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Chicago is broken - but do we care?

Posted by Pastor Mark Bergin on June 13th, 2012

Urban analyst Aaron M. Renn has news for those of us who consider Chicago a world-class city: "It is a deeply troubled place..." In a finely researched and written article, Renn points out that the last 10 years have proved disastrous for Chicago. It is the only one of the nation's largest 15 cities that witnessed a decline in population over that time. And no wonder: Chicago lost more than 7 percent of its jobs over the first decade of the new century. What's more, the city is reeling in public liabilities that promise debts and deficits for many more decades to come.

Lurking behind all this civic dysfunction is a deeply rooted culture of corruption and entitlement. Since 1970, 31 aldermen have been convicted of various backdoor conspiracies and embezzlements. Yet few power players in the city are interested in reforming a governmental structure that allows them to stay on top. And many longtime Chicagoans are primarily concerned with maintaining the favoritism they may receive from their alderman, rather than insisting on equal opportunity for all. We tend to want goodies for ourselves more than equity for our neighbors.

What then is a Christian citizen to do? The problems facing Chicago seem overwhelming. And there is little reprieve in sight. It is beyond us to change our city. But with the power of the Spirit, it is not beyond us to love it. So do we love Chicago? Here are three questions we can ask ourselves to find out:

1. Do we only love the parts of our city that are lovely?

True love does not discriminate. It is without condition. If we find that our only passion for our city is toward its rich culture, amazing food, beautiful parks, dramatic architecture, sandy beaches, dynamic people, etc., then our "love" is really nothing more than self-interested vanity. God certainly invites us to delight in the good of our city, but not at the expense of ignoring what is broken. When was the last time we initiated true friendship with Chicago's many thousands of orphans and widows? When was the last time we visited Lawndale or Englewood to patronize the local businesses or participate in community events? Do we avoid such people and places or engage and love them? Jesus has not loved us because we are lovely. He has loved us to make us lovely. As his followers, we are to go and do likewise.

2. Are we primarily concerned with what Chicago can do for us or what we can do for Chicago?

Many of Chicago's residents only live in the city because its benefits outweigh its drawbacks. They live here for the proximity to high-paying jobs. Or for the energy of youth and culture. Or for the educational opportunities. For these people, leaving the city is always an imminent possibility, always merely a question of whether some other place could offer greater benefits. So when a better job offer emerges, or their kids need better school options, or they grow weary of the urban pace, or they collect their college degree, they bolt for greener pastures. This outlook uses the city without consideration of how to serve it. Because we have everything in Christ, Christians are free from that kind of selfishness. We are free to plant roots. We are free to dig in and love no matter how scorched Chicago's pastures may be.

3. Do we let that minor detail of our own incompetence prevent us from diving into the impossible?

Christians tend to make one of two mistakes: Either we think we have all the answers and act like white knights riding to our city's rescue; or we acknowledge just how clueless and overwhelmed we are and sit on the sidelines. Both are self-focused foolishness. In truth, we are certainly in way over our heads when it comes to mending Chicago's tattered social fabric, but that is exactly where God wants us to be. To be self aware and know our limitations is right. But to wallow in those limitations is ridiculous. We have an awesome and good God, who has proven his love for humanity in sacrificing his Son to solve the sin problem. What do we need with competence when we have a God like that? We are free to run headlong into impossibly difficult situations because God is the author of history. He determines results. We get to fail and he succeeds anyway.

Comments

Renee Says:
Thu, Jun 14th

This is eloquently spoken.

I recently moved back to Chicago after seven years in southern California.  California, too, is broken, but vanity, superficiality, and the natural sunlight and ocean mist lull us into a false sense of security.  Your submission reminds me that while I miss and yearn for that “perfect” SoCal existence, it really is no different than Chicago.  And whether I’m here or there, I need to continue to try making a difference in the world.

Thank you for opening my eyes.

Nick Says:
Thu, Jun 14th

Pastor Mark (and above comment), regardless of leaving Chicago to move to the LA area for graduate school, I have been greatly encouraged to dig in to where I will soon live and take part in the community there, support justice, and live the Gospel as I am called to.

Adam Says:
Mon, Jul 2nd

I appreciate the quote that mentions the two mistakes Christians make.  I was a teacher in low-income communities, and I think teachers made those same two mistakes.  They thought they were there to resurrect the community, or they felt powerless to help it.  I have since learned a different way: pretend like you’re working in an affluent community.

Do we treat the poor the same way we treat the rich?  Or in Chicago terms (I hope my analogy is correct, since I just moved here last week) do we treat northerners the same as we treat southerners from poor neighborhoods?

Nicole Says:
Tue, Jul 3rd

Succinctly and eloquently put, Mark.

What I’m also discovering is that the education and achievement gap between Chicago’s public schools vs. the surrounding suburbs is staggering. Our inner city minority youth are not getting the same education that their white, middle and upper class peers are getting.

What’s worse is the engendered belief that our city’s most high-poverty, high-need schools host children who are incapable of learning.  Many children have internalized this. A student said to me the other day, “why do you want to be with us low-lifes?”

Staggering, heart-breaking injustice right under our noses.

Wanna hear the kicker? I’m teaching them about the Civil Rights Act, the march for freedom, the Chicago school boycott of 1963, and the efforts of Dr. King and students across the country who fought for equality and desegregation in schools (and everywhere).

The school where I teach is in West Englewood/Marquette Park… there are actually some beautiful parks and boulevards there. Thank God, because I discovered today that many of the children never even go beyond a 4 block radius of their homes.

We are called to love. And our city needs it.

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