by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
A few stout individuals mowed nine lots in the inner city from April 1st until… well they haven’t stopped yet. They committed to ten times to raise money to help fund their pilgrimage to China last June (’09). All have continued to go down and mow well beyond their necessary ten times. Over half didn’t have mowers. They picked up trash, chopped, sawed and weed-trimmed. Others brought their push mowers from home and beat the heck out of them on beer bottles, ditches, holes, logs, rebar, half-buried bricks and small trees. Several people got poison ivy over and over.
Still they went. They went to stand along side the poor, the criminal, the forgotten and voiceless. They swam upstream in a world that says ‘forget about the inner city, it’s a lost cause.’ If you haven’t heard Kansas City MO has the highest number of vacant homes in the nation. This is something the City Council has recently reacted to with some kind of committee to buy up these vacant houses – uh huh. Zip code 64128 is the number one killing zip code in the state of Missouri (we mow next to that zip code, 64130). Tall weeds and unkept vacant houses and vacant lots create a downward spiral of neglect and violence (reference the KC Star, Jan. 26, 2009). So we decided to do our part – and raise funds to go stand along side the politically persecuted house church in China. It’s a 2-fer.
As we started the Nine Lots fundraiser/social action idea we discussed the spiritual idea of “Displacement.” Displacement is the intentional disruption of our comfortable lives for the sake of solidarity with the poor and voiceless. More than just helping, displacement means “downward mobility” as a lifestyle choice. Mowing lawns in the inner city isn’t a radical downward displacement, but it is a nice starting point. Mowing took about two hours minimum. It was (is) difficult to lug your mower in your car 35 minutes downtown when you’d like to be doing other things on Saturday morning. During the summer months we met at 7:30 a.m. to avoid the heat and muggers. I had a profound moment of clarity this summer: I absolutely loathe weed trimming. My trimmer breaks an average of four times; ivy salad flies in my face. I truly dislike trimming. After mowing I’d race home and shower in hope of washing away the poison ivy before it got a foothold.
For weeks I’d ask, “Hey does anyone know anyone with a really big commercial mower we could use so we could knock this thing out in less time?” Silence. Now my car trunk is littered with grass clippings. But standing in the street with Jason one hot August Saturday morning I said, “You know, I don’t think we need a big mower. I don’t want a big mower. This is supposed to be inconvenient.” He nodded yes. We’ve all learned something this past summer: the discipline of inconvenience. The hassle is most of the soul-benefit. We have been seduced by the displacement!
It is the pain in the – neck of it that matters most for comfortable distant white suburbanites. The discipline of inconvenience is one part suffering, another part purgation, add in a little penance, stir in a big bunch of obedience and determination, blend in ‘I-made-a-big -promise-to-my-donors” and you’ve got the discipline of inconvenience. Everyone goes about their work silently and steadily… prayerfully. Quietly we do the job. The inconvenience of the job forms an attitude of prayer while you’re doing it. Inconvenience constantly shouts into your head why you are there. Those who can’t figure out why they are there don’t last more than a couple of weeks. And let me clarify: I’ve haven’t been down there nearly as much as some. A Lakelander named Terry jumped in even without raising money for a pilgrimage to China.
I think we need more inconvenient serving opportunities, something obscure and hidden, a hassle and thankless. This is akin to Jesus’ idea of giving your alms in anonimity… “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). I need to weed trim. You need to weed trim (or whatever you loathe). This isn’t just some shallow attempt to ‘build character’ or a sicko thing about social guilt. This is about those who claim to follow Jesus actually following. The Apostle Peter never dreamed that day when he dropped his fishing nets and followed Jesus he’d be crucified upside down for his Lord someday – upside down because he didn’t want to disgrace Jesus’ crucifixion with his own crucifixion. I am not saying that just because we mow lawns in the inner city we well be crucified someday. But I am definitely saying that if we don’t find some inconvenient discipline, some inconvenient point of followership I doubt we will ever seriously surrender to Jesus and be considered a Christian. Besides prayer, out of the discipline of inconvenience flows other benefits: a smart, socially conscious compassion, gratitude and generosity. But those are their own subject.
These words of Garrison Keillor are still some of my favorite: “Give up your good Christian life and come follow Jesus.”