Any given day I walk in Franklinton, I hear at least one of the two following things – someone might have a loud argument or a neighborhood visitor could remark about how run-down everything is and sort of laugh at the conditions. These are two small languages of violence pervading the culture of the Community in impoverished neighborhoods. Both are worrisome and indicate the Community of Creation (relationships between God, the natural world, and all inhabitants) is not living in God’s planned reality. Each is violent in its own right and points toward the larger violence of neglect.
Neglect is an all too frequently forgotten form of violence. Neglect, because of its apparent invisibility seems to create trauma capable of going unrecognized. Franklinton has been neglected for far too long. Franklinton’s surrounding Community of Creation views the neighborhood as unsalvageable and as a result is perpetually ignored.
Neighbors consistently carry the traumas associated with urban poverty on their shoulders, in their faces, and just as importantly in their souls. Trauma arises out of witnessing frequent arguments, assault, deaths, house fires, changing living spaces, etc. The neglected neighborhood is treated as though people do not dwell in it. The Community of Creation has failed neighborhoods like Franklinton. People see dilapidated buildings but fail to recognize the humanity of that exact structure’s inhabitants. If the Community cannot look the (in)humanity of poverty in the embodied eye, then the Community fails to see God.
Scripture reminds the Community “to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Moreover, “to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Heb 13:2-3) People have the opportunity every day to see God in someone and yet somehow abject poverty continues to exist. Christians everywhere have a responsibility to resist avarice to more fully encounter God in the stranger. A collective lack of empathy neglects both God and neighbor, harming the entire Community.
When faced with such oppressive trauma where does the entry point to healing begin? As Christians in the Community of Creation were are called to break down barriers to full participation in society. We are called to see God in one another and bring God’s liberating justice into the world. Beyond that, Jesus shows us over and over again that part of the commitment we make is living in community and solidarity with the oppressed. Even society’s most cherished response to poverty is violently neglectful. Traditional charity fails to acknowledge the root of the oppression and further creates a dichotomy between power holders and the people receiving the charity. The encounters of traditional charity bolster barriers rather than tear them down.
An empowerment model based in relationships will prove much better at encountering humanity in others. Oppression is actively resisted by looking for (and of course finding) the face of God in all who are despised and rejected by society. The burden of recovering from inhumane neglect cannot and should not be placed entirely on the oppressed. The entire Community of Creation has a key role in rehabilitating from long-lasting neglect.
The first step is to establish good, proper relations with everyone and everything in the Community. Making God’s presence in beauty, love and justice and God’s counter-presence to hate, oppression, and injustice abundantly clear. Theologian Sallie McFague advocates for God’s presence throughout the Community saying:
“Everything that happens, good or bad, happens to God also. There are no scraps, no leftovers, no tail ends of creation that do not rest in God; nothing is neglected or passed over. But on the other hand, what of the evil, perverse, murderous greedy events that we humans are responsible for? Even here God is present . . . as the negative critique of them. God is incarnate as the Yes beneath all that is life and love . . . and as the No in all that is cruel, perverse, false, greedy and hateful.”
As long as neighborhoods like Franklinton exist, humans have a greed problem. God’s counter-promise to rampant greed is that everyone have enough. Not too much or too little, but enough. God is against suffering. If people live lacking basic resources while others have abundance, then clearly a resource distribution issue exists. Enough, for this sake should at least consist of reliable access to shelter, food and water.
Franklinton has suffered from human greed. When one part of the Community of Creation aches from neglect, the entire Community, including God, languishes. If God created the world with no scraps or leftovers then that should be an indication to humanity that everything and everyone has inherent worth. As a result of that inherent worth, God calls Christians to ensure that everyone in the Community can participate and has enough.
When the Community is not living into God’s incarnate love exemplified by Christ, neglect seeps in. Neglect, in its silent violence, destroys the Community by preventing relationships. Franklinton is ready to grow with the Community of Creation, but is the Community ready to accept the neighborhood, and all those like it, as deserving of the Kingdom?
1 Sallie McFague, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 172.
Steven Simpkins is an Episcopal Service Corps member with Confluence Year. He worships with St. John’s in Franklinton. The worksites for his year of service are Mount Carmel Healthy Living Center and Franklinton Cycleworks. You can contact Steven at email@example.com.