I wrote this back in early 2013, as a love letter to the neighborhood and community I was serving in at that time. By 2013, I had served in Brentwood for 5 years. I had seen a lot of failures and successes, kids ending up in jail and people moving out to escape and parents beating up their kids. The year I wrote this, a man high on meth broke into a house, and when a teenage boy who lived in that house confronted him, the man shot the high school student and killed him. My heart was broken again and again in this place. As of now (late 2016) I am still living here and doing ministry here. I can’t describe how much I love this people, and I want to badly for this place to shed the label “felony flats” and for my people to be who they were made to be. Here’s what I wrote, and I still feel it today.
It’s been my life’s honor to live in this part of the city, in this time of my life. It’s in the subtext throughout everything I write – my love for this city, for the way people think and talk, for what they want, for the things they complain and fight against. I love it. I love these people. I can’t put it into words – there aren’t enough words. It’s my very own son, my very own daughter, the city as a collective, living, loving people. I remember moving into the city and meeting people who were living together, as a couple, for the purpose of making rent. And two, maybe more, families sharing tiny homes because they had nowhere else to go. I experienced family, in the absence of legal, traditional bounds, again and again, because the obligation, sentiment, and cultural expectations were distilled down to nothing else but intentional love. The Christianese I had learned, aiming for good concepts, were already lived and demonstrated out of sheer necessity. You, the people of southeast Portland, taught me about “community” and “hospitality” and “grace” by just being who you are – you people were Jesus to me, even before you met the man yourself. It was a mess, though. I still feel like a dinosaur in charge of a preschool, breaking things every time I move or open my mouth. I can’t always articulate well what it is that’s Jesus, what’s worth affirming in the city, and what it is that’s keeping this city so broken. My beloved city, I am telling you that you are not living the way you’re supposed to live, but it’s not the way that you think.
I would say this to you as a Brentwood kid, but you can replace Brentwood for whatever neighborhood you’re in. It’s the same story. I’m talking to you about real things, spiritual things. Spiritual things, as in, the real-er than real things, the heavier things behind what we can’t see. Your story, I’m telling you your story. Your story is that you had these chains on. These chains were doing what you were told by the ‘other kingdom’, the one that was keeping you enslaved. You didn’t know you were a slave, you didn’t believe you were a slave — you might not know that, you still might not believe that even now, but you were. It was this spiritual slavery, it kept every part of you in chains. Your heart, your mind, your eyes, your truest desires, your love was all in these spiritual, real chains. These were the chains that kept you from wanting what your truest self wanted. The chains that kept you trying to fill that spiritual hunger with another thing, or more sex, or more of the things that make you hungrier every time you eat. This slavery is the world that wants to exploit you in every way it possibly can. It’s the type of slavery that keeps people powerless.
What I’m saying now is this. If you had ‘spirit eyes’ you would see that these chains are gone. You’re free. That ‘other kingdom’ that I was telling you about? You don’t belong to that one anymore, you aren’t owned by them, they don’t tell you what you want anymore. But everyone around you is going to keep telling you, those chains are still there. You’re trapped. You’re stuck. That hell you’re living in? That’s normal. Who’s fault is it? Name it. Yours, mine, the system, society. Keep doing like the rest of us because we are all stuck in it.
I’m telling you, that’s a lie!
See what happened to you, Brentwood kid, is you used to have those spiritual chains weighing you down, but now that you don’t, everything you do is different. It might take a while for you to notice, but you’re changing, and you’ve changed.
Why the Brentwood piece? I’ll explain. The people around you still have their chains. Some people want to keep their chains, they’ll fight you for it, they’ll try to put your chains back on. But you’re free. You are spiritually free. You could end up in prison. Addicted. Still addicted. All kinds of crippled, or sick, or lost. But you’re free. You are part of this free Kingdom. You belong to, and you are totally and completely free to be with God.
Let me tell you a story. Moses was born of God’s people, the Israelites. Moses’s people were in slavery by the Egyptians. The Bible tells us that the Israelite’s prayers rose to heaven, where God heard them, and he remembered his promises to his people. He remembered who he was, as God and as their God, and he remembered who they were to him. God sent Moses to lead them out of slavery. When he went to his people and told them, there’s a way out of your slavery, they fought him and complained. They weren’t willing to pay the price, the natural price, to get to the better stuff – their freedom. Moses kept going, and he got them out of slavery. And they still complained. They complained to Moses, and they complained to God who sent Moses.
I am telling you, this is you. There’s a Moses call on your life. All these people. Everyone you see, they’re in chains. They might not know it. They definitely won’t see it. They won’t believe it if you explain it to them, they wouldn’t even believe it if God himself was explaining it to them. I am telling you this. You are now a free man, and you get to use your words to move the spiritual – and God used words to create the world in the first place – your words will set your people free. And these are your people.
I keep saying Brentwood because that’s who this whole thing is about. If I could just pay a dollar amount, or blood, put in the hours to free Brentwood from this slavery, but it’s not that. It’s true, real, spiritual stuff — it’s this spiritual bondage that can only be broken when Jesus is spoken to these people. Then the kingdom of darkness will fall, and people will walk away from their addictions and their hopelessness and their lives and hearts and spirits will be healed. Real healing.
You get to be Moses to your neighborhood. You won’t be welcomed, you won’t be celebrated before during or after you lead your people to freedom, but you must. God has shown you the first part of your story, all of creation, all of history leading up to this moment. God made your redemption story, where your chains are broken and you are set free. Now I’m telling you the story of your future. You will go into your neighborhood and you will speak Jesus to them, and your words will free them from slavery.