Standing Between Two Worlds Pt. I | Alton Park & St. Elmo
I stand between two worlds.
Nothing new for many people in this country. Refugees, immigrants, and first/second generation children of immigrant parents find themselves in an identical situation. It is fascinating to stand between two worlds. Bilingual communication is necessary and cultural conflict is unavoidable. For those who are born into it the transition between languages, communities, and cultural expectations is seamless. It requires little effort and becomes an entirely subliminal behavior. Sounds pretty good, right? Cool. Real cool, until conflict arises and you find yourself caught in between two worlds that once provided a privileged freedom.
I am not a first generation American of an immigrant family. I am not a refugee, I did migrate to Chattanooga. In many respects I discovered a new world, filled with hopes, fears, and an immense amount of uncertainty. I will never know the plight of the refugee or the integration of the immigrant. However, I do believe I’ve caught a glimpse of what it’s like to stand between two worlds. Upon moving to Chattanooga and discovering the existence of racial and socio-economic segregation I quickly discovered the unique opportunity to plant Bridge City Community between two worlds - the worlds of black/white, stability/chaos, peace/violence, wealth/poverty, privilege/discrimination.
Feel free to read previous posts or check out how BCC came to be here if you’re interested in the long story. I don’t need to re-hash the contributing factors which influenced us to intentionally plant in between the neighborhoods of Alton Park and St. Elmo. Suffice it to say that positioning ourselves between these two disparate worlds offered an opportunity for reconciliation in Jesus Christ. Not to say that opportunity has vanished like the mist that settles in the valley below Lookout Mountain; however, the sun has burned most of it off resulting in clarity.
I am a white man that spends the vast majority of his time in a predominately black neighborhood. This, in and of itself, presents sufficient challenges. Through commitment, consistency, and communication, however, I have developed a certain amount of trust, respect, and acceptance. The result is that I am able to move fairly freely throughout the projects without fear or trepidation. Actually, I find myself most comfortable there amongst the row houses, dope dealers, and corner stores. I worked hard to learn new language, customs, and cultural nuances. Humility was integral to overcoming the deserved skepticism and reluctance to accept me as a sojourner.
I am a white man in a predominately white city. This, in and of itself, present very few challenges. With very little effort I developed a certain amount of trust and respect. Certainly, with no effort I was accepted as another productive citizen of Scenic City society. From the onset I was able to move without suspicion throughout the city’s green spaces, hipster gastropubs, and boutiques. Ironically, I often find myself uncomfortable in the very places where I most fit in racially and socioeconomically. Very little was required to accustom my ears to the southern drawl and my palate to the sweet tea, biscuits, and barbecue. Second to none by the way!
I stand between these two worlds. I move seamlessly between these two worlds. I can enter one and leave the other unabated. For most, this simply isn’t true. Entire populations are demographic prisoners - trapped by cultural norms and systemic segregation. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes wafts through the industrial orange smell right now, There is nothing new under the sun. None of this is new. I hope it doesn’t surprise you or shock you. What should surprise you is how comfortable and content most are to avoid standing between two worlds. Rather than owning up to the harsh realities of reconciliation most choose to ignore the opportunities. Instead of crossing tracks and climbing over fences most are more than happy to erect new ones, exchanging neighbors for newspapers.
Ask any child of an immigrant family. Ask any refugee. Am I American? Am I Syrian? Am I Mexican, American, Mexican-American? Standing between two worlds is a weird existence wrought with uncertainty, guilt, and a sense of isolation. Very few understand the loneliness and even fewer are willing to join you in existing in a state of perpetual limbo. Where do I belong? It is precisely in this state of limbo where Christians are instructed to exist. The Good News of reconciliation with God came through the birth of the God-Man Jesus Christ. He knows the plight of the refugee. He understands the identity crisis of the immigrant. He experienced the isolation of standing between two worlds.
Jesus was the perfect Son of God in an entirely broken world. Jesus was the source of comfort for suffering communities. Jesus was the sacrifice to overcome the selfishness of our sinful nature. He still is. Jesus stood between two worlds. He moved freely between both. He was bilingual in the Breath of God and the vocalizations of human chords. He was afraid. He was filled with trepidation at the journey to the cross. He felt lonely and isolated.
Jesus was rejected by his neighbors. Jesus was rejected by his Father. He knew he would never experience total acceptance. It didn’t stop him from standing between two worlds and bringing reconciliation to them both.
I stand between two worlds. Will you stand with me?