Sunday, March 23, 2008

Are you too happy?

I was journaling tonight and paged back to the summer of 2003 when I was living in a nice three bedroom house in Andersonville, on the north side of Chicago, with my two daughters. The house had a great deck and an above ground swimming pool in the back yard. It was a beautiful old home on a quiet street with nice shade trees. Andersonville had changed drastically since we moved there in 1988. Clark Street was booming and property values had escalated. There was a garden walk in our neighborhood every summer. The neighborhood was clean and beautiful with many great restaurants within easy walking distance. My girls, who are now 24 and 26, talk often about how much they miss living there.

In my journal I read about how much I was enjoying the summer, daily walks to the lake with my dog Charlie, hot afternoons in the pool with the kids, evenings grilling dinner on the deck. It's a sharp contrast to where I'm living now on the west side of Chicago. I love East Garfield Park and my little apartment, but there are empty lots and boarded up buildings everywhere and lots of trash, broken bottles and cracked sidewalks. It can be depressing. I realized as I read my journal tonight that I was happier living in Andersonville and was beginning to feel sorry for myself, like maybe I had made a bad choice. After all, shouldn't I be happy?

Then I watched the film, When Did I See You Hungry, from the San Damiano Foundation. I rented it from Netflix. It shows the poorest of the world's poor, living in squaller, juxtaposed with statistics and quote after quote from Scripture and from Christians about loving Jesus in the poor. I wept at the sight of a leper, a woman, who looked grotesque from the disease, a disease that isolates people because no one wants to look at them. When asked how she was doing, she said, "Very well, Praise the Lord."

And I'm not happy!!

The producer of the film said, after taking pictures all day in the Payatas garbage dump outside Manila, that he went back to his room and cried.

I don't think we are supposed to seek out suffering, but when we walk with the poor, we do suffer. Life is easier when we avoid them and the communities where they live. I don't think everyone is called to move into a slum, but I think it is important that we let our hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of God.

Walter Brueggemann in his book, The Prophetic Imagination, defines passion as “the capacity and readiness to care, to suffer, to die and to feel”. He says, the world’s economy is “designed to keep people satiated so that they do not notice." Its politics is intended to "block out the cries of the denied ones. Its religion is to be an opiate so that no one discerns misery alive in the heart of God.”

I am certainly not suffering by living in East Garfield Park. I may have felt happier in Andersonville, but here, I am growing in my capacity to care, to suffer, and to feel.
"That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings."
                 - Philippians 3:10


Chris said...

Arloa, Thank you for this. It means a lot to me, and I haven't had the opportunity to live in a place like Andersonville. It's sometimes easy to let our culture trip the circuit breaker in my brain and send me back to unhappiness with this warm, somewhat secure basement apartment in lawndale. Sure, everyone looks at me strangely when I go for a run (Training for that marathon!), but I am starting to foster relationships here. Even if I am only here for a season, growth is more desirable than happiness.

Jack Clark said...

Thank you Arloa for being brave enough to live the kind of life we should be living... whether living in the hood or not. I immediately went to NetFlix and added "When Did I See You Hungry".

p.s. You may remember me from FEFC back in the 90s? I'm married with 2 kids and living in Jefferson Park now.

Arloa Sutter said...

Of course I remember you Jack. Thanks for your kind comment. If you ever get over to the west side, stop by for a visit!

Sarah Halter said...

I'm struggling with this right now too, living in central Detroit. I've been counting the costs lately instead of focusing on Jesus and on my neighbors. Sometimes I wish for an easy comfortable life, but 1) I know I'm not called to be comfortable, and 2) Having seen what I've seen, I know I would never be fully comfortable again, even in easy place.

Thanks for some good thoughts.