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Transforming Communities in the Midst of Glory & Shame (Issue 19)

By Dave Tims

On a Wednesday night a couple months ago, while walking back through the Skate Park after visiting a neighbour, I stopped to chat with a few of the youth who were skating and joking around. They asked many questions about the amazing development that was happening with the Skate Park. As we stood surrounded by piles of dirt, bulldozer tracks, deep holes and fenced areas, they wanted to know when the new Skate Park was going to be finished.

After chatting, laughing and joking, I looked up and saw in the near distance a couple that were physically engaged in heavy petting. The youth turned and followed my eyes to see where I was looking, and they began to make comments to me. “Ha, they’ve been doing that for ages. They should hurry up and get a room.” We all laughed and giggled together. However, five minutes later, one of the young people stood up on the ledge, turned towards the lovers and yelled at the top of her voice: “Go get a room!”

The rest of us just ignored what was said, but the young man untangled himself from his girlfriend and briskly walked towards us. The kids knew straightaway that he was angry and by his body language they knew they were in trouble. The boys turned and ran, scattering themselves across the field. The young girls grabbed my hand, hiding behind me. The angry lover walked straight toward me, eyes glaring, voice muttering. I nervously stepped towards him to protect the girls behind me, while quickly praying that we would all be safe.

Feeling a little bit nervous, I looked at the young adult, meeting his eyes and said gently, “Bro, are you alright?” I just hoped I’d disguised my nervousness in a compassionate voice. He looked at me, anger in his eyes, then he looked at the girls with hate deeply tattooed on his face, and he shouted “F_ _ ‘n little sh_ts.” This time, I delicately but firmly challenged him with, “Bro are you alright?” He looked at me again, mumbled something, turned and left, strolling back to his girlfriend. The girls let go of my hand and the boys ran back, intuitively asking with smiles on their faces, “Dave, would you have smashed him if he had hit you?” “No,” I replied, “I would have just laughed.” The boys went on. “Argh … we would have had your back Dave.”  I laughed to myself, considering how far the boys had run away from me.

I hate violence. As I thought about the young guy that had approached us, and having seen young people angry, I am well aware of how much damage they can do. It felt like I needed to change my undies. This incident reminds me again that this community is full of extremes – violent and compassionate, isolated and integrated, desperate and yet hopeful.  Half an hour after being at the Skate Park, I found myself sitting in a meeting with local adults discussing how we could start a new Trust to manage and look after the developments in our park. This is a group of people that have a sense of pride and hope for the land we live on and for our neighbourhood.  These are good people. All have lived in Randwick for more than 20 years.  They have seen our neighbourhood change from a paddock into houses and roads, but they have also seen the daily pain that is sometimes expressed in crime and violence. These are local people prepared to take ownership and governance of local assets, creating a dream of a new neighbourhood and of new possibilities. This will mean many future meetings and discussions, and if this is possible, then it could cultivate more opportunities to utilise the social enterprise skills that are in this neighbourhood.  Dreams are the potential of what could be, and they are only really limited by our mind-set.

Tom Wright suggests that the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8) offers a strange and contrasting parallel to the crucifixion. Each event illuminates the other, so much so that it’s worth keeping the first in mind as you meditate on other, and vice versa. The mountaintop explains the hilltop; the hilltop explains the mountaintop. In fact, perhaps it’s only when we hold these two events together that the meaning of each of them emerges. On the mountain Jesus is revealed in glory; on the hill Jesus is revealed in shame. As Wright says, if we can learn “to see the glory in the cross; learn to see the cross in the glory; and you will have begun to bring together the laughter and the tears of the God who hides in the cloud, the God who is to be known in the strange person of Jesus himself.” In some ways this is how I see the neighbourhood. In it there is much to celebrate, there is much that is glory, but at the same time there is a lot that is shameful. Perhaps we can only really understand a neighbourhood when we see the enchanting beauty standing side by side with the shame that is carried in poverty.  It seems that to see the extreme of the beauty, one must also experience the extreme of the poverty, as if the two are as one. Learn to see the glory of the neighbourhood in the cross and learn to see the cross in the glory of the neighbourhood. What can you do to discover the paradoxical glory and shame within your own community?

Dave Tims is an Urban Neighbours of Hope Community Worker. Dave served for over 20 years with Youth for Christ, Te Ora Hou and then Incedo (all ministries closely related with YFC) and has been a caregiver with CYPFS and the Open Home Foundation before joining UNOH in 2009.

For more about Dave and his work visit www.randwickpark.co.nz and www.unoh.org