Monday, December 7, 2009

The Benefits of a Hard Bargain

We live in a neighborhood that was the first all African-American owned neighborhood in Franklin. A sharecropper who worked this land bought it from the owner who drove such a hard bargain, the sharecropper named his newly acquired piece of land, "Hard Bargain." It certainly isn't a name that its whiter suburban counterparts would have chosen. Compared to Sherwood Forest, Cottonwood, Fieldstone Farms and Falcons Landing, Hard Bargain sounds like the neighborhood to avoid sending your children to birthday parties in. In fact, I think there has been some movement to change the name from Hard Bargain to Mt. Hope- named after the historic cemetery located on the north side of the neighborhood.

I wouldn't change it, though. I love the name. I love that when people ask where I live, I can say "Hard Bargain" with a straight face. People squint there eyes and ask, "Where?!" It is amazing to me that most residents in Franklin have no idea where this subdivision is, though it is one of the oldest established neighborhoods in this town.

But, it's not just the name I love about my neighborhood. Its the whole package. There is a diversity here that extends beyond race. There are the elderly and retired, who sit on their front porches and wave as I walk by. They all know me by now. I kinda stand out a bit. Most of them have lived here since birth and many are related to the original land owner, so they know the newbies (well, and, there's the whole white thing, too.)

The children all know each other. They ride bikes to each others houses. They run to the side of the street when cars ride by, holding their footballs until its free to start tossing it again. There are no sidewalks in Hard Bargain (will save my ranting about that for another article). But, the kids are free to play in the street. People expect them to be there, so they drive slowly.

There are a few Mexican families that have moved in. They don't speak English and they rent, so it's hard to know how long they will stay. It helps, though, that most of our neighbors will be here for life. It makes the pursuit of community so much more appealing. This is no transience to this group. Miss Laverne and J.J. will know my kids all their lives. Scott and Linda will watch my children graduate and will still be here when they return home from college. Demetria, Adonis and Devrick will all return to my front porch in twenty years to check in with me, have a glass of sweet tea and tell me how their lives are going. The only thing that will keep this from happening is our moving, our neighbors will not.

The biggest blessing of this neighborhood is the one that will affect the way my children see the world and their wealth. It is a challenge, but I believe an important call of parenting, to show your kids the level of financial abundance they have and the imperative of the gospel to love the poor. When living in the 10th most wealthy county in the US, its hard not to assume that we ourselves qualify as the ones who need the love. Many of the residents of Hard Bargain, however, are under the poverty level. Though a majority are employed or retired home owners, their incomes are barely enough to keep their one hundred year old homes maintained.

When we have children come to play at our house, their faces, if not their bold words, reveal their wonder at our wealth. "Wow, Ms. Sarah, that sure is a nice Christmas tree you have!" "Why do you have three computers?" "Does Ellie really have a DS and an iPod?" Of course, Ellie does and she makes sure to show the neighborhood kids her latest purchase or gift from her grandparents. "We don't get allowance," they say, as Ellie displays her ever growing piggy bank. Atticus, the dear that he his, takes his friends to his room and passes out money from his change jar. He has no self-preservation gene and therefore gives more liberally than the "You need to share" mandate necessitates. All the questions and comments make me feel uncomfortable. I feel embarrassed by our "riches."

Being uncomfortable is so important. It reminds me of who I am. It keeps me in the tension of "the now" and "the not yet". Why am I uncomfortable? Should I be? Why do I have so much more than most? Do I deserve this? These questions remind me of my own brokenness and how much I try to hide it or solve it with my wealth. There is not much difference among our neighbors in this not so beautified and street-scaped subdivision, those who live around the corner on West Main and Fair Street, and me. We are all broken people, longing for connection and for home. We all have a Creator who has come to us. I love my neighborhood where I do not have to hide this Christmas. I am broken and I need the One who has come and is coming.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

mr. turkey (inspired by ee cummings poem "little tree")

Mr. Turkey

you are so quiet

you are more like the blanket

that was folded on my mothers couch

you were warm and cozy by the fire

but i needed you

and you came

were you happy before you came?

are you sorry you are here?

you are here to save me

to save my family

we will share our table with you

we will hold hands around you and say how thankful

we are with god. he will hear us and be thankful too.

because of you we can remember

we are allowed to speak in poems and simple prayers

my uncle will pray and say things like, “We thank you, Lord.”

even though he says he does not believe

everyone smiles at each other

my mom squeezes my hand because we know he does not believe

but it doesn’t matter because he just said, “We thank you, Lord.”

now we share the secret of his salvation

because of you.

we thank you, Mr. Turkey.