Saturday, March 04, 2017

Detroit's Resurgence

I was privileged to visit Detroit this weekend and learn from a well-known pastor/team there with an important ministry in the city. I left with a complex mixture of emotions and thoughts.

1. First, the city really is in a process of being fantastically reborn. The downtown is already quite transformed by the owner of Quicken Loans. A new Pistons and Redwings stadium is being built. I wouldn't be able to afford some of the apartments that are either going up or being restored. Downtown areas that were a definite no-go five years ago are being transformed.

Thank the Lord the emergency manager of the city under bankruptcy wasn't able to sell off Detroit's art and other cultural landmarks. It's all coming back.

I heard that bankruptcy saved the city because it allowed the city to get out of the corrupt contracts that corrupt mayors and city officials had made. As one person said, government isn't bad--it's really essential. What's bad is bad government. What's bad is corrupt government. What's bad is bad government without accountability. Good government is spectacular. [1]

2. Midtown just to the north is also in the process of rebirth. From downtown to Wayne State has been and is being dramatically transformed. That is where our Wesleyan work is located.

In the middle of this rebirth is a need for ministry to those displaced by the past and being further displaced by the revitalization wave of the city. I was thinking of the Parable of the Lost Sheep today. If one out of 99 sheep is lost, the Christ-follower is charged to find that one sheep.

I believe that much of America--including in the church--has become Nietzschean. The Nietzschean insists that lost sheep must be discarded because they are a waste of resources or worse. The darker forces of the world might even try to eliminate them. This simply isn't a Christian perspective. There may be a point where that makes us the enemy, because we are charged to save the discarded, to love the "enemy."

3. Although Detroit is becoming safer and safer, it still bears the horrible scars of its past. The east side is empty block after empty block where once there were tightly packed rows of houses. At its worse there was horrible violence here. I kept thinking of the Walking Dead. There has been some spiritual warfare waged.

In Northend, above Midtown, block after block is in the process of slow restoration. There is one place with a street of mansions. Then one side of the next block is restored. Then the other side of that block has empty houses with vacant windows and doors. Each year has made a dramatic difference.

There is a lot of urban farming going on in neighborhoods where young people are slowly restoring things. There are neighborhoods being restored by Christian non-profits and others. Corner grocery stores are opening. Parks are rising. Basketball courts are newly in play.

Birwood wall
4. As you head toward seven and eight miles north of the center, you see the scars of past racial divides. The Birwood wall was constructed in the 50s to mark off a white area from black, so that whites could get loans to build houses. The Civil Rights Act of 1967 at least tried to put an end to such nonsense.

But what had become quiet racism is resurfacing with a vengeance in the current climate. There will be more conflict ahead as the wave of restoration sweeps the displaced into the counties north of Detroit, where white supremacy is alive and well. Some moved north when they were forced to let African-Americans live on the east side of the Birwood wall.

5. Many different feelings. "Everyone looks out for their own interests" (Phil. 2:21). The powerful get what they can and don't seem to care about the rest. It seems like a lot of people are now in jail for corruption, people who were supposed to be looking after schools and the city. The marginalized either are "disappeared" or self-destruct or kill each other. "Law and order" becomes a law unto itself.

6. Then there's Dearborn. Quite safe for "Americans," but a city almost completely made up of Muslim refugees. Sunni Yemenis in the south, where the Ford plant is. Shia Iraqis and Lebanese in the east. Hamtramck is similarly a first port of entry. They all matter to God. But they don't matter to each other and America considers them the enemy (although many of them love America intensely).

It remains to be seen what they will become. And the church is having virtually no impact on them.

As Pastor Mick Veach has often quoted, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Matt. 9:37-38).

[1] Imagine a place where there are no street lights and no trash pick-up. Imagine no mailmen. Imagine having to pass a test in the eighth grade to have any shot at a high school education. This is where Detroit was just a few years ago.

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