I sat half awake in my robe sipping my breakfast tea and flipping through the morning paper. "Clinton Removes Gay Ban"... "Falling mortgage rates boost metro home sales"..."Innocent man spends 11 months in jail"... the headlines played past my groggy eyes. "Kraft plant to close"..."Local agencies to acquire apartments for needy"... My eyes popped wide open! "Six complexes are RTC's first batch offered to housing authorities here," the sub-heading read. I was suddenly wide awake. "...non-profit organizations will be given first refusal on its inventory of bankrupt apartment projects," the article went on. What an invitation! The government in its savings and loan clean-up efforts is asking non-profits (that includes church and para-church groups) to take over bankrupt apartment complexes for the purpose of establishing healthy mixed-income community environments. And the people of faith are among those being offered the right of first refusal.
Just the previous day I had been reading of an earlier time in history when God invited His people to take ownership of some real estate. It was property that had been promised to them -"promised land" they called it. But the appraisers, who were selected to research and advise the people on this acquisition, could not come to consensus on its desirability. As good appraisers will, they assessed its value on the basis of existing conditions - a dangerous environment with hostile forces firmly entrenched. Only two of their number focused on the substantial development possibilities of the area - two optimistic young voices among a cadre of realistic, practical advisors. The timing is wrong, a majority counselled. Entirely too risky a venture, given the prevailing circumstances. Of course there was some potential opportunity here, they admitted, but the odds of success were overwhelmingly negative. The people of God listened to this conservative counsel and forfeited the opportunity for two generations.
Taking land is a Biblical theme. Occupying the territory of giants is the history of the people of faith. It's our story. Should we be surprised, then, when in contemporary history our God invites us to venture across the Twin Rivers of Race and Class to take land that is controlled by the giants of crime and crack cocaine? Of course the size of these giants make us feel like grasshoppers. That's why following God is called a faith walk. Of this we can be assured, however, that before faithful risktakers the waters do part, giants do flee and strongholds do come down.
What an imagination the God of history has! While the poor languish for need of decent shelter, greedy opportunists are separated from their properties. The government offers these properties to non-profits and in so doing invites faithful risktakers to engage in redemptive re-neighboring.
"The goal of this program is a mixed-income property. That's the best way to provide a strong community environment," the article reads. The government is coming to recognize what the people of faith have known instinctively. We call it Reconciliation. It is our mandate and birthright.
God's invitation to go in and possess the land has become clear once again in our moment of history. And again we are left with the weighty matter of discerning timing. As one who has scouted out the urban territory, I can assure you that the city is ripe with opportunity. The giants are not as invincible as they appear. The strongholds are very penetrable. The timing is right! Let us not waste another generation or two waiting for a more conservative approach to the reclaiming of the cities. There is land to be taken. And we are more than able.