Large cities scare me. Honestly and truly frighten the living daylights out of me. And I've seen a lot of big cities. London, Rome, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Cape Town, and more. Lots more.
When I was a kid, my family would occasionally drive into the city of Johannesburg. We lived about 13 miles from there and before we entered into the city limits my parents would shout "lock the doors!" Very soon after there would be several men, black men, running to our car, trying the door handles in order to steal our car, kidnap us or worse.
I also think my attitude comes from the way my parents behaved in large places. They always seemed to me to be lost and almost incapable of asking directions. There was always a sort of frenzy associated with going anywhere. Even Portland, Oregon, the closest city to where my family settled after our whirlwind tour of the world. My dad would shout at other drivers, and generally act out toward people who were in his way. By the time we reached our destination I was worn to a frenzy. Sick to my stomach with a headache.
Needless to say, I was terrified of going places with my parents. But this feeling followed me into adulthood and it's been tough replacing those terrifying moments in time with soothing tones to heal me. One thing that's helped in my adulthood are maps. I love maps but that's not what I want to tell you.
When I enter a city the first thing I want to find is comfort. A clean place in a decent neighborhood to sleep when the day is done and a nice restaurant to eat some good food. Before I go I ask people, surf the web and buy books to make sure I stay away from the "bad" parts of town and only venture to the "good" or worthy of my senses. I lay out a pathway of places to visit and map out my days with a keen awareness and need for safety at every point. While I walk around or take a taxi, bus or subway I look at people to assess whether they might be of harm to me. Often, in a particularly nice city, I fall completely in love with the area and am ready to move because I'm so comfortable there.
It's hard for me to imagine, however, that my life at home could be fraught with some of the terrors of travel. I've hunkered down in Keizer, Oregon and here I am happy and comfortable in my little nest I call home.
But lately there has been a debate about putting a Wal-Mart about half a mile from our house. For some reason this brings up frightening images to my sweet middle-class sensibilities and I'll do pretty much whatever I can to stop such a horrible enterprise near my home. Why? Well, here is what I've come up with:
A city should be a place of refuge, culture, safety. A place where I can find spirituality and build my home and thrive. To me, Wal-Mart brings up so many awful images. Greed on the part of the developer for one and, I'm ashamed to say, a little bit of class snobbery on my part. Who will be moving into the new apartment complex that will accompany the new store? What type of people will come shop? We've all seen the photos of the odd folks dressed in crazy outfits in our emails. Or am I the only one who gets those? This new development will most likely bring the value of my home crashing down around my knees and my sense of safety will go challenged. The traffic will certainly increase around my neighborhood and that just gets my gut wrenching. The ease of getting on the freeway in less than two minutes will be gone along with so many other things I enjoy about this area.
Basically, what I'm saying is I do not want to see violence, excess, racism, lack of morals or a sense that one could create their own morality in my small city that seem to accompany large buildings. What I want is a refuge and it seems that goal which has been available to me for years is being taken away from me by a structure and everything that goes with it.
You may say that I'm over thinking this but stay with me a moment. To me this is like being moved to another place without leaving my back yard. I'll give you an example if you will.
Every year we have two families of swallows who return every spring to feather their nests in our bird houses made especially for them. It is such a joy to watch these beautiful creatures swoop down and play while they work getting ready to hatch their family. But every year the sparrows come and try to steal the nests from the swallows. I use my "BOO" technique and my husband uses his pellet gun technique to rid our back yard of the pests. But last year we had starlings here. Starlings are the gangsters of birds. These guys came right up to our back door and pooped all over our patio and ate our cat's food and squawked at us and, yes, menaced the swallows away from their homes. We finally put a tarp over everything and nobody got to enjoy the patio.
Imagine living like that in a city where you never felt safe? I'm probably overreacting about a Wal-Mart going in but to me it's the beginning of the end and I want to leave to move farther out and away to the country where the tendrils of ugliness can't reach me.
So here is my real point and the way that God is teaching me at the moment. Rather than fight the city, how can I become interested in what may come my way? What can I do to ensure peace and prosperity regardless of what or who moves in next door?
When the Israelites were held captive in Babylon God told them in Jeremiah 29 to stay and prosper to seek to love and serve, God says in verse seven "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. And then in verse 11 "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Such a reassuring verse.
I'm going to be praying that God will use the situation I'm in to His glory. I don't live in a ghetto. Far from it. But I hope and pray that if God placed me in an area I didn't much like I'd be able to thrive because of His love and care for me so that I can hold out Christ as the ultimate satisfaction of life.