the roller-coaster ride of incarnational living

During a recent conversation with a family member, I was asked to describe the various neighborhoods around us in Downtown Phoenix. I described at least three local neighborhoods as “if we took you there, you would think we’re crazy for not wanting to live there.” I didn’t know any other way to describe these neighboring communities. They are cleaner, more developed, trendier, and safer-feeling that the neighborhood we currently live in. To the average person, our decision to live in our neighborhood doesn’t make sense socially, economically, and physically (ie. safety concerns). To top off the insanity, the demographics of these neighborhoods are more like us: white, affluent, educated, & established. Ironically, it’s these very qualities that led us NOT to live in those neighborhoods and to instead settle into a much messier, less safe, diverse, and chaotic neighborhood filled with more people who are not “like us”, than those who are.

At the core of the communitasPHX movement is an interest in making Jesus accessible to all people. Our clear calling is to cultivate a movement that exposes our world to the radical beauty of the Kingdom of God and to the reality that this same Kingdom is available to all. To do this, we need to be in and amongst the people to whom Jesus is currently inaccessible. For sure, in a country built on religious freedom, all have the right to pursue the faith of their choice, but social systems and cultural realities exist that render some outside “the current reach of the church”. These are the people that communitasPHX primarily exists for. Further, in anticipation of a future-fulfilled Kingdom of God that is sure to be multi-racial and multi-cultural, we want to now live amongst a diversity of ideas, perspectives, cultural understandings, races, and socio-economic realities.

It was these postures that led us to center communitasPHX out of the Coronado district in Downtown Phoenix, a community that is filled with white & hispanic, gay & straight, young & elderly, rich & poor, religious & secular, and various other peoples. Living in the middle of such diversity has been an amazing joy, but it has challenged us to our core. We have hosted parties where all people can be (and are) valued, no matter what their sexual preference, race, or socio-economic status. We have talked with neighbors about caring for each other & the neighborhood itself in creative ways. We have embraced those stuck in lives of poverty and learned from their experience. We have discussed the pain of the past with neighbors and been able to offer a hope for the future. We have made neighbors feel welcome and have been made to feel welcome by others. We have let those who feel shut out of a relationship with God know that we want to help them reconnect with Him. In all my years of ministry, I am most fulfilled as I experience these “kingdom moments”.

But to be honest and fair, living in the messiness of diversity and of difference can be really painful as well. We have listened as the African-american mother-of-two on our street explain how her husband left the family earlier in the morning. We have cried with a neighbor whose wounds are still fresh from pain of losing a young daughter decades ago. We’ve experienced death: as both a visiting family member of a neighbor and a homeless man have died on our street. We’ve struggled with the indifference toward others that some can’t seem to shake. We’ve sought to help those living with addiction and been devastated by their inability to get help. We’ve felt lonely and powerless to really make a difference in the messiness and chose that so many people’s lives are characterized by.

Sharing life this way with people, especially people whose lives look different than ours, is really difficult. It is a roller-coaster with some unbelievable highs and some absolutely depressing lows. We recognize that these ups and downs represent the fact that the Kingdom of God is “already, but not yet fully” here. We catch glimpses of the radical beauty of God’s reign, but more often we experience the pain, the brokenness, and the messiness that sin has caused in our world. Were we not aware of this (and able to handle it), we’d have no business engaging in this sort of incarnational mission. We are people of light in a world of darkness, and as we build relationships with those God has put us in proximity with, we must celebrate the glimpses of the Kingdom every chance we get to allow us to handle the depth of pain and sorrow we walk with people through.

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