New York’s Lower East Side has an interesting reputation. Hard working people immigrated to New York hundreds of years ago looking for the promise of opportunity an hope. They often found themselves drawn to familiar cultures. The Irish found Hell’s Kitchen to be supportive in a hellish kind of way. Spanish Harlem carries the obvious connotation, but it was still a place called “home” for many sharing a cultural background. The Lower East Side became a center for the Jewish community. Schuls were erected. Sabbath observance was encouraged as businesses honored the community’s values. Religious holidays were community events.
Somewhere along the way the community declined. When I first came to New York is was clearly not the “desired” place to be. Nobody thought anything would ever change. It was as if the opportunity and home had moved, permanently. The shared viewed was that “no one will live there anymore, generation after generation a [virtual] ghost town. Not even Bedouins will pitch tents there. Shepherds will give it a wide berth.” (Isaiah 13.20) Only those with no choice and hope called it home. People gave up on the Lower East Side.
Today it’s hard to understand why. Great food, music, and interesting shopping are the norm. Children crowd the playground, carrying the job and wonder of discovering relationships, fun, and life. The streets echo of life with hope. The schools are crowded, crime is at an all time low, and people are proud to be from this side of town. Neighbors look out for each other.
At times individuals see others through the lens of decline. They have no belief, confidence, or trust. They cannot imagine how this person – young or old, discovered or a hidden gem – could possibly contribute to the larger community. They walk as if the human being within their reach does not exist.
Fortunately God sees each one of us. God knows our weaknesses and calls us friends. God cries with our failures and recognizes us as Holy children. God sees the emptiness in our hearts and calls it home.
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