I Live in Baltimore
Baltimore. I live here. You don’t need me to regurgitate here everything the news-outlets have been broadcasting. According to the indictments there is probably cause of excessive police force in the city. It’s also documented by dozens of court verdicts. Yes, there are dangerous sectors of the city dominated by gangs; sectors where white people drive in the evenings to buy their recreation in a baggie. Sectors not far removed from gentrified neighborhoods like Federal Hill and Fells Point. But you already knew that.
Sadly, Baltimore isn’t unique; it’s numbingly similar to most cities in the northeast. The death of Freddie Gray was what galvanized the city, but a lot of Freddie Grays have died here under mysterious circumstances. They’re in the news every month. Baltimore is where hundreds, perhaps thousands of Christians intentionally invest themselves in the city, at great personal sacrifice; and yet feel that they’re alone. They resent do-gooders who rush in while the cameras are turned on, then leave. But you already knew that.
But you don’t know that I personally am outraged. I am sickened that 15-minutes away from where I live and now sit, there are seemingly intractable problems of generational-poverty, neighborhoods that live in fear (justified or not) of the very authorities who are paid to serve and protect; police who are afraid to go to work in the mornings; mothers and fathers who know of no way out of their circumstances; and children and youth whose schools are improving but still way less that what they deserve. I’m outraged that many African-Americans in my city have never met a friendly white person. I know because they’ve told me. And I’m perplexed because many white people are terrified of black people. I know because they’ve told me.
When we moved to Baltimore in 2007 we managed to find a diverse (i.e. black and white) neighborhood and, against the carefully worded advise of our realtor, chose to buy a row house here. Our row house is black and white. Our street is black and white, with Latinos in the apartments at one end. But even though we all live together and are largely middle-class, there’s not a lot of mutual understanding. But you already knew that, or could have guessed it.
What don’t you know? The world can get better quickly. Baltimore could be fine in about two months. Baltimore’s problem is not an intractable problem; Baltimore’s problem is boringly solvable. The problem is broken relationships, internal and external. The solution is to let the love of a good God wash over you and me, heal you and me and then both of us be channels of that love to our neighbors and Baltimore will be changed. I’d say it’d take about two months to change it all. Then perhaps a lifetime to see the change work through all the systems, procedures, and equality-issues.
You might have heard of John Wesley. He’s dead now but even when alive he didn’t invent anything new. Instead of inventing, he helped Christians hold in balance ancient aspects of the good news of Jesus, rather than tilting absurdly toward certain emphases. So Wesleyans like us live out the tension between person piety (our own salvation) and social engagement (the restoration of creation-goodness).
We do both. Baltimore’s solutions are both: personal redemption and cultural redemption. So Wesleyans like us march in the protests even as we lead small groups. We preach on Sunday even as we litigate in court on Monday. We bow in submission before an almighty God even as we put our hands to the shovels and get dirty on the streets. But you already knew that. Now do something. Something inside and something outside. My one fear is that you already knew that.