I had the joy of accompanying one of the spring break service trips organized for the Chapel by SALT in cooperation with the Harre Union. Five students and I went to Detroit for the first week of break. We talked to a lot of people, did some work and saw lots of things; some of them hope inducing, some of them heartbreaking.
Among the many conversations that we had that week, two continue to stick with me. These conversations happened on the very same day and are striking in their contrast with one another. The first was with a leader of a Detroit congregation. We were hearing from him in the nave of their beautiful and beautifully maintained building. Members of this congregation had just hosted us for lunch and now we were being given a tour. As the man described the challenges of maintaining a once-neighborhood church in Detroit he said. “The problem with Detroit is that community is dead. It started dying right after the War [WWII], when they started building the freeways and everyone moved out to the suburbs.”
The second conversation happened over dinner in a fantastic
Mexican restaurant. Our conversation partner was the director of a
micro-granting organization that has been active in Detroit for just a little
over two years. This organization started out as a funding mechanism for public
art projects but has been adapting itself into the role of funding community
development initiatives. They host their events in raw, repurposed buildings
with tables made out of doors and concrete blocks. Describing her enthusiasm
for her work, our conversation partner said, “You know, the thing that keeps me
in Detroit is the community. Community is just so strong here. People are
really committed to one another.”
And so the six of us wondered: “Who’s right? Maybe both are. How does one’s experience and circumstance impact one’s outlook?”
Now, as I prepare to enter Holy Week, these questions are taking another shape: “Are there ways of living and attitudes that better anticipate the Resurrection than others?”
All through Jesus’ ministry, there are miraculous signs that are wonders in themselves; but more than this, they are anticipations of Jesus’ own resurrection. The raising of Lazarus in John 11 is perhaps among the most poignant. If actions in the world before the first Easter can be interpreted as anticipations of the Resurrection, is it possible that occasions of renewal in our own time might be regarded as continuing echoes of the same resurrection of Jesus? And if we live in a time of such resurrection-echoes, is it not possible that we, who confess to believe in the resurrection of our own bodies and the reordering of all of creation, might not interpret our own circumstances in such a way that we expect renewal and rebirth, not because we are so creative, but because God wills it.
This isn’t merely blind optimism, which seeks to ignore what’s wrong and hold on to hope. Our micro-granting friend holds her meetings in buildings others would regard as abandoned, even dangerous. Certainly she is aware that things are not as they used to be, nor as they should be. But she is also certainly aware of many things that are becoming what they could be. To me, she seemed to be aware of the Resurrection.
Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.