The Gospel Next Door
by Rev. Marty Troyer Have you ever seen the same thing as someone else but interpreted it differently?
It happens all the time, right? In politics, in a referee’s call between sports rivals, in a glass half-full or half-empty.
It happened to me recently in a surprising way. Some friends and I were driving back to Houston through the east side’s sprawl of petro-chemical factories. Seeing the billowing smoke, I commented off-hand that it was “the ugliest part of Houston.”
“Huh,” said our driver, “I don’t see it that way at all.” She went on to say that what she saw in the sprawl were jobs, companies, and production that served a ton of people. She talked about her experience in the oil industry, clearly thankful for the infusion of money the “Petro Metro” gives us.
Looking at the same thing, that’s not what I saw. In my mind were health statistics connected to air pollution and dirty soil on the east side. No Houstonian would deny that our air is not as healthy as we’d like it to be. But here, in super-neighborhoods like Manchester, Magnolia Park, and Denver Harbor air quality is markedly worse. And public health is markedly worse as well. What shouldn’t surprise anyone is that these east-side neighborhoods are some of Houston’s poorest, and most segregated.
Driving through Houston’s chemical factories says to me that we’re more willing to accept pollution in minority communities than we are in white communities. This kind of crisis even has its own name: environmental racism.
So who is right? My friend sees employees standing in line at the bank. I see the poor standing in line at the free health clinic. This seems different than a “You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to” kind of thing.
How can we know who is right? Who gets to decide what the common good is? As Christians it’s pretty important for us to see clearly so that we can live faithfully.
In my book The Gospel Next Door I suggest that for Christians to see the world correctly we need to see it as God does. In other words, we must look at it through the lens of God’s gospel of Jesus, shalom, and community justice.
Every lens we could choose would give us a different answer. Whether by intention or by accident, wearing different lenses would change the way we behave.
But nothing else—not liberalism, conservatism, progressivism, Marxism, capitalism, the scientific method, nor Disney—has the potency to help us understand human existence like the gospel of Jesus the Christ from Nazareth. Pg 17
Job reports and fact sheets might be helpful, but God wants us to experience the abundance of shalom. God’s wants us to have jobs and public health, livable incomes and freedom from racial blindness.
Seeing Houston how God does reveals the intersections of wealth and poverty, the hidden poor and the celebrated well-to-do.
So what are your thoughts about Houston? Are your thoughts informed by the holistic gospel rather than political opinion? Seeing God at work in our complicated world is hard work. What’s not hard is knowing that God is more committed to our good than we’ll ever be.
“Indeed, the one irreducible gospel truth that shapes and reshapes the church is that God’s love is not limited—not to souls or eternal reward, not to bodies or politics, not to human or divine relationships. God’s love is for the world and everything in it.” Pg 35.
Choose peace, over and over again!
Rev. Marty Troyer is a trustee of Houston Graduate School of Theology and is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church. He is the author of a new book, The Gospel Next Door: Following Jesus Right Where You Are, published by Herald Press (2016).