Art by Nick Dewar.
We've been back in the real world now for a week. Portland ended quietly after days of walking through gardens and parks and campuses, eating well, drinking well and sharing a bit of our vacation with friends. The place feels a bit like The Grey Goose must have to Sheldon and Davy in A Severe Mercy: a thing that we hope for and dream about, a place we might one day live, a symbol, perhaps, of our commitment to life together.
There are more than twice as many Portlanders as Orlandoans, yet the city feels smaller somehow. We were able to take public transit everywhere, from Imago Dei to the Rose Gardens to the campus of Portland State University, 23Hoyt, Hawthorne, and the airport. The practicality of it was stunning; most trips through Orlando on Lynx take at least twice the normal driving time, while trips on the MAX or buses seemed to be hardly longer than what it would take to drive. There's a Zipcar network, three forms of public transit that can get you to your destination with less than a quarter mile of walking, and people know how to drive with bikes, buses, and trains in the road. The green movement there isn't something that's underground or visible only through the presence of reusable grocery bags. It's inescapable. Toilets in the PDX airport give flushers the option of whether to use just enough water for "#1" or "#2." Restaurants list the farms where their meat comes from. Rush hour looks like 2pm in Orlando. Community gardens are everywhere.
Portland provides a constant challenge to question my own excess. To think about things as small as reusing the cardboard sleeve on my latte to something as big as giving up my gas guzzling SUV (yes, I still drive one) and not owning a vehicle at all.
It's also a challenge to my role as a witness. In our week there, Vance and I interfaced with hundreds of broken people, on buses mostly, but also in parks and on sidewalks. People desperate for a friend, if only for the twenty minute ride from downtown to Hawthorne. People who love their city and desire to share it with strangers. People who live every day in the unhappiest city in the United States (according to Business Week).
In my LIFE community last night, we got into a discussion about how, as Christians, to deal with the fallout of a violent world. Some said that you do your best to avoid it, choosing places to live that are relatively safe and private schools that advertise values-based education. Others remained quiet or remarked that it's a sad world. Knowing my propensity for rhetorical flourishes and having spoken quite enough already, I remained eyes down and ran my knife over the crease in my napkin over and over.
What I wanted to say was that the most beautiful moments in my life have been the experience of redemption: the entrance into a place of darkness and brokenness with Christ, allowing his light to either shine on me or through me. I wanted to say that as Christians we are called to enter into darkness. Scandalously, Jesus calls us to love the very people we hate or fear:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
— Matthew 5:43-48, emphasis mine
This would be one of the many portions of The Message where Peterson would stop and write, "Are you listening? Are you really listening?" And I don't, really, if I'm being honest. I live in a city where I'm as closed off from the world as I want to be; I live in my house with my husband, getting calls from true friends once a month or less. I drive my big car to my big office, say good morning to the sweet lady waiting at the bus stop, and commence another eight hours with team members I love and see five days a week. When I'm done I get back in my Explorer and drive home to start the cycle all over again.
In the words of Gustavo Gutierrez, "To be followers of Jesus requires that [we] walk with and be committed to the poor; when [we] do, [we] experience an encounter with the Lord who is simultaneously revealed and hidden in the faces of the poor."
When my brothers and sisters in the LIFE community described their Christian response to violence in the city of Orlando, they immediately referenced the poorest area, a place where I've spent weeks of my life in the living room of a dear friend's home. She is living a Christian response to violence. She doesn't run from it; she enters into it. Excuses come too easy for me on this side of the tracks.
Which brings me back to Portland. One of the scariest things about the city is also one of the most hopeful. Not that I feel presently equipped to bring much light to that place, but that I will see Jesus in the faces of my neighbors every day. That he might have opportunities every day to sculpt me more and more into his image. That I will interface with immense darkness and inescapable community on my commute, and teach my children the value of love, of life, of hope, and of creation.
Until the day we're called to move, which may be years into the future, we must seek the beauty, the quirky places, and the lonely, broken people here in Orlando. There are so many ways we can be used by Him, just on the other side of our protected spaces.