spoke as he drove, filling the air with phrases such as, “Now, this is a terrific neighborhood,” and “You’ll want to steer clear of that one over there.”

As you’d guess, he focused on amenities, or the lack of them: hip restaurants, nearby shopping, nice parks, great schools. Security and consumables, good neighborhoods and bad. A mental map of the city took shape as we drove.

My second tour, just a few days later, was quite different—so different that it changed my life. This time the guide was one of the faculty members at Christian Theological Seminary, the school where I had just been appointed president. She’d lived in the city for more than 20 years, and on her tour, consumables came up now and then, but they took a definite back seat to the creative, groundbreaking ministries going on around town.

Her remarks frequently echoed the real estate agent’s, but from an entirely different angle. She’d say, “Now, this is a low-income neighborhood and a food desert [a section of the city where nutritious, affordable food isn’t readily available]—and right there on the corner is the amazing little church that’s started an organic community garden ministry.” Then a few minutes later: “Now, this is a middle-income neighborhood—and there’s the mosque that’s making a tremendous difference through its youth program.” And so on.

That tour took more than six fascinating hours, and it still only scratched the surface of the creative ministries alive and well throughout the city. Those six hours redrew my mental map of the city entirely and gave me my first glimpse of what it might mean to be a thriving seminary in the 21st century.

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