There’s a discussion group here in Charlotte that I’m kind of a part of. If you’ve heard of the Emerging Church stuff it’s a part of that, although that label doesn’t exactly work because all of us come to the once-a-month meetings for different reasons. Some people want to change the structure of the institutional church, some want to get involved in some of the sociopolitical things the Emerging Church is interested in talking about, and some just want good discussion with a diverse group of people.
Anyway we have been meeting at a little coffeeshop for the past few months but during the summer the hours of the place are shorter and the group was getting too big to really meet there. We found a lady that generously let us use a space she runs, and that’s where we had our meeting last night. The place is used as an area where people can come to pray and communicate with God, and it’s made up into sort of a prayer labyrinth type of thing, but they also have a room with books and internet access, and a couple areas with couches and chairs for people to hang out on. And it’s all in this fantastic old warehouse (I mean like 1930s or 40s old, not 60s or 70s) made out of cinderblocks and wood. As a hope-to-be-architect the building really interested me. So last night was our first time meeting in this new space, and our group was about double the size we had before, which was nice. More people makes more opinions which makes more interesting and meaningful dialogue. But I’d be incorrect if I implied that the reason the group was twice as big was because all of us regulars had invited friends, or people all over the city were hearing about it, or anything that would point to something that we did to make the group bigger. Here’s the real reason why we had so many people last night:
There’s this little community of kids in Charlotte. They live in the neighborhood, called Optimist Park (what a brilliant name, by the way), around the building in which we met. They’re not a part of any church or any specific creed other than that they’re Christians. They’ve moved into this neighborhood for the sole purpose of helping the people who live there. It’s a poor neighborhood with old houses, and these kids live in a couple of the houses and just help those around them however they can. They live rather minimalistically, they keep their houses open to whoever wants to stay there for however long, and they let anyone come and join them in their work. They have cookouts every week where they hang out with whoever comes by for free food, and they’ll renovate houses or work with people on finances or really whatever people need.
And I think that’s undeniably and absolutely beautiful. These kids, all of them around my age, not caring what was going to happen to them or what people would think of them, just moving into this place because they feel like that’s where God wants them to be. They’re actually living out what Jesus taught about loving people. And they’re not all part of one church or one denomination or one theological belief, they’re just kids who want to help people. I’ll be honest, the idea of living in a community like that, living minimalistically and living with people you’re helping has always appealed to me. It’s true that I like living in my house with a comfortable bed and a television and the other nice things that come with living in a middle-class neighborhood, but I get so inspired by people who are doing what these people are doing. Maybe that’s not what I’m called to do (especially right now as I’m just starting three more years of school), but I think this idea of communal living and helping people is a great way (maybe the best way) to live how Jesus taught us to live. I don’t know if these kids have jobs or anything, maybe they do and maybe they don’t, but they’re invested in the world around them, and they’re actually doing the work among the people instead of just giving money from afar or going on short-term missions trips.
I don’t know, it’s just that as an architect I have these goals that are different from just making good architecture. I think people should be able to have good design no matter if they’re poor or not, and when I get tired of seeing even the “affordable prefab architecture” costing more than 150 bucks a square foot and nobody makes houses under 2,000 square feet, it’s nice to see that there are people who are still concerned with helping and loving people, and it makes me hope that I can do that with my work.