Monday, 16 November 2015

Tales of Two Cities

En route north between Los Angeles and Seattle, I stopped over in San Francisco with Mark Scandrette, who with his spouse Lisa, run discipleship labs, extended times of critical engagement with faith and life. An example maybe seeing your neighbourhood with new eyes and so participants will commit to exploring their neighbourhood and intentionally meeting people, trying new foods, engaging in conversation. Or it may be disconnecting from media and so committing to no Facebook and TV. They do these experiments in supportive community, always with an aim to growing as followers of Jesus and bringing more love and peace into the world. I'm not giving justice to how amazing these labs are.

As part of my visit Mark and I went for a walk in the Mission neighborhood and he took me past an alley of murals, one of which captures Mission in two phases of its life - as a predominantly Latino neighbourhood rife with issues of poverty and racism, and then as a hipster neighbourhood with cool coffee shops and boutiques. Mark told me that the neighbourhood is transitioning again into a gentrified area as Silicon Valley-ites move in. Mark Zuckerberg has bought a condo up the street.

Anyhow, the mural captured for me a consistent reality I saw in this West Coast leg of my pilgrimage. I spent a couple of days in LA with friends, staying just north of Beverly Hills and Bel Air. We toured around, taking in the sites, even driving through some of the posh neighbourhoods. I was struck by the privilege that I saw. Media moguls and celebrities driving their fancy cars. Large houses and well manicured lawns. Then as we drove east the landscape changed. Things got a bit rougher around the edges. At a light a couple of young men rolled down the car window and asked for directions to the Interstate. "Did you notice the three tears tattooed on his face?" J asked? "That means he's killed three people." We were definitely not in Beverly Hills anymore.

The next day I took a tour of Homeboy Industries in downtown LA. Founded by Fr. Greg Boyle, Homeboy Industries is a gang intervention agency, providing work experience, education and social support for men and women in the inner city. Our tour guide was a thirty-something year old man who'd been convicted as a juvenile but treated as an adult. After serving 14 years, F had turned his life around through Homeboy Industries. His face and neck had been covered with tattoos but through the tattoo removal program he was a clean slate. He is in college preparing to be a psychotherapist. I was blown away by his courage and conviction.

As I headed north towards San Francisco I passed through the arid mountains and into the Salinas Valley fields made green through irrigation. As I listened to Spanish radio and noticed the clusters of houses like I'd seen before in Mexico I couldn't help but wonder about the conditions of the farm workers. How are they treated? How many are undocumented? How do they feel about the anti-immigration rhetoric on Anglo radio? From there I stopped in Carmel-by-the-Sea, drove past Pebble Beach and visited Cannery Row in Monterey, a tourist destination in what was once the sardine factories written about by John Steinbeck. As I headed back toward Salinas in the dark and on to San Francisco, I noticed a truck in the field illuminated by light. Field workers were processing vegetables and would likely be doing so late into the night.

Salinas is a short drive from the coast, less than half an hour, but it is worlds apart. Like Beverly Hills and East LA, Monterey and Salinas are two very different cities. They are separated not so much by distance but by privilege and racism. The world we live in is a long way away from the kingdom that Jesus preached and gave his life for, despite all of the so-called Christians living in enclaves of wealth and buying food processed by workers just up the  road.

I may not be driving a fancy car but I know that I'm  privileged too.  Which makes the discipleship labs of Mark and Lisa all the more important.  As followers of Jesus, we have spent too much time justifying the world we've created and not enough time living into G-d's kingdom of love and justice. Perhaps it's time to give real discipleship a try.

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