A couple weeks ago, we went with some friends to a Soul Food Taster that was a fundraiser for a ministry in their neighborhood. The sun broke through between our rainy sessions, making it perfect for ribs and mac n cheese outdoors. Riley, for his part, really wished he could get in the bounce house, but contented himself with stealing my lemon bar and running away when I attempted to recover it.
We walked back to our friends’ house after lunch, and I kept thinking, I want this. I want to be rooted in a neighborhood. I want to walk places. I want to learn how to do something small, like eat lunch, for my own community.
Where I currently live, in suburbia, this is a challenge. I don’t know about you, but our neighborhood walk score isn’t so hot. I don’t know most of my neighbor’s names. What needs there are stay hidden or are removed by distance.
And so I ignore the ways I could create those connections here, hiding behind the excuses. Apparently, what I really meant was I want to live in Pasadena because it’s awesome and if I lived here then I would do this kind of stuff.
Jeremiah (the prophet, not the bullfrog) was told to tell Israel, while they were in exile in Babylon,
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
It would have been easy for the Israelites to blame Babylon for not becoming rooted. This is not our city. This is not our home. We don’t want to live here.
I think some justice-hearted suburbanites feel the same. After all, my heart is for L.A., with all its history and diversity, its mash up of affluence and poverty. I don’t have a love letter to write for my actual hometown with a funny name, cookie cutter, too small to be interesting, too big for a person to be known.
I love L.A., but for Cucamonga I am asked to seek welfare for the time that it’s my home. And so it will be where ever we live. When I greet my checker warmly, tip well for my pedicure, vote with integrity and selflessness, chat with moms at the park, I am doing the work of welfare. The way I do it is small, but it’s significant. It’s more than manners, politeness, formalities. It can be done in a transformative way. Little gestures into little blessings.
And here’s the kicker. Somehow, when we do things that are good for our city, they are good for our hearts. In the welfare of the city my own welfare is found, whether I chose that city or it chose me. We thrive when our town thrives; the common good of all makes us all better.