By Francisco Herrera, GLC Theologian-in-Residence
In 1981 my mom moved my family to a neighborhood in a Metropolitan Kansas City called Roeland Park. With the our house sold, custody hearings (over me) still raging, and the lives of her children utterly shattered, she drove us (me six ears old, and my brother Nicholas and sister Patricia, 15 and 16 respectively) across the state line from Missouri into Kansas to seek little bit of peace and distance, as well as live in a county with one of the best public school systems in the nation. Similarly, as a solid middle-class and working-class area of Kansas City, it had quite a bit of affordable housing - certainly affordable enough that a single mother with inconsistent child support payments, a part-time job at 7/11, and three children could rent a three-bedroom house in the 1980's. And so in this neighborhood I remained from the age of six to about two weeks after my eleventh birthday.
And during my first walk down Lyndale Avenue, in search of hot cakes and new friends at the local McDonald's, is when that ‘Roeland Park’ feeling first came back.
I saw the apartment buildings and houses, some a little worse for wear, some near-perfect. As I passed out event fliers the next day, I spent time talking with people passing the summer afternoon sitting on apartment building steps, or relaxing in lawn chairs on their front porches. With each of these strolls I saw something that I only see in communities like this - communities that are often misunderstood, communities where people sometimes have a hard time making regular mortgage and utility payments, neighborhoods where people have to rely on each other for child care or hot meals because some folks just can't afford to take off of work.
What was that thing that I saw? Dignity. Simple dignity. Something real and unpretentious and true as a summer sunset. Dignity - along almost every step of the 15-minute walk from Gethsemane to McDonald's, and along every step of my not-as-direct walks home.
I have never been fond of any kind of talk about "God's Plan" - as if the Almighty had layed out a malicious game of Twister wherein human souls had to contort themselves every-which-way in order to win salvation, the slightest false move tumbling them through the spotted mat and into The Pit. If there's one thing scripture makes clear is that humanity has been upsetting God's plans from the very beginning - the Garden of Eden, the Covenant with Abraham, the Kings of Israel, and the list goes on and on - but that despite this, God has never failed us, even after our almost spiteful insistence to stray far from what They teach us. And when we come back, like the father of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), God comes running - tears in their eyes, joy in their heart, and so overcome with relief and love as to appear almost dotty.
And this is the God that I know is at work among people of such dignity, of such life, and resilience. Violence happens in the community, and though they may grieve, it doesn't keep them from inviting their friends over to their backyard for some barbecue and a couple of beers. Concern for the future may dampen the mood of an entire family, even their ability to hope, but a good neighbor or two is never so far away that they won't receive reminder that good times are still possible. And just as many who live in this part of Minneapolis have long learned to walk side-by-side, so too does Christ walk side-by-side with them, and it is my great joy to be doing the same with the members of this community these next two months.
And so for this, I will be naming this blog series "All Along Lyndale." Hope you enjoy it.