A Path Towards Urban Renewal: Peaceableness

In the previous post, I began to talk about my view of what urban renewal ought to begin with; a proper worldview. This doesn’t mean having a perfect worldview, but it does assume certain things. There’s no way to true renewal apart from a God-centered worldview, a set of lenses that sees God’s heart for people, neighborhoods, cities, and nations. This means at the core or urban renewal is a confrontation with ourselves and the world views that live by that need to be challenged. We all want the world to look a certain way, and we all have our opinions and judgements, but few of us live our lives in line with those opinions and do not want to be judged with the same standards of judgements by which we judge others.

So renewal begins with us, asking ourselves, what kind of people do we need to be in order to resist the destruction that our prejudices and judgements create? What are the virtues of true renewal? Virtue number one is to be people of peace and to be peaceable with God, ourselves, people, and the non-human creation. To begin, let’s get a biblical understanding of what peace is.

In 1 Timothy 3:2-3 Paul writes about what it looks like to be an approved overseer of the church: An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable (other translations use “not quarrelsome), free from the love of money. (NASB).

So peaceable in this text has the understanding that it is not looking for a fight. The word “quarrel” is often times seen as an argument, but it actually refers to an “angry” argument. Someone who is quarrelsome, is not just someone who is looking for an argument, but someone who is angry and looking to beat people in arguments. Arguments and disagreements are bound to happen in life, but looking for arguments in anger, so that you can win and prove yourself to be right is to be quarrelsome, or not peaceable.

James speaks of peaceableness as a key ingredient to the wisdom from above: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18, NASB)

Hebrews 12:11 tells us that righteousness is a “peaceful” fruit of loving disciplines, which implies peace-making is not always passive.

From the very words of Jesus; Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

This is one of the main tenants of discipleship, to be a peacemaker, to move into places where peace does not exist and to display what it looks like.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Mark 9:50: “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” To be at peace with others, true peace, is to be salty and useful. But what does true peace look like? It doesn’t always look like we think it does.

Jesus says something in Luke 12 that stirs the pot and moves us into more questions: Luke 12:51: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” What’s Jesus doing here. Is he contradicting himself? I thought one of His names was “Prince of Peace”?

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who says often, “Peace be with you”, knows that for true peace to be made, there must be a stirring, a realization that we are not alright and all right. Peaceableness then sometimes entails bringing to light that which others want to corruptly keep hidden… this will cause division and anger, but peace will prevail eventually.

Maybe an understanding of shalom will help in this discussion. Shalom is a Hebrew word that has been translated in English as the word peace. But shalom is a loaded word in the Hebrew language. Shalom does means peace, but it means more than that; peace with justice, universal peace, flourishing of all creation, the way things are supposed to be. Shalom is one of those words that we learn what it means the more we see/realize the absence of it. Where shalom is absent, we begin to grieve the way things were supposed to be and then we receive a new set of lenses with which to view and interpret life because of that experience.

To be peaceable is to be shalomic, displaying the way things were supposed to be when God created the heavens and the earth and all of the life that inhabits planet earth. Where shalom is absent, we are called to move into those places to display and model it, to be peaceable, not quarrelsome. To learn the discipline of living in the tension of disagreements and bringing light to those who are not at peace. To be able to navigate difficult friendships, networks, differing political parties and beliefs. However, being a presence of peace will often disturb first. It’s like turning on really bright lights in a dark room when people are sleeping or just waking up; angry shouts are hurled at the one who turned the lights on.

I have a friend who shared with me a time when he was a young leader and he tagged along with his mentor to attend a board meeting. Little did my friend know that he was being brought to a firing squad that wanted to crush his mentor. Let’s give his mentor the name Frank. There was tension in the organization and many decisions were made that hurt people. When they arrived to the meeting, the board members started out quickly by verbally bashing Frank and the blame game began.

My friend goes on to share all of the nasty things that were said about Frank, and all along he knew that most of them were twisted lies and half truths. He was sitting there waiting for Frank to blast them with the real facts about what had happened, but after the verbal assaults stopped, Frank asked the board if there was anyone else who was angry at him and had anything to share. Another guy then spoke up and shared more of his frustrations about the situation.
After everyone got their anger off their chests, Frank very sincerely began apologizing for the hurt that he caused them during the conflict and disagreements and began asking each of them if they would forgive him. One by one, these angry men received his apology and offered forgiveness, then there was a long pause of silence. Then one of the board members spoke up and said, “You know what, we all just sat here and blamed and blasted Frank, but none of us took responsibility for our roles in this mess. Frank, you have been above reproach in this mess, and always took responsibility. We are the guilty ones for using you as the scape goat. Would you forgive me for being a part of that?”

Frank forgave him, and then once again, one by one, these grown men were confessing their faults in the conflict, and with tears, forgiveness and reconciliation took place, and the way things were supposed to be began to take form. Peaceableness is a transformative power that God desires to use to restore individuals, families, neighborhoods, cities, and nations. Frank employed peaceableness in this meeting instead of it’s opposite virtue; contentiousness.

The late Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for his peaceful protest amongst his enemies. In one of his essays, “Non-violoence: The Only Road to Freedom,” King says that the way to shalom “will be accomplished by persons who have the courage to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than inflict suffering on others.” King called for the Black community to match their most bitter enemy’s capacity to inflict suffering on to them by enduring suffering; to match their enemy’s most vicious anger towards them with God’s most extravagant love for their enemies. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).

In Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger say this about contentiousness: “Like a parasite living on a host, contentiousness feeds on rage and rancor, antipathy and animosity, to fan the fire of discord and accelerate the spiral of violence.” (214).

Peaceable people look for non-violent ways to address conflict, although I do not believe this means that there is never violent ways to deal with evil. Peaceable people don’t deal with others in stereotypes or labels, rather they seek to know people beyond hot topic issues. Peaceable people expose the empty promises of the worldviews of consumerism and materialism not by loud arguments, but by lives of simplicity and contentment. Peaceable people know when to say enough. Peaceable people are essential oils to the soul of humanity and the changing tides of culture. Peaceable people seek peace with God, themselves, people and the non-human creation with equal fervor. Peaceable people are part of God’s plan for urban renewal in cities throughout the world.

Renewing Urban Renewal

Urban Renewal is a phrase that, for the last 50-60 years or so, has referred to the government program that wanted to revitalize urban slums. The renewal process included demolishing old or run-down buildings, constructing newer housing, or adding in features like a theater or stadium. Urban renewal is usually undergone for the purposes of persuading wealthier individuals to come live in a particular area where land owners, years earlier, left the neighborhood but held on to their property.

In the 1940’s this government program became a nationwide push to clear, rebuild, and redevelop slums. Although there has been good things that have come out of this program, critics of the urban renewal project have contended that although they bulldoze slums, urban renewal programs often have led to their replacement by office buildings and apartment homes for the well-to-do. The critique with hindsight has seen that “renewal” was seen through the lens of a Westerner Capitalistic mindset that paid little attention to culture, personal needs, and aesthetic beauty.

For instance, you may have heard of the phrase, “the projects” when referring to government housing in a “rough” neighborhood. These are apartment buildings intentionally built to be simple, same, and lacking any character at all. The plan was to demolish old buildings and houses, move out the poor, and build them new buildings without the frills. In some cities, you can see “the projects” built in rows, almost like corn fields, where all the people who were part of the crime and poverty of one neighborhood, were relocated to “the projects” (lower income housing) to start a new community.

The idea was that a new place with a new building was going to stimulate the neighborhood’s poor to live differently. This has not been the case. The projects, in many ways, have been a terrible project that have not only uglified neighborhoods, but has destroyed cultures of so many diverse groups. This is because when renewal is understood to be brought about by new physical buildings, we have terribly misunderstood the heart of what renewal is. It was also a bad project because no matter who the people are, when any neighborhood is made for only those who have little to no resources, you will always end up with a “ghetto”.

An older mentor of mine who has lived in the “ghetto” most of his life shared with me a dream he had one night. He said that he was speaking at a large church in a wealthy part of town, and he asked every one who has a broken family to stand up (divorce, abuse in the family, chemical addiction, porn addiction, addiction to needing material things to feel happy, homelessness, etc.). The whole church in all of it’s courage rose to their feet, and then he declared, “The ghetto is everywhere my friends!”, then he walked off the stage and sat down. Sounds like a profound dream to me; the ghettos is indeed everywhere.

The motivation behind this post is a desire to share my heart for true urban renewal, which has some to do with material things eventually, but has more to do with learning to address the issues of the ghetto, the issues that find their origins within all of us: namely, issues of prejudice (racial, social, cultural, political, spiritual, etc). Renewal begins with us; renewing what we think, desire, and believe in.

I believe urban renewal must address the whole person, the whole neighborhood, and the whole city, and all the issues that come with people, neighborhoods, and cities. But the starting place is confronting within ourselves the presuppositions (our worldviews, what we think and believe), the lenses that we interpret life through. No one has a neutral lens. So renewal begins with us, asking ourselves, what kind of people do we need to be in order to resist the destruction that our prejudices create? What are the virtues of true renewal?

In the series of posts to come, I want to make a case for the kind of thinking/believing/desiring that I think must take place in our minds and hearts if we are to ever experience the renewal in our lives and cities that we are longing for. I will spend more in-depth time talking about the virtues of peaceableness, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, community, and wisdom. Here’s to renewing what urban renewal was always meant to be.

Kineo Urban Renewal Update

By Amy Skeens (my wife!):

The moving, the growing, the changing is all set in motion. This month, the month of May, is our last in the Alhambra Neighborhood. What a sweet place for 5 1/2 years it has been.  So much has been birthed, reshaped, purged, put to death, and brought back to life here. Amazing experiences… amazing people. Our faith will never be the same!

This is a picture of the last of our harvest here on this ground (lettuces, tomatoes, arugula, jalepenos)

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Animals are being moved to temporary places (thanks to the Davis’, Annette Schuster, Gail/Med Skeens) and the last litter of bunnies are being sold as we speak. Sarah Ramsey has so faithfully come over a couple mornings a week to feed, clean, and care for the animals. Sarah, we love you and we have enjoyed seeing your passion and the giving of your gifts!

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We are enjoying the last of our parties and memory making here.

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We have prayed for a place to take the farm/garden and God has provided. We are breaking down everything and moving the fencing, chicken coop, etc this month. We are excited to say that we are able to reuse almost all of the material we have here, along with Jeff finding a lot of pallets to creatively use for more fencing.

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We are headed to downtown Phoenix, to live on property owned by Aim Right Ministries. Our kids go to school just a few streets away from the new home, at ASU Prep, which we are really excited about.

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The home was built in 1926 and is on a large property with lots of space. Aimright Ministries is happy for a family to move in and feels the garden and animals will bring life to the land. Our “job” is just that… to work as a family and take care of the land.

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We love the neighborhood and its cultural diversity and history. Here is a local diner just blocks away, tucked within the historical homes. We are excited to walk to it and meet our neighbors.

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Some colorful artwork, telling many stories of the past

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We will move in at the end of the summer, late July. This spring, we have worked to prepare the place. Jeff, in the backyard, using his gifts of drawing up plans and measurements

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This month of May is a big month of building. Let us know if you want to get your hands dirty:)

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Changes! Change can be exciting and also involves loss… and loss is sad. We are sad for our time in Alhambra to be over. We will miss things about this area of town and miss the people.

So we live in the present. Remembering what is behind and looking forward to what is to come. It has been amazing to keep learning how to follow Jesus. He does know and does lead.

We think of many of you… knowing you are walking much out as well in your lives and neighborhoods. We love watching and taking part in what God is doing in this world and in this city. At this point, this is one of our hopes… given by the Hope Giver.

During the summer, while we are in between homes, we will be leaving on a sabbatical, to travel around the country in an RV as a family. We will be on a hunt for hope. We will be connecting with family and friends, new and old, while also taking much time just for our own unit of 6 people to enjoy the great outdoors together and rest. We hope to gain more healing and refreshed vision and clarity about life in the valley of Phoenix. What is God up to on a greater scale? We will get to see people and communities outside of ours here in Phoenix.

Prayers appreciated. 6 of us in an RV for 8 weeks… it is sure to be an enlightening experience- ha!!!
I’m sure there will be certain hours when the hope looks foggy because of cramped space and the limitations of crabby human hearts, but I am sure there will be many mores hours of colorful, life-changing signs of HOPE.

Love to you all,
Jeff and Amy Skeens