Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Abilene?

Still being in Abilene after college graduation 12 years ago, old college friends assume I'm here to be part of "the scene". I guess that means the church-of-christ (coc) scene and/or the religious culture scene. Because, why else would someone honestly remain in Abilene after college graduation. A good paying job? The church scene?

Far from it.

If anything, the fair mother city's thick religious culture forces me farther away from this city's prevailing personality more and more daily.

"Abilene's the place to be trained to become a missionary. Not BE a missionary." Or...that's the vibe I read from those who were schooled at one of the three religious universities here.

If given the green light from the CEO, I'd be outta here in no time flat. I think.

Sure, despite her pathetic wages, the fair mother city has a very respectable cost of living and above average quality of life. It also seems like a descent place to raise kids. But I don't know what would make a town a bad place to raise children. One with sharp objects laying around? I don't know.

I'm here for one thing and one thing only. The CEO told me to blend in with the scenery, be real (whatever that means) and befriend the poor.

I'm not the poor's answer to anything.

Far, far from it.

I'm not sure what the hell I am.

In fact, just when i think I've got "ministry to the poor" all figured out (like I was some kind of self-appointed expert or something), my whole paradigm gets drop-kicked and all that I've learned gets thrown out the window.

But the fair mother city has more than her share of poor people around. Every city does.

Do you live in Abilene and not notice the poor? I challenge you to exclusively hang out on the northern half of town for a week or so (that means no visiting "Little Dallas" ie: the mall, Buffalo Gap Rd, Southwest Dr. area). Use your feet or bike as transportation. Or drive on as many minor thoroughfares as possible (N. Mockingbird, Grape, Pine). Go to grocery stores like Lawrence Bros on Ambler, or United on N. 10th & Willis or HEB...especially around the first 5 days of the month (that's when the govt issues checks to people on disability and social security).

The religious culture of Abilene has produced a) many churches and variants of religious non-profs, b) many church trends, c) political struggles within the churches, d) new church terminology and big words out of the mouths of local seminary students and their respecting churches.

But none of this benefits the poor and thus, kingdom of the CEO. Or so that's my input on this subject. Take it or leave it.

The poor do not exist at the fault of Abilene's religious culture. But I suspect there's a greater chasm between the poor and the church people because of this culture.

Therefore, I know the CEO has kept me here for something along the lines of "hanging with the poor". For the most part, they are an unreached people group.

But some days I don't have a clue of what I'm supposed to do about it.

I'm still listening to the CEO. And making things up as I go along.


Anonymous said...

Hahaha, I have the same stigma having gone to Ohio Valley University (another c of c school), and still living in P-burg.

jason said...

I so appreciate this post. I wonder, am I contributing merely to the Christian culture? Or am I sent by the CEO to the unreached (esp. the poor)? Shane Claiborne [Irresistible Revolution] seems to see himself as living with the poor in community and being a "missionary" to the church, or the Christian culture. Jesus, of course, did a lot of hanging with the poor, yet speaking to the human powers within Judaism.

Sometimes, when I read your blog I feel like you are a missionary to me. Since I am in school right now learning about God's perspective and his attentiveness to the margins and since I also spend a lot of time with "church people", I sometimes feel, in small ways, like I am a missionary to the local Christians. My conclusion is that all the saints play many small, humble roles in God's huge kingdom.

Agent B said...

HW - never heard of Ohio Valley U. This must mean I am finally out of the coc loop. Woo-hoo! I have arrived.

Jason - thanks for the encouraging words. I've ben wanting to read that Claiborne book. Bad.

Mark said...

B - I totally commend you on honest reflections about your life and purpose here in A-town. I believe your words about the many unreached in this city is very true (someone tallied up all the pew sitters and discovered there still about 80,000 that don't "go to church" here in the buckle of the Bible belt). Most of these unreached are those who are different than your middle-class Joe. I'm thankful someone is actually making inroads and friendship with people different than himself, rather than some yokel just spouting on about how "someone outta go give them pagans a talking to". Thanks for putting your walk and your talk together. And thanks for putting your talk online where others can be inspired.

Matthew said...

The poor do not exist at the fault of Abilene's religious culture. But I suspect there's a greater chasm between the poor and the church people because of this culture.

Likewise, I wonder what anybody can do about *that*. I sure hope somebody will figure it out, 'cause I'm not having much luck.

Agent B said...

Mark - thanks for the kind words.

Matthew - I, like you, tried the "mend the gap" approach between church and poor. I quit trying several years ago as I started to believe that mending that gap was never my true assignment within the poverty culture. Basically, mending that gap (for me) appears to be a flawed solution from the start. It revolves around "let's make them like us".

There are many cultural reasons for that gap. Mainly: church culture is so intertwined with middle class culture/values. It just is.

Sure, there are several local churches "for the poor" (shudder...don't get me started). But ultimately, these churches "for the poor" are run by the middle class church culture and it eventually becomes (or always has been) business as usual (status quo).

So, so much more to write on that topic...

Anyway, if you're trying to bridge that proverbial gap, all the best to you. I mean that. And keep in touch.

agent wife said...

I always assumed growing up that I was on the side of the disciples, following Jesus. Then one day it dawned on me that I had more in common with the dreaded pharisees and teachers of the law. I'd grown up in church, always gone, if missed, at least took the supper at home and sang a song and said a prayer to make up for the miss, went to a Bible teaching school and was so very churchy. Had a friend who told me I never wrote letters except to talk about church (she was not following Christ and I didn't know how to share him without the church culture)- ouch!! Didn't know how to hang with my own friends at a bar or club, still feel uncomfortable around people cussing, boozing, screaming... I've taken my child to a pool in the inner city here where there are unsavory characters in the parking lot, where the parents yell at kids, where most the kids are just there by themselves 'cause it only cost 50cents for all day babysitting. Very uncomfortable at times although it's not unsafe, just soooo different and unchurchy. Not sure what I'm supposed to do there, maybe just pray, share our snacks with the hungry, unparented and learn what it means to be in the world and not of it. Best training ground I've ever been to. To those in Abilene, open in the summer on S. Cockrell st.

Will Spina said...

I have your green light. Maybe you could move up here and work for God (building his house with us, me, you) in the land of no Christians where the cost of living is astronomical and the pagans are plentiful. Maybe the fact that God provides for you on time in the low cost of living environment is a sure indication he would provide for you anywhere. And maybe just maybe the gardening is good here too.
Maybe we could together cut through the churchianity crap and get onto the business of Christianity. Just a thought.