I was coming from a meeting in Manhattan and was scurrying to catch a subway back to The Bronx. I had to go down two levels to catch this particular train. In my descent there were people in front of me, much younger than I. They were walking four abreast, taking their sweet time and I couldn’t get around them. I was getting impatient. I muttered under my breath (so I thought), “This city’s not fast enough for me.” As I continued my descent, and they had turned to go in another direction, I caught out of the corner of my eye, one who had turned to look back at me. Then it hit me. Oh no! I have become one of those ugly New Yorkers.
Please don’t form a bad opinion about New Yorkers because of me. On several occasions, I have had direct experience of their kindness one of which was an offer of help after having tripped and fallen on the sidewalk in midtown—again because I was in a rush.
I live at the intersection of two very busy streets in The Bronx. It is not unusual to go the store and bob (no pun intended) in and out of people. In stark contrast, it comes home to me on those occasions of travel when I find myself in a suburban setting. I ask, “Where are the people?”
In my neighborhood, on a given day there are over a thousand people on the street within a couple of blocks. Among the throngs are people with an agenda, whether hawking their wares, handing out flyers, asking for money or just plain hanging out.
It’s not difficult to feel lost in this sea of humanity and I begin to wonder at times how the present reality of the kingdom of God is relevant to these bumper cars of bodies. The temptation is to feel that life is nothing more than a random series of spontaneous collisions among humanoids doused with a generous effusion of high decibel music.
The temptation is to think that this is reality. Happily, on occasion, there are those “springs in the desert” which makes life a bit more personable. I’ve lived here long enough to encounter people in the crowd whom I know and with whom I exchange friendly hellos. It helps to take the edge off feelings of insignificance.
This erstwhile labyrinth of muscle and blood is in fact comprised of individuals who are loathe to think of themselves as little more than a social security number. Many of them harbor deep in their minds a belief that tomorrow is going to be better. At least that is what the younger set believes. For some, things do get better economically and the dream to escape the noise and crowds of the city becomes a reality. The result is that they end up trading the body compression of a crowded subway car for traffic congestion on the George Washington Bridge.
For the less fortunate that remain, the clouds have begun to cover the sun. The future is not as bright as one thought in younger years. Therefore, one might as well hunker down and try to eek out some semblance of happiness in the here and now. With some friends, there’s always a hookah to share, dominos to play and, of course, clubbing on Saturday night. Sad to report that neither the commute in from the suburbs nor the huddles of humanity on the stoop, has produced the goods in terms of a deep abiding happiness that comes with a purposeful life. Do I have a stranglehold on the obvious or what?
I cannot escape running errands on busy Fordham Road nor do I want to. Ironically, I find a certain comfort of familiarity in zigging while others in front of me are zagging or visa versa.
But the temptation is to allow my mind to drift into the lie when inadvertently connecting with my peripatetic comrades in incidental contact—“sorry!” then a smile—usually. To the contrary, what I see is not all there is. I have to metaphorically splash water on my face and remind myself of the presence of the kingdom and that people, image bearers of God all, need Jesus. That is not an escape. It’s living in reality.
This is God’s world and it is the unbeliever that is trying to escape from reality. In the words of one of the more obscure songs of Paul Simon, “I don’t know what is real, I can’t touch what I feel, and I hide behind the shield of my illusion. So I’ll continue to continue to pretend my life will never end, and flowers never bend with the rainfall.”
Since it is God’s world and the universally recognized problem of evil is all around us, we have good news to proclaim. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came into the world to save sinners. We thank God for those who have been transformed by this glorious message.
There are others with whom we are engaged who hear the message but either outright stand in opposition to it (in the case of some Muslims with whom some among us are speaking) or, they seem to understand it but as the conversation deepens, the static noise of self- righteousness is interfering with the message that all are sinners and stand in need of a Savior. Please pray for us as we continue these dialogues. The Holy Spirit is able to make the blind to see and the deaf hear.
Among the crowds of people who line the streets of The Bronx, there are His sheep who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd to come and follow Him. We continue to speak that glorious message in several venues one of which was recently to a captive audience of 40 teenagers waiting to play basketball.
Thank you for praying for us to persevere in preaching the Gospel in season and out of season.
Pictured above right is this past summer’s Vacation Bible School staff. Not everyone was involved everyday but most were. These are some of my very favorite people on the face of the earth. The theme this year was God is in Control. This year’s VBS curriculum was written by our own Jordan Roberts. It most certainly has the Gospel message but there is also a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God. In this day and age with a generation increasingly removed from a Biblical knowledge of God, we feel that we need to emphasize the being and character of God in our Gospel presentation. Though attendance was down this year for a number of reasons, it was nevertheless a good week and a well run week.
For Hope Academy, our Head of School, Naomi Woodmansee writes: “As Hope Academy begins its 4th year, we are trusting God to guide and provide for all our needs in this new school year. God has provided our sixth staff member (BHOF member, Amanda Swift), and we are adding 10th grade this fall. We welcomed four new scholars in need of a quality, Christ-centered education and have six on a waiting list to join the Hope Academy family. Our theme this year is John 10: 1-16. Please pray that our scholars will come to know Christ as their Good Shepherd and embrace the abundant life found only in Him.”